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Masoomian, Zaven N. - 2nd Lt

Modified on 2015/08/05 01:39 by Historian Categorized as Combat, Personnel

Service during the War

2nd Lt Zaven N. Masoomian flew 3 missions, from 12/30/1943, mission #9, to 01/11/1944, mission #14. He served as a Copilot. He was taken prisoner on 01/11/1944.

Recorded Missions

No Missions Found

Life before the War

Early Life Zaven grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, in a working class community where many Armenian emigrants, like his parents, had settled. The Armenian emigrants were naturally very patriotic and grateful for their new home. As a boy he developed a love of classical music and a keen interest in understanding how radios worked. After graduating high school in 1939, he went to study radio science in Boston and became licensed to operate and maintain powerful radio transmitters which the public not only enjoyed, but started to depend on. He started his career with two brief jobs, one in Vermont at a small AM transmitter and the second back in Worcester at WORC. His love of classical music prevailed and he applied to and was accepted to work at the prestigious classical music station, WQXR, in New York City in 1941 as a Radio Broadcast Engineer. But as war developed his plans would change. Having just started his “dream job”, Zaven enlisted into the Army Air Corp's in January of 1942 in New York.

Stateside Training

He completed his basic training in Atlantic City and San Antonio before starting Primary Flying School in Stamford, Texas and later that spring at Randolph Field, near San Antonio. It was in Stamford that he met his wife, Margie Mercer at a USO dance in the Stamford Library to tunes of The Glen Miller Band played by a local band. In Stamford he completed his 90 days of Primary Training, flying the PT19. He later was sent to Garden City, Kansas, for “Intermediate Training” where he flew BT13s and learned how to break out of a “spin.” From there he went back to Lubbock, Texas, for Advanced Two Engine School and flew his first two-engine plane. It was there he earned his 2nd Lieutenant rank and got his pilot wings. Having earned his wings, he was sent off to Washington State to learn to fly B17s, the now-famous “Flying Fortress.” Strong ocean winds and tall mountains made night-time navigation a challenge. From Washington, it was back to Kansas, to Detroit, Presque Isle, Maine, Scotland and London to await his next assignment.


He was immediately assigned to the 615th Squadron in the 401st Bomber Group of the 8th Air Force at Deenethorpe Airfield in Nothamptonshire, England. England was cold that winter and the young crew quickly learned the value of a simple wood fire in a pot-bellied stove. Their 1st mission was to Cognac to bomb the Luftwaffe Airbase. “It was a good run, we flew in tight formation.” Though it took hours of circling the airport waiting for the last plane to get in the air, the 21 B17s, flying in close formation, with 13 50 caliber machine guns each, presented a formidable challenge to the Luftwaffe. Still, they lost 4 of the 21 planes on that mission. On January 11th 1944, he flew his second and final mission to Oscherslaben, Germany; to bomb an aircraft factory was “one of the greatest air battles of World War II.” The Group put up the most aircraft to date as part of a maximum effort. German resistance was fierce, involving heavy flak, dozens of fighters and balloon mines. The Group shot down 150 of Luftwaffe fighters. This mission was the first to use long range fighter escorts from the P51 Mustangs. Deep in German territory, they were getting severely battered by flak and fighter fire, Zaven got on the radio to ask for fighter support. “Hey little brother where are you?” “I’m two wings behind you and coming up.” Col Howard replied. Major James Howard, a P-51 pilot, remained after all other U.S. fighters had left and with his ammo exhausted engaged a swarm of Luftwaffe fighters attacking the 401st, for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.” 60 B17s were lost. Flak struck the right engine of the B17 that pilot Lt. D.C. Sprecher and copilot 2nd Lt Zaven Masoomian were flying. The engine caught fire and could not be extinguished, so the crew had to bail out over Oscherslaben. Waist Gunner, R.G. Vindhurst and Tail Gunner, J.R. White were shot and killed from enemy fire. The rest of the crew, along with Zaven, bailed out, were captured and made Prisoners of War by the Germans.

Prisoner of War

The officers were taken to Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany, near the Baltic Sea. Along with the other ~ 9,000 American and British airmen who were imprisoned there, he subsisted on the weekly Red Cross packages of meat, cheese and cigarettes. The Germans supplemented the food packages with a few boiled potatoes, carrots, kohlrabi and a ¼ lb of “some kind of bread,” all of questionable quality. Sometimes the Germans provided a bucket of barley in the morning. Zaven’s weight dropped to 95 lbs. Cigarettes became the major form of currency, which allowed them to acquire a small radio from one of the guards, so they could listen to the BBC at night. Poker and bridge kept their minds off the boredom. Zaven’s sister sent him three books, Hans Brinker, A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, and the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, which he enjoyed immensely.


On May 1st, 1944, the Russians arrived and left the POWs free to go. Most waited for the American transport planes to arrive on May 12th, but “Doc” and two other Americans decide to hitchhike west. It was easy to get a ride on a Russian tank or truck or horse-drawn wagon. They made it to Rostock 35 miles to the east and had a friendly chat with a couple of inquisitive Russian soldiers. The three men traveled on another 75 miles on foot or hitching to Lubeck in British-held territory. Their “German” POW dog-tags afforded them special privileges. There they were “deloused” and fed very well. The British told them they could take any car in the motor pool to drive to the coast and wouldn’t have any trouble finding gas along the way. Zaven got a beautiful Mercedes convertible working that had the rotor in the distributor removed, by using the rotor from a German half-track. No sooner than they had gotten rolling on their new set of wheels, when they stopped at the airport to see all the excitement when a German fighter pilot landed to give himself up (rather than fall into Russian hands). His plane was swarmed by GIs. Apparently, everyone wanted the shiny new Luger they all spotted on his belt, as he stood up in the cockpit with his hands raised to surrender. The guys’ shiny new Mercedes also drew attention and a British chaplain who offered them passage on a C47 to Venlo, Netherlands.

Post War

As soon as they landed there a man leaned his head out of a B-17 taxing by and said “Doc! What the hell are you doing here? Hop in, I’m going to London.” Zaven was on the fast track home. He was given accommodations at the Regal Street Officer’s quarters and lots of well-deserved food. After a few weeks of rest and eating well he had gained enough weight to go home, took an LST at South Hampton and arrived at Norfolk, Virginia unceremoniously on July 4th. From there he took a train back to Worcester, his family and fiancée, Margie Mercer. Zaven and Margie were married that summer and moved to New York to raise 4 children. Zaven was able to return to work at WQXR for 44 years, eventually becoming the station’s Chief Engineer.


1. Visit Stalag Luft I Online

2. Kriegie “An American POW in Germany” By Oscar G. Richard III a. A book describing the author’s firsthand account of his experience as a POW in Germany. Oscar shared the same room with Zaven until they were liberated by the Russians at the end of the war.

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