Peter J Heffernan was born on August 7, 1915, in New York City, New York, his father, Thomas, was 37 and his mother, Mary, was 37. He married Eleanor Joan Ganzi on June 1, 1940. In Rye his family lived on Bulkley Manor and were members of the Church of the Resurrection. Peter enlisted and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
Peter Heffernan was assigned to the 385th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force as part of the crew of the B-17 "Curleys Kids".
The 385th Bomb Group, who took the nickname "Van's Valiants" after their first Commanding Officer Col. Elliot Vandevanter, flew B-17s from Great Ashfield, Suffolk. The Group led the famous attack on the Focke-Wolfe aircraft factory at Marienburg on 9 October 1943, during which only two out of one hundred B-17s were lost and all of the buildings on the site were damaged or destroyed. They won two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first, awarded to all 4th Bomb Wing Groups, was for accurately dropping their pay load on an aircraft factory at Regensburg, on 17 August 1943 and the Group's second was awarded after leading a difficult long-range mission to destroy an aircraft repair works at Zwickau, south-west Germany, on 12 May 1944.
Peter was a Waist Gunner and his primary duty was to defend the aircraft against the enemy. On a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, there were two waist gunners located directly opposite one another. This made maneuvering sometimes difficult, and until later models of the B17, frostbite was also an issue, as the waist gunners stood near open window areas. Because of this, waist gunners frequently wore heavy layers of shearling and leather protective clothing, as well as electrically heated suits. Waist gunners were also frequently responsible for checking the aircraft for damage and assisting the flight engineer with repairs if necessary.
On July 12, 1944, Peter's B-17 "Curleys Kids" flew from Great Britain with a target of Munich, located deep in the Axis-controlled south of Germany.
Considering there were nearly 5,000 U. S. B-17 bomber aircraft used in the war, the odds of two of them crashing into each other would seem inestimable.
Inexplicably, two B-17 aircraft collided in mid-air over over Perl, Luxembourg on July 12, 1944. The Airmen served aboard the B-17's "Off Spring" and Peter's plane "Curleys Kids"
Of the 20 crew members on board both planes, only two would survive: Sgt. Larry Atiyeh from "Curleys Kids" and Sgt. Robert McPherson from "Off Spring". The townspeople carried the bodies to a school which would eventually become the 385th Bomb Group Memorial Museum. At the time of the crash, Luxembourg still endured Axis occupation.
Every year since Perl citizens gather for a memorial ceremony to celebrate the sacrifice of 18 fallen U. S. Army Air Corps Airmen and the eventual liberation of their city.
Crew of "Curleys Kids" B-17 G / 42-102606
1st Lt. Robert L. McDonald
2nd Lt. Stephen F. Ryan
2nd Lt. William T. Henry
Flight Officer Francis M. Chrisman
Staff Sgt. Russel Hale
Staff Sgt. Peter J. Heffernan
Staff Sgt. Walter R. Berosh
Staff Sgt. Peter Linton
Sgt. Heffernan, Former Resident Killed in Action Over Germany
Staff Sgt. Peter J. Heffernan, son of Mrs. Mary A. Heffernan of New York City and the late Thomas Heffernan, formerly of Bulkley Manor, Rye, was killed while serving as Right Waist Gunner on the B-17 Flying Fortress over Germany. He was reported missing in action on July 12, and was the recipient of the Air Medal, two Oak Leaf Clusters and a Presidential Citation for valorous conduct. One member of the crew was reported a prisoner of the Germans, one remains officially missing and all the other members of the crew were killed. The sergeant had four brothers, two of whom, Patrick and Thaddeus, are in the armed forces, and Charles and Thomas, with two sisters, Mary and Ann are at home.
PAGE FOUR THE RYE CHRONICLE Friday, March 16, 1945