John Glennon Byrnes was born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island on 21 March 1920. John was a 1939 graduate of LaSalle Academy, Providence, Rhode Island. During his youth, he was a very active member of the Boy Scouts of America. He entered Rhode Island State College (RISC) in September 1939, majoring in Business Administration with the class of 1943. He was a member of the Theta Chi fraternity, a member of the rifle team; and he participated in the Army ROTC program while a student at RISC.
John enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve on 3 February 1942. He attended air cadet training at Floyd Bennet Field, New York, aviation training at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, and advanced aviation training at Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, Texas. He was commissioned an Ensign, U.S. Navy Reserve upon graduation from flight school in 1942.
Lt.j.g. Byrnes was assigned to the US Navy 7th Flight Air Wing, US Navy Squadron VB-110 European Theater, Dunkeswell Field, Devor, England. The mission of Squadron VB-110 was to seek out and destroy the dreaded German U-boats. Lt. Byrnes was an experienced pilot and had flown thirty missions in support of the Squadron’s combat mission. On the night of 23 August 1944, Lt. Byrnes’ PB4Y-1 “Liberator” was scheduled for a night familiarization flight. Lt. Byrnes and his crew of five took off from Dunkeswell Field to fly a training flight to a number of airfields in southwest England.
The crew continued on thinking they were on a heading for RAF St. David where a bearing would take them back to their home base at Dunkeswell. However, due to dense fog, the Liberator was flying incredibly low over the Wesh Mountains. In the early hours of 24 August 1944 after passing between these two perilous peaks, the PB4Y-1 struck the mountain of Moel Feity at a height of around 1,920 feet, about 10 feet below the summit. All the crewmembers, with the exception of Lt. Byrnes, were interred at Cambridge American Military Cemetery. Lt. Byrnes was buried at Saint Patrick Cemetery, East Greenwich, Rhode Island with full military honors.
Lt. Byrnes was recognized for flying in the face of very adverse weather and relentlessly tracking down hostile submarines despite the threat of enemy aerial opposition, and he was awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart (Posthumously). All the crewmembers are commemorated on a memorial stone in Dunkeswell Church, England, where a service is held each year to remember all those who lost their lives while serving at the Devon Base during World War II.
Lieutenant Junior Grade John Glennon Byrnes, U.S. Navy Reserve, answered the call to serve in World War II and gallantly gave his life in service to our country. He is a heroic member of the “Greatest Generation.”