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449th Bomb Group Project

My association with the veterans of the 449th Bomb Group has been a wonderful experience shared by my two sons and me. As always, I am flattered to be in the company of so many heroes… real men that do not have to fabricate a fake exciting life on a Facebook page to get recognition of their existence. I am honored that I was able to help keep the story of the 449th Bomb Group alive through my work as an artist. It was also good for my two boys to meet and hear the wonderful stories these pilots and crew members have to tell and I know they will cherish having the opportunity to have known them… to sit with them and hear in person of the great adventure they had as young men in the skies over of Europe during World War II. I know it will help my boys on their journey through life to know there were once great men in American society that did great things for nothing more than duty and honor.

The story behind the painting and limited edition print “Just a Bad Day”

Over seventy-two years ago, during World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corp launched a raid on the German Luftwaffe base in Udine, Italy. It was another battle in another month during another year of a world war that was entering a third year of American involvement. The fighting, which involved the 449th Bomb Group, was intense, but like so many other of the countless skirmishes of World War II, was not necessarily destined to be remembered locally by history.

Chillicothe resident Alan Davis is among those who want it remembered, however, and he took steps to ensure it would be. In 2013, Davis was asked by his wife to help take his father-in-law and mother-in-law to a reunion of the 449th Bomb Group in Indiana. While there, he came across a display erected by veteran Harvey Gann to sell his book, "Escape I Must." "I got to talking to him and he was the one survivor out of a plane (in the raid on Udine) and he was captured by the Germans and escaped four times," Davis said. "The first three times he was recaptured but was out and about for some time, he just couldn't make it back to the Allies."

Davis thought his father-in-law would like to read Gann's story, so he got a copy of the book. When his father-in-law looked through the portion of the book listing the crew members of Gann's plane who perished in the raid and still have not been recovered, the name Staff Sgt. Given Grooms from Pike County sparked a connection. "My father-in-law was a veterinarian down there, and he said, 'I used to take care of Grooms' cattle, I wonder if it's the same family,'" Davis said. "I ended up getting in touch with the 449th people to find out and they sent me a list of the relatives of Given Grooms from Pike County that they knew of that were still alive." One of those relatives lived right around the corner from his father-in-law and he's known her for years, but never knew of the connection to the radio operator in World War II. Davis discovered several other connections between the two families, which only added to the allure of the story Gann portrays in his book from the battle over Udine.

"I couldn't get it out of my mind, I thought, 'This needs to be in a painting,'" he said. Not necessarily being the most gifted of painters, Davis thought of Cincinnati artist Todd Price, whom he had met at Gallery 97 several years before. Price, who would often do paintings for veterans groups that they could use in fundraising efforts, agreed and created a scene depicting the battle over the skies of Udine in which you can see Gann as he bails out of the doomed plane. The work is titled "Just a Bad Day," which is how Gann describes the raid.The painting was donated to the 449th Bomb Group Association and last summer was loaned to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, where it is hanging in the agency's new facilities in Hawaii. The unveiling of the painting came as a surprise for Gann, who was present for its debut.

In February of 2010, Harvey Gann received a phone call from retired Italian author and archaeologist Freddy Furlan, who had done extensive research on the air battle and had discovered where the plane containing Grooms had gone down. The plane is currently on the list of those from the war waiting to be recovered from below what is believed to be about 10 feet of mud on the small island of Morgo. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the remains of one crewmember, 2nd Lt. Harry McGuire of Illinois, were recovered last year and returned to his family for burial. The remains of two other crew members had been recovered immediately after the crash, while the other six in the plane besides Gann were determined to be dead and believed to have been non-recoverable. The families of those aviators continue to push for recovery of the aircraft and the return of the remains of their family members.

Todd Price donated the painting “Just a Bad Day”, along with all funds generated from the limited edition prints to the cause in bringing the remains of the entire crew back home to rest where they belong.

 

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