THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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With the approach of the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, Cambridge American Cemetery is paying tribute to the young American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. This short series of individual stories, will hopefully bring their lives back into focus and celebrate the achievements of these ordinary people during extraordinary times.
1Lt Lyle J Doerr
602nd Bomb Squadron, 398th Bomb Group
Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters; Purple Heart
Lyle Joseph Doerr was born in 1923 and still in education when war engulfed Europe. This son of North Dakota received his High School Diploma in May 1940, just as Paris fell to the Nazi invasion. He chose to train as a teacher, so applied to State Teachers College in Valley City, ND, where he was accepted.
The US War Department, however, had other plans in the face of the looming danger from Europe. In September 1940, the Selective Training and Service Act required men aged 21 – 36 to register for the Draft. When America was plunged into war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Act was changed to include those as young as 18. Lyle was one. He was barely 18 years old. He registered on June 27, 1942. As a Private in the Army, he volunteered for the US Army Air Forces and was accepted as an Aviation Cadet on August 14, 1942.
Successfully completing his training, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, able to fly the four-engine, B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. After graduation in February 1944, he returned to North Dakota for a short holiday before being deployed overseas.
Once in Britain, Lyle was assigned to the 398th Bomb Group (Heavy), based at RAF Nuthampstead, Hertfordshire. His training was immediately put into practice, and he found himself flying mission after mission, eventually becoming leader of his 10-man crew.
Conditions for the young aircrews, flying at 25,000ft, were atrocious, as cold and lack of oxygen were constant companions. They suffered attacks from enemy fighter aircraft and ground fire from anti-aircraft artillery. In order to give them some hope that they might survive, the number of missions was limited. Initially, this was 25, but as the Allies gained control of the skies over Europe it rose to 30 and then 35, after which men were exempted from combat flights.
Lyle, who had been promoted to First Lieutenant, aged 20, prepared for his 35th and final mission on December 30, 1944. The target was the railway Marshalling Yards at Bischofsheim, Germany. They were to attempt to relieve the pressure on the U.S. Infantrymen tied down in the Battle of the Bulge by slowing the movements of enemy soldiers and materiel to the front. The elements were against them, as the weather was overcast and cold, but the planes had to take off for this vitally important mission.
For some reason, Lyle Doerr’s aircraft did not manage to keep up with the formation. An eye-witness saw it catch fire and then crash into the freezing seas off Beachy Head, Sussex. A rescue attempt was made in the English Channel, but to no avail; the nine young aircrew on board that day all perished.
In a letter of condolence to Lyle’s mother, a friend wrote (4 July 1945):
"Did you ever wonder, Mrs. Doerr, just how Lyle took to combat? I know most of the boys that flew were afraid every time they went on a mission, and I have yet to meet an exception, but where it really showed up what a man was made of was when we were sitting around waiting and I believe of all the boys I knew in the squadron he was the most carefree of all."
American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates 1LT Lyle J. Doerr on the Wall of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery. His bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten.
For more details on the Cambridge American Cemetery, go to www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/cambridge-american-cemetery