Texas Archival Resources Online

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Biographical/Historical note

Scope and Contents note

Arrangement note

Restrictions

Index Terms

Related Material

Administrative Information

General note

Description of Series

Series I: Jerry Debes Military Career and Death, 1942-1949

Series II: Debes Investigation and Memorials

Woodson Research Center, Rice University

Guide to the Jerry C. Debes World War II papers, 1942-1996 MS 579



Title: Jerry C. Debes World War II papers
Dates: 1942-1996
Abstract The collection consists of letters, newspaper clippings, military reports and documents and original photographs, certificates, a small group of callings cards, and memorabilia. The collection focuses on the military career and death of a first generation American pilot, Jerry C. Debes, of Syrian heritage, in the European Theater of World War II and the subsequent efforts of his family to honor his memory.
Identification: MS 579
Quantity: 0.75 linear ft. (2 boxes)
Language:
Repository: Woodson Research Center

Biographical/Historical note

Jerry C. Debes (1920-1944) was born in Beaumont, Texas as one of five children of immigrant parents. His father Mike N. Debes (b.c. 1881) immigrated to America from Tripoli, Syria (now a part of Lebanon) in 1892. Mike married Vehiba, also Syrian, about 1907 and began his retail business in Beaumont, Texas. The Debes children attended Beaumont High School from which Jerry Debes graduated in 1938. He then attended the local Lamar College to study accounting. On December 7, 1941, Debes was working as an accountant for the Stedman Wholesale Company. He enlisted in the US Army where he was sent to Camp Crowder, Mo. to be trained for the newly-established Signal Corps for the Second Division of the US Army Air Force (AAF). Preferring to become a pilot, Debes then began training at the Wilson & Bonafils Flying School in Chickasha, Oklahoma but failed to finish the program. He then studied at the bombardier school at the George Air Force base in Victorville, CA. and graduated on July 31, 1943. He did additional training as a bombardier at the Air Force bases in Pueblo, CO and Tuscan, AZ eventually becoming a bombardier instructor. In the spring of 1944, he became certified as an aviation navigator. Lt. Jerry C. Debes was then transferred to the RAF base in Halesworth, England as part of the 846th Squadron of the 489th Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force (8AF). Jerry and his crew christened their B-24 Liberator plane as the “Agony Wagon”. Although notorious for catching on fire because of the fuel tank placement, the B-24 Liberator eventually became the most produced American military aircraft in history. The crew of the “Agony Wagon” entered combat on May 30, 1944 at the very end of the Allied Forces’ “softening up” process of Nazi-occupied France prior to the D-Day invasion. The Allied invasion of Normandy began on June 2, 1944. Debes flew six combat missions that focused exclusively on strategic targets such as factories, oil refineries, and airfields. On August 16, 1944, Jerry Debes and crew were on their tenth mission with orders to destroy the Rothensee plant and power stations in Magdeburg, Germany. After dropping their loads, the 846th squadron had turned back towards England when the “Agony Wagon” bombed accidently by another Allied plane. The Debes family received word that Jerry was “missing in action” one week later. Over a year later, the US War Department finally declared Second Lieutenant Jerry C. Debes officially “dead”. He was posthumously awarded the US Army’s Purple Heart and the USAF Air Medal for his service, and a tombstone in his memory was placed in the Lorraine American Cemetery outside St. Avold (Moselle), France in 1947. His family spent the rest of the decade trying unsuccessfully to discover the circumstances of his death. After visiting his brother’s grave in France, Dr. Robert Debes of Houston, Texas reopened the inquiry in 1988.

Return to the Table of Contents


Scope and Contents note

The collection consists of letters, newspaper clippings, military reports and documents and original photographs, certificates, a small group of callings cards, and memorabilia. The collection focuses on the military career and death of a first generation American pilot, Jerry C. Debes, of Syrian heritage, in the European Theater of World War II and the subsequent efforts of his family to honor his memory.

The collection divides itself naturally into two main chronological parts containing several series in each. The first group (1942-1949) is focused on Debes’ military career and his family’s efforts to discover the circumstances of his death. It also includes materials concerning the Jerry Debes memorial Headstone placed by the American Battle Military Commission in the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France. It also includes personal and military–oriented photographs. Other memorabilia are the US Air Force‘s Air Medal and Purple Heart medal in their respective cases, two copies of Jerry Debes’ Purple heart certificates and Jerry Debes’ calling cards.

The second part is devoted to the efforts of Dr. Robert Debes to discover the exact circumstances of his brother’s death due to friendly fire in late 1980’s. It includes Dr. Debes’ successful project to have his brother’s name listed on the Roll of Honor at the American Memorial Chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England as well as the donations of materials to the Lone Star flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, the Air Force Historical Research Agency at the Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and Rice University in Houston, Texas.

It is important to note that most of the documents are not original but photographed copies. Original materials are indicated in the Finding Aid. The photographs and memorabilia are all original.

Return to the Table of Contents


 

Arrangement note

Series I: Jerry Debes Military Career and Death, (1942-1949)
Subseries A: Correspondence (1942-1949)
Subseries B: ABMC Documents (1947-1988)
Subseries C: Photographs, Personal and Military (1942-1945)
Sub-subseries 1: Personal, (1942-1944)
Sub-subseries 2: Military (1942-1945)
Subseries D: Memorabilia (1945-1949)
Series II: Debes Investigation and Memorials
Subseries A: Correspondence (1984-2000)
Subseries B: Debes Family Memorials and Donations

Return to the Table of Contents


Restrictions

Conditions Governing Access note

This material is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use note

Permission to publish material from the Jerry C. Debes Papers must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library.

Return to the Table of Contents


Index Terms

Subjects
World War II.
World War, 1939-1945 - Photographs.

Return to the Table of Contents


Related Material

The Jerry C. Debes display case at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas. The Jerry C. Debes Collection at the Air Force Historical Research Agency in Maxwell, Alabama.

Return to the Table of Contents


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation note

Jerry C. Debes Papers, (1942-1996), MS 579, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Dr. Robert Debes and Mrs. Beatrice Debes Jamail donated their brother’s papers and memorabilia to the Fondren Library in May 2011. All items came from their family collection.

Return to the Table of Contents


 General note 

Please note the following abbreviations: American Battle Monuments Commission [ABMC]; United States Air Force [USAF].

Return to the Table of Contents


Detailed Description of the Collection

 

Series I: Jerry Debes Military Career and Death, 1942-1949

Subseries A: Correspondence (1942-1949)
Box Folder
1 1 Biographical sketch [n.d.]
2 Letter, General H. R. Harmon to Mr. and Mrs. Mike Debes Oct. 15, 1942
3 Jerry Debes’ Last Will and Testament July 8, 1943
4 Jerry Debes’ General Power of Attorney July 8, 1943
5 Graduation Invitation and calling card July 31, 1943
6 Newspaper clipping [prob. Beaumont Enterprise, c. 1943] [orig.]
7 Jerry Debes’ Statement of Personal Affairs May 12, 1944
8 Check List for Military Personnel June 18, 1944
9 Letters (51) Jerry Debes to Family March 11, 1944 – August 15, 1944
10 Address Card for Jerry Debes in Halesworth, England [n.d.]
11 Railroad Shipping Receipt for Footlocker June 10, 1944
12 Special Orders, 489th Bombardment Group Station Headquarters July 18, 1944
13 Western Union Telegram War Department to Vahiba Debes August 28, 1944
14 Western Union Telegram Lori Springer to Beatrice Debes August 30, 1944
15 Newspaper clipping, Beaumont Enterprise Sept. 3, 1944
16 Letter, Gen. Robert Dunlop to Vahiba Debes January 16, 1945
17 Letter, Major Gen. Gault to Vahiba Debes Feb. 9, 1945
18 Letter, Maj. Gen. J. A. Ulio to Vahiba Debes March 19, 1945
19 Letter, Maj. Gen. Ulio to Vahiba Debes June 8, 1945
20 Letter, Elizabeth Knapp to Beatrice Jamail Aug. 31, 1945
21 Letter, Maj. Gen Edward Witsell to Beatrice Jamail January 10, 1946
22 Letter, Maj. Gen. Edward Witsell to Senator Thomas Connally June 4, 1946
23 Letter, Col. William J. McDonald to Senator Thomas Connelly June 10, 1946
24 Letter, Sec. A. S. Carr to Texas U.S. Attorney Steve King June 13, 1946
25 Letter, Attorney Steve King to Mike Debes June 17, 1946
26 U.S. War Department’s Official Death Notification Feb. 18, 1947 [original]
27 Letter, Maj. Gen. Edward Witsell to Mike and Dahiba Debes Feb. 17, 1947
28 Letter, Major Richard Coombs to Nicky Debes June 9, 1947
29 Letter, Adj. Gen. Edward Witsell to Nicky Debes July 2, 1947
30 Letter, Maj. Gen. Thomas Larkin to Mike Debes Oct. 20, 1947
31 Letter, Major Richard Coombs to Nickey Debes Jan. 13, 1948
32 Letter, Mike Debes to Quartermaster General Feb. 16, 1948 [notes attached]
34 Letter, Maj. Gen. H. Feldman to Mike Debes April 26, 1949
35 U.S. War Department Brochure March 5, 1945 [orig.]
Subseries B: ABMC Documents (1947-1988)
Box Folder
1 36 ABMC Brochure, “American Cemeteries” [n.d.] [orig
37 ABMC Description and history of Lorraine American Cemetery [n.d.] [orig.]
38 ABMC map of Lorraine American Cemetery [n.d.] [orig.]
39 Description of ceremonial American flag from interment ceremony at the Lorraine American Cemetery [n.d.]
40 ABMC Form #50, Services Offered to Public Nov. 1971 [orig.]
41 ABMC Form #54, Order for Floral decoration at Lorraine American Cemetery [blank] Feb. 1980 [orig.]
42 ABMC Form #49, Photo Request Form [completed] Feb. 1980 [orig.]
43 ABMC Form #51, Revised Price List for Floral Decoration at Lorraine American Cemetery April 7, 1987 [orig.]
44 ABMC Memorial Service program at Lorraine American Cemetery May 24, 1987 [orig.]
45 ABMC Brochure, Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial April 27, 1988 [date hand-written] [orig.]
46 Pamphlet, American Cemetery at Saint Avold, Moselle April 27, 1988 [date hand-written] [orig.]
Subseries C: Photographs, Personal and Military (1942-1945)
Sub-subseries 1: Personal, 1942-1944
Box Folder
1 47 Jerry Debes in uniform with Vahiba Debes 1942
47 Jerry Debes in uniform at Camp Crowden, MO March 1, 1942
47 Jerry Debes with Lucille McPherson, Glendale, CA June 13, 1942(?) or 3(?)
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with Vahiba Debes in Beaumont TX 1943
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with brother Robert Debes in Beaumont TX 1943
47 Movie stars Georgia Carroll and Bunny Waters in Victorville CA June 5, 1943
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with movie star Bunny Waters in Victorville CA June 5, 1943
47 Movie star Susan Hayward in Victorville CA May 22, 1943
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with movie star Georgia Carroll in Victorville CA May 22, 1943
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with Vahiba Debes and sister Beatrice Jamail in Pueblo CO 1943
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with Vahiba Debes and friend “Lt. Smith” in Beaumont TX 1944
47 Family Group: Vahiba Debes, George Jamail (brother-in-law), Beatrice Jamail, Robert Debes, Jerry Debes in uniform in Beaumont TX 1944
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with Vahiba Debes 1944
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with Vahiba Debes and Robert “Bobby” Debes
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with Beatrice Jamail and Robert “Bobby” Debes 1944
47 Jerry Debes in uniform [n.d.]
47 Jerry Debes in uniform with Lucille McPherson (?) [n.d.]
Sub-subseries 2: Military 1942-1945
Box Folder
1 48 Jerry Debes’ bomber (plane) in Pueblo CO Oct. 10, 1943
48 Jerry Debes and Crew in England, July 1944 [identification note attached]
48 Jerry Debes and his crew 39-7-88 in front of the “Agony Wagon”? [n.d.]
48 Jerry Debes grave, Lorraine American Cemetery [n.d.]
48 Color photos [6], Jerry Debes Display at Lone Star Flight Museum [1995?]
48 Color photos [7], Roll of Honor and American Memorial Chapel, St. Paul’s Cathedral London August 1996
48 Unknown bomber squad with name IDs on back [n.d.]
49 Allan Gallier and plane [n.d.]
48 Aerial photo: Bomb hit on unidentified ship from 12,000 feet [n.d.]
48 Aerial photo: Unidentified Power Plant on a Highway at Bridge [n.d.]
48 Aerial photo: Unidentified Dam with snowy background from 12,000 feet [n.d.]
49 Negatives (4)
Documents, 1930 and 1944
Box Folder
1 49 Page to a missing photograph of Jerry Debes plane, taken Aug. 16, 1944
49 Page to a missing photograph of Debes and Fadal families, Beaumont TX June 15, 1930
49 Envelopes (2) addressed to Dr. Robert Debes
Subseries D: Memorabilia, 1945-1949
Box Folder
1 50 Certificates [2], Purple Heart Aug. 31, 1945
51 Jerry Debes Calling cards
51 Tribute Certificate signed by President Harry Truman [unidentified]
51 US Army Air Force’s Air Medal and case
51 US Army Purple Heart medal and case

Return to the Table of Contents




 

Series II: Debes Investigation and Memorials

Subseries A: Correspondence (1984-2000)
Box Folder
2 1 Dr. Debes Statement [n.d.]
2 Contact Lists [I orig.]
3 Letter, Elizabeth Knapp to Robert Debes June 26, 1984
4 Correspondence, Robert Debes to Quartermaster General, U.S. Army July 1988 [orig.]
5 Correspondence, Charlie Freudenthal to Robert Debes July 1988 – July 2000 [several orig.]
6 Chapters, Charles Fredenthal’s History of 489th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force [unpub.]
7 Correspondence, Robert Debes to Headquarters U.S. Air Force Aug. 1988 [orig.]
8 Correspondence, Senator Lloyd Bentsen to Robert Debes, Aug. to Oct., 1988 [orig.]
9 Letter and Receipt, National Archives to Robert Debes, Aug. 19, 1988 [orig.]
10 Missing Crew Report, 489th Bombardment Group U.S. Army Headquarters Sept. 29, 1944
11 Correspondence, Robert Debes to Air Force Historical Research Center Aug. 1988 – June 1996 [many orig.]
12 Correspondence, Robert Debes to Eighth Air Force Historical Society July 1988 – May 1994 [some orig.]
13 Article, “The Dragon and His Tail”, Robert Mulcahy [unidentified and n.d.]
Subseries B: Debes Family Memorials and Donations
Box Folder
2 14 Correspondence, Robert Debes to Congressman Bill Archer May 1995 [orig.]
15 Correspondence, Robert Debes to US President George W. Bush, June 1996 [1 orig.]
16 Correspondence, Robert Debes to Philip McKenna, Office of Defense Attaché, American Embassy, London June 1996 [2 orig.]
17 Correspondence, Robert Debes to Dean’s Office, St. Paul’s Cathedral June-Aug. 1996 [orig.]
18 Correspondence, Robert Debes to Joseph Caver, Archivist, Air Force Historical Research Agency May 1994 – May 2011 [some orig.]
19 Letter, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital to Robert Debes May 27, 1994 [orig.]
20 Correspondence, Deed of Gift and Inventory, Robert Debes to Lone Star Flight Museum June 1994 – July 1995 [orig.]
21 Newspaper clipping, Beaumont Enterprise, June 12, 1994 [1 orig.]
22 Letter, Ira Gruber to Robert Debes, June 26, 1994 [orig.]
23 Letter, Alixa Naff to Robert Debes March 22, 1996

Return to the Table of Contents