The Flying Chapel

Daniel Collier Smoke Jr. was considered the class poet at A.G. Parrish High School in 1941. A poem he composed that senior year contains seemingly spirtual premonition.

Front row left to right: 2nd Lt. Daniel C. Smoke Jr. (pilot), Flight Officer George Pendarvis (co-pilot), Flight Officer Gunnar Olsen, 2nd Lt. John Strong. Back row left to right: Sergeant John White Jr., Sergeant Harold Stone, Sergeant Richard Burres, Sergeant Elmer Koepsel, Sergeant David Sala.

Daniel Collier (D.C.) Smoke Jr. was born in Selma, Alabama on July 23, 1923. He lived with his family on Rural Route 2 – Old Orrville Road. Daniel had an older brother, Joe, and a sister, Georgia Angelyn.

The young man attended local Selma public schools graduating from A.G. Parrish High in 1941.

In 1942, he enrolled in Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn majoring in aeronautical engineering. He was one of the prestigious school’s brightest students. After two years of study he left and enlisted in the Army Air Corp for flight instruction. Assigned to bases in Biloxi, Mississippi and Savannah, Georgia, Lt. Smoke was trained in the operation of multi-engine aircraft.

On November 23, 1944, before leaving for Europe, Lt. Smoke married his sweetheart, Nancy Lewis, of Citronelle, Alabama. The couple’s wedding announcement in the Selma Times-Journal portrayed it as a gala affair. 

Lt. Smoke departed the United States on February 18, 1945 as command pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress. The Boeing aircraft were called that, because of their ability to defend with 50-caliber guns mounted throughout the fuselage.

A letter sent to his parents and wife mentioned that plane and crew had safely landed in England. The newly crowned pilot indicated that it’d been a beautiful trip.

Several weeks’ later tragic word was received that on March 19, 1945, Lt. Daniel Smoke Jr. was killed in an airplane crash along with eight others. This was only the second mission for Lt. Smoke and his crew. His B-17 nicknamed “Flying Chapel” mysteriously collided with another plane on a flight to their target. The crew of that B-17 survived after parachuting from their damaged craft. Turbulence or propwash were some of the possible factors mentioned for the planes coming together.

Lieutenant Smoke left behind a grieving widow. The young couple had been married for less than four months. On a bizarre twist of fate, Georgia Angelyn, Daniel’s sister tragically passed away from illness 14 months previous to his death.

The airman was initially buried in France before his body was exhumed in 1948 and shipped to Selma. His funeral was conducted with full military honors. Daniel Smoke Jr. is buried in New Live Oak Cemetery along with his father, mother, sister, and brother.

Ironically, the B-17 that Lt. Smoke was piloting that day had been in several serious accidents previous to his taking command. On December 24, 1944 it was extensively damaged from German fighter planes strafing the tail section.

The airplane (serial number 43-38038) received its “Flying Chapel” namesake by former crew members. It seemingly limped home after each mission only through the power of prayer.

This battered Flying Fortress had four complete wing replacements during its short life span. Like many such airplanes during WWII, it was quickly repaired then put back into service. Just how thorough some of those quickie repairs were finalized will never be known.

A black & white photograph shows a side of the aircraft literally blown apart. Sections of aluminum fuselage is missing. Lt. Smoke’s B-17 was structurally compromised without question.

Those killed in the crash along with 2nd Lt. Daniel Smoke were:

Flight Officer George Pendarvis

Flight Officer Gunnar Olsen

2nd Lt. John Strong

Sergeant John White Jr.

Sergeant Harold Stone

Sergeant Richard Burres

Sergeant Elmer Koepsel

Sergeant David Sala

On a parting note, Daniel Collier Smoke Jr. was considered the class poet at A.G. Parrish High School in 1941. A poem he composed that senior year contains seemingly spirtual premonition:

“When the last bell rings, at the close of each school day, we separate from our comrades, and homeward wind our way. The days are flying swiftly; yes, time still marches on: and before we have time to stop and think, our life is half-way gone.”

Daniel Smoke Jr. and his family were devout members of First Christian Church in Selma.

* After the accident Lt. Smoke was posthumously bestowed the rank of Captain.

This photo shows “Beverly Jean” (43-37969). The other B-17 that crashed.
From an article in the October 24, 1948 “Selma Times-Journal”
Grave marker in New Live Oak Cemetery – Selma, Alabama
High school photograph.

Author: michaeldexterhankins

ordinary average guy

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