This Memorial Day, we honor the service and sacrifice of all those who gave their lives in service to our country and the military veterans who served in all branches of the armed forces and have since passed.
In January of last year, the Reveille published the story of the namesake of American Legion Post 293, William Russell Ledford, who died on January 8, 1918 as we honored the 100th anniversary of his death. In commemoration of last Memorial Day, it also published the story of William Potter, who was killed in action when his P-38 fighter was shot down over Romania on June 10, 1944.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Ray Zittleman, born in Cloverdale, serviced in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Zittleman was born on November 8, 1923 to Mary and Fred Zittleman. Zittleman, his brother Fred and sister Lea, were schooled in Cloverdale, where Zittleman was one of 20 classmates who graduated from Cloverdale High School in 1941. Zittleman, who was mostly known as “Ray,” received a medal for perfect attendance through his four years at Cloverdale High School. Soon after high school, he attended the College of the Pacific in Stockton, and during his Christmas break on Dec. 18, 1942, Zittleman enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Zittleman was immediately sent for basic training at several different schools throughout the country including Buckley Field in Colorado, where he completed his gunnery training. After completing his training in November 1943, he was immediately sent overseas and assigned to the 338th Bombardment Squadron, 96th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force to an airfield in England called “Snetterton Heath.”
From that airfield Zittleman and his crew carried out bombing missions to targets in Poland, Romania and Germany. Zittleman was assigned as part of a 10-man crew on a B-17 “Flying Fortress” named “Cookie” AC number (42-31447). Zittleman flew the left waist gunner position that had him at the helm of a .50 caliber machine gun in freezing temperatures at an altitude of 10,000 feet on most of his bombing missions.
On April 11, 1944, at 6:30 a.m., the 96th Bomb Group took off from Snetterton Heath, past the coast of England and headed out toward their primary target of Poznan, Poland. Because of the heavy overcast and dense weather, they decided to turn north toward the Baltic Sea and bomb Rostock, Germany as their alternate target. While flying 16,000 feet over the Baltic Sea near Keil, Germany they were attacked by thirty twin engine Me-410 “Messerschmitt” fighters armed with 35mm and 20mm cannons and rockets.
It was during this attack that “Cookie” was seen taking several rocket hits that knocked out the two left engines. After taking these hits and though the crew valiantly tried to hold formation, “Cookie” was seen falling out of position over the Baltic Sea and being attacked by the German fighters.
The B-17 bomber fell into the Baltic Sea and all crew members were lost. After mission reports stated that three parachutes were seen leaving the crippled B-17 bomber. Captured German documents record that the body of Zittleman was recovered by fishermen in the Baltic Sea near the city of Kohlberg, Poland on June 8, 1944.
Zittleman was buried in his heavy flight suit in a casket furnished by the German Army on June 10, 1944.
Zittleman was buried on the same day that his schoolmate William “Billie” Potter was killed over Ploesti Rumania.
After the war, this area was under Russian occupation and access was denied until 1948. It was not until April 26, 1950 that Zittleman was finally laid to rest with full military honors at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno in Section O, Grave 220. Zittleman is the namesake of Cloverdale VFW Post 9268.
On this Memorial Day, we honor the service and sacrifice of one of nine Cloverdale residents who died in service to our country. Zittleman’s service and sacrifice will not be forgotten. We also remember all Cloverdale veterans who have died and especially those who died within the past year.
Pvt. William Russell Ledford – US Army, WWI; killed in action (KIA) – Jan. 18, 1918, age 25
Pvt. Charles A. Baker. US Army, WWI; KIA - Sept. 26, 1918
Pvt. Clive H. Greaves – US Army, WWI; KIA – Oct. 2, 1918
Sgt. Thomas Zittleman Zittleman, US Army Air Corps, WWII; KIA – April 11, 1944, age 20
Coxswain Dennis Wade Quinliven, US Navy, WWII; KIA – Oct. 15, 1942, age 19
2nd Lieutenant William L. Potter, US Army, Air Corps; KIA – June 10, 1944, age 23
2nd Lieutenant, Richard Wells, US Army, WWII; KIA – Jan. 9, 1945, age 27
Spec. 4 Stephen Lenn Weight, US Army, Vietnam; KIA March 21, 1969, age 21
Spec. 4 Duane Roy Baumgardner, US Army, Vietnam; KIA – June 2, 1969, age 20
American Legion Post 293 pays tribute to past American Legion Commander Herdis Gudmund who served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force from 1960 to 1967.