Monday, May 10, 2004

War experience made him an avid historian

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MOUNT AIRY - The respect and affection John Craven has for his comrades who flew the bombing missions over Germany, and the fighter pilots who protected them in the air, hasn't dimmed a bit, even though 60 years have passed.

John Craven of Mt. Airy served in the 303rd Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, stationed in Molesworth, England.
(Gary Landers photo)
Nor has his pride in the fact that he was among the soldiers on the ground who made it possible for them to fly.

"It took 10 men on the ground for every one man who flew," said the 80-year-old veteran of the Army's 8th Air Force, the legendary unit that helped break the back of Nazi Germany in thousands of bombing runs in World War II.

His passion for flight and for the 8th Air Force has burned brightly over the years. For the past quarter-century, he has spent much of his free time compiling a detailed World War II history of the 8th Air Force, a history that runs to thousands of pages in the thick spiral notebooks stacked in the basement workshop of his Mount Airy home.

In the fall of 1942 Craven was a 19-year-old Roger Bacon High School graduate, taking night classes at the University of Cincinnati. He enlisted in the Army, hoping to become a pilot in the Army Air Force.

He was sent to Wright Field in Dayton, where he passed most of the rigorous tests to qualify for flight training. He was rejected in the end for, of all things, bad teeth.

Instead, the young airman was shipped to England on board the Queen Mary and sent to Molesworth, one of the 8th Air Force's 41 bomber bases scattered around the English countryside.

There, with sergeant's stripes on his sleeve, he joined the 8th Air Force's 303rd Bomb Group.

For the next 21/2 years, he served at Molesworth in the intelligence section - the unit that prepared detailed information for the pilots, navigators and bombardiers who flew the missions deep behind enemy lines.

"We handled all the top secret material," said Craven. "We gave them all the information they needed to get in the air, get the job done and get home safely."

The intelligence section would work up information on targets for flight crews and give them detailed maps showing the location of POW camps and hospitals, so they would not be bombed by accident. They also compiled intelligence on where German anti-aircraft guns were located - information that could easily save the lives of a B-17 crew.

His passion for history - history he helped make - gave birth to the volumes of material he has gathered over the past 25 years on every unit of the 8th Air Force - detailed, handwritten ledgers showing every flight, every crew, every kind of plane that took to the air.

He has even compiled a book of information on the Luftwaffe, the German air force.

One recent afternoon, as he showed a visitor the volumes of material, his wife of 56 years, Rose, looked on smiling.

"Twenty-five years, he's worked on this," she said with a laugh. "At least it kept him out of bars."

Today, Craven volunteers part time at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he talks with groups of young people about the World War II planes on display there and about the 8th Air Force's role.

"It's satisfying, but I'm amazed how little young people today know about the war," said Craven. "A lot of these kids couldn't find England on a map."

And, like many World War II veterans, he downplays his own role.

"I was not what you would call a big hero," said Craven, who returned to Cincinnati after the war, raised a family and retired as senior vice president of AR Industries.

"I was like thousands of other guys, who went and served and did their jobs the best they could. I was just one of those guys."



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