2LT Edward Lawrence "Larry" Phelan
20th Air Force, 498th Bomb Group, 873rd Bomb Squadron
KIA 3 December 1944
near Saipan Island in the Pacific
-- John William Phelan, Nephew --
Larry, my uncle, was born on March 12, 1921, in Utica, New York, the fifth of six children born to David M. and Mary Ann (Gaffney) Phelan. He graduated from Utica
Free Academy high school, where he was a member of numerous clubs and organizations, including the drama and French clubs, choir, and student council. Larry was
always outgoing, energetic, and very sociable.
As one of three brothers to enter the service during the war, he enlisted in the Army Air Force while in his third year of the chemical engineering program at the
University of Detroit. Larry completed basic training in Boca Raton, FL, was commissioned a second lieutenant at the Army Air Forces Training Command School, Yale
University, on November 11, 1943. He then volunteered as a B-29 flight engineer and was sent to Boeing Aircraft Company, Seattle, and later to Lowery Field, Denver,
where he received his wings in April, 1944. He was assigned to Great Bend, Kansas, later to Kearney, Nebraska, and left for overseas October 16, 1944.
The B-29 was one of the first bombers to operate at an extremely high altitude, and the flight engineer's job was critical to the planes ability to fly long distance.
The engineer used banks of instruments, calculations, and loads of pre-computed tables to compute the best engine settings to make the long-distance flights on the
available fuel. The engineer had control of the engine speed, fuel-air mixture, ignition timing, cooling, and turbo-charger manifold pressure. For the entire flight,
the engineer would monitor the engines and readjust settings to try to reach the target and return home.
On December 3, 1944, Larry's plane participated in a bombing mission of Tokyo, only the third such raid over Tokyo by any American plane. The planes took off during
a storm and as they came through the cloud cover they had difficulty getting into formation. Once over Japan, many enemy fighters attempted to intercept the B-29s,
some even attempting to ram the American planes. The B-29s had formidable defenses and were able to keep most enemy fighters at bay. Evidently, Larry's plane was
severely damaged. His plane appeared to have dropped behind the formation and the crew radioed their intention to ditch. The plane probably went down near Haichijo
Jima Island, about 200 miles south of Tokyo. Neither his plane nor the remains of the crewmembers were ever found. He was listed initially as Missing in Action and
later declared Killed in Action. He was nearly 24 and died less than a month after his older brother, Jack (my father), was lost while serving with Patton's Third
Army in France.
I have gotten to know Larry a little from reading several letters that he wrote to his younger brother, Vincent. It seems that Vin, who later entered the Navy as an
ensign after completing the V-12 program at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, was always asking Larry for brotherly advice on various subjects, and Larry
was only to happy to give it. One letter describes what it was like when the base was attacked by enemy fighter planes: "Every few days we're sent scurrying by the
sirens announcing the Japanese attempts at reprisal. Their results are pitiful but each time we expect he might be better, so we run like mad and dive into our holes.
When he gets close you can see everyone striving to fold his entire body up into his helmet." Larry also had two sisters, Anne and Catherine. Catherine said that upon
returning from training, Larry had so much energy that he would literally do hand-springs over the porch railing on the front of the house rather than walk down the
steps. Larry had a sweetheart whom he met while training at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle. They had put off any plans for marriage because he felt his future was so uncertain.