MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AFPN) --
In 1943, nine officers stood together with World War II Gen. Ira C. Eaker in England's Castle Coombe, silver cups raised in the audacious hope of a history-making victory, and to the equally optimistic hope that when the war ended they would gather to conduct reunions celebrating that victory.
As audacious as those hopes seemed at the time, both hopes were made reality when the Allies achieved victory and the nine members of the mess remained friends long after the war, conducting annual reunions of General Eaker's closest wartime teammates.
Eventually the "Castle Coombe Group" reunions grew to approximately 50 officers, including General Eaker's life-long friend, Gen. Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, first chief of staff of the United States Air Force.
More than 60 years later, four officers gathered to commemorate the victory that members of the famous Eighth Air Force Castle Coombe Officer's Mess had hoped for, and to accept the donation of one of the nine silver cups of the Castle Coombe Mess to Eighth Air Force.
Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder, Eighth Air Force commander, along with two former Eighth Air Force commanders, retired Lt. Gens. E.G. "Buck" Shuler and Edgar S. Harris, recently traveled to the home of Charles A. Jones Jr. to accept the donation of the cup.
Mr. Jones' father, Lt. Col. Charles A. Jones Sr., served with General Eaker and was one of the nine original members of the Castle Coombe Group. Mr. Jones, now 85 years old, discovered the cup among his father's war-time mementoes after his father passed away.
"I wish that Dad would have passed this cup on, but we just found it by accident. My second wife's son works at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, and he came across an article about it," Mr. Jones said.
Until now, the Eighth Air Force history office has maintained the original punchbowl and four of the nine cups. Mr. Jones' discovery and donation of his father's cup is the fifth cup donated to Eighth Air Force.
"The donation of the fifth cup reinforces the bond of history of today's Eighth Air Force with its founding generation," said Mr. Lane Callaway, Eighth Air Force historian. "It is believed that the four remaining cups are kept by family members as cherished mementos of their link to World War II history. "
The Eaker Bowl and cups are physical artifacts of Eighth Air Force history and serve as a heraldic symbol of sterling service to the nation, comradeship and optimism about the future for all those who serve with the Mighty Eighth, Mr. Callaway said.
All three Eighth Air Force commanders thanked Mr. Jones for donating the cup.
"All of us are keenly aware of the significance of this cup," General Shuler told Mr. Jones. "The Eaker Bowl and cups have always occupied a place of honor right outside the Eighth Air Force commander's office."
"The only time we move the Eaker Bowl is once a year," General Elder said. "There's an event at the (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force) with all of the three- and four-star generals, who each bring a heraldic device representative of their organization. Eighth Air Force's heraldic symbol is special because it is a real historical artifact."
"It is so generous of you to share this with the Eighth Air Force and for posterity," General Harris said. General Harris accepted General Eaker's original donation of the bowl, ladle, and first cup in 1981.
General Eaker, who commanded Eighth Air Force in England during World War II, established the Castle Coombe Mess, which purchased the Eaker Bowl and cups. General Eaker saw he would need to host events fostering relations with British dignitaries and to entertain distinguished visitors from America.
His foresight and hospitality were noted in a 1943 Time Magazine article entitled "Victory is in the Air" as contributing to one of the pivotal events in airpower history: the daylight bombing campaign.
The article states that "[w]ith this, his own brand of diplomacy, Eaker broke down British reserve, made of his RAF colleagues not only willing allies but firm friends. British skepticism of U.S. daylight-bombing theories was overcome. Day or night bombing long ago ceased to be an issue between the U.S. and British air leaders."
Mr. Callaway believes that the importance of the Eaker Bowl, as a historic artifact, is matched only by its symbolic importance to Eighth Air Force. The Castle Coombe Mess punch bowl is a heraldic symbol for the Eighth Air Force. According to Mr. Callaway, this silver set symbolizes sterling service to the nation, comradeship and optimism about the future shared by those who have served and are serving with the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
"A heraldic device defines the unique heritage and character of a military organization," he said. "For Eighth Air Force, the Eaker Bowl is the tangible link to its storied past. It physically symbolizes the integrity, service and excellence of those who served with the Mighty Eighth at the beginning of its existence in World War II as well as through the years to those who are serving in this historic unit today."
Castle Coombe became the residence for General Eaker as Eighth Air Force commander in England. General Eaker's energy and efforts went into building-up Eighth Air Force, taking the air battle to the enemy and proving the concept of high-altitude daylight precision strategic bombing.
At Castle Coombe, General Eaker created a "mess" not only to entertain visiting British and American distinguished visitors, but also to foster camaraderie and solidarity among his wartime teammates. This comradeship lasted well into the postwar years.
In late 1943, upon becoming the commander of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, General Eaker closed the mess and purchased an engraved silver punch bowl, ladle, and a cup for each of the nine mess members with the optimistic vision of conducting post-war reunions.
There were nine members of the Castle Coombe Mess when it broke up in 1943.
Thanks to Mr. Jones, the fifth cup now occupies a place of honor with the Eaker Bowl alongside the four other cups at Eighth Air Force headquarters. The Eaker Bowl and all five cups are kept inside a protective display cabinet, on a wooden base engraved with the name of each Eighth Air Force commander all the way back to General Eaker.
There were nine members of the Castle Coombe Mess when it broke up in 1943 and whose names are engraved on the Eaker Bowl. They are listed by military rank.
Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker
: (Cup is present.) He departed England to become commander-in-chief of Mediterranean Allied Air Forces (composed of 12th and 15th U.S. Army Air Forces, British Desert Air Force and British Balkan Air Force). He served as deputy commander of Army Air Forces and as chief of the Air Staff from April 1945 until 1947. He retired on Aug. 31, 1947, becoming an executive of an aircraft manufacturing company and author of a weekly newspaper column on aviation and several books. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1978 for his contributions to aviation development. By special Congressional legislation, he was promoted to full general in 1985, 38 years after his retirement. He passed away in 1987 at age 91.
Col. Peter Beasley
: As a Major, he was one of the six officers accompanying General Eaker to England in 1942. He was recruited from the executive ranks of Lockheed Aircraft Company. Colonel Beasley initially fulfilled duties as a plans and liaison specialist but later became chief of supply for the VIII Bomber Command and later accompanied General Eaker to Eight Air Force headquarters.
Col. Robert G. Ervin
: (Cup is present.) He joined the Castle Coombe group and later became a brigadier general and chairman of the Joint Air Commission, fielding P-47 and B-26 aircraft to the reconstituted French Air Force.
Col. Cecil P. "Brick" Lessig
: (Cup is present.) He arrived in England as a major in the advance party in January 1942 and subsequently became a brigadier general. Initially He was General Eaker's division chief for organization and movements in the VIII Bomber Command and later moved with him to Eighth Air Force headquarters. In 1943, General Lessig is reassigned to Washington D.C. to work directly for General Hap Arnold.
Lt. Col. Charles A. Jones Sr.
: (Cup is present.) Until recently, no biographical information was known about Colonel Jones. His son, Charles Jones Jr., also a World War II veteran, recently donated his father's cup in memory of his father's wartime service.
Lt. Col. Glenn Jackson
: He was a businessman from Medford, Oregon who impressed General Eaker at the start of the war with his energy and talents in getting tasks done. By mid-1943, Colonel Jackson became a member of the Castle Coombe Mess. He departed England for the Mediterranean Command where he became General Eaker's headquarters commandant in Italy, attaining the rank of Colonel. Upon his death in 1980, Colonel Jackson was saluted as "Mr. Oregon" for his great successes in business (newspapers and utilities) and public service. Colonel Jackson nurtured General Eaker's desire to take up journalism after the war.
Lt. Col. Beirne Lay, Jr.
: (Cup is present). As a lieutenant, he was one of the six officers accompanying General Eaker to England in 1942. He initially fulfilled the roles of senior aide-de-camp and historian at the VIII Bomber Command. Colonel Lay accompanied General Eaker to Eighth Air Force headquarters. His first-hand observations of General Eaker and the buildup of Eighth Air Force in England, and his eye witness reports of aerial combat in August 1943 as an observer accompanying Col. Curtis LeMay on the air strike against the ball-bearing plants at Regensburg became the basis for a post-war book he co-authored titled Twelve O'Clock High
. On Feb. 24, 1944, Colonel Lay became the commander of the 487th Bomb Group, a B-24 unit of Eighth Air Force. He was shot down over France on May 11, 1944. He parachuted to safety and evaded capture. After the war, he was a co-screenwriter of the movie, "Twelve O'Clock High" starring Gregory Peck.
Lt. Col. James Parton
: He was one of General Eaker's aide-de-camps in England. Later in Italy, he became secretary to the general staff and historian. Colonel Parton was with General Eaker at the VIII Bomber Command, and moved with the general to Eighth Air Force. Later, he accompanied the general to the headquarters of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces. Colonel Parton became General Eaker's confidant and authorized biographer and wrote the book, Air Force Spoken Here, General Ira Eaker and the Command of the Air. Also after the war, Colonel Parton became the west coast editorial director for Time
, and Fortune
Maj. Clarence O. Mason
: He initially served as the mess officer at Pinetree, the wartime codename for Headquarters, VIII Bomber Command, and later Eighth Air Force. Major Mason also served on the team writing the history of the Eighth Air Force during General Eaker's tenure as commander. He later served as aide-de-camp when General Eaker became commander of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces.
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