How "Mary Ruth" Memories of Mobile got her name;
When this book was written, I was unable to determine why and by whom “Mary Ruth” Memories of Mobile had been named. The crew who flew her in combat said she had been so named when assigned to them. The ground crew chief, Bert Pierce, remembered the aircraft and verified the name was painted on her when she was assigned to the 401st Squadron. Since no records of who flew specific aircraft overseas existed, I was unable to identify the pilot/crew who took her to England. I had a record of the route she took from Salinas, Kansas to England, including a 16-day stay in Mobile for repairs, but nothing regarding the flight crew.
In June 2002, Judy Flugstad placed an e-mail message on the book web page to say that “Mary Ruth” Memories of Mobile had been named for her mother, Mary Ruth King, by her father, Loren Roll. From Judy and her parents I finally learned the real story of the “Mary Ruth.” This is her story.
In February 1943 1Lt Loren Roll and his B-17 heavy bomber crew were
deploying overseas. As was the practice at that time, the crew was to
ferry a new replacement bomber on their way to England. They were sent
to Salinas, Kansas to pick up the new B-17. They picked up No. 42-29536
and flew a check-out flight from Salinas to Tampa to Brownsville and
back to Salinas. They then started their trip overseas, by way of South
America and North Africa. They got as far as West Palm Beach, Florida
when they discovered the engines were using too much oil. It was
learned the oil rings in the pistons had been inserted upside down.
They were sent back to the major aircraft repair center at Brookley
Field in Mobile, Alabama to have the engines replaced, which was
quicker than replacing the rings.
They arrived in Mobile on 8 March. Loren and several of the crew went to New Orleans for three days. After returning to Mobile, they stayed at the Battlehouse Hotel in downtown Mobile. On Friday, March 12th Loren and another crewmember were having a drink in the hotel lounge and started talking to the two women sitting at the next table. Mary Ruth King and her friend did sheet-metal work repairing planes at Brookley Field. Loren and Mary Ruth hit it off immediately. They went out every evening the next week, except for a couple of nights when Mary Ruth had to work the swing shift. They spent hours and hours talking since there wasn’t much to do for entertainment during the war. Loren proposed after a few days. They were married at Dauphin Way Baptist Church on Friday, 19 March – one week after they met!
On the first leg of the trip to England, they flew first to
Trinidad, then Belem, Brazil and finally Natal, Brazil. After a
three-day layover, they left at midnight for the flight across the
Atlantic to Dakar, Senegal. That flight took 10 hours. The next stop
was Marrakesh, French Morocco. Then it was another long flight to
England. Again they left at midnight. To avoid occupied Europe, they
had to go west to the Atlantic, then north, then east to England. The
crewmen soon discovered that, because of radio equipment problems, they
only had short-range communications and the navigation equipment didn’t
work. They flew north until they thought they were about even with
England and turned east. After a period of time Loren saw a hole in the
clouds and decided to go down and see if he could figure out where they
were. They spotted land and flew along a coastline finally deciding
that it was the east coast of Ireland. Because of the low clouds Loren
had to take the “Mary Ruth” back up to a higher altitude above the
clouds. He turned east and headed for England. The crew kept watching
for a break in the clouds, but the area was completely cloud-covered.
Without any working navigation equipment, they were completely lost.
Suddenly anti-aircraft shells started exploding around the “Mary
Ruth.” They later found out they had flown over an anti-aircraft
battery at Plymouth, England. Loren got on the radio and was able to
reach a tower. He reported that they had no navigation equipment, were
lost, and about out of fuel. He was told to turn northwest where a
plane would be sent up to lead them in. In a matter of minutes, two
fighter planes came up out of the clouds. The “Mary Ruth” fell in
behind and followed them down. As they came down out of the clouds,
Loren discovered they were lined up perfectly with a runway and all he
had to do was land! They had been flying for 12 hours and 15 minutes,
the last half hour with all fuel gauges on empty! They had landed at a
British base at the southern tip of England. The next day the crew was
bused to Bovington; they never again saw the “Mary Ruth.”
Lt Roll and his crew were assigned to a replacement pool at the 92nd
Bomb Group to fill in on other crews where crewmen were unable to fly.
Two were shot down, but survived the war. The others successfully
completed their quota of missions and returned to the States; Loren
flew 31 combat missions.
The “Mary Ruth” was sent to the 91st Bomb Group at Bassingbourn.
Upon arriving at Bassingbourn someone in the dope and fabric shop
repainted the name on the nose in the dark yellow paint used by the
91st Bomb Group for its squadron designations. The original
“punctuation” was retained — quotation marks around “Mary Ruth” — and
the format of the name — “Mary Ruth” in large letters, with Memories of
Mobile below in smaller letters. As told in the title story of the
book, the “Mary Ruth” was shot down 22 June 1943, on her 7th mission.
Two of her crew were killed, the other eight becoming prisoners of war.
Loren Eugene Roll was raised on a homestead near Cohagen in eastern
Montana. He first expressed an interest in flying when at the age of
three or four his family attended a box lunch get-together. One of the
women brought a lunch packed in a box shaped like an airplane. Loren
threw such a fit wanting it, that she gave it to him! In 1930, at the
age of thirteen, he took his first plane ride in Ogden, Utah. After
high school he entered an airplane mechanics course in Billings and
went to work as a mechanic for a flight training school to pay for
flying lessons. He earned his private pilot’s license and then enrolled
in Poly Tech (now Rocky Mountain College). He attended school for two
years, majoring in engineering and taking additional courses in flying.
Loren enlisted in the Army Air Corp in Butte, Montana on 1 November
1941. He was in primary training when Pearl Harbor was bombed. On 22
April 1942 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and sent to
Sebring, Florida for B-17 initial training. From there he went to
Boise, Idaho for combat primary training; his crew was formed there.
Then, it was on to Walla Walla, Washington for combat secondary
training and to Rapid City, South Dakota in November 1942 to finish
B-17 training. The crew was then sent to Alamogordo, New Mexico as
instructor for B-24 crews! After several months of instructing, Loren
said he hadn’t joined the service to be a teacher and volunteered for
combat duty. All but two of his crew also volunteered to go overseas
with him. Two replacements were added to the crew and they were sent to
Salinas, Kansas, where they picked up No. 42-29536.
After graduating from Murphy High School in Mobile, Mary Ruth King worked at various jobs in Mobile until the war began. She then went to a government sponsored three-month training program in Gadsden, Alabama where she learned to do sheet metal work. After completing the program, Mary Ruth went to work at Brookley field. Since, at five feet two inches, she was the smallest person in her work crew, Mary Ruth got to do all the repair work inside the wings of the aircraft. After Loren left for England Mary Ruth went back to Mobile and continued working until he returned in August 1944.
Loren returned on the liner Aquatainia, then traveled on a troop
train to Salt Lake City, then to Billings where Mary Ruth met him and,
for the first time, his parents. Loren and Mary Ruth spent the next
year and a half stationed at various bases around the country while
Loren was instructing B-17 pilots and ferrying new planes from the
Boeing factory in Seattle. He was released from active duty in February
They returned to Montana where Loren went to work for the Bureau of Reclamation on the preliminary survey for Yellowtail Dam. When funding for the dam was not approved, he was sent to do mapping in the Glendive, Montana area. Mary Ruth was homesick for a warmer climate, so Loren transferred to a civil service job at Elgin AFB, Florida. The family, which now included two children, lived there until Loren was called back to active duty in September 1953. He was sent to Japan, then Korea. When the war ended, Loren put in for a transfer to Okinawa. The family joined him there in May 1954 where they stayed until July 1957. The family, now with three children, returned to Florida where Loren worked as a highway and bridge inspector for the Florida Highway Department and in civil service at Homestead AFB.
In 1961 funds were finally approved for construction of Yellowtail Dam and the Roll’s moved back to Montana. Loren returned to the Bureau of Reclamation and worked as a concrete placement inspector. When the dam was completed in 1966, he transferred to the Army Corp of Engineers and moved to Lewiston, Idaho, and later to Clarkston, Washington. Loren worked as an inspector at numerous dams and bridges in the Northwest until he retired in 1974. He also retired from the Air Force as a Major with 20 years service on active duty and in the reserves.
In 2000 Loren and Mary Ruth moved back south to Bay Minette,
Alabama, Mary Ruth’s home town. This time it was Loren who wanted to
live in a warmer climate – Mary Ruth had become a real Westerner and
hated to leave the Northwest; but she is happy to be back among
numerous relatives. Loren and Mary Ruth celebrate their 60th wedding
anniversary on 19 March 2003.
For those interested in non significant triva, the serial number of
the “Mary Ruth” was Mary Ruth King’s phone number in Mobile at the time
she met Loren