Families of 100th BG veterans join 100th ARW for ‘Squawkin Hawk’ nose art dedication on KC-135

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The 100th Air Refueling Wing shared yet another historical tie to its World War II heritage of the 100th Bomb Group when another nose art – “Squawkin Hawk” – was unveiled at Royal Air Force Mildenhall Oct. 10, 2023, coinciding with the 80th anniversary of World War II’s “Black Week.”

“Few wings, if any, in the U.S. Air Force can claim the strong historical ties that the 100th Air Refueling Wing shares with its historical World War II legacy unit,” said Col. Ryan Garlow, 100th ARW commander, at the nose art dedication ceremony. “The 100th Air Refueling Wing, the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at Thorpe Abbotts, and the 100th Bomb Group Foundation in the United States, share a special relationship that has only grown stronger over the years.

“Ceremonies like this are special; they allow us to strengthen the indelible, historical ties that bind us in a spirit of service and sacrifice that has spanned eight decades. Honoring our past motivates our Airmen of today, and allows us to pause to remember the Airmen of yesterday,” Garlow remarked.

The 100th BG had earned its moniker, “The Bloody Hundredth,” by October 1943, through the disproportionate number of losses it suffered on what would later be coined “The Awful Eight” missions. Three of those eight missions occurred between Aug. 17 and Oct. 14, 1943, where the 100th BG suffered the loss of 28 aircraft and 283 crew members. Twenty-seven of the original 35 crews who arrived in England in early June 1943, were killed, wounded or captured by Oct. 14, 1943 – 109 days after their first mission.

Garlow has his own personal tie to the 100th BG – his step-grandfather, Tech. Sgt. James P. Scott Jr., was part of the crew on “High Life,” one of the aircraft involved in the first of the “Awful Eight” missions during a raid over Regensburg, Germany, Aug. 17, 1943. That aircraft suffered severe battle damage and was forced to crash-land in Switzerland, where Scott remained a prisoner until he was released in a prisoner exchange Oct. 5, 1944.


The “Squawkin Hawk” nose art was once on a B-17 Flying Fortress, tail number 23-0088, and assigned to the 100th BG at Thorpe Abbotts during World War II. It now adorns one of the 100th ARW’s KC-135 Stratotankers, tail number 59-1511, and the updated version – designed by Tech. Sgt. Zaqueta Eddins, 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron – was kept as close to the original as possible.

Family members of the B-17 navigator, Lt. Russ Engel, and co-pilot, Flight Officer Harry Edeburn, flew in from the United States to attend the ceremony which honored their personal heritage.

Edeburn had enlisted and trained as an airplane mechanic five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Army Air Corps had relaxed its college requirements for pilots in early 1942, which allowed him to qualify for air cadet training. He went on to graduate with John “Lucky” Luckadoo, another pilot with the 100th Bomb Group, who is thought to be the last surviving pilot of the original group.

“Harry was killed in action during a raid Sept. 6, 1943. It was their 13th mission over Stuttgart, Germany, but like so many families, ours was unaware of the details of his death and so unable to ever talk about it,” said Laura Barrett, grand-niece of Lt. Edeburn. “Our family had a special connection with crew member and bombardier Lt. Pete Delao’s family, but as kids, we had no idea of the reason or depth of that connection.

“Almost 70 years later, with the help of my husband Chris, along with David Engel [son of Lt. Russ Engel, navigator] and the 100th Bomb Group Foundation, we were able to learn of the horrific and gallant details surrounding this crew, and the death of my grandmother’s brother,” recalled Laura. “We were able to connect with the surviving crew and families like the Engels’, the Delao’s, and Frank and Ann Dolson. Through the 100th BG, we became friends with many wonderful people, including our English friends and volunteers at the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum. We are especially grateful to them for bringing the story of ‘Squawkin Hawk’ alive again, preserving it in a Thorpe Abbotts museum display, and now to you – the 100th Air Refueling Wing – for creating a lasting legacy of this plane and crew for many years to come.”

Discovering heroes

Laura’s husband Chris, now on the 100th BGF board of directors, said he first heard about “Squawkin Hawk” 38 years ago, when Edeburn’s sisters were trying to decide if he was good marriage material for the co-pilot’s grand-niece.

“We were all sitting in the eldest sister’s living room on a Sunday afternoon, trading family histories,” he said. “They mentioned their youngest brother, Harry, died in World War II. They shared little pieces of his story, one-at-a-time – including the fact that his Purple Heart medal was up in the attic – but those pieces of the story didn’t seem to add up to a complete picture. I also noticed how the sisters seemed a little proud and a little sad at the same time, when talking about their little brother, and I sensed I shouldn’t press them to continue.

“My wife-to-be and all her family members knew that Uncle Harry’s sisters still mourned his death, so the next generation had grown up knowing not to ask questions,” Chris remarked. “However, I was the outsider on the scene; I still didn’t know this Flying Fortress co-pilot’s story, though I knew this was not the time to go exploring. But I was intrigued, and I didn’t forget…”

Chris shared that sometime later, another of Edeburn’s sisters showed him a little brown book, told him to take it, and that it would tell him everything he wanted to know. He read it cover to cover, and although he didn’t then understand a lot of the phrases and “Airmen’s lingo” within it, he did learn a lot more about the “Squawkin Hawk.”

“One thing I quickly learned that was the little brown book didn’t tell me everything I wanted to know, but I’ve spent years since then continuing to gather one small piece of the story at a time,” he said. “Some of it came from the original crew members themselves, who were willing to share their story. I promised I would tell it and preserve it, so it wouldn’t be lost. So what you as members of the 100th ARW are doing today is joining in that promise. You’re keeping the saga of the ‘Squawkin Hawk’ alive, and adding a new chapter.”

Back where ‘Squawkin Hawk’ began

The 100th BGF director shared that the original “Squawkin Hawk” was built in Seattle, Wash., and was one of a 100-plane production block; a whole group of four-engine B-17 bombers manufactured to the same set of design specifications between the end of March and the beginning of April 1943. Workers in one part of the building began piecing together the structural spars and aluminum sheet metal in one area, while others assembled the engines in another corner. He added that more workers bundled wiring, connected electrical equipment and assembled mechanical components that came prebuilt from other places.

“Altogether, those men and women in plant number two put more than 35,000 hours of labor into assembling a single B-17 Model F Flying Fortress. Nearly 200 new planes rolled out of the factory doors in April 1943,” said Chris. “Those B-17s were painted olive drab, with a light bluish-gray underbelly. The only other prominent external markings were four large white stars on solid dark-blue circle backgrounds – there was no ‘Square D’ at that point, and no squadron markings. Just the Army Air Forces serial number painted in yellow block numbers on either side of the vertical stabilizer. The serial number for what became ‘Squawkin Hawk’ ended in 088, and that’s how people in the bomb group referred to it until it was christened with its nose art in England three months later.”

Aircraft 088 arrived at Kearney, Nebraska, April 16, 1943, and officially became part of the 100th Bomb Group’s inventory and assigned to pilot Capt. Sumner Reeder and his crew.

“The morning they were matched with their plane, they were handed a piece of paper with the serial number written on it, and told to go find it in the line of brand-new planes parked outside,” remarked Chris. “Just 39 days later, the crew and their new plane departed for overseas combat duty May 27, 1943, and within two weeks they had settled into their brand-new, RAF-built base at Thorpe Abbotts in England.

“The rookie crew imagine they had a fair chance of completing their 25 combat missions and flying aircraft 088 back home together by Christmas – but it didn’t turn out that way, not for a single one of them… The plane, by then christened Squawkin Hawk, did come home – one day short of one year later,” he said. “But a different pilot was at the controls. During the 100th Bomb Group’s first hard year in England, it was the first Fortress to survive 50 returns from combat.”

Holding on ‘til the end

Chris added the 10 crew members who logged the plane’s first dozen missions are most recently remembered for their highly decorated 13th mission over Stuttgart – which they didn’t fly in “Squawkin Hawk.” It was during the 13th mission, however, when Harry Edeburn was killed in action, remaining at his post until he had no strength left to continue.

“The crew navigator was Russ Engel, who earned a Distinguished Service Cross, along with Harry, and pilot then-Lt. Reeder for that 13th mission,” said Chris. “Though Russ lost his right eye and a life-threatening amount of blood, he assisted Reeder from the co-pilot’s seat after Harry was mortally wounded. Later, he was nearly tossed out of the radio room without a parachute during violent evasive action.”

Symbol of pride, power, self-sacrifice

The navigator’s son, David Engel, also flew to RAF Mildenhall to be part of the nose art dedication ceremony which was also a tribute to his father.

“Dad would have been very proud and honored to see this nose art dedication happening,” remarked David. “Like most veterans, he came home from the war and wanted to put it behind him and get on with his life. He went to college, got a degree in Forestry and raised a family. My brother and I knew little to nothing about Dad’s involvement in World War II, as he’d buried the memories and did not discuss them with anyone. This changed when he joined the 100th Bomb Group Association in the 1980s, and was able to talk to fellow veterans about his experiences, which then led to the family going to reunions, and finally hearing Dad’s story.

“This also got me started on doing research on the 100th and Dad’s crew,” he said. “As part of this research, I went online for access to hundreds of newspapers across the country. I typed in ‘Squawkin Hawk, and to my surprise, many of the listings that came up were advertisements for movie theaters and the latest movies that were showing, along with the feature cartoon.”

Engel explained that during the fall of 1942 and 1943, the latest cartoon from a popular cartoon producer was ‘The Squawkin Hawk,’ about a diminutive young hawk with a big attitude.

“I’m sure that during the time period it was showing, most of the crew would probably have seen it in a theater. It’s not a hard stretch to believe that’s where the name came from,” he remarked. “Ernest Lovato was an artist in the 100th Bomb Group, doing many of the nose art painting on the B-17s, and he was the one who painted the ‘Squawkin Hawk.’ His signature was on the plane when it left England, after being the first plane to complete 50 missions.”

“On behalf of those original ‘Squawkin Hawk’ crews, I offer thanks to those of you in the 100th ARW who made the decision to name one of your planes after ‘Squawkin Hawk,’” said Chris. “I want to extend a special wish to all those of you who serve to make it fly, and to those of you who will fly in it.

“May it be a symbol of pride for all of you. May the stories of the original plane and its crews serve as a testimony to you about the great power and value of relentless training, pursuing excellence, double-checking, backing up each other, accountability to each other, belonging to each other, commitment to the mission, and self-sacrifice,” he said.

Editor’s note: Chloe Melas, grand-daughter of Capt. Frank Murphy, 100th Bomb Group navigator during World War II, also attended the nose art dedication ceremony to share some of her grandfather’s harrowing story, along with Mike Faley, 100th Bomb Group Foundation historian.