STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — Nearly 70 years ago, Stockton Springs lost its first son to World War II when 19-year-old Jerry Dobbins was shot down over France in a B-17 bomber.
Dobbins has not been forgotten in the intervening decades; the local American Post 157 was named after him, for one thing.
But the details of the January day he died weren’t known until a year ago, according to Lee Snyder, the post’s adjutant. And learning of Dobbins’ actions, which Snyder calls heroic, has inspired community members to honor him anew.
“It’s a pretty amazing story,” Snyder said recently.
This weekend, there will be a public celebration held at Stockton Springs Elementary School featuring a group of special guests including the lone living survivor of the plane crash and representatives from the French community where the plane crashed down.
Dobbins was the left waist gunner on the B-17 plane that was stationed in Molesworth, England.
By Jan. 23, 1943, his “Beats Me!” aircrew already had flown 10 missions over Nazi-occupied France. The target that day was the U-boat pens near Brest, but when an enemy bomb hit the B-17 in the tail section at 21,000 feet, the mission very quickly became one of survival, according to research done by Diane Coose Littlefield of the Stockton Springs Historical Society and Earl Trundy of the American Legion post.
Surviving crew member Charles Roth, 90, of Grand Junction, Colo., spoke with some of the post’s members last June and told them what he remembered.
Roth, a radio operator, was wearing a parachute when the plane was hit but the two waist gunners were not. During an emergency, Dobbins and the other waist gunner were tasked with using their machine guns to provide firepower against enemy aircraft still in the area. Roth went to help the right waist gunner and lost his oxygen tube while making his way around the plane.
Dobbins noticed the lost tube — supplemental oxygen was necessary at such a high altitude — and retrieved another tube from a dead crew member so that Roth could get safely out of the plane.
The Maine man did that instead of getting his own parachute on so that he could safely jump out of the plane, Roth told the legionnaires.
But Dobbins, along with six other crew members, went down with the plane. It crashed in a field near the Breton town of Pluvigner.
Roth and the two other surviving crewmen were captured by the Germans that evening and spent the rest of the war as prisoners.
Roth will attend the weekend Stockton Springs event with his son and daughter-in-law and will be joined by members of Dobbins’ family and the son of the B-17’s pilot.
According to Snyder, when Maine veterans learned the details of the plane crash, they began the application process with the secretary of defense for a posthumous award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Snyder said that people in Stockton Springs are looking forward to the special event.
“The town is quite excited about it,” he said. “There’s quite a bit of interest in the history of Stockton Springs.”
The event honoring Sgt. Jerry Dobbins will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Stockton Springs Elementary School gymnasium.