Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The Tragedy Over Weatherford (8/17/1945) - Mar. 3rd, 2004
Posted on 03/03/2004 12:00:43 AM PST by SAMWolf
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The 1945 night-time collision
of two B-29 Superfortress Bombers
Friday, August 17, 1945 was no different from any other summer day. The heat was stifling as usual, and the late summer humidity simply added to the oppressive Texas sun. The war in Europe was over and the Japanese had finally been defeated in the Pacific. Hopes for the future were beginning to return to the American spirit as the worst war in world history was coming to a close.
The horrors of the war, however, would be relived on that day in the small north Texas town of Weatherford. The event, here at home, would remind the small town residents that no one was safe from the tragedies created by the mechanisms of that war.
At 5:00 p.m., the crew of a B-29 "Superfortress" (heavy bomber) at Clovis Field, New Mexico, received orders for their last training run before they were to ship out to join the 21st bomber group at Saipan in the Pacific. The crew's orders were to proceed to Fort Worth, Texas and complete five radar-controlled night bombing runs on Meacham Field.
The bomb run was to simulate a real situation - of flying from Guam to Tokyo and return. No personal items were to be carried by any of the crew other than dog tags. No billfolds, notes, papers, or anything that would give the enemy any information in the event they were shot down.
Twenty-two-year old 2nd Lt. Edwin F. Smith of Glasgow, Kentucky, was the co-pilot on the Clovis plane that night. He recalled that there were 11 men on the plane, each with specific responsibilities honed through months of harsh training.
The pilot of that plane, 1st Lt. Robert A Mayor of Buffalo, New York, went through the usual motions as the heavy bomber left the runway. All other crewmen diligently tended to their duties just after take-off as the plane climbed to a comfortable "pressurized" cruising altitude on the last flight it would ever make.
The good folks of Weatherford were just settling down for the evening. Many were lounging in their yards or attending the movies at one of the theaters on the square. Others routinely took care of evening business or simply relaxed and looked forward to the weekend.
Smith recalled reaching Ft. Worth just as it got dark or shortly thereafter. "We flew over Fort Worth at 15,000 ft; turned east and flew a box pattern as to approach the target from the east. We made a good run and continued west until making a turn to the south for a second run. Just before making that southerly turn, 2nd Lt. Robert Knight, the Bombardier, shouted into the radio that the nose of the plane was dropping, and to do something quick".
"OK! OK!" yelled Smith; "I'll use the elevator override knob". The auto-pilot was letting the plane drop about 200 feet, and then correct and go back up 200 feet above the desired 15,000 ft. altitude. "The plane was going through the air like a dolphin", recalled Smith. "I unbuckled my seat belt so that I could lean forward to see the altimeter better", he said.
The bombardier began to shout once more, "Get this darn thing on 15,000 or we'll have to come back and do this thing again". "I'm trying", yelled Smith as he attempted to make corrections to the stubborn B-29, but Knight, the bombardier, and the auto-pilot were basically controlling the plane.
The pilot began to make the southerly bank when Smith heard his commander's last words, "Oh my God!" Smith looked up from the instrument panel just in time to see the wing of another B-29 bomber about 10 feet from his cockpit window. The world instantly exploded with the deafening sound of twisting metal and exploding fuel lines.
Ross Robertson, a boy at the time and mascot of the Weatherford Fire Department, was lounging on the couch at the old jail where his father worked. He was listening to the radio when he heard the terrible crash over the southwest part of the city, which lit up the sky like lightning.
He immediately ran outside to witness the two mighty airplanes scattering debris, burning fuel, and burning parachutes over a large area as they fell toward the earth. "The engines just made a loud whining sound," said Robertson. He reported that one plane fell in a spiral toward the ground as the other fell in a northerly direction. He remarked, "It was a horrible sight to see those planes fall to the ground and feel so helpless".. All who witnessed where stunned and horrified by the events. Some thought it was a Japanese attack while others thought it was the end of the world. The worse thing, said Robertson, "there wasn't anything anyone could do but watch as burning debris fell to earth".
Smith, the co-pilot, went on to say, "I was thrown all over the cockpit. At first I thought we had hit an airliner full of people. I was horrified and scared and my heart was pounding in my chest. The plane was speeding to the ground with the number one, two, and three engines still running. I was unable to find the throttle and the controls were completely frozen up. The night lit up and it seemed as if everything was on fire and the only way out was through the co-pilot's window. As I opened the window the sounds of the engines and the slipstream were terrifying. I was so scared, really scared and I could feel my heart beating wildly against my chest".
Smith crawled out the window up to his waist but the slipstream was so fierce that he couldn't straighten up. He was pinned to the fuselage facing the rear of the plane and looking directly into the number three engine, which was still running at full power. He was hung-up on something in the cockpit. The chances of surviving a jump from the B-29 in this situation was next to impossible - and he knew it.
He found himself in a horrible situation, he couldn't crawl back in and his chute would not go through the window. There was nothing he could do. "I am a Christian", he said. "I prayed. I didn't ask God to save my life, for my knowledge of this kind of accident told me that it was impossible to survive. I asked God to forgive my sins and help me prepare to die".
Smith went on to say, "I knew the plane was falling fast and then suddenly I heard a 'thud' as something hit my right side, briefly rendering me unconscious. I thought we had struck the ground then I regained consciousness and found myself falling to the ground with my parachute fully opened above me. I felt I must have pulled the ripcord which deployed the chute and pulled me from the plane. Then I hit the ground hard, and was out of it again".
In the meantime Ross Robertson jumped on the first out fire engine, which quickly responded to the plane that went down on the southwest side of town. Robertson recalled, "the plane fell on the old Edward's farm on the old Brock Road just south of the Ranger Highway. When we arrived it was fully involved with fire and exploding. We couldn't get to it. About that time a car approached us at a high speed, it had a big dent in it. The driver jumped out and told us that a body had fallen on his car, however, it was later discovered to be only debris from one of the planes.
The men on the fire truck decided there were no survivors on the Clovis plane and since it had avoided falling on any houses, they quickly re-routed their efforts to the Alamogordo plane that fell somewhere on the north side of town.
B-29 Top Turret
The firemen arrived to find the Alamogordo plane in a pasture just off the Jacksboro road (now known as Peaster Highway). It too was burning with intermittent explosions. The B-29 had broken up before hitting the ground, scattering debris and men over a large area. Robertson recalled a section of wing was leaning against a barbed wire fence on the north side of the road. The Army was quickly dispatched and arrived about an hour after the crash. They quickly secured the area and began searching for survivors and locating the dead.
Back at the Clovis crash site, Smith awoke to hear someone calling "Airman! Airmen!" He answered back and knew he had been found. A Captain in the medical corps quickly assessed his injuries and found that he had a severely dislocated shoulder, lacerations on his knees and thigh, a possible broken leg and a sprained back. He was quickly given morphine and transported to the Army hospital at old Camp Wolters in Mineral Wells.
"We arrived at Camp Wolters about 2:00 a.m.," Smith remembered. "The following morning I awoke in horrible pain, I couldn't move I hurt so bad. It was terribly hot and I had no air conditioning-not even a fan. A Red Cross representative arrived and informed me that there were no other survivors, that I was the only one out of both planes. I was devastated. Why was I alive and all those other boys dead? I felt so sad, so alone, stunned and depressed. I wanted my family, but on the other hand, I was so relieved to learn we hadn't hit a civilian airliner".
Later in the day the Army did inform Lt. Smith that there was one more survivor from his plane, waist gunner Cpl. Earl E.Wischmeier from West Burlington, Iowa. Wischmeier wasn't wearing his parachute at the time of the crash but did have on his harness. The impact of the crash and the spiraling plane had him pinned against the inside of the fuselage when a parachute came sliding toward him. He quickly donned it as fire began to engulf the plane all around him. He was able to kick out the heat-weakened gun blister and jump.
This is the tunnel that goes from the front of the aircraft to the rear over the bombay as this aircraft was the first pressurized high-altitude bomber.
Wischmeier managed to open his parachute about 200 feet above the earth - resulting in a broken leg and a seriously dislocated ankle. He had already received serious burns on both legs after kicking out the Plexiglas blister as burning fuel running along the fuselage set his dangling limbs on fire. He was, miraculously, able to walk about half a mile to the Northington home and asked, of all things, for a drink of water.
Wischmeier reported to the Weatherford Democrat, in 1945, that he had survived because of prayer. "Anyone who doesn't believe in prayer is crazy," he remarked. Lt. Smith was very relieved when he received the good news about Cpl. Wischmeier and the two were reunited in the Army hospital at Camp Wolters two days later.
There were no survivors from the Alamogordo plane, piloted by 1st Lt. Aubrey K. Stinson of Caneyville, Kentucky, which was also on a training mission from a completely different bomber squadron. Many of the bodies from both planes were burned beyond recognition and scattered about the fields.
The following day brought hundreds of sightseers and souvenir hunters to the both sites to collect mementos or to simply satisfy their curiosity. The army attempted to secure the scene as best as possible but the area was too large to cover completely.
B-29 Radar Operator
The reality of the crash had haunting effects on the two survivors of the Clovis plane as well as the citizens of Weatherford. With the exception of the local veterans who had previously witnessed the reality of war, nothing could have prepared these people of the horrors of that hot August evening. It was to date, one of the worst mid-air collisions in the U.S. according to the Glasgow Kentucky Daily Times.
The Weatherford Democrat reported in 1945 that the Saturday after the crash, Mary Edwards was out in the pasture with her father on their farm just south of town where the Clovis plane crashed. She came upon a shoe and went to pick it up to find a foot in it. The ordeal was quite disturbing to the young lady. Army personnel quickly took the shoe, as soon as they learned of it.
Mildred Edwards (now Mildred Beard), of Weatherford, was working in Fort Worth when the crash happened on her father's farm. She quickly rushed home to find her family's farm swarming with military vehicles and men. "The fences were cut, and the cows were out" she said. She reported that the incident was quite disturbing and disruptive to the lives of her family for quite some time.
B-29 Tail Gun
About a week after the crash, Ross Robertson said he and a friend were going fishing on town creek not far from the crash site of the Alamogordo plane. As the boys walked down near the creek they found a crucifix necklace hanging in a tree. Just below it was a fully-loaded 50-caliber machine gun, apparently missed by the recovery team that had hit the ground with such great force that its barrel had been bent into an "L" shape. His father contacted the Army, which quickly arrived to claim the articles. Ross said "the smell of burned flesh and gasoline lingered in that area for years".
Smith and Wischmeier were released from the Camp Wolters Army Hospital after 34 days. Smith remembered that he had no clothes, no wallet, nothing. The medical staff had cut his flight suit off in the emergency room the night of the accident and he was missing his right shoe. The missing shoe was located on the Edward's farm with the end chopped off. Smith realized then that the propeller on that number three engine chopped the end of the shoe off and must have broken his right leg in the process.
Gunner using the remote gun computing sight, interior view
Smith reported, "With the help of the Red Cross, I was able to obtain a khaki uniform, hat and a pair of shoes from the PX. I had no insignia". The Army gave him a one-way train ticket back to Clovis, New Mexico.
After 36 days, Lt. Edwin Smith had returned to his home base. He went on to say, "At first I was quite anxious to return to my barracks where we all lived as a crew. The barracks was quiet and empty as if nobody had ever been there. The beds were there with blankets still on them and the windows had been left open just like we left them. There was mud on the blankets from rain. All of our personal belongings had been packed up and sent home to our families, our uniforms were gone from the flight line".
Smith went on to say, "I sat down on my bunk to pray for the souls of my crew and I cried. I needed counseling; I was 22 years old and in the last 36 days had endured just about all I thought I could stand. I felt guilty. If I had kept the plane at 15,000 feet perhaps the accident would not have happened. Smith then sadly remarked, "I grieve today as I did 57 years ago." "I will die with that grief in my heart."
To this day no memorial or marker stands to remember the lives of those brave men that flew on that mission so many years ago. Many of those who remember the crash have passed on as well. The Weatherford Democrat re-visited the story in a wonderful article in September 1991, as did the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 when Smith returned to Weatherford for a brief visit.
In a letter to Bob Hopkins of Weatherford, dated October 2002, Smith stated, "My soul is full of sadness for the families of these 18 young, patriotic Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country; they gave their lives, but not in vain".
|List of Airmen Involved in the Crash|
|From Clovis Field:|
|1st Lt. Robert A. Mayer, Airplane Commander||Buffalo, New York|
|2nd Lt. Robert L. Knight, Bombardier||Mt. Vernon, Washington|
|2nd Lt. John W. Burtis, Navigator||St. Paul, Minnesota|
|Flight Officer Robert Q. Zaliska, Radar Operator||Los Angeles, California|
|S. Sgt. Clifford. D. Longmire, Engineer||Columbus, Georgia|
|Cpl. Robert H. Aparian, Radio Operator||Westerbury, Connecticut|
|Cpl. Jasper C. Wilson, Jr., Gunner||Durham, North Carolina|
|Cpl. Willard Byarly, Gunner||Chicago, Illinois|
|Cpl. Anthony J. Agliata, Gunner||Newark, New Jersey|
|Lt. Edwin F. Smith, Co-Pilot/Flight Officer||Glasgow, Kentucky|
|Cpl. Earl F. Wischmeier, Gunner||West Burlington, Iowa|
|From Alamogordo Field:|
|1st Lt. Aubrey K. Stenson, Airplane Commander||Caneyville, Kentucky|
|2nd Lt. Harold N. Swaim, Co-Pilot||Wichita Falls, Texas|
|2nd Lt Gordon E. Myers, Navigator||Kansas City, Missouri|
|2nd Lt. Binson W. Cohen, Bombardier||Bronx, New York City|
|2nd Lt. Edward E. Lahmers, Flight Engineer||Decatur, Illinois|
|Sgt. Donald E. Lefebure, Radar Operator||Detroit, Michigan|
|Sgt. Johnny A. Mosely, Fire Control||Columbus, South Carolina|
|Sgt. Donald E. Reed, Gunner||Tyrone, Pennsylvania|
|Sgt. Clarence A Jurgens, Gunner||Sidney, Nebraska|
|MAY THEY REST IN PEACE...|
| WW II brought out the worst that mankind had to offer but it brought out the best as well. Millions of men joined up to fight in the armed services. The Army Air Force was fully a volunteer operation. No one was forced to fly and no other armed service lost as many men as did those brave flyers. Some squadrons in the Army's Eighth Air Force (The Mighty Eighth) lost up to seventy percent of their bomb groups over France and Germany during the hard years of daylight bombing by the American Forces. The Fifteenth Air Force, stationed in Italy, suffered similar losses.
The B-17s and the B-24s were excellent heavy bombers. The war could not have been won without them. By 1944-45 they were beginning to be replaced by the new B-29s. They were bigger, could carry more bombs and were equipped with pressurized cabins and radar but were criticized by many of the pilots as having problems that needed to be addressed.
They were mighty planes flown and operated by mighty men. They played a pivotal point in winning WWII. They trained, they flew, they fought, and they gave the ultimate sacrifice. They will forever be remembered, as Tom Brokaw termed, "The Greatest Generation". May God bless them all.
Folks, please be sure to update your anti-virus software.
I'll have to try harder....
Good morning, snippy. That's excellent news you found!
The B-29 bomber, produced by the Boeing Aircraft Company during the war, was the first long-range heavy bomber employed by the United States. It was primarily used in the wars Pacific Theater, and became notorious as the plane used to drop the worlds first atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.
The Boeing B-29 was designed in 1940 as an eventual replacement for the B-17 and B-24. The first one built made its maiden flight on Sept. 21, 1942. Developing the Boeing B-29 was a program which rivaled the Manhattan Project in size and expense. Technically a generation ahead of all other heavy bomber types in World War II, the Superfortress was pressurized for high altitudes and featured remotely-controlled gun turrets. Most important, its four supercharged Wright R-3350-23 engines gave it the range to carry large bomb loads across the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.
A test flight of the planes XB-29 prototype ended in tragedy Feb. 18, 1943, when an engine caught fire and the plane crashed. The pilot, crew and 19 people on the ground were killed. The Boeing Company declared that it was not going to build this airplane. Its no good. It has too many problems. Gen. Henry Hap Arnold, the Air Forces first general officer, argued with Boeing and threatened to force them to repay the $200 million that they had been given to build the planes. Faced with having to pay back money already received, Boeing agreed to operate the factories, but they would not take any responsibility for the airplane. The Army took over the test program after the crash. Development continued that summer with flight testing of the YB-29 even as hurried production versions of the B-29 were being turned out.
In December 1943, it was decided not to use the B-29 in the European Theater, thereby permitting the airplane to be sent to the Pacific area where its great range made it particularly suited for the long over water flight required to attack the Japanese homeland from bases in China. As it came into the AAF inventory in mid-1944, the B-29 weighed 140,000 pounds loaded, with an effective range of 3,250 miles. Pavements failed, and at their best, behaved erratically. No airfield pavement had been designed for more than 120,000 pounds gross weight. The Corps of Engineers began experiments anew with pavement overlays at Hamilton Field north of San Francisco.
As the powerful B-29 "Superfortress" rolled off Americas production lines in the midst of World War II, General "Hap" Arnold, then Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, understood the need to bring the B-29s unique strategic bombing capabilities to bear against the Japanese homeland. Thus, in April 1944, he created Twentieth Air Force and gave it the daunting mission of conducting one of the largest--and ultimately most successful--air campaigns in history. Arnolds B-29s first flew in Operation MATTERHORN, which called for India-based Superfortresses to bomb Japan from forward bases in China. However, as allied forces advanced in the South Pacific "Island Hopping" campaign, Twentieth Air Force expanded its B-29 operations to bases in the Marianas Islands. During the last two months of 1944, B-29s began operating against Japan from the islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Flying more than 1,500 miles one way, more than 1,000 bombers and 250 fighters conducted 28,000 combat sorties against Japan in the brief span of 16 months.
In early 1944 the Army Air Forces started its program to develop an atomic bomb delivery capability using the B-29 aircraft. The B-29 was the logical choice in view of its long range, superior high-altitude performance, and ability to carry an atomic bomb that was expected to weigh 9000 to 10,000 pounds. In March and again in June dummy atomic bombs were dropped by B-29s at Muroc Army Air Force Base in California to test the release mechanism. In August seventeen B-29s entered a modification program at the Glenn L. Martin plant in Omaha, Nebraska, to apply the lessons learned at Muroc. The "Silver Plate" project was the code name of the pilot and crew training program for the coming World War II atomic missions.
On 6 August 1945 the crew of the "Enola Gay" dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The thirteen-hour mission to Hiroshima began at 0245 Tinian time. By the time they rendezvoused with their accompanying B-29s at 0607 over Iwo Jima, the group was three hours from the target area. The "Enola Gay" flew toward the AiOi T-Bridge in Hiroshima at a speed of 285 mph. After six-and-a-half hours of tough overwater navigation, the B-29 was over target within seventeen seconds of the scheduled drop time of 0915. When the 9,000-pound bomb "Little Boy" fell from the "Enola Gay," pilot Paul Tibbets put the aircraft into a 60-degree diving right turn and headed home. Seconds later, Hiroshima lie in ruins.
Despite widespread destruction, the Japanese still did not surrender. Three days later, Maj. Charles W. Sweeney, commander of the 393rd BMS and piloting "Bockscar" flew over Nagasaki. A few minutes after 9 a.m., bombardier Capt. Kermit K. Beahan toggled the bomb switch. Less than a minute later, Nagasaki became the second city attacked with the devastating weapon. The Japanese surrendered in the following days thereby ending World War II.
Immediately post-World War II, SACs bomber inventory housed the B-29 Superfortress, the plane that had dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1946, the Soviets began design of their long-range bomber, the Tu-4, modeled directly on B-29s captured during 1944. The B-29 was SACs first Cold War aircraft, and even as late as the close of 1948 the Air Force had modified only 60 of the planes to carry the atomic bomb. Its infrastructure, hangars, and ancillaries were reused from World War II facilities. While the B-29 was the long-range aircraft that revolutionized air war, the aircraft could only fly the U.S.-Soviet corridor one way, and could not achieve that distance heavily loaded.
With the advent of the conflict in Korea in June 1950, the B-29 was once again thrust into battle. For the next several years it was effectively used for attacking targets in North Korea. The Warner Robins Air Materiel Area (WRAMA) literally unwrapped and refurbished hundreds of "Cocooned" Boeing B-29 Superfortresses. Understaffed and working around the clock, they made sure that United Nations forces in the Far East had the necessary tools to fight the North Korean invaders. This was particularly true with the key role B-29s played in bombing Communist supply lines and staving off the enemy's assault on Allied forces pinned down inside the Pusan Perimeter. B-29s detached from Twentieth Air Force continued flying combat missions until the end of the war in 1953. By 1955, with the situation in Korea stabilized and intercontinental-range bombers entering service, the need no longer existed for a B-29 numbered air force in the Pacific.
The B-29 MR [MR standing for Modified Receiver] could refuel in mid-air. The KB-29M was the tanker, using what was called the British 'looped hose' method, a 400 foot length of hose that tethered the two airplanes together. In order to extend the range of the new generation of jet aircraft, a B-29 was also fitted with a flying boom for experiments in air-to-air refueling.
A stop-gap measure to fill the long-range bomber requirement in the Cold War, the Boeing B-29D Washington began entering service with UK Bomber Command Squadrons during August 1950. The type began to be retired in 1953 with the advent of the V-bombers, but the last did not leave the RAF until 1958.
Primary Function: Long range heavy Bomber
Unit Cost: $639,000
Powerplants: Four 2,200-horsepower Wright Double Cyclone engines
Length: 99 feet
Wingspan: 141 feet 3 inches
Height: 27 feet 9 inches
Weights: Empty: 69,610 lb / Maximum Takeoff: 105,000 pounds (140,000 pounds postwar)
Speed: 365 mph (mach 0.55)
Ceiling: 31,850 feet
Range: 5,830 miles
Eight .50-cal. machine guns in remote controlled turrets
two .50-cal. machine guns and one 20mm cannon in tail
20,000 lbs. of bombs.
All photos Copyright of Global Security.Org
Sounds more like an Autopilot and/or Bombsight malfunction. He'd have had to disengage to do much to correct it.
From Clovis Field:
1st Lt. Robert A. Mayer, Airplane Commander Buffalo, New York
2nd Lt. Robert L. Knight, Bombardier Mt. Vernon, Washington
2nd Lt. John W. Burtis, Navigator St. Paul, Minnesota Flight Officer Robert Q. Zaliska, Radar Operator Los Angeles, California
S. Sgt. Clifford. D. Longmire, Engineer Columbus, Georgia
Cpl. Robert H. Aparian, Radio Operator Westerbury, Connecticut
Cpl. Jasper C. Wilson, Jr., Gunner Durham, North Carolina
Cpl. Willard Byarly, Gunner Chicago, Illinois
Cpl. Anthony J. Agliata, Gunner Newark, New Jersey
Lt. Edwin F. Smith, Co-Pilot/Flight Officer Glasgow, Kentucky
Cpl. Earl F. Wischmeier, Gunner West Burlington, Iowa
From Alamogordo Field:
1st Lt. Aubrey K. Stenson, Airplane Commander Caneyville, Kentucky
2nd Lt. Harold N. Swaim, Co-Pilot Wichita Falls, Texas
2nd Lt Gordon E. Myers, Navigator Kansas City, Missouri
2nd Lt. Binson W. Cohen, Bombardier Bronx, New York City
2nd Lt. Edward E. Lahmers, Flight Engineer Decatur, Illinois
Sgt. Donald E. Lefebure, Radar Operator Detroit, Michigan
Sgt. Johnny A. Mosely, Fire Control Columbus, South Carolina
Sgt. Donald E. Reed, Gunner Tyrone, Pennsylvania
Sgt. Clarence A Jurgens, Gunner Sidney, Nebraska
MAY THEY REST IN PEACE...
Bach Aircraft Co, Clover Field, Santa Monica CA;
1929: Metropolitan Airport, Van Nuys CA.
1931: Reorganized as Aircraft Production Corp.
Pulaski (1748-1779) was a Polish nobleman who fought to defend Poland against European invaders such as Russia and Austria. He was excited by the fight for independence in America and went to Paris, where he met and received a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin.
He fought beside Lafayette at the Battle of Brandywine and was commissioned a brigadier general in the cavalry. His horse was shot from under him while he was leading the charge against the British at the battle of Savannah, Georgia. He died of wounds received in that battle.
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