Sgt. John and Mrs. Helga Groves
The close friend who drove the couple to McGuire Air
Force Base that day, September 23, 1962, says
“I feel the pain of the loss of this very good friend to this day after
nearly 50 years. Although the tragedy was many years ago, I am wondering if by some miracle of fate you may remember John or Helga and what may have happened to them that night.”
Lance Parker and 22-year-old Sergeant John Groves had been Army buddies for 2-1/2 years. They had gone through Field Radio Repair training school at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey for 26 weeks, right after basic training.
Lance was from Flushing, NY and Groves was originally from Cincinatti, Ohio. After radio repair training, both were sent to the 585th Signal Co., Radio Relay Platoon, 379th Signal Battalion, of the 7th Army at Panzerkasern, Boblingen, Germany. They served there together for two years, with both serving for a time as military police.
John Groves met and fell in love with Helga, a young German woman from Stuttgart. It was love at first sight, according to reports and they were soon married. The last thing Lance Parker said to his buddy, John, when he left Germany for his discharge was “don’t re-up,” and of course he did.
The couple, John and Helga, were in the states for several weeks so Helga could meet John’s family. Lance drove the couple out to Ohio and then later picked them up and drove them back to New Jersey, all the while trying to get them to stay in New York for a few more days.
John and Helga were both eager to get back to Germany to reunite with her side of the family and to relax before his return to normal service duty. When they got back to the east coast, they learned there was a flight going out of McGuire Air Force Base soon and John decided they should take it rather than wait. It was Flying Tiger Flight 923. Lance Parker drove them to the airport.
Sergeant John Groves was happy to be with his young bride of only one year as they boarded the Flying Tiger flight. Helga was happy to be with her husband and to be able to be again with all of her family. Lance couldn’t persuade them to stay a few more days. In any event, it was a happy departure for the Groves that day. Lance could accept his friend leaving again, even though he wished they would stay. He was happy to have been able to give them a ride.
Needless to say, as they sat together on the long flight over the cold North Atlantic, nervousness and apprehension took a sudden grip over both of them when the first news of trouble aboard the aircraft was realized. They continued to sit together as a couple obviously in love and now passing words of comfort and assurance.
They were seated toward the back of the plane, on the left hand side, where the rows were only two seats across. John tensed at the first news of trouble and doubly so as the stewardesses started with the ditching drill. According to reports, he slipped an arm around his bride, Helga, and whispered with conviction, “Everything will be all right.”
Both exited the doomed aircraft on the left hand side into the raging seas within minutes after impact. No one can say how they got out, but they did somehow. It was on the side of the plane closest to the only surviving rescue raft. Helga was able to inflate her vest and frantically began swimming to the raft. All of the while she was swimming she was calling to her husband over the waves without response. She made it to the raft and was pulled in. While on the raft for those long six hours she maintained hope that he was still alive, either in that tightly over-crowded raft or possibly in another raft, one of the four others that were supposed to inflate on impact. He was not.
Helga was not severely injured physically and so she was not evacuated from the Swiss rescue ship, the Celerina, until it docked at Antwerp, Belgium. By that time, five days after the horrific mid-night disaster, she was immobilized with a nervous breakdown and had to be taken from the ship to an Antwerp hospital in a stretcher. Her husband, who never answered her calls, was still listed as missing at sea.
[Unfortunately, the little this Editor knows about the couple is what has been gathered from the very short bits of information that appeared in newspaper and magazine articles. Perhaps one of our readers know something we can pass on to their good friend, Lance Parker. Parker now lives in Houston, Texas and is engaged in animal veterinary medicine.]