Last Known Activity
Shirl P. Best was born in Durand, Illinois on April 13, 1921 to Oscar L. and Esther F. Brinker Best. He was raised in the area, and both US Censuses 1930 and 1940 show the family residing in Durand.
Nothing concerning his early life has been located; however, judging from his rank, assignments, and training, he must have joined the military in 1943. He was trained as a navigator, then assigned to the B-17 combat crew headed by Lt. Barrat.
He flew 14 missions with this crew, the first on December 9, 1944. On February 9, 1945, the designated target was the synthetic oil plant at Lutzkendorf, Germany.
As the aircraft turned to line up for the bomb run, it was struck by another aircraft in the formation. The tail assembly broke off at the waist gunner position, and two pieces fell from the sky. The tail gunner managed to get out of the falling tail structure, and make a successful parachute landing. He was immediately captured by German civilians who turned him over to the authorities. He remained a POW until war's end.
As the front section of the aircraft seemed destined to strike the center of a small town, the pilot and co-pilot somehow managed to regain control and level the piece of aircraft over an empty field. There, they salvoed the bomb load to void the killing of the civilian population. The aircraft hit the ground and exploded.
German records reveal that eight bodies were recovered from the wreckage. Two were unidentifiable (later entries show the two were Barrat and Reiss.) All the dead were buried in the local cemetery. After the war, these bodies were recovered and returned to the U.S. for burial. Lt Barrat, along with Lt Best and several others of the crew were buried in a common grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St.. Louis, Missouri in Section 82, Site 93D.
In 1991, rings belonging to F/O Best and Lt Barrat were found at the crash site, and returned to the respective families. In 1995, the townspeople of Eisenberg erected a monument to the brave crew that sved their town.
US Census 1930
US Census 1940
Freeport (ILL) Journal-Standard (newspaper), issue of March, 1945
F/O Shirl P. Best was the assigned navigator on B-17G #43-39149, no name, assigned to the 427th Bomb Squadron.
Missing Air Crew Report 1229 was issued, and agrees with mission loading logs that the crew on board was:
2 Lt Robert J. Barrat p
2 Lt Dean Harvey c-p
F/O Shirl P. Best nav
Sgt William T. Karp tog
Sgt Raymond F. Reiss eng/tt gun
Sgt Matthew Lazarowicz r/o
Sgt Louis N. Linhart btg
Sgt Herbert D, Link wg
Sgt George H. Emerson tail gun
Ranks and grades as of mission date.
Emerson was the only survivor.
In the crew photo, Best is in the back row, 4th from left.