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Cowan Frank Kirby

Frank Kirby Cowan
Technical Sergeant
Serial Number:
339th Bomber Squadron, 96th Bomber Group
Date of Death:
Maplewood Cemetery, Harrison, Arkansas
Air Medal, Purple Heart

Frank Kirby Cowan was born on November 9, 1922 in Harrison, Arkansas. He was the son of Joseph B. Cowan and Elizabeth Vena Ratcliff Cowan. He served as a Technical Sergeant and Radio Operator on the B-17G #42-102552 "Horn's Hornets" aircraft, 339th Bomber Squadron, 96th Bomber Group, Heavy, U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.

The plane took off from 138 Snetterton Heath, Norfolk, UK on a bombing mission over the oil storage facilities at Gennevilliers, a suburban area of Paris. While the B-17 inflicted major damage upon the target, Paris was surrounded with infamous flak, and two of the twenty-five B-17s were shot down, including the Horn's Hornets. His plane spun down after flak knocked off the entire tail assembly and crashed in the streets of Rue Pajol and Rue Ricquet, Paris. Seven members from his crew were Killed in Action and three were taken as prisoners.

TSGT Cowan got out of plane. After he landed, Kirby was alone, not knowing where the other surviving crew member was. He knew the Germans would be searching for him, so he began looking to hook up with the French Resistance. Eventually he made what he thought was a good contact. Unfortunately it wasnít. His contact was this man, Jacques Desoubrie, French traitor and double agent for the Gestapo. Desoubrie was paid 10,000 francs for each allied airman he turned over to the Gestapo.

Kirby was sent to several prison camps and wound up at Fresnes Prison with the others where they expected to be shot. The German Foreign Office expressed concern about shooting prisoners of war. Instead, they suggested that enemy airmen accused of being terrorists not be given the legal status of POWs. Since they were no longer considered prisoners of war, they were shipped from Fresnes, just outside Paris, to Buchenwald concentration camp by train. After five days in the crowded boxcars, they arrived at Buchenwald on August 20, 1944. When the men were marched through the front gate at Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the guards pointed at the huge chimney nearby. Kirby was told when he went in the gate; the only way he was going to leave was up the big chimney.

A total of 168 Allied airmen were sent to Buchenwald and Kirby survived the prison camp. Kirby told that Hermann Goering saved his life. After the war, the Buchenwald survivors were questioned by the military, and some were accused of lying. They were ordered to never talk about their experiences, and most never did. Some who did tell after they got home were accused of lying, so they quit talking about it. Most of the airmen kept in touch with each other as best they could.

After the war, and all the POWs were liberated and returned home, Kirby Cowan resumed life in the northwest Arkansas town of Harrison. He followed in his fatherís footsteps and went to work for the railroad. He died on December 23, 2009, at the age of 87, in Harrison, Arkansas. Frank is now buried in the Maplewood Cemetery, Harrison, Boone County, Arkansas, USA.

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