The following is a chronological history of the 'Bottoms Up' and her assignments from post production to final date of service:
B-24H (Serial Number 42-64448)
Manufactured by Consolidated Aircraft, Fort Worth Texas and received by the 721st Squadron of the USAAF on September 30, 1943 and M/Sgt. Lester J. Witherspoon was appointed crew chief. He would remain with her until her disappearance in 1945. His dedication would later earn him the Legion of Merit award, the nations fourth highest award. See Cottontails Newsletter, December 1991. See also, Witherspoon biography page.
It went to the Birmingham Modification Center in Alabama on October 4, 1943 and then to Alamorgordo Air Force base located in New Mexico on the 1st of November. From there it went to Herrington AAF in Kansas, then to the 406th Sub Depot and then on to the 450th Bombardment Group (Heavy). It departed the U.S. on the 16th of December, 1943 and was assigned to the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy. View a copy of the original inventory card for the B-24. Information provided by the Air Force Historical Research Agency and M/Sgt. Greg Hennman, Historian, 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman, AFB.
The first pilot was Lt. Joseph P. Gallagher and many pilots flew her during the war.
The 'Bottoms Up' developed mechanical problems on her trip overseas and was the last ship to arrive at Manduria, Italy. It arrived in time to participate in the ninth mission of the group. The target for that day was Pisa, Italy on January 18, 1944.
Over her career, she made successive trips to Korman, Marrbor, Vienna, Regensberg, Varadzin, and Wiener Neustadt. She even made it to Ploesti and back.
Captain Harris L. Wood ('Woodie') took the 'Bottoms Up' on her 100th flight. This was the first ship in the 450th to reach 100 missions. The target for the day was Podgorica, Yugoslavia on October 31, 1944. See the Capt. Harris L. Wood painting donated to the Maxwell Air Force Base officers club, photo courtesy of John Jeff, Colonel (Retired), 720th Bomb Squadron.
After it's 100th mission, she was grounded and her engines were rebuilt. It was hoped that she would make it through the entire duration of the European war. The 'Bottoms Up' was placed back on flying status on March 8, 1945.
T.A. Doriety, Flight Chief for the 721st Squadron writes concerning Pop Witherspoon, Crew Chief for the Bottoms Up, "His name was Lester J. Witherspoon and he was from the St. Louis, Mo. area. It must have been a small town and the draft board must have had a hard time meeting their quota as he was much older than us younger guys. He had some children. He was probably in his 30's which of course is not old but to us he seemed old. " See Witherspoon biography page.
Pop would later be awarded the Legion of Merit Award. He was in charge of the 'Bottoms Up' for all 100 missions. During this period of time, due to lack of replacement parts, severe weather, and high damage from the enemy, he showed extreme ingenuity, dedication, and professionalism in preparing her for each mission.
Speaking with Floyd Perkins (Treasurer, 450th Bomb Group Association) at the 2005 450th Bomb Group reunion held in Valley Forge, PA, Floyd stated, "Pop always wore his hat brim flipped up in front. Whenever anyone saw his hat brim flipped up and twisted to the side, they knew to stay away from him cause he was madder than hell."
Pop Witherspoon played an extremely important role in the history of the 'Bottoms Up'. Traditionally, in the Army Air Force, the pilot of a particular aircraft was responsible for naming it, if he so chose to. In the case of the 'Bottoms Up', it was not so. According to Robert Wicklund (cousin of Carl B. Wicklund, Staff Sgt., 721st Squadron) in a letter sent to him from Floyd Perkins , Pop was the man who named the B-24. "Pop liked tipping a few, bending his elbow, and after checking her in for the first time after arriving from stateside, the crew headed for the watering hole for a brew. Pop made a toast and said "Bottoms Up". The base artist, picked up on that and went to work on her the next day and completed the nose art work." See also, Witherspoon biography page.
When the 'Bottoms Up' was lost on March 16, 1945, Pop Witherspoon never accepted another plane as crew chief.
In July, I was also contacted by Edward Kacicek. His brother was Walter Kacicek who was with the 7th Armament Section of the 721st Squadron at Manduria, Italy. Ed posted in our RW Guest book that Walt was the artist for the nose art on the Bottoms Up. According to my research (and as documented in the book 450th Bomb Group (H) The Cottontails of WWII), Walt was also the artist for the 721st Bomb Squadron logo.
I have confirmed this data to be true, a major piece of the history of the Bottoms Up has been rediscovered since we now know the artist of the nose art.
|Side Bar: Over the past few months, I have been corresponding with T.A.Doriety. He has been very helpful in my research. He was the Flight Chief of the 721st Squadron and had intimate knowledge of most of the planes in his care. He mentioned to me that "Pop" Witherspoon was the Crew Chief for the 'Bottoms Up'. To us laymen, that means he was the head mechanic for the bird. T.A. has recently passed away and I remain ever grateful for the knowledge he was able to impart to me concerning the Bottoms Up. I had the honorable pleasure of meeting T.A.'s wife, Freda, and daughter at the 2005 Cottontail Reunion in Valley Forge, Pa.