SECOND LIEUTENANT WRIGHT ELLIS GERKE was the son of Henry J. Gerke, a member of the Camden Fire Department, and his wife, the former Ida Cox. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Wright E. Cox, who had a long career as a member of the Camden Police Department. A great-uncle, George P. Cox, retired as a battalion chief with the Camden Fire Department. Wright E. Gerke's early years were spent at the family home at 619 South 4th Street in South Camden. The Gerke family moved to 2131 47th Street in Pennsauken NJ shortly after the 1929 Camden City Directory was compiled.
After graduating from Merchantville High School in Merchantville NJ in 1938, Wright E. Gerke attended Drexel Institute in Philadelphia PA before enlisting the United States Army's Air Corps on July 19, 1941. He qualified for flight duty and trained as a pilot at Camden SC, where he won his wings. He returned home on furlough and married his high school sweetheart, Lavinia Farquhar on July 2, 1942.
Wright E. Gerke received further training as a bomber pilot at Savannah GA, Langley Field VA, Bangor ME, Boise ID, and Maxwell Field AL before going overseas as a member of the 366th Bomber Squadron, 305th Bomber Group, Heavy. He was able to come home on furlough at least once before going overseas on May 30, 1943. During this time he trained under Col. Curtis LeMay, who would later be promoted to general and won everlasting reknown for conducting the strategic bombing campaign against Japan.
While training, he was assigned to an bomber crew, where he met Second Lieutenant Joseph Costa, who had qualified as a navigator. When the men were sent overseas, their wives stayed together, making their home at 141 East Park Avenue in Merchantville. Mrs. Gerke bore a daughter, Dona, on August of 1943. Sadly, Wright Gerke never got to see his daughter.
Tragically, Second Lieutenant Gerke was shot down during a daylight raid on Gelsenkirchen, Germany on August 12, 1943. 20 planes took off on this raid, two returned early and only Lieutenant Gerke's plane failed to return. Five other aircraft asustained serious damage during this raid. Lieutenant Gerke was piloting the B17F known as "ARKY", serial number 42-29553. Reports state that the bomber observed at 0855 being hit by flak and dropping out of formation. It was was immediately attacked by 5 or 6 fighters. The plane was seen going down on fire with at least three parachutes seen. Although three parachutes were seen, only Staff Sergeants Fullerton and Chalker were taken prisoner, all others were killed either in the plane or when the plane crashed near Monchen-Gladbach, Germany.
Both he, Joseph Costa, Second Lieutenant Thomas Read, the co-pilot, Second Lieutenant Jack J. Little, the bombardier, Staff Sergeant Joseph J. Hall, the tail gunner, Staff Sergeant Herbert A. Kalwa and Staff Sergeant Rowlinson, waist gunners, and Staff Sergeant Edward F. Keesling, the ball turret gunner, were killed. Radio operator Staff Sergeant James L. Chalker and top gunner Technical Sergeant Harry Fullerton managed to parachute to the ground and were taken prisoner by the Germans.
After the war Wright Gerke's remains were recovered, and were buried at the American military cemetery in Margareten, Holland after the war with the other members of his crew that had been killed.
Lavinia Farquhar Gerke later remarried. Her husband, Allen Rockafellow, and Wright Gerke had been best friends before the war. The Rockafellow family owned and operated Parks Dairies on 42nd Street in Pennsauken. Allen Rockafellow's brother, Sergeant Verton R. Rockafellow, was also killed in action during World War II.
Tributes to the 305th Bomber Group, Heavy
305th Bomb Group
Squadrons of the 305th
364th Bombardment Squadron -
Assigned 8th AAF: September 1942
VIII BC, 1 BW Sep 1942
VIII BC, 1 BW, 102 PCBW: Feb 1943
VIII BC, 1 BD, 40 CBW: 13 Sep 1943
1 BD, 40 CBW 8 Jan 1944
1 AD, 40 CBW 1 Jan 1945
GRAFTON UNDERWOOD 12 September 1942 to 11 December 1942
CHELVESTON 6 December 1942 to 20 July 1945
Col. Curtis E. LeMay 4 June 1942 to 15 May 1943
Lt. Col. Donald K. Fargo 18 May 1943 to late October 1943
Col. Ernest H. Lawson November 1943 to 18 June 1944 - KIA
Col. Anthony Q. Mustoe 22 June 1944 to 22 October 1944
Col. Henry G. MacDonald 23 October 1944 to 22 April 1946
First Mission: 17 November 1942
Last Mission: 25 Apr 1945
Total Sorties: 9,231
Total Bomb Tonnage: 22,363 Tons
Aircraft MIA: 154
Distinguished Unit Citations:
11 January 1944 to all 1 BD units
4 April 1943: Paris
Two Medals of Honor
1 LT. William R. Lawley Jr. 20 February 1944
1 LT. Edward S. Michael 11 April 1944
Claims to Fame
Under Col. LeMay the Group pioneered many
formations and bombing procedures that became Standard Operating
Procedures in the 8th AAF
Activated 1 March 1942 at Salt Lake City AB,
Utah. They trained there until the 2nd of March 1943. Then moved to
Geiger Field, Washington on 11 June 1942 Intensive training at Muroc
Lake AB, California from the 29t June to 20th August 1942. The ground
unit went by train to at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The ground unit sailed
on the Queen Mary on the 5th September 1942, and disembarked from
Greenock on the 12th of September 1942. the Aircraft assembled at
Syracuse, New York and spent six weeks in advance flight training.
They received new B-17F bombers, and left for the United Kingdom in
October 1942 via the Presque Isle, and Gander to Prestwick.
Between 20-27 July 1945 the Group moved to St. Trond, Belgium, where it conducted photo-mapping flights which was called Project: Casey Jones over Europe and North Africa. On the 15th December 1945 moved to Lechfeld, Germany which they had bombed on the 18th March 1944. The 364th Bomb Squadron was inactivated on the 1st of July 1946. The 423 Bomb Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group was attached to the Group after this date but by the end of October 1946 the Group ceased all operations. Officially the unit was inactivated on the 25th of December 1946. On the Continent came under the 9th Air Force and on the 15th of November 1945 under USAFE. The unit was reactivated in 1951 as a Strategic Air Command B-29 unit and as the 305th Bomb Wing and converted to B-47s in 1953. Then became one of the USAF's two B-58 Hustler units.
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