Joint Base Andrews' namesake, World War II bomber crew honored in Iceland

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Michael B. Keller
  • 316th Wing Public Affairs

Icelandic and U.S. citizens held a ceremony on May 3, 2023, to mark the 80th anniversary of the B-24 Liberator bomber “Hot Stuff” crash that killed 14 of its 15 passengers and crew, including Lt. Gen. Frank Maxwell Andrews.

Andrews was the Commander of the European Theater of Operations at the time of the crash and was also known as a strong advocate for a separate branch of the military dedicated to airpower, which later evolved into the U.S. Air Force. In 1945, Camp Springs Army Air Field, Maryland, was renamed Andrews Air Force Base in honor of Andrews and later became Joint Base Andrews, which it is still named today.

The “Hot Stuff” crew, which Andrews was accompanying., completed 25 missions without casualties, the first 8th Air Force crew to do so, and was traveling back to the U.S. to be recognized before encountering inclement weather that caused them to crash on Mount Fagradalsfjall, Iceland.

At the time, the odds of completing a 25-mission tour and going home were small. In fact, the Eighth Air Force averaged one bomber lost every 18 sorties (one sortie equals one aircraft flying one combat mission). Although "Hot Stuff" flew its 25th mission on February 7, 1943, the "Memphis Belle" is largely celebrated as the first heavy bomber to complete 25 successful missions three months later on May 17, 1945.

Upon impact, "Hot Stuff" broke apart which incidentally led to Staff Sgt. George Eisel, “Hot Stuff’s” tail gunner, becoming the sole survivor. Eisel was stuck in the tail turret by both ankles, but this prevented him from being propelled into a section of the aircraft that caught fire after two phosphorous bombs onboard detonated.

“The flames got so bad they literally singed his eyebrows and all, and then the ammunition started going off and one bullet went through his wrist,” said Jim Lux, the “Hot Stuff” monument project manager. “He couldn’t move. He thought he was going to die because of the weather exposure.”

The ceremony also served as a re-dedication to a monument memorializing those who died during the crash that was planned in 2012, dedicated in 2018, and relocated in 2021. The new site improved access for visitors and reduced the risk of damage by volcanic activity at the previous location.

The monument's development and the securing of both sites was the culmination of partnerships between the U.S. Embassy in Iceland, private fundraisers, and Icelandic residents.

During the ceremony, the President of Iceland Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson recognized the work it took to complete the monument and its relocation by all the individuals and organizations involved in its development. He also emphasized the strong bonds between Iceland and the U.S. that made the project possible.

In honor of the sacrifice and lasting legacy of the “Hot Stuff” crew, Johannesson also shared a verse from a Viking-era poem in their memory. “Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal: But the good name never dies of one who has done well.”

The U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Carrie F. Patman and the Mayor of Vogar Gunnar Axelsson were government officials who also made remarks at the event.

Representing the military base named after Lt. Gen. Andrews, U.S. Air Force Col. Todd E. Randolph, 316th Wing and installation commander at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, also spoke at the ceremony.

“We are thankful to be part of Gen. Andrews’ legacy and thankful to the people of Iceland for your incredible friendship and commitment to memorializing Gen. Andrews and the ‘Hot Stuff’ crew,” said Randolph. “From everyone at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, thank you for creating this space for people to visit and ensure Gen. Andrews and the ‘Hot Stuff’ crew are never forgotten.”

The ceremony also featured a performance of the Icelandic and U.S. national anthems by the Reykjanesbaer Music School Band, a flyover by a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon airplane and Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter, and the posting of the Iceland and U.S. flags by the JB Andrews Honor Guard.

Ceremony attendees included family members of Andrews and others from the crew, 93rd Bomb Group Association members, and military members from the U.S. and Iceland. Citizens from France, England, and Iceland, including brothers Ólafur and Þorsteinn Marteinsson, who were key contributors to planning the monument and ensuring it is maintained, also attended the event.

“My brother Olie and I have had a really good time together for almost 20 years now working on the World War II crash site in Iceland project,” said Þorsteinn Marteinsson. He shared that his brother’s involvement with the monument will be limited due to health issues and this has made him unsure of the extent his own work with the site will continue. Though he referred to the re-dedication as a “final chapter”, he remained positive and added “I promise to look after the monument as long as I can.”