Perilous Journey: Capt. Lee Seemann and the B-17
Born in Omaha, NE, 1920, Lee Seemann did not show much interest in aviation other than going on a
few rides with a family friend from Wahoo who owned his own plane. While he attended Central High
School (Omaha, NE), Seemann excelled academically and in sports, but one of his proudest high school
memories was being a part of the JROTC Crack Squad. Between his Junior and Senior Year, he and the
other cadets won the national competition 1937.
College days in California
Following high school, Seemann attended Santa Clara College and continued his athletic and ROTC
endeavors. Following graduation in 1942 he was inducted into the U. S. Army as a 2nd LT. Seemann
reported to the 1,300-acre Santa Ana Army Air Field in August. Though his drill training at Central High
School made him a stand out leader, he quickly realized his did not want to be in the infantry.
Following his brother George’s advice, Seemann submitted paperwork for transfer to the air forces. His
first flight training was with a civilian instructor with the Rankin Aeronautical School, Tulare, CA. Pictured
standing in front of a Boeing-Stearman PT-13 “Kaydet”, Primary Trainer, Seemann would fly five flights
with an instructor and then solo.
Bomber Flight Crew
While training to become a bomber pilot, Seemann served as co-pilot to gain experience. His training
eventually took him and his crew to Kearney Army Air Field, NE, While stationed there, they would fly
their B-17 to Omaha and call up Seemann’s mother to pick them up. The crew would spend the
weekend with Seemann’s family, enjoying the city and home cooked meals.
From his first combat mission, 14 January 1944, Seemann faced adversity with a can-do attitude. He and
his crew would complete four missions over Frankfurt and two over submarine pens, facing fighters and
anti-aircraft fire. It was the #8 mission, 10 February 1944, that stood out. He did fly with his crew due to
illness. It was also the mission his crew was shot down. By 20 February, he had a whole new crew and
now served as aircraft pilot.
On 23 March 1944, Seemann’s aircraft was hit on the return flight from Brunswick (Braunschweig). They
ultimately lost two engines and only escaped German fighters by flying into the clouds. Seemann and his
crew had to ditch in the North Sea and faced possible capture from a German patrol ship. They were
ultimately rescued by the crew of HMS 515 and returned to England.
Landing in Russia
On 21 June 1944, Seemann and his crew participated in a shuttle bombing mission. The mission led
them deep into Germany and rather than try to fly back to England, they would land in Russia. Pictured
is the camp at the Poltava airstrip, a temporary camp for Allied bombers.
Approximately 4 hours after landing in Russia, German bombers made several runs trying to destroy the
B-17s. Seemann said this was a good picture of the Russians at Poltava who were trying to help the
American crews. He assumed they had never been more than 25 miles from home before the war. The
B-17s would be flown south to Tehran, Iran, then on to Egypt, Libya and back up the Atlantic coast to
Hiding a B-17
Following the German bombing of Poltava, the B-17s were flown a short distance to another camp
where they were hidden under some trees. Since there was no equipment to move the aircraft, large
groups of Russian soldiers pushed the B-17s. Seemann and some of his crew pose with some of the
Russians at the second airfield.
After returning from their ferrying mission; that took them through Russia, Iran, Egypt and Libya;
Seemann and his crew completed three more missions, including a tactical bombing in support of the
Normandy Invasion. Following their 33rd mission the crew was informed they were done and soon to be
rotated home. LT Lee Seemann was photographed in the pilot’s seat of his B-17 near the end of his tour.
Following his service in WWII, Seemann met his wife, Willa, and worked as a branch manager for
International Harvester before starting his own company, Seemann Truck and Trailer. Standing in front
of B-17 Homesick Angel, located at Offutt AFB, Seemann reminisces of his flying days. The B-17 on
display at the SAC Museum has been restored to look the same as the B-17G he flew.
Brian York • Curator, Exhibits & Collections
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum
Brian started his career at the Museum in 1998 as an intern. A year later he was promoted to Associate Curator with a focus on managing the artifact and archive collection. In January of 2000, following a search for a new Curator, the Museum named Brian York as Curator of Exhibits and Collections. For more than 20 years, Brian has overseen the creation and/or installation of more than 120 exhibits and displays that have covered more than 300,000 square feet. He has also overseen the addition of 15,000 artifacts to the Museum’s collection and has provided in-depth research for numerous books, articles, and video/film productions.
Currently Brian oversees all historical exhibits, archives, library, and oral history projects as well as provides support for restoration, education and public relations. Brian earned a BA in History as well as Graduate Studies in History from the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Prior to joining the Museum, Brian gained valuable experience through his work with the General Dodge Home, National Park Service and Western Heritage Museum (now the Durham Museum).
In 2002, Brian joined the U S Navy Reserve with whom he has completed several assignments in the United States and abroad. He currently serves as Battalion Supply Senior Chief Petty Officer and BRAVO CO. Lead Chief Petty Officer for Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 22 and with Operational Support Unit 1362, Navy Operational Support Center Omaha.
Brian lives in Lincoln, NE with his wonderful wife Amber and their two amazing daughters, Cayleigh and Shannyn.