“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Mission 788, 22February45

On February 22, 1945, Lt. John T. Cravey, my father, went to the morning briefing at San Severo airdrome, Italy, to learn what the day’s mission would be. He and 50 other fighter pilots of the 309th Fighter Squadron of the 31st Fighter Wing then climbed into their P-51 Mustangs, got the engines warmed up and propellers moving, and took off from the poor excuse for a runway. Dad was flying wing for Capt. Roger Zierenberg. That mission, number 788 of 22 February 1945, was to “escort the 49th Wing [bombers] in an all out attack on enemy transportation facilities.”*

Lt. John T. Cravey, flight training

It was the birthday of George Washington, America’s first President, and those fighter pilots were climbing skyward to do their part in stopping Adolph Hitler’s dream of Aryan world domination. It was cold day, with a thick layer of clouds, but it would get much colder for dad that day.

After escort, as the briefing ordered, the fighters would peel off to strafe mainly rail transportation yards. The fact that this mission was a small facet of a larger – and secret --strategy called “CLARION” was not likely covered in the morning briefing. These fighters were among the nearly 11,000 Allied planes in the air that day over Germany. CLARION’s purpose was to bomb the last breaths out of the Third Reich’s war machine. As my father later recounted in a taped conversation, the flak was so thick that day that he thought he could get out of his Mustang and walk on it. The targets were Regensburg and Freising, near Munich. Dad strafed over Freising. According to the official War Diary entry for that day, the mission was successful: “4 locomotives destroyed and 9 damaged; 2 MT [German fighter planes] destroyed and 1 damaged; 24 railroad cars damaged; 2 power plants damaged; 1 barge damaged; and 1 railroad station damaged.”

Two men did not return to San Severo that cold day as recorded in the daily War Diary: “Lt. Roraus after strafing struck out for Switzerland or France with engine trouble and has not been heard from. Lt. Cravey was hit with flak and on return dropped down through undercast over Mid-Alps and is MIA.”

Capt. Zierenberg returned without dad. He filled out the required forms, including the MAC report and the narrative statement; they were filed on 24 February 1945. According to his report, he was leading Blue Section with dad as his wingman; they had taken off at 0940 hours to provide cover and strafe in Freising, Germany:

            "At 1400 hours in the vicinity of Innsbruck at an altitude of 16,000 feet, Lt. Cravey was seen to jettison his canopy and disappear into an overcast, at a 30 degree angle of dive, pouring gasoline or glycol and dark smoke. The mountains in that area were covered by an overcast and his plane was not seen to crash or his parachute seen to open. I circled for 15 minutes hunting for any sign without any results. Damage observed on his airplane was a hole in his canopy and fuselage.”

Captain Zierenberg didn't know, of course, that there was also a small hole in dad’s lower left leg, where a piece of flak penetrated. His plane did crash on a glacier about 25 miles from Innsbruck. He did bail out, landing somewhere on Zuckerhutl, Sugar Mountain, at 11,500 feet the highest in the Stubai Alps. The odds of his survival on that mountain were worse than slim.

The story of my father’s harrowing survival, the real story rather than the “action hero, comic book” version that we knew as kids, began emerging only six months ago, September 1, 2012, when an unlikely, cold-contact e-mail from a stranger in Austria dinged into my inbox. That e-mail, which I nearly deleted, propelled me, my sister Susan, and our first cousin Emory (dad’s nephew) on a quest for the real story; we continue to fill in missing pieces.

Sixty-eight years later on this George Washington’s birthday, I will honor Lt. John T. Cravey as my father and as a man who fought for America in World War II by beginning serious work on a personal narrative of his story of survival. I will remember not only him, but also Lt. Roraus, who, according to Emory’s thorough research, also went down that day and also managed to survive. Both dad and Lt. Roraus were captured and spent the remainder of the war as POWs of the German Army.

Lt. John T. Cravey's Nazi mug shot taken in a processing center before his arrival
 by forced march to Moosberg POW camp.

* The details of his February 22, 1945, mission are housed at the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell AFB, in Montgomery, Alabama, which holds more than 500,000 historic Air Force documents: http://www.afhra.af.mil/. I drove there to see these original records on microfilm after e-mailing in advance a request for mission reports from that date. The staff had made copies and had them on the reading desk when I arrived. I am especially grateful for their help and support. [AFHRA’s IRISNUM call numbers for these documents were 00248401 and 00248402].

The AFHRA database is searchable on the web at: http://airforcehistoryindex.org/  

The Lt. Col. John Thomas Cravey WWII USAAF and USAF Careers Collection© is the copyrighted property of Joanna Cravey Hutt and Susan Rebecca Cravey for their sole use. The collection includes but is not limited to the contents of three scrapbooks displaying letters, pictures, icons and other visual matter; 35 mm slide transparencies contained in the original storage tins; black and white photographs related to Lt. Col. Cravey’s USAAF and USAF careers; e-mails and letters donated to, given to, or addressed to the owners regarding the careers; private records; and other visual and audio materials.

Lt. John T. Cravey, P-51 flight instructor after WWII, Key Field 
training young pilots in the P-51

Won’t You Please Come Home

For reasons that I didn’t stop to analyze at the time and that now seem like excuses, I have sorely neglected Spittin’ Grits for more than a year. Dismayed, I regret my neglect.

Several events have jump-started my engines to prevent future ill winds from pushing me off course or shutting me down permanently. Spittin’ Grits is no cruise ship Triumph, which, if you ask me, suffered from gross neglect and sent out its own ill winds. No one’s going to tow this blog into the Port of Mobile.

Only a word or two more about that crappy situation, and then I’m through. According to Media Post’s blog Marketing Daily, tons of scatological jokes and pictures flooded the social media, even as Carnival’s CEO Gerry Cahill showed corporate stupidwill, not goodwill, by, ugh, puke, boarding the Triumph when he should have been at the gangplank with latex gloves on, handing out big checks to the cruisers. PR “professionals” are predicting that the gross event will be soon forgotten, but I’ll bet the story won’t be over until long after late night TV, Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and the well known Fat Lady get through with it. And until Carnival dry docks the piece of s*%! and makes a Homecoming bonfire out of it. My money is on Carnival’s having to pay a really stinky price for its neglect of both the ship and its cruisers.

Enough already.

I can’t hand out any checks to former readers, but I can try to bring you back – not to merely a restored product, but to one that has bested itself. It will take time to re-link pictures to posts, to add to the blogroll and favorite web sites, to update the design and paths to social media, and more. But I’ll keep chugging away, far away from the Port of Mobile, which, I’ll bet, wanted only to cleanse itself of the Triumph.

Oh, stop!

My decision to get Spittin’ Grits out of dry dock came on September 1, 2012, with an e-mail from a complete stranger in Lienz, Austria, just across the Alps from the top of the Italian boot. For six days I let that e-mail just sit in my in-box while I pondered this hoaxy looking piece of possible spam. I finally opened it on September 6; then it opened the only door out of the wardrobe to discovering the real story of my father’s World War II experience. Since then, as e-mails have bounced back and forth across the continents, my sister, Susan, our first cousin Emory, and I have been on a quest to piece together that story. The project has pulled in other players, like Kurt in Pennsylvania, Anton in northern Italy, several of my father’s old friends, and many others.

Lieutant John T. Cravey and daughter Joanna, August 1943

Roland in Austria found me through this blog. He had been on a search for family members of Lt. John T. Cravey, as had Kurt in Pennsylvania, for about five years. It appears that had Spittin’ Grits not been on the Internet, the search would have never seen results and we would never have known dad’s real story. He found me here by way of the cutline (above) under the photo of my father with me the newborn in his arms. He was earning his wings, which would take him overseas to meet his fate on February 22, 1945.

The next post will honor that day as one of the most meaningful in our family’s life.

I hope you will come back and stay for a while.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin
Spittin' Grits. Copyright © 2009 Joanna C. Hutt. All rights reserved. | Contact