1LT Brian W. Flavelle was born in 1914 in Essex County, New Jersey to William L. and Edna P. Woolley Flavelle. He has several siblings, brothers Alan Page and Robert Watson, and sister Doris Pennington.
After graduating from Caldwell High in New Jersey, he got a degree from the University of Oregon and would later enlist for service in the United States Army Air Corps on 14 July 1941. He was trained as a B-24 pilot for service with the 512th Bomber Squadron, 376th Bomber Group (Heavy) which was known as the “Liberandos”, of the 9th Air Force. On 01 August 1943, 1LT Flavelle and his crew of the “Wongo Wongo” were tasked to participate in one of the most daring raids of WWII, Operation Tidal Wave, which would be carried out by bombers based in Libya and Southern Italy on nine oil refineries around Ploiesti, Romania.
This mission was the costliest in Air Force history within the European Theater with 53 aircraft and 660 aircrewman lost. It was the second-worst loss ever suffered by the Air Force on a single mission and its date was later referred to as “Black Sunday”.
In the early morning of 01 August 1943, the formation reached the Adriatic Sea without further incident; however aircraft #28, Wongo Wongo, belonging to the 376th Bombardment Group (the lead group, about 40 B-24s and piloted by Lt. Brian Flavelle) was seen to develop a wing wobble, stall and fell away to the left before entering into a spin and diving into the sea. The aircraft detonated upon impact and a column of smoke rose to 200ft. The entire crew was lost, which consisted of Co-Pilot 1LT John C. Ryan, Navigator 1LT Robert F. Wilson, Bombardier 1LT Jack B. Lanning, Engineer TSGT John H. Cleveland, Radio Operator TSGT Willis S. Lutz, Gunner SSGT Robert M. Bowden, Gunner, SSGT Melick J. Janacek, Tail Gunner SSGT Tim O. Mclaughlin, and Gunner SGT Sander Lazer.
Lt. Guy Lovine—a personal friend of Flavelle and piloting aircraft #23 Desert Lilly—descended from the formation in order to look for survivors, narrowly missing aircraft Brewery Wagon piloted by Lt. John Palm. No survivors were seen, and due to the additional weight of fuel, Iovine was unable to regain altitude to rejoin the formation and resume course to Ploiești.
For his service to our country, 1LT Flavelle’s awards and decorations consist of the Silver Star, Air Medal with 6 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation, and Aviator Badge.
1LT Flavelle’s name appears Tablets of the Missing North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial Carthage Tunis, Tunisia. His remains were never recovered. At the time of his death, he was married to Dorothea Richards and had a 4 month year old son, William, who he never got to meet.
Receiving his lost Purple Heart will be his two nephews, Ande Flavelle of Caldwell, NJ (Son of Brother Robert) and Brian Flavelle of Watsonville, CA (Son of Sister Doris). Ande’s father was also a Pilot during WWII and flew the P-51 Mustang.