1 Reply Latest reply on Apr 30, 2021 1:40 PM by Rachael Salyer

    Seeking records of Cosson Family Tragedy

    Don Sawyer Newbie

      Forced off their ancestral land in 1936 to build Eglin AFB: Eight years later a mechanical malfunction caused two 20lb fragmentation bombs to drop in their yard during a family gathering killing four and seriously injuring the other five.  Only one of the five was compensated. I am trying to find details of this tragedy.  The planes were Army Air Corp Trainers and the base is Air Force.  Any ideas on were to look for official records and investigations would be appreciated. Below is the text of a LA Times 50 year anniversary story.  The spot is marked with a Florida Historical Marker F-741.


      Los Angeles Times


      Bombs Rained on Florida Family in 1944 : World War II: Four family members died when Army Air Corps plane accidentally unleashed its munitions during training mission. Survivors recall their living hell.



      AUG. 14, 1994 12 AM PT



      DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. —  The flares went up just about every night during World War II, a prelude to the bomb tests at the Air Force base a mile and a half away. On Aug. 11, 1944, four stars shooting overhead mimicked the flares. The Cossons, gathered in the yard after dinner, heard the familiar drone of a plane and then the unbelievable: the whine of bombs. That was the night American bombs wiped out four members of one family in this Florida Panhandle city. “The flares seemed like they were closer this night,” said David Cosson, who was 12. “My dad looked up and said: ‘There’s four shooting stars; that’s a bad sign.’ ” Then came the bombs. “You could hear them whistling,” cousin Frank Cosson said. The 20-pound fragmentation bombs, meant to scatter deadly debris on impact, killed Alfred Cosson, brother James and two of James’ children, 14-year-old James Jr. and 12-year-old Winnie. Alfred’s son, David, and James’ sons, Frank and Thomas Cosson, were injured. So were James’ wife, Annie Belle, and Alfred’s wife, Pearl, who have since died. The blasted house is gone now, the farm turned to forest. A sign posted by relatives notes the night’s toll.


      Three Cossons who were at ground zero survive today. David, who has endured about 100 operations, is paralyzed from the waist down. He lost one leg to infection. Thomas joined the Army at 17 to support his mother, then built up a construction business. Frank, rejected by the Army, Air Force and Navy because of his bomb injuries, was later drafted into the Army and built his career there. He retired after he was wounded in Vietnam, coming home blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. Frank has made his peace with that 50-year-old loss: “If you go through life holding a grudge or hatred against somebody, it just eats you up inside.” All the same, that night’s sights, sounds and smells are still vivid. Alfred and Winnie had started running up the dirt road when the first bomb exploded between them. At least two more were to come. Others raced for the house. James Jr. had gotten to the front door when shrapnel hit him between the eyes. “It hit him so hard it knocked his brains up on the window,” David said. “Uncle Jim, he made it to the front steps and a piece caught him in the back of the head and spun him around three times. And every time he went around blood spewed on the porch.” David was on his uncle’s heels when shrapnel hit him in the back of the head. He got up and a piece caught him in the back. “I guess it knocked me about three somersaults,” he said. Nine-year-old Frank was on the porch. He was hit in the abdomen. “I can still smell the smoke of the bombs,” he said. His brother, Thomas, who was 4, remembers something else. “Even now I can get the smell of that blood in my nostrils,” said Thomas, who has a 10-inch shrapnel scar on his side. He’d been lying in bed when the bombs fell. Winnie lay on David’s chest, still breathing. “I looked over and--Lord have mercy--she didn’t even have a face,” David said, his voice cracking. The next day, Army Air Corps officials explained that one plane’s release mechanism had hung up. Instead of falling three miles inside the Eglin Air Force Base reservation, the bombs remained attached until the device unjammed over the Cosson homestead, a mile and a half away.


      The military never identified the plane or the pilot. David’s nephew, Robert Mickler, said a nurse told him years later that the pilot went insane when he learned what had happened. David, who had to give up his work repairing TVs because his nerves were too bad to allow him to hold a soldering iron steady, received $15,000 more in 1949.

        • Re: Seeking records of Cosson Family Tragedy
          Rachael Salyer Ranger

          Dear Mr. Sawyer,


          Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!


          We searched the National Archives Catalog and located 11 file units and 3 series related to "Elgin Field", 13 files related to "Elgin AFB", and 6 files related to "Elgin Air Force Base" that may be of interest to you. Some of these records have been digitized and can be viewed online in the Catalog. You may contact the reference unit listed in each Catalog description for additional assistance with the records.


          We also located the series Research and Development Related Records, 1921-1951 in the Records of U.S. Air Force Commands, Activites, and Organizations (Record Group 342) that contains 1 file for the 75th Flying Training Wing that might be of interest to you since that unit was stationed at Elgin Air Force Base during the early 1940s. These records have not been digitized. Please contact the National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) for access to and information about these and similar records.


          The RDT2 also has custody of microfilm copies of operational records relating to U.S. Army Air Force/U.S. Air Force units. We searched the Air Force History index to the microfilm and located 4 files related to fixed gunnery schools, 7 files related to Elgin between 1940-1945, and 23 files related to "flying training wings" between 1940-1945. Please read the brief Abstract to determine which records you are interested in and click on the specific PDF icon. In the PDF listing, the IRISREF is the microfilm reel number and note the FRAME and FRAMELST numbers for the location on the reel. If the reel number begins with A, B or C, please contact RDT2 via email at archives2reference@nara.gov for more information about them.


          If the reel number begins with D - Z, the microfilm is still security classified and RDT2 will not be able to make the reel available to you. The original paper copy from which the film was created is still in the custody of the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) and has been declassified. To obtain copies of these records, please follow the instructions on this page.


          Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RDT2 or other reference units. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.


          Finally, World War II Army Air Force and Air Force accident reports up to 1955 are in the custody of the Air Force Historical Research Agency, 600 Chennault Circle, Building 1405, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL  36112-6424.


          We hope this information is helpful, and best of luck with your research!