Staff Sergeant Thomas Joseph Bricen Jr. (1922 – 1944)
12th Army Air Force – Mediterranean Theater – WWII – KIA
Remembering – Staff Sergeant Thomas Joseph Bricen Jr. – MZHS “Hero of Air Power”
Thomas J. Bricen Jr., son of Thomas and Agnes Gardner Bricen, was a Jay High School graduate, and married to Dorothy with a daughter Dianna. He entered the Army Air Forces on January 4, 1943 and, after training as a B25 Mitchell turret gunner, he was assigned to the 12th Army Air Force (445th Bomb Squadron, 321st Bomber Group) in March 1944.
From its home airbase in Solenzara, Corsica, the 445th bomber squadron participated in bombing raids over Italy, France, and Germany, and received a presidential citation for its missions. S/Sgt Bricen participated in his group’s historic 400th combat mission in an attack upon the Castiglioncello railroad bridge in Italy. He also was the turret gunner for one of the most destructive attacks carried out by a single B25 bomber group in which 3 warships in Toulon harbor were destroyed after the landings in Southern France. For Staff Sergeant Thomas Bricen, his 58th mission was to be his last.
The 445th bomber squadron ran into plenty of trouble on Tuesday October 3, 1944 when bombing the Galliate Road Bridge in the Milan, Italy area. This “hot” target was surrounded by anti-aircraft defenses that cost the squadron two aircraft- the lead B25 bomber, and bomber B-25J named “Evora” which included turret gunner S/Sgt Thomas J. Bricen Jr. when hit by flak and went down in flames. It’s doubtful if any survived the attack. Listed as KIA, killed in action, the entire crew was interred October 5 in the Florence American Cemetery, Florence, Italy.
What a shock this must have been to his family. First they were told that his plane went down and he was MIA. And finally, after 6 months, he was officially declared Killed in Action. His parents were visiting relatives in Kersey when they heard that Tom was MIA. On the quiet somber drive home from Kersey, Tom’s 9 year old brother Danny witnessed his parents in a very different light, seeing his father, Tom Sr., cry for the first time. Tom kept a diary with his combat missions and general thoughts. The last entry was prior to his last flight on Oct. 3. His diary was blank until on Oct. 8th it said “Birthday of my angel, Dianna. I hope she grows up to be as sweet as her mother.” On the cover of the diary was the name of his daughter, “DIANNA.”
Tom, whose body was never recovered, has a grave marker in the American Cemetery in Florence, Italy. Also his family placed a memorial stone in Gardner Hill Cemetery next to his mother. For his meritorious AAF service, Staff Sergeant Thomas Bricen Jr. was awarded the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters, a Presidential Unit Citation, and for his ultimate sacrifice- the Purple Heart. Mt. Zion’s “Heroes of Air Power” plaque is a fitting honor for this WW2 hero.
Remembering: Staff Sergeant Thomas J. Bricen Jr by Evo G. Facchine
Thomas J. Bricen Jr. was born in Weedville on September 14, 1922, son of Thomas F. Bricen Senior and Agnes Gardner Bricen. He was the second of seven children. Here we see the Gardner name appear again and, in fact, Tom was the second cousin of Pfc. Calvin P. Gardner, Pvt. Theodore O. Gardner and Lieutenant Thomas V. Smith, all killed in action and the subjects of previous articles.
Many Jay Township School students will remember Tom’s grandfather, John Gardner, every student’s friend and the popular janitor of the school on Route 255.
Tom attended and graduated from the Weedville High School, class of 1940. During his high school years, Weedville High School fielded football teams. It was during those years when Tom starred as the team’s halfback that the high school had some record-winning seasons. In particular, the 1939 season, when the team won eight out of nine games. Tom’s fellow teammates said he could twist and turn with the best of them and his elusive and speedy running earned him the nickname “Legs.”
Tom, during the period between high school graduation and his entry into the service, met and married Dorothy Lucore of Caledonia. Dorothy had lived out of the area for some time during her teen years, but returned to Weedville to spend the summer with her uncle and aunt, Roland and Adella Turley. It was during that summer Tom and Dorothy met and were married. They had one daughter, Dianna. At the time of his entry into the service, Tom and his family were living in Tonawanda, NY.
Tom and his brother, Lewis, in anticipation of being drafted, enlisted in the Navy. Tom was turned down because he was color blind, but was later drafted and placed in the Army Air Corp, as it was known before the Air Force became a separate branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. At this point in time, Tom wisely decided to keep a diary. It began with his days at an army pre-induction facility (an old CCC camp in New York). In that diary, he showed his sense of humor with such comic entries as: “Monday, we had beans soaked in sulfuric acid, Tuesday spaghetti dipped in water softener and green tomato catsup, and a special dessert one day of bread and jelly.”
Now processed into the Army Air Corp, he received training at several Army bases, beginning at Tyndale Air Base in Panama City, Florida, then at Wisconsin, Illinois and Greenville, SC. He was assigned to overseas duty in March of 1944. He was assigned to the 445th Bomb Squadron, 321st Bomb Group (M), and 12th Air Force. From the French Island of Corsica, west of Italy, in the Mediterranean Sea, Tom’s unit participated in bombing raids over Italy and Germany. On May 27, 1944, he and his crew received a citation for the bombing and destruction of an important bridge in Massa, Italy. His unit also participated in bombing during the invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944. In all, Tom was awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and a Presidential Citation.
In the service, Tom again kept a meticulous diary which provided some basic insight into his personality. His writings disclosed two other important traits, first and foremost was his faith in God, by his entries “Thanking God” at the end of each mission and at the end of each day. Naturally, it also contained entries of all his combat missions. The last entry was prior to his 58th mission on October 3, 1944, He was reported missing in action the next day, October 4, 1944, His diary was blank for the next few days, but on October 8th it contained the following notation: “Birthday of my angel, Dianna.” With the final notation, “I hope she grows up to be as sweet as her mother.”
Tom’s belongings, sent home after his death, contained a large notebook with pictures of the Vatican, the Roman Coliseum, the Pantheon and other famous structures in Rome, each with a description in his own handwriting, thus showing the second trait, his appreciation of the architectural beauty of each structure. Obviously, another reason for keeping his notebook was for the education of his daughter, for on the cover of the notebook in big letters was the name, “Dianna.”
Until now, these stories have never mentioned the young siblings left back home. In this case, my interview with Tom’s youngest brother, Danny, adds a poignant touch to this story. Danny remembers that he was with his parents visiting relatives in Kersey when word reached them that Tom was missing in action. Nine years old at the time, in the era before seat belts, he was allowed to stand on the drive shaft “hump” prevalent in cars of those days. On the quiet somber drive home from Kersey, he witnessed his parents in a very different light, seeing his father cry for the first time.
Tom was not officially listed as “killed in action” until April 7, 1945. After the war, a veteran who was the pilot behind the aircraft in which Staff Sergeant Thomas F. Bricen was a turret gunner visited the Bricen families in Weedville. He described that last fateful mission, the one that ended with the B-25 Mitchell Bomber on fire in a fierce vertical descent, carrying Tom and the crew to their death in the Mediterranean Sea.
For Tom’s widow and daughter, whose lives necessarily had to go on, here in brief, is that story. Dorothy moved to Erie where some five years later she became Mrs. Carl J. Miller. She had five more children. She and her husband operate a Honda ATV dealership known as Forest Park Enterprises. At the time of my phone conversation with her, while she was at home in between trips to Florida for the winter, she was doing the quarterly reports for the business. She is 80 years young.
In my visit with daughter, Dianna, now Mrs. Wayne Dauber, also of Erie, it was learned that she returned to Weedville for her senior year of high school to graduate from the Alma Mater of her father; the year 1960, 20 years after her father’s graduation. Dianna and her husband have three children and six grandchildren. Dianna is secretary of Forest Park Enterprises.
Tom, whose body was never recovered, has a grave marker in the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial in Florence, Italy. Also, the family chose to place a tombstone in Gardner Hill Cemetery alongside his mother, Agnes Gardner Bricen.
Tom, like the other GI’s in this series, must have been a super guy. Also found in his book of notes was the poem, How Sweet You Are? He added Dear Dotty. It reads as follows:
How sweet you are, how
Sweet you are,
How dear your tenderly
Thru days all bitter and
Gray and grim,
Thru nights when even the
Stars are dim;
How sweet to know my
Heart can glow
From just the warmth of
Our first embrace,
The world’s a lovelier
World by far
When I remember how
Sweet you are.
No doubt, Staff Sergeant Thomas J. Bricen Jr. was a young, handsome, romantic man. He, like so many others, died for our freedom.
“Lest we forget…”