Staff Sergeant George H. Devine (1909–1944)

George H. M. Devine (Courtesy of Tom Mercer)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareInsurance agent
BranchService Number
U.S. Army Air Forces32752185
TheaterUnit
European859th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 492nd Bombardment Group (Heavy)
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Purple HeartEuropean air campaign

Early Life & Family

George Harlan McCall Devine was born at 1333 (North) Clayton Street in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 30, 1909. He was the second child of Harry Devine (at the time, a clerk for a leather company, 1877–1943) and Carolean Devine (née McCall, 1880–1967). Devine had an older brother and two younger sisters. Tragedy struck the family when Devine was four. His older brother, Harry Devine, Jr., was attempting to climb a clothesline pole in the backyard and fell on a sharp fence, suffering a severe abdominal injury. Though rushed to the Homeopathic Hospital in Wilmington, sepsis set in and he died on September 17, 1914, aged six.

George Devine at 1333 Clayton Street, where he was born and raised (Courtesy of Tom Mercer)
Devine as a young man (Courtesy of Tom Mercer)

Devine graduated from Wilmington High School. At the time of the census on April 22, 1930, he was recorded as a leather worker (perhaps at the New Castle Leather Company, where his father worked), living with his family at 1333 Clayton Street. Later that year, on November 27, 1930, Devine married Frances Marie McGrath (1908–1985) in Wilmington. The Devines were listed in a 1932 Wilmington city directory as living at 1405 North Harrison Street. George’s occupation was listed as inspector.

The Devines had one daughter, Lois Anne Devine (later Hahn, 1933–2008). Frances purchased a house for the family at 611 West 29th Street in Wilmington on March 3, 1934. The Devines were living there as of April 11, 1940, but sold the property on September 4, 1941, and moved to 2719 (North) Jefferson Street in Wilmington. On May 7, 1942, they purchased a house at 212 Fallon Avenue in Woodcrest, southwest of downtown Wilmington.

George Devine with his wife and daughter in the mid-1930s (Courtesy of Tom Mercer)

Devine changed careers in the early 1930s. When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, Devine was working for the First State Service Corporation at the Delaware First Building in Wilmington. A February 10, 1942, Journal-Every Evening article about his new employer, “Gilpin, Van Trump & Montgomery, Inc., mortgage financiers and general insurance agents, of 925 Market Street” stated that:

General insurance underwriter for the company is George H. M. Devine, who has been specializing in fidelity and surety bonds for the past seven years. He is a graduate of Wilmington High School and attended the Wharton School and the Aetna School.

As of October 16, 1940, Devine was described by a draft registrar as standing five feet, eight inches tall and weighing 145 lbs., with red hair and hazel eyes.


Military Training

Devine was drafted. His enlistment data card is missing or could not be successfully digitized, but a February 26, 1943, article in Journal-Every Evening listed Devine among local “men recently inducted into the military service[.]” According to a statement by his wife to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Devine entered the U.S. Army as a private in the Air Corps on March 3, 1943. The latter date is likely when he went on active duty, since draftees often had the option of returning home for a brief period after induction before going on active duty.

After a short time stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Private Devine went to basic training at the U.S. Army Air Forces Miami Beach Training Center. A newspaper article indicates that he was next stationed at Buckley Field, Colorado. By June 17, 1943, when his father died after being struck by a car, Private 1st Class Devine was stationed at Lowry Field, Colorado. It is unclear if he was able to return home for the funeral. An article, printed in Journal-Every Evening on August 2, 1943, stated that Private 1st Class Devine had graduated from armorer school at Lowry. Another newspaper indicates that he was subsequently stationed at Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sergeant Devine, likely out west (Courtesy of Tom Mercer)

At some point, Devine moved to Alamogordo, New Mexico. Presumably, that is where he joined the 859th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), which had arrived there in November 1943. The squadron, equipped with the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber, would soon be part of the 492nd Bombardment Group (Heavy).

Sergeant Devine, apparently taken during a visit to Delaware in late 1943 or early 1944. Lois Anne Devine is pointing to her father’s Aircrew Badge (Courtesy of Tom Mercer)

In the spring of 1944, the 492nd Bomb Group was dispatched to England to join the Eighth Air Force. An 859th Bomb Squadron history stated that “On 27 March 1944, one man from each combat crew, eighteen from the entire squadron, was sent to Topeka, Kansas for processing and later dispatched to POE [port of embarkation].” Indeed, Devine’s wife wrote that he was in Topeka before going overseas in April 1944. Devine had been promoted to sergeant by that time. A letter to Devine’s family from the secretary of the Victory Center in Topeka dated April 14, 1944, stated that Devine had recently visited. However, it is unclear what his assignment was at the time. Sergeant Devine was not listed in the roster of aircrew that flew the 492nd Bomb Group’s B-24s to England via the southern route (with stops in the Caribbean, Brazil, and North Africa). Curiously, he was not listed with his eventual crew, led by 2nd Lieutenant Carl B. Roads (1916–1944).

Devine may have been in the detachment that boarded the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth at the New York Port of Embarkation, sailing on April 20, 1944, and arriving in Greenock, Scotland, on April 26, 1944. The flying echelon arrived at their new field, Royal Air Force North Pickenham, England, on April 27, 1944, with the remainder of the unit arriving the following day. Regardless of how he there, a pair of V-mails that Sergeant Devine wrote on May 6, 1944, show that he was overseas with the 859th Bomb Squadron by that time. The one to his mother stated in part: “Our food and living conditions are surprisingly good and we really have no complaints at all.  I am getting my green vegetables etc, so don’t worry.”

The group went on some training missions in England before entering combat.


Combat Over Europe

According to Frances Devine’s statement, her husband flew 13 combat missions. That’s consistent with an article about the Roads crew by Paul Arnett, which states that the crew most likely flew 13 missions beginning on May 11, 1944. However, given available records, it is only certain that Devine flew his last mission with Roads. The 492nd Bomb Group’s luck held until its fifth mission. The Roads crew and 25 others flew deep into Germany on May 19, 1944. Eight crews were lost—an astonishing 30%— though Roads and his crew made it back to England.

The Roads crew (likely including Sergeant Devine) flew their first mission in this B-24, serial number 44-40068, on May 11, 1944 (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)

Sergeant Devine wrote to his mother on May 29, 1944, that “We had a couple of days off recently and had a chance to make a visit to London.  Sure is some town, and we saw a lot of interesting things and places.”

Devine was promoted to staff sergeant on June 1, 1944. Five days later, he took part in a mission supporting D-Day in Normandy. Journal-Every Evening reported on June 29, 1944, that Devine had written of that mission “in a letter received by his family [in which told them] that ‘it was an honor and a privilege to take part.’”

On June 15, 1944, Devine wrote to his younger sister, Peggy:

By the way, I sure hope you noticed your friend Joe is not the only staff sergeant in the army. Ahem!

I don’t know whether these people even have any summer or not, but it sure hasn’t arrived yet. We are still using three blankets at night- when we get a chance to sleep.

Colonel Eugene H. Snavely (1909–1982), commanding officer of the 492nd Bomb Group, presenting the Air Medal to Sergeant Devine in England, presumably after his fifth mission (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)

On June 18, 1944, Staff Sergeant Devine and his crew took off aboard a B-24J (serial number 44-40053, nicknamed Sweat’er Gal) for a raid on Lüneburg, Germany. Heavy clouds prevented the group from attacking that target, so the bombers flew to the secondary target at Bremerhaven.

In a September 4, 1944, statement attached to Missing Air Crew Report No. 8235, one of the crew’s waist gunners, Staff Sergeant (then Sergeant) Morton E. David wrote that

our main [fuel] tank and left wing tank were hit by flak in the vicinity of Hamburg, Germany.  We had just come off the bomb run, and were flying at approximately twenty thousand (20,000) feet.  The Pilot, 1st Lt. Roads, feathered #2 [left inboard] engine because that too caught flak. After this was done, #1 [left outboard] engine went out also, along with our main reservoir and radio.

1st Lieutenant Roads had a difficult choice to make. Landing in enemy territory was out of the question, and Allied forces on the continent were still bottled up in Normandy, which was even further away than England. The crew could abandon the aircraft and parachute to safety. That would most likely result in the men becoming prisoners of war, though if they could reach the Dutch border before bailing out, there was a slight chance of evading capture with the help of the underground.

A riskier course of action was to fly the damaged aircraft to safety. Neutral Sweden was potentially closer than England, though landing there came with the expectation that the crew would be interred for the duration of the war. Roads decided to try to make it back to England.

Sergeant David stated:

Coming from the enemy coast over the [North Sea], our plane dropped to about eighteen thousand (18,000) feet, gas from the main tank was coming up through the bombay [sic] and flowing throughout the aircraft, so the Pilot gave orders to prepare for ditching the plane.  Everything movable was tossed out into the [North Sea], waist guns, ammunition, section of flight deck, and radio equipment.  Approximately twenty (20) miles east of the English coast, and at an altitude of approximately thirteen thousand (13,000) feet, when the Pilot gave instructions to bail out.

Sergeant David wrote that Devine was the second crew member to bail out from the B-24’s escape hatch. That was the last that he saw of him. David was sure that at least seven or eight other men were able to parachute from the stricken plane.

David wrote that he had been in the water for about 45 minutes when a pair of P-47s spotted the downed airmen. They “dropped a life raft, but the rough water prevented us from reaching it.”

If they had not already been notified by 492nd Bomb Group crews—Devine’s B-24 had lost its radio to flak damage—the fighter pilots notified Air-Sea Rescue. Another 45–55 minutes later, a rescue boat arrived at the scene. Sergeant David and the nose gunner, Staff Sergeant Gerald A. Polzin (1924–2017), were the only survivors.

Of the other eight men, the only body that Air-Sea Rescue recovered was that of the flight engineer, Technical Sergeant George J. Becker. The other men, including Staff Sergeant Devine, had vanished in the cold waters of the North Sea.

Map marking the approximate location where Devine and his crew bailed out over the North Sea just east of Great Yarmouth, England (National Archives)

On June 29, 1944, the War Department notified Frances Devine that her husband was missing in action.

During his career, Staff Sergeant Devine earned the Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster and the Purple Heart. The Wilmington Morning News reported on January 12, 1945, that New Castle Army Air Base commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel William B. Hooton, was scheduled to present Staff Sergeant Devine’s Air Medal and oak leaf cluster to Devine’s daughter at a ceremony later that day.

Staff Sergeant Devine is honored on the Tablets of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery in England and at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware. Frances Devine did not remarry. She placed a cenotaph for her husband in Cathedral Cemetery in Wilmington, where she was buried after her death on July 7, 1985, aged 77.

As of December 3, 2021, Devine is one of 105 Delawareans whose bodies remain unaccounted for following World War II, according to a list compiled by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.


Notes

Residences

Although Delaware land records specifically states that Frances Devine purchased 611 West 29th Street on March 3, 1934, later records have both Frances and George Devine selling the house on September 4, 1941. It is unclear where the Devines lived for the next ten months. An annotation to George’s draft card gave a new address of 2719 (North) Jefferson Street in Wilmington, although land records describe them as residents of Christiana Hundred when they purchased 212 Fallon Avenue (also in Christina Hundred) on May 7, 1942.

Army Air Forces Career

Frances Devine’s statement indicates that her husband enlisted, but his service number shows that he was drafted. (Voluntary enlistment had essentially ended by presidential order at the end of 1942, notwithstanding certain exceptions, including those who had been previously accepted but not been called up for training yet.) Her statement also suggested his sequence of movements as Miami Beach (she only wrote Florida), followed by Lowry Field, Buckley Field, Alamogordo, Las Vegas, and finally Topeka before going overseas. Newspaper accounts, on the other hand, give a sequence of Fort Dix, Miami Beach, Buckley Field, Lowry Field, Las Vegas, Alamogordo, and Topeka.

Interestingly enough, on December 2, 1943, Devine wrote a letter on stationary from Clovis Army Air Field, New Mexico. Of course, that doesn’t prove he was stationed there, and no other known source placed him there.

Devine’s crew position was inconsistent through various sources. A December 11, 1944, Journal-Every Evening article described him as a tail gunner. The M.A.C.R. listed him as ball turret gunner, and the survivor’s statement described him as a waist gunner. Of course, he could have flown different missions with different assignments.

Fly to England or Sweden?

Paul Arnett wrote that one crew diverted to Gothenburg as the result of battle damaged and concluded that Roads “should have joined them.” The wisdom of Sweden as a diversion destination depends largely on what part of the mission Roads’s B-24 was hit. The survivor statement indicated that the aircraft was hit closer to Hamburg. From there, Sweden was closer than England.

However, if the B-24 was hit over Bremerhaven (or hit there again more seriously), Arnett’s assessment may be unfair. Bremerhaven is roughly midway between England and Sweden. Both possible routes entailed flying over water prior to reaching safety. Flying to Sweden would not only have meant internment, but also flying to unfamiliar territory while foregoing the protection of escorting fighters and the excellent British Air-Sea Rescue service. With the benefit of hindsight, Roads should have directed his crew to bail out over the Netherlands, but given his motivation to keep his crew out of captivity and save the B-24, it is understandable that he tried to fly back to England—at least if the plane was indeed hit further west than Hamburg.

Cause of Loss

Contemporary records indicate the B-24 was lost to antiaircraft fire. The M.A.C.R. including the survivor’s statement stated the plane was hit by flak, as did the 492nd Bomb Group Mission Summary for June 1944. Flak alone is cited in Frances Devine’s statement.

On the other hand, Paul Arnett’s article about the Roads crew that “On 18 Jun 44, they were hit by Me-109s while attacking an airfield near Luneburg. The Germans added insult to injury by hitting them again by flak as they were limping back to England.” Similarly, his article about that mission stated that “We haven’t found much to say what was encountered with the Luftwaffe, except that the Roads Crew 915 was damaged by an Me-109 over Bremerhaven.”


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to Staff Sergeant Devine’s nephew, Tom Mercer, as well as to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos.


Bibliography

“2 City Women To Get Medals For Husbands.” Wilmington Morning News, January 12, 1945. Pg. 1 and 21. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90346054/frances-devine-am-pg-1/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90346133/frances-devine-am-pg-2/

“859th Bombardment Squadron (H) 1 October 1943 – 1 June 1944.” Reel A0667. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Arnett, Paul. “Mission 5 — Friday, 19 May 44 — Brunswick.” 492nd Bomb Group website. http://www.492ndbombgroup.com/cgi-bin/pagepilot.cgi?page=showMission&mission=05&nav=c2m

Arnett, Paul. “Mission 31 — Sunday, 18 June 44 — Luneburg.” 492nd Bomb Group website. http://www.492ndbombgroup.com/cgi-bin/pagepilot.cgi?page=showMission&mission=31&nav=c2m

Arnett, Paul. “Roads Crew 915.” 492nd Bomb Group website. http://www.492ndbombgroup.com/cgi-bin/pagepilot.cgi?page=showCrewPage&crewPage=915-Roads&crewTitle=Roads%20915

Davis, E. L. “Narrative History, 492nd Bombardment Group (H).” June 15, 1944. Reel B0653. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257066-00199,  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257106-00663, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257111-00219  

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Devine, Frances M. George Harlan Devine Individual Military Service Record, May 14, 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/18412/rec/2

“Four More Boards Announce Those Recently Inducted.” Journal-Every Evening, February 26, 1943. Pg. 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90340485/devine-drafted/

Geo. Harlan McCall Devine birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1672/images/31297_212252-00969

“Harry Devine, 61, Dies of Injuries.” Wilmington Morning News, June 18, 1943. Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90286074/george-devines-father-killed/

“Honored for Combat Service.” Wilmington Morning News, July 4, 1944. Pg. 9. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90340751/devine-air-medal/

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“Mortgage Amortization Plan Hailed as Greatest Advance.” Journal-Every Evening, February 10, 1942. Pg. 28. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90338936/devine-insurance/

“Our Men and Women In Service.” Journal-Every Evening, August 2, 1943. Pg. 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90340253/devine-at-lowry/

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“Special Orders No. 63, Station Headquarters, Office of the Commanding Officer AAF 143.” June 1, 1944. Reel B0653. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

“Two Delaware Men Wounded; One Missing.” Journal-Every Evening, June 29, 1944. Pg. 1 and 23. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90290991/devine-mia-pg-1/

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7884/images/31111_4327433-00433

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WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_02_00002-01194


Last updated on December 20, 2021

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