In Memory of Major General William J. Crumm

  • Major General William Crumm and Rufus Youngblood, Guam, March 1967, WHPO.
    26 May

    In Memory of Major General William J. Crumm

    My father hung this framed photograph of General Crumm and him in his office, displayed alongside the portraits of presidents and other dignitaries. It had been taken just months before General Crumm was killed in the Vietnam war.


    I remember how sad my parents were when he died. My mother referred to the tragedy of “Bill” Crumm’s death many times during the course of my life. My stoic father didn’t like to talk about it. But his archives containing photographs, letters, and newspaper articles preserving some of the details about his esteemed WWII pilot’s life reflect Dad’s deep respect for him. 



    William “Bill” Joseph Crumm was born in New York City in 1919 and attended the University of Virginia before entering the flying cadet program in 1941. He was twenty-two-years-old when my father first met him at MacDill Army Air Force Base in May 1942. The WWII Air Campaign was still in its infancy then. The two men were assigned to the newly formed 91st Bomb Group of the newly formed Eighth Air Force. They would share many firsts together while serving in this first group of the first wing of the first division of the evolving US Army Air Force (USAAF).


    My father was assigned to Crumm’s crew of the 324th Squadron as a waist gunner. On the B-17F they named Jack the Ripper, their crew participated in the 91st Group’s first mission over enemy-occupied France on November 7, 1942. They flew alongside the Memphis Belle, which began the first of its twenty-five missions that day. 


    These were dangerous times in the European Theater of Operations when the bomber crews flew without long-range fighter escorts. During my father’s third mission, Jack the Ripper was hit and he and fellow waist gunner, Sgt. C.D. Wright, were wounded. As the air campaign progressed, the crews suffered great losses as men were wounded, killed, or lost in action. Crumm and his men were witness. Three of the four commanding officers of the 91st Group were lost within the first two months of combat, including the 324th’s revered CO Major Harold Smelser.

    Crumm’s crew in front of “Jack the Ripper,” 1942, U.S. War Dept.


    As the casualty rate of the combat crews escalated (later determined to be the highest of the American forces during WWII), the War Department requested that an experienced crew return to the U.S. for consultation and participation in a promotional war tour. Crumm, recognized as a stellar pilot and leader, and his crew were selected. They were the first crew of the 91st Group to return home.


    During their tour, Crumm and his men visited multiple aircraft factories, spoke to numerous combat crews in training, and participated in numerous news interviews across the country. While promoting war bond sales, they were wined and dined by multiple Hollywood celebrities including Carol Landis, Gary Cooper, Ann Sheridan, and Dennis Morgan, to name a few. It was during this time that the handsome Captain Bill Crumm married Miss Ella Jane Tenney in Tucson, Arizona. Over the years, they would raise six children together.  


    Crumm, Douglas Aircraft, Santa Monica, California, May 1943, U.S. War Dept.


    Article as it appeared in RWY’s scrapbook. Dykeman, Lt. C.H., “Captain Crumm and Jack the Ripper Crew Arrive,” and Derrell, S. Capt., William J. Crumm. March 15, 1943. Kearney Air Base News [Newspaper], Kearney, Nebraska, April 9, 1943.
    Crumm’s crew with Ann Sheridan & Dennis Morgan, Warner Bros. Studio, May 1943, Bureau Public Relations/U.S. War Dept.


    After completing the tour, the members of the crew were re-assigned individual duties. Crumm was promoted and eventually transferred to the Pacific Theater while my father completed aviation cadet training. After the war ended, Crumm was given key assignments across the globe and advanced through the ranks during his military career in the USAAF—later the USAF when the U.S. Air Force became an independent branch of the military in 1947.  


    My father and the general maintained intermittent correspondence during their careers. Among my father’s archives are several letters from General Crumm. One was a letter of recommendation for my father to be accepted into officer training school. Another written to my father on December 5, 1963, eloquently stated, “We are all very proud, but certainly not surprised, by your instant and brave conduct.”


    The two men’s professional paths crossed again when my father was assigned to protect Vice President Humphrey in 1966 and, later, President Johnson in 1967 in Guam. General Crumm was stationed there in 1965 commanding the 3rd Air Division–the B52 unit charged with carrying out air strikes in Vietnam.


    General Crumm with President Johnson; Sec. Rusk, Sec. McNamara to his left; Gen. Westmoreland & RWY in 2nd row), March 1967, WHPO/LBJ Library.


    By July 1967, Crumm, a major general by then, had completed two years in Guam and was scheduled to return to the United States after his last mission. He was to be promoted to the director of aerospace programs. But, en route to a target in South Vietnam on July 7, 1967, he was in a mid-air collision with another B-52 bomber over the South China Sea. Some of the men from the two planes survived, but General Crumm and six other men were lost, their bodies never recovered.


    In a sad final first, Major General Crumm, the forty-eight-year-old beloved family man and respected leader of men who spent over half of his life in the service of our country, was the first American general to be killed in the Vietnam War.


    My father never forgot him.

    Nor will I.


    President Johnson with Major General Crumm, Guam, March 1967, WHPO/LBJ Library. Major General Crumm was rated as a command pilot. His decorations include two Legion of Merits, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, four Air Medals, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and two Army Commendation Medals.



    Biography of USAF Major General William Crumm, United States Air Force. Retrieved 24 May 2018.


    39th Bomb Group Biography Major General Crumm , Retrieved 24 May 2018.


    “Jack the Ripper’,” The First Crew Home, in The Ragged Irregular, 91st Bomb Group Association Newsletter”, The Ragged Irregular, 91st Bomb Group Association. April 1969. p.6. Retrieved 23 May 2018.

  • 15 thoughts on “In Memory of Major General William J. Crumm”

    1. This is a wonderful tribute to a national wartime hero. Thank you for sharing an important part of history with a grateful nation,especially on this Memorial Day. One also learns of the origins of the air campaign over Europe and how the USAF evolved. One is reminded of the sacrifices paid by our young men who regretfully did not return home.
      One of my best friends flew out of Guam as a navigator on B-52s during the Vietnam era. It is stunning that General Crumm, having survived so many missions, tragically lost his life in a midair collision with one of our own planes. As a nation, we owe our freedom to these fallen heroes.

      1. It is very tragic. And he was so close to completing his command there. Thank you for reading about General Crumm today.

    2. Dr. Youngblood, this is a great site, very professional and well done! Losing a good friend such as Major General Crumm I am sure was tough on the family and your Mom and Dad. I am appreciative of you sharing this personal story.

      1. Thank you for reading about General Crumm on this day when we pay tribute to all of our fallen soldiers.

    3. Your article was a well-written, moving tribute to not only Gen. Crumm but to your father. As stalwarts of The Greatest Generation they represented the very best of who we are. I look forward to your future writing contributions.

      1. Thank you so much for your kind words about General Crumm and my father. They did reflect that great kindred spirit of Patriotism in our country at that time.

    4. During the heydays of underground-Atlanta nightlife, in the early Seventies, Dad & I used to rendezvous with Tenney and Bill’s daughter, Pam, who was a student at the Fashion Institute of Atlanta. I was in undergraduate school at Tulane University then and was either on my way back to New Orleans from DC or back to DC from New Orleans. I remember dinner out on the town with Pam, one of the most beautiful, charming, and intelligent young women I ever had the pleasure of breaking bread with.

      Another movie star from the crew’s War Bond Tour deserves note here, namely Dana Andrews, who was the source of my middle name. Lest we forget, God rest Carol Landis’ soul. She was known as “the Ping Girl.” Sadly, she committed suicide the day Mom & Dad married.

      And let’s remember another of the “Jack the Ripper” crew. I am his namesake–their Co-pilot, Mark Gilman. I LOVED him and his wife Dottie, and remember a very fun party, when I was in my early twenties, at our Vienna, VA home. I was the bartender. Our sister Joy Wayne’s name is also Army Air Corps derived: While Dad was completing aviation cadet training in Nebraska, one of our parents’ favorite friends was named Joy. She was what we describe today as “drop-dead gorgeous” with a most congenial personality, too. Mom used to remind us that she gave Joy the same middle name as Dad–even though she was a girl–because she was afraid Dad wouldn’t make it out of WWII alive.

      I like the way Frank Badalson describes your blog, Rebecca: “Dr. Youngblood, this is a great site, very professional and well done! ” Thanks for all you are doing to preserve memories of some stellar protectors of peace and prosperity; not to mention good parenting skills. The world’s “greatest generation?” While I don’t disagree with that assessment, I might suggest that if they weren’t, their competition was led by George and Martha Washington, Benjamin and Deborah Franklin, John & Abigail Adams, Thomas & Martha Jefferson (AND Sally Hemmings,) . . . and countrymen and women, who took on the British crown, and won. The writers and formulators for the pinnacle of political theory, democracy, and freedom. God save the United States of America.

      1. Wow Mark!
        Your political science major is showing!
        Some of this I knew (that namesake Joy was “beautiful inside and out,” and I also knew and adored the Gilmans…) but I never knew that Mom gave our sister Joy Dad’s middle name due to her concern he would be killed in the war.
        Write on, brother!

        1. Thanks, Bright-one, Becca. Wait a minute, Doctor. I’m sure you practiced medicine, in Georgia, under your married name, Dr. Vaughn, (MD), Dermatologist. With all due respect to Frank Badalson, mind you.

    5. Really enjoyed your article on my father & history with your dad.
      Your Dad held a special place in our family.

        1. Wow! This is incredible! My husband, Rick White, is Bill’s daughter’s (Barbara) son. We have a daughter named Barbara. I would love to connect with either you or Ron, or both. Thank you for writing this as it is very intriguing.

    6. Thanks for this. It was so interesting to read about the accomplishments of the grandfather I never knew. (I’m Barbara Crumm’s (White) son and she passed when I was a little boy) I do wish that I’d had the opportunity to speak with him but this really means a lot. Great job!

      1. Dear Rick,
        I am sorry both for your loss of your mother when you were so young, and that you didn’t get to know your grandfather. I did not have the opportunity to meet him personally, but some of my siblings did. Regardless, I was taught of his importance, and he was legendary in our family. I am very happy to be able to share what I know about this great man in hopes that his story lives on.
        Best, Rebecca

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