Jerry Byran Payne was born in 1922 in Hutchinson, Kansas. His NARA enlistment record states he enlisted at Fort Riley, Kansas, on March 30, 1942. It also states he had completed 4 years of high school, was married, and had been employed as a semi-skilled builder in the aircraft industry. He was accepted into the aviation cadet flight program, and trained as a pilot.
When he completed this instruction, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, and assigned to operational training including combat procedures, formation flying, and navigation problems in the B-17 type aircraft. He was given a crew, and deployed to England in late 1943 for transitional training.
After this he was assigned to the 561st Bomb Squadron of the 388th Bomb Group, at that time flying from Knettishall, England. He flew his first combat mission on February 6, 1944 as pilot of B-17 # 42-31549, named "Miss Jeannie." This mission resulted in an abort for legal reasons.
His next mission was on February 13, 1944, and was uneventful. The crew flew the next mission on February 20, 1944, - a bomb strike against Posen, Poland. Flak was light and inaccurate at the target, but on the inbound route, the formation was attacked over the Danish peninsula by a large number of enemy aircraft.
In particularly aggressive attacks, the fighters stayed with the bombers into, over, and away from the target. On the outbound route, Payne radioed that his aircraft had a massive fuel leak and that he was diverting to another path home. The aircraft eventually made an emergency landing near Assen, Denmark.
Accounts vary, some telling that the tail gunner parachuted to safety; others that he was in the crash, but survived. He was, in fact, the only survivor, and it is a matter of record that he was captured and sent to a German military hospital to be treated for serious wounds. All others were killed in the crash.
The crew was recovered and buried on February 24 in the Assen Cemetery. After the war, several sets of remains were returned to the U.S. The remains of Lt Payne, Lt Kelley, and Sgt Zumbolo could not be individually identified, so the remains were buried in one grave at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Kentucky. They lie in Section 1, Site 54.