Remembering a Family of Heroes

Above: The crew that flew B-24s ‘Spirit of ‘76’ and later the ‘Bolicat.’ Standing, bombardier Lt. Glenn A. Guyer, co-pilot Lt. J. Conway Kehoe, pilot Lt. George Washington, navigator Lt. Norman Grant and engineer SSgt. Ray Gourlay. Kneeling, ball turret gunner Sgt. Roy Patterson, upper turret gunner Sgt. Felix Shostak, nose turret gunner Sgt. John Doyle and radio operator Sgt. Robert Allen.

The Kehoes of Fauquier County

The phrase, “All gave some, some gave all” has been applied for many years to describe the sacrifices made by America’s heroes. This is particularly true when applied to the men and women who have fought in the defense of our freedoms.

While Fauquier County has never hesitated to send its best to fight, the massive manpower mobilization that took place during World War II has been the most far reaching, affecting more of our warriors and their families any time since the Civil War. Some families sent one son or daughter to war; others sent two, three, four, or more into harm’s way.

One family in particular established a record of service in World War II that could not be surpassed. Mr. and Mrs. John Carlisle Kehoe of Bealeton had seven of their eight sons and daughters doing their part — and more — in the war effort. It has been noted that this generation of Kehoes came by their commitment to serve naturally, being the great-nephews and nieces of Confederate Gen. Turner Ashby, leader of the Mountain Rangers of the Free State, and Capt. James Ashby, CSA, who were born and reared at Rose Bank, near Markham.

2nd Lt. John Conway Kehoe

Two of the Kehoe boys, 1st Lt. William Joseph Kehoe and 2nd Lt. John Conway Kehoe, flew bombers for the U.S. Army Air Force in the European Theater of Operations. Powhatan Moncure “P.M.” Kehoe was a U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot who fought in the skies over the Pacific, ultimately retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Lelia M. Kehoe, a career officer in the Army Nurse Corps, served with distinction in Africa, Italy, and France during the war, and retired as a lieutenant colonel. Younger sister Clara worked as a civilian at a Naval base until entering the Army Nurse Corps after the war, seeing combat herself in the Korean War. Their sister Alice Beverley (later Mrs. George Brown) assisted in the war effort by working as an administrative assistant in the office in charge of construction at the air base in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Youngest son Carter Webster Kehoe was not old enough to serve in the military during World War II, and stayed on the family farm helping his father meet wartime production goals. As soon as he was old enough, he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps and as a member of Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-122, served from 1948-1950.

All gave some, and before the war was over, two of the Kehoe boys – Army Air Force pilots Bill and Conway – gave all.

The ‘Marauder Men’

William Kehoe

Bill Kehoe was born March 7, 1916, in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Bealeton. He attended Warrenton High School, where he played varsity football, basketball and baseball, graduating in 1935. He then went to work for Transportation, Inc. in Greenville, S.C., where he met Miss Jane Martin of Elberton, Ga. They were married in January 1940 and later moved to Kingsport, Tenn., where Bill was employed as an assistant manager for Mason and Dixon Lines.

World War II began Dec. 7, 1941, and by the following April, Bill entered the U. S. Army as an Aviation Cadet. He received his pre-flight instruction at Kelly Field, Texas, followed by basic flight training at Parks Air College in East St. Louis, Ill.

With the birth of William J. Kehoe III on Oct. 16, 1942, the young cadet became a father.

Bill completed advanced training at Enid Flight School, Enid, Okla., and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant on Jan. 14, 1943, at the Lubbock Army Flying School, Lubbock, Texas.

Lt. Lelia ‘Mickie’ Kehoe

Bill Kehoe’s first assignment flying combat aircraft was with the 336th Bomb Group at the Avon Park Flying School, Avon Park Fl. There, he was trained to fly the twin-engine Martin Marauder B-26 medium bomber.

With its high wing, large engine nacelles and streamlined fuselage, the B-26 was a powerful, high-performance aircraft. But because American forces lacked a modern medium bomber as the war clouds gathered, the B-26A was rushed into production, and early models were difficult to fly and plagued with problems, especially the heavy wing loading.

Bitter experience in combat proved that the five-man crew did not have enough armor protection from ground fire. The B-26B model had a larger wing and taller vertical tail, which helped the aircraft’s flight characteristics, and crew armor and additional firepower improved the Marauder’s combat effectiveness — and survivability.

It was a B-26B that pilot 2nd Lt. Bill Kehoe and his crew picked up at Presque Isle Army Air Field in July 1943 for the long, over-water flight to England, where they became part of the 454th Squadron, 323rd Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force. Later, the 323rd would be assigned to the 9thAir Force.

During the early spring, the 323rd was suffering from a shortage of bombs to drop on the enemy, as well as a lack of aircrews to replace the men who had been at the battle front for several months. The standard practice of rotating aircrews back to the States after completing 50 combat missions had been raised to 65; but due to the continuing shortage of replacements, some months went by without anyone going home.

On January 1, 1944 — after completing over 30 combat missions over occupied Europe as pilot and aircraft commander — Bill Kehoe was promoted to 1st lieutenant. But by mid-April, bomb groups based in England were assigned to hit targets deeper in France, in preparation for the D-Day invasion at Normandy in June.

On April 11, 1944, Bill Kehoe suffered a personal tragedy when his former co-pilot, 1st Lt. Martin O’Toole was killed. On a mission involving 38 bombers, O’Toole’s B-26 collided with another Marauder piloted by 1st Lt. Leo M. Denny about 10 miles east of Ramagage. The cause of the collision — which took the lives of eight of the 10 men on board the two planes — was never determined.

A week later, Bill Kehoe would fly his last mission, also the victim of a mid-air collision.

While on a bombing run near Dunkirk, France on April 18, 1944, a B-26 flown by 1st Lt. Frank Harmes, flying in the formation behind Bill Kehoe’s plane, took a direct hit by German anti-aircraft artillery. According to witnesses, the shell struck the bottom of the plane in the cockpit area, apparently killing Harmes and his co-pilot instantly.

Out of control, the crippled bomber pulled up, striking Bill Kehoe’s B-26, nicknamed the “Tee Ess Ticket,” in the tail section. Both planes plummeted in flames to the ground, and first reports indicated that there were no survivors among the 10 men on board.

However, SSgt. Michael J. Glenn, the radioman-gunner on the “Tee Ess Ticket” did manage to bail out of Bill Kehoe’s plane, and was captured by the Germans. He ended up as a prisoner of war in Stalag 17B near Kerms, Austria. Once released, SSgt. Glenn reported that two other members of his aircrew managed to bail out as well, “…but were never heard from again.”

While in captivity, Glenn wrote a poem about the “Tee Ess Ticket” and the men on board that summed up the feelings of many Marauder Men who served in combat:

“Her engines roared, her whole frame shook,
She strained to take the blue;
And then, with motors throttled down,
She paused, awaited the pilot’s cue.
Once more her engines roared on high,
Her wheels began to roll.
She raised her nose and left the earth,
and started toward her goal.
Five gallant men comprised her crew,
Five gallant men and me.
A nobler band, a prouder ship,
there never more could be.”

Tail gunner SSgt. Charles G. Weisback, one of the regular members of Bill Kehoe’s crew, missed the last flight of the “Tee Ess Ticket.”

“SSgt. (Joseph P.) Ashburn was flying in my place,” said Weisback after the war. “This was the first mission the ‘Kehoe Crew’ had flown without me.”

Sadly, the remains of 1st Lt. Bill Kehoe would not be found and identified until two years later.

Last flight of the ‘Bolicat’

John Conway Kehoe, known by his close friends and family as “Conway,” was born Jan. 24, 1922 at Bealeton, where he lived until enlisting as a cadet on Jan. 31, 1943. He was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant at George Field, Illinois, the following November.

During basic training to become an aviator, Conway became good friends with Lt. Norman Grant, of Minneapolis, Minn.; Conway would complete training as a bomber pilot, while Norman would become a navigator. While on leave before starting combat training at Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas, both young officers went home and took care of matters of the heart. Conway married Ruth Wallace of Warrenton, and Norman took his sweetheart Margaret as his wife.

1s tLt. William J. ‘Bill’ Kehoe (back row, left) led a B-26B air crew. Seen next to him are co-pilot Lt. Martin O’Toole and bombardier Lt. Clarence A. Hayden. Kneeling are tail gunner SSgt. Charles Weisback, engineer-gunner SSgt. Raymond Bacon, and radio-gunner SSgt. Michael J. Glenn.

They returned to El Paso, where their crew became part of the 493rd Bomb Group, 862nd Bomb Squadron. Soon afterward, they were transferred to an airbase at McCook, Nebraska, where the new families set up housekeeping. By early spring, both wives were pregnant.

As they knew they would, the young officers received orders that they were being transferred to the 860th Bomb Squadron and were headed for an airbase in Debach, Suffolk, England, and the war. It was at about that time that Conway learned that his brother Bill was missing in action in France. The crew left Nebraska for England in early May 1944, followed by their ground crews and support personnel.

2nd Lt. Conway Kehoe and 2nd Lt. Norman Grant were assigned to the “Spirit of ‘76,” a B-24 Liberator bomber (41-29473) based at Debach. Aircraft commander was 1st Lt. George H. Washington, of Oklahoma City, Okla.

By June 6, 1944, the 493rd was up-and-running, conducting a raid on Lisieux, France, during the D-Day invasion. From that point until the end of the month, they would mount a series of attacks on German positions behind the lines. The exhausting pace would continue all summer.

While on a bombing mission near Paris, the “Spirit of ‘76” was hit by German flak, and two of the aircraft’s four engines knocked out. Conway helped nurse the damaged plane back to the airbase in England, where they landed safely.  For his actions as co-pilot, he was awarded the Air Medal.

The Washington crew was assigned a replacement aircraft, a B-24 H (41-29473) nicknamed the “Bolicat.” Early on the morning of Aug. 18, 1944, the “Bolicat” left the Debach airbase as part of Mission 49, an attack on the German airfield at Roye-Amy, France. It was the crew’s 19th mission since arriving in Europe, and nine men were on board.

Over the target, the “Bolicat” was hit by flak. The first blast killed Lt. Washington and severely wounded nose gunner Sgt. John Doyle. Conway took command of the aircraft, and after quickly assessing the damage, ordered the crew to bail out.

Navigator Norman Grant was not injured, and helped the wounded gunner out of the nose turret. They got Doyle’s chute on just as a second explosion, most likely a second blast of flak, rocked the damaged bomber. Lt. Grant left the plane through the nose wheel door, and as his parachute opened, he expected to see Sgt. Doyle and the rest of the surviving crew in the air around him. But he was alone.

Observers in other bombers in the group witnessed the incident, reporting that “Aircraft 473 (the “Bolicat”) was seen at 19,000 feet with No. 1 engine on fire. It was under control and continued diving and exploded when it hit the ground.” The site of the crash was listed as “near Boussicourt, France.”

A second B-24H (42-94745) nicknamed “The Bold Sea Rover” and piloted by 1st Lt. James L. Glaze was also shot down on that mission, with a loss of 11 lives. It hit the ground near Assainvillers, France.

Once on the ground, Lt. Grant was captured by the Germans. He expected to be reunited with some of his fellow crew members, but during an interrogation at a prison in Brussels, he was told that the rest of his crew had perished. The bodies of five men were found in the wreckage, and Sgt. Doyle’s body recovered some distance from the aircraft. The bodies of two of the men on the “Bolicat” were never found.

Lt. Lelia “Mickey” Kehoe had learned that her brothers were missing in action, and when her hospital unit was moved to France, she made a determined effort to find out what happened to them. After much research into where the brothers’ aircraft went down, she traveled to the liberated villages near where they crashed, and soon found where William and Conway were buried.

In 1949, their remains were brought back to the United States, and buried next to each other in the cemetery of the Aquia Episcopal Church in Stafford County. Present at the reburial were their families, including their widows and their sons, William J. Jr., age seven, and John Conway II, age five.

John Toler
About John Toler 15 Articles
Broad Run resident John Toler is the co-author of the recent Fauquier County and Town of Warrenton history books, and has contributed numerous newspaper and magazine articles focused on the history of Fauquier, Prince William and Loudoun counties.

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