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Three of the American veterans from the 389 Bomb Group based at Hethel, from left, Barney Driscoll, Earl Zimmerman and Paul Hedges get ready to watch the wartime film 'welcome to Britain' at Wymondham yesterday
Friday, September 7, 2012
A leading veteran and former president of the 2nd Air Division Association, Earl Zimmerman, who was based in Norfolk during the second world war, has died aged 88.
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while serving with the 389th Bomb Group at Hethel, near Wymondham, he will be buried with military honours at the USA’s Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on Monday.
He was 21 when he married a Norwich girl, 17-year-old June Courteney, at Norwich Cathedral on March 24, 1945. After rejoining the United States Air Force after the war in his native USA, he was posted to Norwich in 1950 for a five-year tour as an agent with the Office of Special Investigations.
Their son was born in 1954 at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital.
The young radio operator, who survived a mid-air collision over Seething airfield while preparing for a raid on the Romania oilfields at Ploesti, had joined the 389th Bomb Group in June 1943.
While on his third mission, flying from Benghazi, Libya, their B-24 Liberator crashed in “neutral” Turkey, where he was interned.
As he later described it: “We needed a break from powdered eggs and dehydrated potatoes, so we decided to go to Turkey for fresh melons, pasta and ice-cream. After six months of living high on the hog, however, we decided to escape and get back to combat.”
He managed to keep the gold sovereign, part of his official escape kit, bought the others from fellow crew members, and had them made into a bangle for his wife.
Returning to Britain in January 1944, Master Sergeant Zimmerman was later sent to RAF Leuchars in Scotland as Black Liberators dropped canisters and resistance fighters over Norway.
Posted to Hethel again, he was visiting his fiancée and her family at 12 Spynke Road, Hellesdon, in November 1944 when a plane with the 458th, named “Lassie Come Home” returning upside down on a single engine to Horsham St Faiths, took off the top storey of her home. It killed the two children next door and although two of the crew were pulled out alive, one died on the lawn.
He stayed in the USAAF until 1964 as a special agent investigating crimes against the military in the Near and Far East, Europe and the USA. He then worked as a security consultant and private investigator.
He became a leading member of the 2nd Air Division Association, which includes the 14 Bomb Groups in the division including the 467th at Rackheath.
He served two terms as president and was treasurer at the time of his death. The ADA has had a memorial in Norwich for the past 48 years, which includes a Roll of Honor listing the 7,000 who gave their lives during the war.
He and his wife returned frequently to Norfolk, where he took a keen interest in the restoration of the 389th’s wartime chapel at Hethel.
Their marriage register entry is currently on display in the Long Gallery at the Norfolk Record Office as part of the Norfolk’s American Connections exhibition until September 29.
His wife died in April 2006 and he is survived by a son, Myles and daughter, Roberta.