Ardmore Army Air Field
A Small-World, God-Directed, Get-Together
The Uniting Of Two Strangers After 58-Years
email to gsimmons
I received email, February 26, 2001, from Bob Ozment (Captain, USNavy Retired) telling me he had seen the Ardmore Army Air Field webpage account of the February 12, 1944 aerial collision of two B-17s at Mill Creek, Oklahoma. He was eight-years-old when the accident occurred but remembered it vividly. The in-flight formation accident took the lives of ten crewmembers but there was one survivor of the ill-fated aircraft, the tail gunner. The tail section was separated just aft of the ball-turret during the collision and the uninjured Cpl. Joseph (Jack) William McClanahan parachuted to earth. The newspaper account erroneously listed the survivor as Cpl. James W. Clannahan, hometown not given.
I wanted to locate Cpl. Clannahan, if he had survived the war, and get his account of this traumatic happening in his life. Emailing Bob Ozment to ask if he had seen the tail gunner after the accident or if his father, who helped extradite the dead from the aircraft, had talked to him, his answer was "No." Not having the hometown or state for Clannahan, the possibility of finding him by Internet seemed overwhelming although I tried for a while. Since the Clannahan name was not correct, that added to the futility although I didn't know of the mistake at that time.
Almost a year later, in January 2002, I attempted another contact with Mr. Ozment. I was working on a webpage link entitled "This I Remember" and wanted permission to use his remembrance of the accident as an eight-year-old. The "Mail Daemon" indicated Bob Ozment's email address was no longer valid. I had lost contact with him.
Four months later, April 7, 2002, I received an email that read: "You don't know me. I am the wife of the tail gunner who parachuted from the crashed B-17, February 12, 1944. He is alive and well! He met Bob Ozment by chance here in Victoria a few weeks ago. If you receive this, it would be interesting to see the accounts you seem to have. Jessica Barnett McClanahan, wife of Joseph William McClanahan, S/Sgt 18113722." This was probably the least expected and most gratifying email I will ever receive. Tears filled my eyes and I immediately responded with an email to the McClanahans.
The name was different, the crash date and location the same. Bob Ozment was again in the picture. Victoria? ---Victoria, British Columbia? ---Victoria, Texas? ---"A chance meeting?" ---Still a bit of mystery but the answer was forthcoming in Bob Ozment's, April 8, 2002, email. In his revelation below, he tells the amazing account of the unbelievable "small-world" happening:
"The McClanahans forwarded your e-mail to me. What a small world it is turning out to be. I was working on a volunteer project sponsored by our church - re-flooring a home for a disabled lady - along with another church member.
Another two-man "team" was working on another church project and I'd heard they might join us when they completed their job. Well, they did. I already knew one of them; however, this one fellow walked up wearing a big "Oklahoma" belt-buckle and introduced himself as Jack McClanahan. We exchanged "where you froms" and it turns out he grew up in Duncan, Oklahoma. Well, I said, "I grew up in a little bitsy place in Johnston County called Mill Creek, and I bet you never heard of it." Jack looked me in the eye and said, "I can tell you exactly where Mill Creek is." Then he really surprised me by asking, "You remember a B-17 crashing there during World War II?" I let him know, "I sure do." Then he said, "And the tail-gunner survived?" "Yep," I replied. "Well," says Jack, "that was me!"
It was one of the most astonishing, astounding things that has ever happened to me! It is a small world! And confirms to me that the Lord works in strange and mysterious ways! Jack and I are members of the same church - John Wesley United Methodist here in Victoria, Texas. I am relatively new there and attend the second service on Sunday, while Jack and his wife attend the first service; thus we had not met. Now we have, and I am looking forward to continuing a warm relationship with them.
I have been "on the move" for a while since last corresponding with you; however, I hung onto copies of the e-mails we exchanged about the Ardmore Army Air Base and the Mill Creek crash, so was able to provide them to the McClanahans.
I am sure by now they have found the web site and can see all the work you've done with documentation of that era in our history. I will try to stay in touch now that things have settled down a bit with me. Take care and drop a line as you can. Bob Ozment"
A webpage link, "A Story of Survival" was constructed to tell Jack McClanahan's personal account of the incident.
Note: Jack and I met in October 2002. Standing on the high ground near the base entrance, he tried to visualize where the barracks and other buildings he remembered, no longer there, were located. A few of the former barrack areas were recognizable due to their geographic location at that time from the base entrance. We visited the sole remaining WWII hanger and he remembered being there one day when a parked B-17's tire "blew out" giving bystanders a moment of excitement as it sounded like a weapon discharge.
In the afternoon, we visited Mill Creek, Oklahoma to see if he would recognize the crash site and the pecan grove, some distance from there, where he landed. The encroachment of Eastern Red Cedar and other trees during the past 58 years, in the general location of the crash, made the task difficult.
We sought information about the crash site and buildings that Jack remembered from three later-generation citizens at a farm-related business. They had heard of the 1944 crash and Jack's survival but were too young to be of much help. Needless to say, they were astonished and grateful to be meeting him. Something they never expected to do. The drug store where Jack was taken following his rescue was no longer there. The home across the street where he was taken by the little old lady for hot tea on that cold February afternoon was no longer there. Its compassionate resident had long since passed on. The Mill Creek of 1944, like the ten airmen on that day, had also died.
Jack's wife, Jessica, his companion of 58 years, grew up in Ardmore. The three of us spent the morning at a restaurant ingesting several cups of coffee as Jack related his remembrances of military time at Ardmore and elsewhere. Jessica, along with me, heard some accounts Jack had never mentioned before. Like many WWII veterans, Jack, a quiet man, had kept them to himself. Jessica spent the remainder of the day with a long-time friend as Jack and I developed a "brother-like" relationship as we traveled into his past that sunny afternoon.
Yes, Bob, Jack and Jessica, it is truly a small world---created by a great God!
Note: If you have information that you remember about this crash or what your parents or others told you, please contact gsimmons
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