2LT Francis Ildefonso Cervantes
859th BS, 15th Special Group (Provisional),
15th AF, Brindisi, Italy.
Killed in Action 9 February, 1945
near Jablanac, Yugoslavia
-- Frank Cervantes --
My father was born on November 6, 1922, in New Orleans. He was the first-born
child of Mexican immigrants and had two younger sisters. His father,
Francisco, was a veteran of the Mexican Revolution who had come to this
country seeking a better life.
My father's dream was to become an aeronautical engineer. He was a sophomore
at Tulane University when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He wanted he to
immediately join the service but his parents pleaded with him to stay in
school. He reluctantly agreed to postpone his enlistment, but only until the
completion of the school year. He eventually enlisted in the USAAF on June
He met my mother, Paula Andrade while stationed in San Antonio, Texas. He was
assigned to Navigator School and she was serving as a volunteer hostess at
the downtown USO. They fell in love and were married on Christmas Eve in the
base chapel on Brook Army Air Force Base. She followed him throughout the
West as he underwent flight training as a B-24 Liberator crew member. She
still remembers the dust at Wendover, Utah, the mosquitoes at Mountain Home,
Idaho, and the beauty around Casper, Wyoming. They last saw each other in
Wichita, Kansas just before he flew off to England in the spring of 1944.
Their aircraft was named "Back to the Sack" and featured a painting of Donald
Duck in a nightshirt and nightcap, holding a candle and yawning.
Upon arrival in England, this crew was asked to volunteer for the elite 492nd
Bombardment Group (Provisional), the now famous Carpetbaggers. This was a
unit under the command of the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.), not the
USAAF. The OSS was the forerunner of today's CIA. All crews were volunteers,
and were under strict orders to maintain secrecy about their missions, under
penalty of death. Their mission was to fly into the occupied countries and
drop spies and supplies to the resistance fighters. They would also, when
possible, land behind enemy lines and extract downed Allied airmen. Most of
their missions were flown at night, alone, and at low level to avoid German
radar. Casualty rates, as expected, were very high. Some crews simply
disappeared, probably crashing at sea. They were under strict orders to
maintain radio silence, even when in trouble. If captured and identified,
they were treated as spies and executed by the nazis.
Several excellent books have been written about the exploits of the
Carpetbaggers. Among these are: "They Flew by Night, Memoirs of the
Carpetbaggers" as told to Col. Robert W. Fish, "Carpetbaggers-America's
Secret War in Europe," by Ben Parnell, and "The Bedford Triangle, US
Undercover Operations in Europe in W.W.II", by Martin W. Bowman.
After the liberation of France in December, 1945, my father and his crew
again volunteered to fly similar missions in Eastern Europe, this time out of
Italy. On February 9, 1945, while on a mission to drop supplies to the
partisans fighting the nazis in Yugoslavia, their aircraft exploded in midair
as they crossed the Adriatic coast over present day Croatia. There were no
survivors and the cause of the explosion was never determined. Their remains
were initially interred in the American Cemetery in Belgrade, and eventually
re-interred in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri.
The individual remains could not be identified and they were buried in a
group as comrades-in-arms.
I was born three weeks before my father died, and he knew of my birth.
Although I never felt his touch or heard his voice, a day seldom passes that
I don't think of him in some way. Like many war orphans, I would often dream
that he would someday walk back into our lives and tell us it had all been a
mistake- that he had been lost, or taken prisoner, or on a secret assignment.
I was about ten when I finally realized he really wasn't coming home. Once I
dreamt I was standing by his grave, and I remember I awoke in tears. I don't
think my mother ever got over losing him. She never remarried.
1st Lt. Robert W. Maxwell, pilot
2nd Lt. Frank E. Marcus, copilot
2nd Lt. Francis I. Cervantes, navigator
2nd Lt. Robert C. Jackson. bombardier
S/Sgt. Lionel A. Tetzloff
S/Sgt. William P. Kavanaugh
S/Sgt. Kyle B. Jones
Pvt. William W. Elliott
I am extremely proud of my father. He was and is my hero. He was loved,
admired and respected by those who knew him. He was somewhat serious, hard
working and quiet, but fun loving and gregarious at the right moments. He
once went to pick my mom up for a date, but got too involved in a baseball
game with her younger brothers and sisters in the street in front of her home
and they never got to go out. He loved making things and was an award-winning
model builder. I have a newspaper clipping of him receiving an award for a
scale model of the Queen Mary that he built. That model is still in our
Dad, I've always loved you and missed you. I have tried very hard to live my
life in a way that would have made you proud of me. You have a beautiful
daughter-in-law and granddaughter who I both love deeply. Thank you for your