This week in history: A Block Islander goes missing in action over Europe
This Week in History, March 16, 1945, Rhode Island newspapers announced that Block Island’s only pilot in the Air Force, Lt. Bertram Ball, was missing in action. Papers published his formal photograph alongside the text, in what was virtually an obituary.
Bert’s mother was Mrs. Nicholas Ball, a widow living on Corn Neck, who quite remarkably had five sons in the service during the war. The other four were Lewis Ball (the youngest, a private 1st Class in the Army), Nicholas (a Lieutenant with the Seabees in the South Pacific), Cassius (Staff Sergeant, gunner and flight engineer on B-17 bombers flying raids over Europe), and William (Navy machinist’s mate 1st Class, whose two children, born after the war, include current Block Islander Martha Ball).
No doubt Mrs. Ball, whose husband had been the longtime postmaster here, tried to steel herself against the statistical realities of having five sons away from home, at war.
In the Air Force, it was said Bert could “fly everything they had.”
But everyone, and everything, was susceptible to German airplanes or anti-aircraft guns. On March 1, 1945, his B-24 Liberator was shot down while bombing the oil fields at Ploesti, Romania. Those raids were amongst the most crucial, and dangerous, of the war.
Bert had managed to crash-land his bomber in nearby Hungary, and, with help from the underground resistance, he escaped capture. On March 18, two days after the dreaded news article in Rhode Island announced him to be missing in action, he reported back to duty.
All five sons survived the war — indeed Block Island was lucky, losing only two of the 95 islanders who fought during World War II.
One son, Bill Ball, remained on the island. Eventually the other four sought opportunities across the country, from Massachusetts to California. Bert Ball settled in Michigan, where he passed away in 1980.