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August 2019
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US Air Force

Brigadier General Fred Castle and the Crew of "Treble Four"

 Brigadier General Fred Castle

and the Crew of "Treble Four"

By Norman Valentine, General Castle's Driver

Mr. Valentine wrote his poem on August 19, 1999

After many long hours of literally "touching all his bases" to refine the strategies of air war,

Midnight finds the new brigadier approaching his “operations room” and passing through its door

Where he was soon to learn of the mighty undertaking that the morning held in store.

 

He quickly asked questions on weather, targets, leaders and position.

The answers told him what he needed to know about the scope of this most important mission.

 

Eight Air Force mission number 760, a “maximum effort” was the order!

Now came the planning to get this greatest-ever airborne fleet across the German border.

 

He hesitated for just a second for his duty was to him quite clear.

He did not give a single thought that the cost of this, his duty, to him would be so dear.

 

He turned and replaced the assigned air leader, not an easy thing to do,

With the words “Sorry, Mac, this is what they pay me for and you must lead group two.”

 

At that moment he joined with nine other crew men that he may have never seen

For the other nine lay in their warm bunks and four were in their final dream.

 

The dawn came soon, foggy, cold and freezing, weather conditions now caused despair

But the mission was still “on” and a hundred score of aircraft must surely take the air.

 

Frederick Walker Castle, not a leader to plan and order what others must do,

Chose to sit up front in the right hand seat and lead the great fleet through.

 

His 4th Combat Bomb Wing would lead the Mighty 8th, over 2000 bombers strong.

He hoped and he prayed to help make right the “breakthrough” that had gone all wrong.

 

The “Battle of the Bulge” relief is the purpose of this awesome mission.

Now the chosen gallant aircrews are to fly and fight with all they have

And do their damnedest to put the German air fields out of operational condition.

 

Castle chose this day, his 30th mission, to fly at the head of the 487th from Lavenham, its base.

All squadrons prepared to meet the challenge and lead the mighty race.

 

These men look not so different, at least no one could tell,

That the name they had been given is “The Gentleman From Hell."

 

They flew a giant silver B-17 bomber that had no glamorous name.

On this her seventh and last mission she was destined to go down in flame.

 

On her huge tail fin were inscribed three numbers, 4-4-4,

Hence, she was known as and just called the “Treble Four.”

 

Crew Chief Akerman salutes as with a touch of throttle she starts to taxi away

Certain in the knowledge his crew had finely honed their “baby”

And that loving care and attention to detail have always held full sway.

 

They trust she will carry all safely and return, though many hours later from this flight.

Their long vigil now begins for they have performed their duty in dark hours past

And into morning’s light.

 

At 0900 hours she races along the runway and rises slowly up into the dismal sky

To rendezvous with planes from many other groups.

These many hundred planes provide much needed support for our beleaguered troops.

 

This marvelous plane, a B-17 “Pathfinder” type as she was known,

Flew always at formation’s front whenever she was flown.

 

She was the most perfect ship that man could devise and make.

And for this special reason, and for this special sake, the “Lead crew” she would take.

 

This lead crew each member chosen in excellence exceeded.

They would lead all into the battle where they were sorely needed.

 

If you were near Liege, Belgium on the 24th December in ‘44

You would have heard the sound of many engines the likes of which were never heard before.

 

High up in the western sky that cold Christmas Eve day,

Just south of Liege, the great air armada proceeded on into the coming fray.

Below, weary, battle-worn soldiers looked skyward, the hoped-for relief was on the way.

 

Onward they flew with searching eyes and grim determination,

They forget ahead towards “Babenhausen,” their ultimate destination.

 

Suddenly, number one’s oil pressure is dropping!All counter measures seem to fail.

Black smoke leaves this engine with a thick, and deadly, telling trail.

 

A decision must be made and Castle gives the order, three scant hours into the mission.

He signals the deputy leader to take over as he reluctantly gives up the number one position.

 

To come so far, to come so close, frustration and apprehension is the mood now of the crew.

Each man silently struggles with his thoughts of what he may be called up on to do.

 

Enemy fighters, ME-109’s, soon find the great crippled bird lagging low and behind.

With blazing guns they swarm in on their hapless prey an easy target now to find.

To administer the “coup de grace” is the thing that fills their minds.

 

The crew fights back, some wounded, the situation seems hopeless, the odds are not so good,

Increasing damage and billowing flames spell out disaster as they always would.

 

A deadly hail of bullets rake and pierce the now mortally wounded bird, she’s cut to shreds.

A further tough decision must be made with obvious thoughts and feelings now of dread.

 

Bail out! Bail out! The order must be given as Castle sits firmly and struggles for control.

The formation watches helplessly for they know their duty and continue on to their goal.

 

It’s true, up here there are no fox holes, no snow and frozen mud, there is no place to hide.

It seems you have signed up as volunteers and so accept this wild and crazy ride.

 

The bomb bay retains its deadly cargo, Castle orders, “No bombs must fall.”

Below, our own relief troops struggle towards “The Bulge.”

He will not put these soldiers in harm’s way ’cause we desperately need them all.

 

With pounding hearts those still able grit their teeth and leap into the unfriendly sky

Where they see fierce German fighters that appear to fire on them as they go whizzing by.

 

Just stop and think of co-pilot Lt Rowe, a trained and able pilot,

Doomed while in his chute by an unlikely twist of fate.

From the cockpit to the tail gun position, for he had displaced a crew mate.

 

Castle holds her steady and heads for open space; it doesn’t seem so far away.

But now more 109’s are boring in all heading “Treble Four’s” way.

It seems the grim reaper is not to be denied on this Christmas Eve day.

 

Their comrades watch in horror! These are men they just sat with and listened to the brief.

They know they must fly on, tight together, but with a sense of loss and grief.

 

Castle orders Lt Harriman to jump but his chute cannot be found.

How can this be, how could this happen! It seems that fate will send him down.

 

Two men now left aboard what has become this doomed and flaming coffin,

Castle the Air Leader and Harriman his pilot. Then comes the final 20mm volley,

Wing shears off; the ship is in a spin, the gods of war the victors over man’s heroic folly.

 

Two men that had just met and were fated to sit side by side,

Are destined now to also share this final fiery plunge and deadly slide.

 

They lie now forever with a host of gallant men beneath the hallowed ground of

“Henri-Chapelle.”

Under white crosses row upon grim row where eight thousands of our heroes dwell.

 

What were their separate thoughts when they awoke this day?

Each knew the part they had been given, to bring this vicious, daring enemy to bay.

 

When they arose this morning could they foresee this tragic end,

Could they predict, could they imagine or possibly comprehend?

 

Did they perhaps give thought that in the coming short hours of strife

That they would go down together and sacrifice their life?

Norman Valentine

4th Wing

Monument dedicated in honor of crew members of the 487th Bomb Group

killed on December 24, 1944 near Fraiture, Belgium.

 
Letter from Norman Valentine, March 3, 2003

By Norman VALENTINE

487th Bomb Group

8th U.S. Air Force

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium