The ''Lucky Boy'' Bomber

by Terry Hogan

Prowling through one of the numerous antique stores of Galesburg recently, I came across a post-card-like photo of a WWII bomber, with its crew lined up in front of the plane. Now, I'm not a big WWII War ''buff,'' but the name of the plane stopped me. It was named ''Lucky Boy.'' A closer look showed the Lucky Boy Bakery logo was also displayed on the plane, as part of its "nose art." This really caught me attention, as the Lucky Boy Bakery was located on the north side of East Main Street in Galesburg, across from the Post Office, and literally just a few steps from this antique store. Further, my father had been an employee of the Lucky Boy Bakery for much of his life.

Examination of the reverse side of the card showed that it was apparently an advertising item for the Lucky Boy Bakery. It showed a loaf of the Lucky Boy Bread, ''Your Power Food'', and announced the ''Adventures of Lucky Boy'' at 6:15 -6:30, Monday through Friday on the local WGIL radio station. Luckily (no pun intended) the photo also indicated that the plane was a Martin Marauder, piloted by Russell Kelly, ''now bombing Europe.''

I bought the little photo and took it to my mother to see if she could recall anything of this, as my father was no longer living. To my surprise, she recalled not a thing about the photo or the apparent radio station broadcast of the ''Adventures of Lucky Boy,'' but she did recall Russell Kelly.

Russell Kelly had been an employee of the Lucky Boy Bakery in Galesburg before he, like so many left to fight in the war. Through some method that I know nothing about, he obviously became a pilot of a Martin Marauder, also known as the B-26 (not to be confused with a Douglas B-26). As was often the custom, the pilot and crew were dedicated to a particular plane, and the plane was personalized. Kelly chose to honor his employer, and probably take advantage of the fortuitous use of the work ''Lucky,'' as I'm sure that all available luck was graciously accepted.

In fact, the Martin Marauder B-26 had a reputation of needing more than a little luck. The plane was built by the Glenn Martin Company of Baltimore, Maryland. Due to pressing needs, the bomber contract was awarded, without having a prototype built for testing. The contract was awarded on July 5, 1939 and the first bomber came off the assembly line, with its strengths and weaknesses, in November 1940.

By September 1942, the accident rate of the B-26 bomber at training fields had reached alarming levels. It was investigated by the Air Safety Board and the Senate Investigating Committee. This plane also started to receive various nicknames, including ''The Widow Maker,'' ''The Flying Coffin,'' ''The Flying Brick'' and ''The Flying Prostitute.'' The last nickname perhaps needs an explanation. The story goes that this name was received as the plane ''had no visible means of support.''

Despite all this, the Martin Marauder performed well in Europe and was reported to be well liked by its crews. A total of 5,157 B-26 Marauders were built. By 1944, the B-26 had the lowest loss rate on operational missions of any American plane in the European Theater.

The plane looks pretty big in photos, but as lucky would have it, I was able to visit the Smithsonian Institute recently and it has on display, the front portion of a B-26 Martin Marauder. I was surprised as how little room was left for the human component of the weight that it current. Not only did the crews have to be brave, but also they had to be free of claustrophobic inclinations.

Unfortunately, I have been able to find any information on Russell Kelly, his crew, or even what unit he flew with. The photo of the plane and crew provide no visible unit markings. Nor have I been able to find anything by Internet searches, despite considerable help from various organizations dedicated to the Martin Marauders and their crews. Similarly luck was found through local (Galesburg) sources of information.

But I do know that Russell Kelly survived the war and returned to Galesburg and the Lucky Boy Bakery. Perhaps the Lucky Boy really was lucky, for the bomber crews over Europe had a terrible time, putting their life on the line frequently.

He returned to a management job at the Lucky Boy Bakery and lived at Lake Bracken. He probably expected a safer, happier life, after surviving a war in a risky role. Perhaps he ran his luck too thin surviving the war. Russell was married and his wife became pregnant not long after the war was over and Russell had returned home. But the child was not to be. My mother recalls the awkwardness she felt when Russell and his wife came over, not long after the loss of their unborn child. It was awkward, as they had come over to visit my parents and see their new baby. This child turned out to be my parents' last child. I was an attractive baby, go figure.

Unfortunately this was not the end of Russell Kelly's bad luck after surviving the war and returning to Galesburg. His wife was killed in a car accident not long after the loss of their unborn child. Some time later, he moved to the West Coast, and this is the end of the known story.

I suppose it is not a unique story. Many men interrupted their lives to fight in WWII. Many came back. Some did not. We all owe them more than we recognize, more than we give them credit for. Some have followed their example, in Korea, Vietnam, and other smaller wars around the world. Peace, freedom, and liberty come at a high price. The opportunity for a wife, a child, a job, and the happiness of an everyday existence does not come cheap, nor does it come with a warranty.

It is quite a story to come from a small post-card-like photo from a Galesburg antique store. It makes for a tight circle. I wish I'd know of the story years ago, perhaps my father could have added to it. But, of course, this is often the cry of the genealogist and the family historian.

I hope the rest of Russell Kelly's life has been good to him and his loved ones. He deserves it.

If someone knows more about Russell Kelly, I'd like to hear it. I can be reached by e-mail or by letter c/o the Zephyr.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online February 28, 2001

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