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TSgt William Luster Leukering

September 9, 1915 ~ July 18, 1944 (age 28) 28 Years Old
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TSgt William Luster Leukering Obituary

Doris Buldtman Vogt remembers when William L. Leukering left his Massac County home to enter World War II.

Eighty years later, Leukering is coming back.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) made the announcement Tuesday, Feb. 6, that Leukering was accounted for on March 20, 2023.

Leukering’s remains are being returned to Massac County. He will be buried at Round Springs Cemetery near Round Knob, where a memorial military marker is already placed and many of his family members are buried. According to DPAA, the interment is scheduled for Thursday, July 18.

William Luster Leukering was born Sept. 9, 1915, to Charles F. and Dora Leukering. Their second child and called Luster by the family, he was flanked by Orval, then Helen and Charles Edward (C.E.). He grew up in the Round Springs community, which was near Round Knob, on a farm on what is now Sielbeck Road, down the hill from the Buldtmans. The farm was originally bought by the Leukerings’ German immigrant grandparents in 1854. Around 1856, a part of the farm was sold for $5 to the Round Springs Cemetery district. Vogt’s parents, Lavern and Marie Buldtman, purchased the Leukering farm when family moved to Metropolis.

Leukering graduated from Metropolis Community High School in 1934.

Charles F. Leukering joined a small group of Massac County dairy farmers in 1935 that began Farmers’ Dairy Metropolis at the corner of Seventh and Ferry streets. His oldest sons Orval and Luster were delivery men. In 1937, the business moved to the corner of West Eighth and Pearl streets. When it was reorganized as a stock company, C.F. and C.E. were taken in as partners and plant operators. Near the end of the war, the ownership of the business was placed in C.E.’s name, and following a postwar reorganization, Orval was made a partner. The business was sold to a large dairy cooperative in the early 1960s.

William Luster Leukering was 27 when he volunteered to enter the United States Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the Air Force, on Nov. 6, 1942.

 

He got his basic training at Camp Grant; his radio operator training in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; attended gunnery school in Kingman, Arizona; had flight training in Ephrata,Washington; and was stationed in Rapid City, South Dakota, and at MacDill Field, Florida, before arriving at his port of embarkation, Thomasville, Georgia.

He achieved the rank of technical sergeant and was a radio operator, gunner and crew chief on a B-17G Flying Fortress.

According to planesoffame.org, the B-17 was designed in response to a need for a long-range maritime patrol aircraft. The prototype first flew in July 1935. The aircraft was continually improved and ultimately evolved into the B-17G. Through 1945, a total of 12,731 B-17s were built, of which 8,680 were G models.

Leukering (Bill to the USAAC) was assigned to the 816th Bomber Squadron (Heavy), 483rd Bomber Group (Heavy), 15th Air Force headquarters.

In Georgia, Leukering and his crew got the new “Shoo-Shoo Baby,” clothing, flight gear and side arms before flying down to Cuba, then to Brazil, then to Dakar and Tunisia in Africa before joining the 15th, which was based in Foggia, Italy.

The crew flew 26 missions on “Shoo-Shoo Baby” before it was totaled when another crew borrowed it and had to belly land after the hydraulic system was shot out. They replaced it with “Shoo-Shoo Baby II.”

 

On July 18, 1944, the crew, plus an observer, was part of a bombing raid on German air defense installations in Memmingen, Germany. “Shoo-Shoo Baby II” was struck by enemy anti-aircraft. Due to the damage, the pilot ordered the crew to bail out. Six of those on board parachuted successfully while the other five crew members, including Leukering, who was 28, were believed to still be on board. The surviving crew witnessed the aircraft explode in an area south of Memmingen, which is located in southwestern Germany.

They’d flown some 35 missions together.

The Metropolis News printed a report by Pat Frank about the raid in its Aug. 2, 1945, issue. Frank had eyewitness accounts from Lt. Col. Cyril Carmichael and Lt. Col. Willard S. Sperry. Carmichael, a World War I veteran, was flying as an observer on the raid’s lead bomber. Sperry, deputy commander of the group, was the lead bomber’s tail gunner.

Frank called the 483rd Bomber Group “one of the veteran strategic bombing organizations based in Italy.” On that July day, the group lost 14 of its 28 Flying Fortresses during the raid that involved an estimated 1,000 aircraft total.

Frank wrote that bombers, each holding a crew of 10 (the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radio operator, bombardier, engineer, ball turret gunner, tail gunner and two waist gunners), were lined up wingtip to wingtip, stretching out for nearly a third of a mile, as they left base.

 

Once over the Adriatic Sea, the group was separated from each other and their fighter escorts when they encountered bad weather.

“Two groups returned to base. Another swung off to bomb an alternative target. Everything — including the rendezvous with (P-38) Lightning fighters — was thrown off schedule, and the enemy radio began sending fake messages to the 483rd that it should not proceed to the primary target, but should attack an alternate objective,” Frank wrote.

As they neared the target, Carmichael and Sperry saw over 175 single-engined Nazi fighters forming for an attack.

“The enemy fighters took their time,” Frank wrote. “Finally, they attacked from the rear in waves of five or six, one wave swiftly on the tail of the next. Two hundred fighters were in that first attack.”

Carmichael reported, “The last box of the formation, composing seven fortresses, was annihilated in that first attack. It took 35 seconds.” Of those seven, three blew up immediately; one went down out of control and broke apart; and three were on fire, going down slowly with their guns still firing.

The Nazi fighters swept around again, using identical measures and destroyed another box of seven bombers.

 

Sperry, a veteran of 44 missions, saw from his tail gun position “Fortresses exploding around him — Fortresses burning and their metal skin peeling off. He saw men plummeting earthward with their parachutes burning. He saw enemy planes machine-gunning parachuting crewmen,” Frank wrote.

The two lead squadrons drove on for the target while also calling for fighter escorts. Just as they turned off the target, 12 P-31 Mustangs appeared and pitched into the enemy planes.

Two squadrons survived the raid.

“The 483rd Group lost 14 of their 28 aircraft that day, but their gunners, some of whom fired until their hands blistered, destroyed 53 enemy planes and probably destroyed eight others,” Frank wrote. “They destroyed 17 enemy aircraft on the ground and three large hangars. Other hangars were damaged.”

 

In 1948, one of the survivors of “Shoo-Shoo Baby II” visited the Leukerings. Assistant armorer/waist gunner SSgt. Howell R. Witherspoon was the tail gunner on July 18, 1944, and told the family his perspective of that day, which was the Leukerings’ anniversary and Dora Leukering’s mother’s birthday. Orval and C.E. Leukering shared Witherspoon’s in History of Massac County Illinois Vol. III.

Due to being on raid, the bomb bay of “Shoo-Shoo Baby II” was filled with explosives. When the bomber was hit, it was in the bomb bay, and the fire separated the front and back of the plane. Pilot Lt. John M. Hommel ordered his crew to bail while he remained at the controls to give them a chance of escape. However, those in the back couldn’t hear him.

By that point, Witherspoon’s oxygen had been shot out, and he was preparing to bail out on his own accord. Reaching his escape hatch, he saw a gaping hole in the fuselage near where the waist gunners would be. Hommel put the plane into a shallow dive to get out of the combat area, causing Witherspoon to pass out from lack of oxygen and be pinned to the catwalk. Witherspoon believes the fuselage buckled, causing him to free fall before the bomb exploded. He pulled the ripcord and landed in a German farmer’s barnyard.

Of “Shoo-Shoo Baby II’s” other survivors, co-pilot 2nd Lt. Garden C. Ball, navigator 2nd Lt. Martin F. Rooney and bombardier 2nd Lt. Herbert P. LeBlanc were listed as POWs; each wrote to the Leukerings on their return home. Engineer/top turret SSgt. Eugene M. Peterson escaped capture and made his way to Switzerland. The flight’s observer, 1st Lt. John. P. Fitz-Gibbon, was among the survivors.

Hommel’s body was identified in 1946; he was posthumously promoted to captain. Armorer/waist gunner SSgt. Edgar L. Mills was identified by DPAA on Feb. 13, 2023.

 

Two of the crew remain listed as “unresolved” — assistant engineer TSgt. Marcus M. Davis and radar operator 2nd Lt. Thomas A. Trevor.

According to DPAA, there are thought to be around 72,000 American personnel still unaccounted for from World War II with around 39,000 deemed to be recoverable.

In its Aug. 3, 1944, issue, The Metropolis News reported the Leukering family received a telegram that their son had been missing in action over Germany since July 18. They had received their last letter from their son on July 16, 1944.

A year later, the Aug. 2, 1945, issue of The Metropolis News reported the Leukerings had been informed by the War Department on Aug. 1, 1945, that their son was officially declared dead.

Leukering’s body was not recovered, and the Germans never reported him as a prisoner of war.

 

His brothers wrote that “not even (Leukering’s) dog tags were found after the explosion of 3 tons of TNT with which ‘Shoo-Shoo Baby II’ was pregnant.”

The War Department issued a finding of death on July 19, 1945.

Leukering was survived by his parents; a sister, Helen Roberts, who then was married to Gail Roberts; and two brothers, Orval Leukering and T/4 Charles E. Leukering, who at the time was stationed on Luzon in the Philippines serving in the Army Reserves.

According to the DPAA, beginning in 1946, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC), Army Quartermaster Corps, was the organization tasked with recovering missing American personnel in the European Theater. In 1946, AGRC investigators searched the area of the crash site and discovered two sets of remains; however, neither were associated with Leukering. He was declared non-recoverable July 26, 1951.

The DPAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense and was formed from the merger of several smaller agencies in 2015. Its mission is to locate, identify and repatriate the remains of American personnel from past conflicts, including World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War and the Iraq and Persian Gulf wars, who are unaccounted for.

 

In 2012 a German researcher notified Department of Defense investigators of an aircraft crash site near Kimratshofen, Germany, possibly associated to Leukering’s B-17. Kimratshofen is 30 miles south of Memmingen.

The information subsequently led to an investigation in 2013 and excavation efforts in 2018, which yielded possible human remains and material evidence.

In 2019, a DPAA partner team from the University of New Orleans continued work at the Kimratshofen site and recovered additional material, which was also transferred to the DPAA laboratory in Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

To identify Leukering’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

Leukering’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at Epinal American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site, in Epinal, France, along with others still missing from World War II. According to DPAA, a rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

 

This was written by Terra Temple and published in the February 22, 2024 issue of the Metropolis Planet. Additional background information was taken from Aug. 2, 1943, and Aug. 1, 1944, issues of The Metropolis News ; and the Massac County Illinois History Vol. 1 1987 and Family and Pictorial History of Massac County Illinois Vol. III books produced by the Massac County Historical Society.

Graveside services with full military honors will be held at 10 am on Thursday, July 18, 2024 at Round Springs Cemetery located at the intersection of Airport Road and Upper Salem Road. To be in the funeral procession meet at Aikins-Farmer-Loftus-McManus Funeral Home in Metropolis at 9 am.

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Services

Graveside Service
Thursday
July 18, 2024

10:00 AM
Round Springs Cemetery
Corner of Upper Salem Road and Airport Road
Metropolis, IL 62960
Guaranteed delivery before the Graveside Service begins

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