Fallen Heroes: Staff Sergeant Richard K. Breting

B17 Flying Fortress

When a soldier, sailor or marine goes off to war there is always the chance that they may not return. In some cases not only is one killed, but their mortal remains are unable to be recovered and sent home for burial. Oftentimes these cases, like the following story, occur among those serving in aircraft that are lost, whether by accident or enemy fire.

When Ulysses A. Breting (1862-1923) and his wife Lousia Debois (1862-1899) stepped of the Steamer La Gascogne in New York in 1886, he was on his way to a new life in America. Ulysses had served an apprenticeship in Switzerland where he, and his brother, had both worked as highly skilled watch and clock makers. He easily found work in his field, eventually working in 1888 at the Dueber-Hampden Watch Company’s factory in Canton, Ohio.

The family consisted of four children, three boys and girl, by the time of Louisa’s untimely death in 1899. All three sons would be raised as watchmakers, like their father, and worked at the Deuber-Hampden watch factory. They went on to establish themselves as independent watchmakers and jewelers in Canton and New Philadelphia under the name Breting Brothers. After the death of their father in 1923, the brothers eventually decided to the liquidate the Breting Brothers partnership, including closing the store in New Philadelphia. One brother, Rene Breting (1891-1940), then living in New Philadelphia, opened his own watch and clock repair business out of his home.

Aerial image of Dueber-Hampden Watch Factory, McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, Ohio Memory.
The Dueber-Hamden Watch Company, Canton, Ohio. (Source: McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, Ohio Memory.)

Rene Breting married Thelma Shrigley (1894-1988) in 1914 and moved with their daughter and two sons from Canton to New Philadelphia after 1925. Their eldest son, Richard K. Breting (1919-1945), was an active Boy Scout and all the children attended school in New Philadelphia. Richard graduated in 1937 and, not surprisingly given the family history, gravitated towards mechanical work. After Rene Breting passed away in 1940, Richard began studying aircraft mechanics at Patterson Field in Fairfield, Ohio. Shortly after registering for the draft in 1941, Richard married Melba Geldmacher (1920-2003).

Richard enlisted in the United States Army in June 1943 and, given his experience with aircraft, was assigned to the Army Air Corp. While he underwent training at posts across the United States, and expectant Melba moved in with her mother-in-law in New Philadelphia. Following his radio and gunnery training, Richard was assigned as a a radio operator and gunner aboard a B-17 bomber in the 332nd Bomber Squadron. Richard had flown 12 combat missions from their base east of Cambridge, England by May 31, 1945; the day of his last mission.

The war in Europe had ended earlier that month, but the 332nd was still flying missions from the Bury St Edmunds airfield east of Cambridge. Richard was assigned to a training flight on an unarmed B-17 that carried the nickname “Dallas Dollie.” The night flight was to take him, and the other four crewman, out over the North Sea, westward to Aberdeen, then back down the coast to return to the airfield. The weather was clear that evening, not a cloud in the sky when the B-17 roared off the runway, never to be seen again.

The tower lost contact with the “Dallas Dollie” shortly after it took off and crossed over the coastline towards its first waypoint in the middle of the North Sea. It is not clear how soon after contact was lost that two squadrons of aircraft were sent from the airfield to search for the lost B-17. The squadrons located wreckage and an oil slick about 25 miles north of the English coastline, along the intended route, and determined that the “Dallas Dollie” and all its crew were lost.

The list of the crew of the lost B-17 “Dallas Dollie.” (Source: Missing Air Crew Report, June 1945)

The United States Army never determined why the “Dallas Dollie” crashed into the North Sea, but given that hostilities had ceased and the weather was perfect, it can be assumed that a mechanical or electrical issue led to the crash. All of the men aboard the doomed B-17 are memorialized at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in England.

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.


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