Wesley S. Kozenka

Click picture for close up view

Wesley S. Kozenka's Officer Tunic
Dress Uniform
The story behind this one is rather amazing. A retired Air Forcer officer (by the name of Nic Cannarozzi) on the West Coast, contacted me after seeing my post on the 450th BG Forum where I was seeking any information pertaining to Wesley. The individual thought that 'Kozenka' was a rather unique name and contacted me via e-mail since the tunic had Wesley's name in it!

It turns out, Nic acquired the tunic (along with the crusher cap and glasses) from a civil war store when he was stationed near Langley AFB (Virginia) some years ago. Only recently did he begin to research this uniform grouping which led him to me. Needless to say he was surprised to see the name on the tag in the tunic as being that of my great uncle! I was more surprised to see that the handwriting looked exactly like my grandfather's. Both of the brothers must have had the same writing teacher in grammar school the handwriting was so similar.

Dress Tunic
Inside Label, Genuine Issue

Most likely, if my memory serves me correctly, my grandfather had a sister (or other distant relative) located in Virginia, which explains why the uniform grouping was found there. Since we lost contact with that side of the family years ago, it is most likely that Wesley's sister passed away and her children sent the items out to pawn.

The uniform is authentic (minus the captains bars which Nic and I believe were put on for show by the dealer) and Nic has arranged for the return of the item to my family, never once suggesting compensation. The least I could do was purchase a similar authentic grouping for his collection. My family is grateful for this return.

Dress Tunic
Handwritten Name
The handwriting is similar to my grandfather William.

Crusher Cap & Flight Glasses
Original Issue
Wesley's original crusher cap and flight glasses.

The 'Bottoms Up Painting'
Officer's Club, Maxwell AFB and the Air University Library
After recovering from the amazement of the finding Wesley's officer's tunic and cap, I received an e-mail from a man named John Jeff. John Jeff is a retired Colonel in the USAF and a former pilot in the 720th Squadron. His impressive career could fill a book, however I know him as a very kind and energetic man willing to help me on what has turned out to be a quest.

Turns out, John e-mailed me saying that there was a painting in the Officers Club at Maxwell AFB of the 'Bottoms Up'. I was dumbstruck. What luck I thought. John even went down to photograph the painting for me and the result is the picture to the right. John then spied the same exact photo print (or painting?) hanging in the Air University! I think someone is trying to tell us something since that coincidence is quite remarkable. John then put me in touch with the Air University librarian, Dr. Shirley Laseter.

Dr. Laseter went on to research that the person who donated the print hanging in the officers club at Maxwell was a Captain Harris L. Wood 721st Bomb Squadron, 450th Bomb Group. Mr. Wood made the donation in 2001 to the club since he resided in Montgomery. Unfortunately, my research uncovered that Mr. Wood passed away in April of 2001.

Dr. Laseter indicated that the painting depicts the 'Bottoms Up' on its 100th mission as it returned from a tasking over Vienna on November 19th 1944. No signature or artist name is on the print. **

** November 2005: It was only after speaking with Don Gray and reviewing the entires made in Mr. Wood's war diary, did we realize that the Air University was incorrect with respect to the date of the 100th mission of the Bottoms Up. According to Mr. Wood, the actualy 100th took place on October 31, 1944. The target for the day was Podgorica, Yugoslavia. Thanks to Don's keen reading, he was able to correct a very important oversight. See the 100th Mission Page.

Update: October 2005

The mystery behind the origin of the painting is solved. Much to my surprise one fall afternoon, I received a call at my office from someone calling about the RW web site. In turn, I called the individual back and discovered that it was Melinda Wood Gray, daughter of Captain Harris L. Wood "Woody", who piloted the Bottoms Up on its 100th mission.

Melinda informed me that her mother had the painting specially commissioned for Woody to commemorate the Bottoms Up's 100th mission. After speaking with Melinda, she described her father's love for the Bottoms Up and he apparently kept detailed diaries while at Manduria concerning this B-24. Woody's wife took a photograph that he had and had an artist make an oil print out of it, which hangs, to this day in her husband Don's home office.

When Capt. Wood's wife passed away, he relocated near Maxwell Air Force Base. After visiting the 'O' club one day, he was quite mad due to the fact that there was not one picture of a B-24 hanging on the wall. This was quite odd since Maxwell AFB played host to many B-24's during the war and is also the record storage facility for the 450th Bomb Group historical records.

Woody had an oil painting made in honor of the Bottoms Up and presented it to the 'O' club where it hung for public display. Melinda also stated that a director of the Air University library was taken by the painting and also had a copy made and placed it in the Air University Library where it remains today.

The mystery has been solved with respect to the providence of the original painting and the two copies that reside in Alabama.

After speaking with Melinda and Don, I realized that they have an intimate knowledge of the Bottoms Up and her history. I am working with them in order to bring that history to light so that this ship and her many crews will never be forgotten. I am truly grateful for their help on this project.