39th Bomb Group (VH)



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Sgt Max L. Sampsel
CFC Gunner

Max Sampsel 1945
Photo courtesy of Charles A. Smith, P-44, Radar

Max Sampsel was born August 30, 1920 on farm near Bellefonte, PA. His wife, Jean was also raised on farm, along with three others on Crew 44 - Geringer, Payne and Volmar. Max graduated from Walker Township High School. Jean attended and graduated from east Penn's Valley High School in 1940. Max and Jean first met in 1941.

Sampsel enlisted in the Army Air Corps, September 28, 1942 and took pre-flight cadet training at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. He then attended pilot's school but was released from the program when it was suspended in late 1943.

He was then sent to gunnery school at Fort Myers, Florida, then to Lowery Field in Denver for B-29 training. He joined Crew 44 in the fall of 1944 at Salina, Kansas where he under went further specialized gunnery and armored instruction.

As the crew neared the end of its stay at Salina, Max sent for Jean to visit him, and in March 1945 they exchanged vows. Their time together though was short. On April 7th the crew departed for Mather Field on the first leg of its journey to Pacific.

Sampsel was stationed at more bases during this military service (20 or more) than any other member of the crew with the possible exception of A/C Payne and Charles Smith.

The crew found Sampsel to be outgoing, likable, personable and constantly upbeat. He possessed a great sense of humor, which would erupt frequently in spontaneous fashion.

It was Sampsel who first realized the competency and expectations of Airplane Commander Payne. He would remind us with regularity, "Skipper" knows his job 110 percent and is 90 percent familiar with yours, so you darn well better know your job."

Commander Payne was always amused during the sometimes-tense situations that would arise. As the tension mounted, Max's voice would rise to a higher and higher pitch. One night in the early morning hours, while at Smoky Hill (Army Air Field) P-44, encountering a problems with two engines. Twice when they "revved up" the engines in preparation to take-off, it was necessary to taxi back to the hanger for additional power and pressure checks. For couple of hours the crew sat around drinking coffee as they awaited completion of the necessary repairs. Finally the problem was apparently solved and they returned once more to make their delayed take-off. P-44 had barely gotten airborne when flames starting shooting out of the two engines. Payne called Sampsel on the

Max and Jean Sampsel - 1991

intercom and asked, "How do things look?"

Max replied, "My God Skipper, she looks a flaming Christmas tree back here …flames are shooting out behind our tail."

Whereupon the A/C prepared the crew for a crash landing inasmuch as they lacked power to reach sufficient attitude for bail out. The "May-Day" appeal was given, ground emergency units were alerted and Payne radioed, "We're coming in!"

The A/C made a superb smooth landing, but by this time Geringer had drained the fire extinguishers and the fire was pretty well subdued. At the end of the runway, the crew hurriedly excited the plane as fire-fighting personnel arrived on the scene.

Sampsel completed 22 combat missions by war's end and was the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals among other awards. He was discharge at Greensboro, NC November 1945 holding the rank of Technical Sergeant.

Max returned to his hometown, Bellefonte, and to his wife Jean. He took up employment with the Warner Stove Company and then worked in a store for an automotive chain. During the following 26 years, he held several other jobs, among which were Dean Phipps Auto Stores and U.S. Rubber Company. From 1972 until 1986, he operated a commissary at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Department. He retired in January of 1986.

Wife, jean retired at the same time as Max after 19 years with Penn State University.

The Sampsels have two sons: Gregory and Kurtis and proud grandparents of two girls.

Max and Jean's interests include involvement in the Lutheran Church, the VFW and American Legion and the Lion's Club. They have also been active in heart and cancer fund raising activities.

Sampsel was proud to have been interviewed by Air and Space Magazine. Obviously, he still retains his interest in aviation.

Update: 03 March 2001, Charles Smith, Radar Observer, notified us that Max passed away just prior to Christmas 2000.

Crew 44 Main Page
62nd Squadron Crew Index
Source: Lloyd B. Volkmar, Crew 44 Historian for the book
"History of the 39th Bomb Group" by Robert Laird (crew 5) and David C. Smith crew 31)