Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sgt John James Kristan

Dad was the top turret gunner on B-24 42-78127. Thanks to David Korkuc, he lived for 55 years after the plane went down July 5, 1944. He considered each day after the crash to be a bonus day.

He would have been 89 today. We miss you, Dad.

A picture we dug up this summer in Mom's photo closet. We only have a few pictures of Dad as a young man. This one, with only two stripes, was new to all of us kids.

I wouldn't have been sure that picture was Dad if this clipping weren't taped to the photo holder.

This postwar picture of Dad and Mom (Dad doing his best Marlon Brando impression in the camera booth) is my favorite picture of them together.

Friday, August 6, 2010

2nd Lt. Richard "Dick" Duer

Dick Duer was the bombardier on B-24 42-78127 with my Dad on thier final mission, and he died in the wreck at Argentella beach in Corsica on June 5, 1944. His Nephew, Rich Tebo, has been kind enough to share some information he has collected, including this picture.

Lt. Duer was a Wisconsin native. He was honored by having a gym named after him in Marinette, Wisconsin.

Rich links to a touching online memorial for Lt. Duer that shows he was remembered long after that horrible day. Rich also sent some additional great information on the flight and crew that I will post soon.

I received an nice e-mail today from Jane Cook, a granddaughter of Lt. Duer, that reminds us of the cost of a wreck that probably was almost unnoticed in the carnage of the time:

My uncle died many years before I was born, it was a terrible blow to my grandparents. Rich has sent me video clips of the B-24 crew reunion and what the interior of the plane. I always thought Dick never had a chance to escape, it was interesting to read the newspaper clipping about the guy thrown from the plane who was able to rescue four crew members before the plane sank. I am so happy for you that your dad was one of those crew members.

Jane, thank you for writing. I'm delighted that you found your visit here worthwhile.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The beach at Argentella

After the most beautiful and frightening three-hour drive I've ever been on, we finally reached the beach where B-24 42-78127 made its final landing July 5, 1944. We only found it because Dan used our Euro-standard cell phone to reach Dominique Taddei and Frank Allegrini, our Corsican guides (this one phone call making the London purchase of the phone and the expedition in Bern to get a France-to-U.K. Power adapter worthwhile).

We called Dominique from a crossroads gas station near Galeria, the village near the beach.

Frank drove there in his little Fiat and led us towards the beach. We stopped on the way from a spot along the country road with a commanding view of the beach.

Dominique and Frank.

We then drove for perhaps another 10 minutes down this narrow road to a parking lot near the beach. Our rental Renault scraped bottom seriously going down to the parking lot, making me glad I got the full damage coverage at the Hertz desk. As difficult as the beach was for us to find and reach - we never would have without our guides - I can only imagine how remote and inaccessable it was in July 1944.

We walked another five or ten minutes in the 90-degree heat to the beach. On the way Frank explained how he came across the wreck. Frank was preparing to go diving at Argentella, and the man who was filling his scuba tanks told him that he had witnessed the crash. He said the plane bounced two or three times on the rough waves and broke in two, with the front of the plane landing on the beach and the back remaining in the water.

Frank, it turns out, is a professional archaeologist. His day job is to oversee a Roman site at Ajaccio, where we are staying. He investigated the site with the care of a professional, and he eventually interviewed three witnesses. He learned the fate of the plane portion that landed on the beach. Around 1950, a man brought his donkey and some hand-operated cutting tools down to the beach and began to cut up the wreck for scrap, which be took up to the road one donkey-load at a time.

The propellers escaped the scrapyard. One had made it up to a local camping area somehow. A French Foreign Legion unit based in nearby Calvi hauled a second blade from the beach, and it too now rests in the camping area. Frank recovered a third propeller from the water, and I believe it is in his private collection. Frank sent me this correction July 30, 2010:
I did not recover the propeller from the bottom, the one I salvaged came from one other camping area near Calvi. That camping area was a military camp occupied by the foreign legion before being a camping area. They recovered that propeller in the 60s or 70s, probably during a training, and used the part as garden ornament. It was the camping owner who gave me that part in 1988.

Frank, thank you!

The fourth propeller remains in the bay somewhere. While Frank was able to photograph pieces of the wreck, he explained that a great storm in (if I recall correctly) 1999 covered or scattered the wreckage, so it is no longer visible to divers.

Frank and Dominique led us to the beach, where they took us to the spot where the front section was beached.

It was amazing to stand at the spot. A scene of terror, pain and death on July 5,1944, the beach today is a beautiful and quiet swimming beach used by campers at the nearby camping park and by locals and tourists savvy and hardy enough to find it. No sign that six men died on that mission, or that my Dad nearly did.

Frank then led us to the vegetation at the edge of the beach,where he said pieces of the plane had been washed up in storms. Sure enough. Absolutely amazing to find pieces of the plane after 66 years.

Then it was up to the camping park to see the propellers, First our guides chatted with the proprietor, who invited us into his little bar and offered us drinks. He seemed disappointed that all we asked for was Coke and water. I sure wanted something stronger, but after our terrifying drive up, I didn't dare. He refused to let me pay for the drinks, with characteristic Corsican hospitality. The Corsicans we met are unbelievably nice.

The camping park proprietor with Frank and Dominique.

Then it was a short walk to the propellers, mounted on a concrete wall along the park entrance:

The family poses with the propellers.

I should emphasize that Frank and Dominique did this on their own, traveling a long way on the crazy Corsican roads, to guide us with no pay. It's a debt I can never repay.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Where they rest

I had hoped to decorate the graves of those who died in B-24 42-78127 on July 5, 1944 -- the wreck my Dad survived. Dominique, the researcher who has provided the invaluable information on the wreck, told me that all U.S. personnel buried in Corsica were reburied elsewhere. The American Battlefields Memorial Commission provided the following information on the burial locations of Dad's fellow crewmembers:

SGT Harris P. Witham, 35753847 is interred at Plot F, Row 15, Grave 34 at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy. At the time of his death, July 5, 1944, he was a member of the 829th Bomb Squadron, 485th Bomb Group/H/. He entered military service from Ohio.

Arrangements for placement of a floral decoration at the grave site can be made through this Commission using the Floral Decoration Order form on the website under Services Available. Checks or money orders for floral decorations should be made payable to the ABMC Flower Fund. As a guide, the cost of a suitable bouquet and spray in the area of the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery is $15.00 and $20.00, respectively. Weather permitting, a color photograph of the decoration in place will be taken and sent to you.

The Register of WW II Dead compiled by the Dept of the Army shows that, by decision of next of kin, the remains of the following decedent’s were returned to the U.S. for permanent interment at national or private cemeteries in various states as shown below:

2LT William R. Sipes, Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois
SSGT George E. Wittenbrink, private cemetery in Illinois
2LT Richard N. Duer, private cemetery in Wisconsin
SGT Jack W. McGregor, private cemetery in Ohio.
The remains of William Vaessen were returned to the US for interment at a private cemetery in Illinois.

The location of interment of these decedents may be available from the Dept of the Army; the email address is; telephone 703 325 4053

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 5, 1944

Today is the anniversary of the final flight of Dad's B-24. Here are the pictures that Dominique sent to me:

The beach at Argentella

A wider view of the beach, with added B-24.

Propellers in a picnic area near the beach, presumably from 42-78127.

Dominique sent me the e-mail address of Judi, the daughter of Korkuc, the tail gunner on 42-78127. She had this to say:

I'm so happy to hear from someone who's father survived that day. No need for thanks, I'm sure your father would have done the same, they were brothers at arms. My father didn't give a lot of detail about that day, except that the mission was to bomb the torpedo pens in Toulon France. They did make, and they did deploy their bombs and from what I understand they took some flack which started their decent. They threw as much stuff out the plane as possible it order to lighten it up so that perhaps they could make it back or at the every least get out over the water. My father said that he wanted to shoot the at the bases of the other guns on board the plane so that they could push those out too but the rest of the crew didn't like that idea. My father mostly suffered head and facial injuries, along with a few other bumps, bruises and lacerations. I don't know if you've been in touch with Frank Allegrini, he's a historian on Corsica, who found the wreckage of our fathers plane his email is I'll attache the pictures he sent to me of the wreckage along with the story about my father that was in the local paper at the time and the pictures that were taken of the bomb drop that day.

My father's post war life was a good one. He married and had four daughters (I'm the youngest of the four). When he died on August 11, 2005 he was survived by wife Jean who died only three months later on November 1, 2005, his daughters and 8 grandchildren. 3 grandsons and 5 granddaughters. Since his death three great granddaughters have joined the family.

It's wonderful that you're going to Corsica. It's a dream of mine to be able to make that trip one day.

Do you have any pictures of our fathers? I've looked everywhere for a crew picture but so far I've had no success.

Safe travels and I'll look forward to hear from you.

She attached this clipping:

Click to enlarge

I guess I owe a lot to David Korkuc. His heroics explain how Dad survived with his severe injuries when the plane was in the water.

Judi also forwarded the following photos of the wreckage sent to her by Frank Allegrini:

Dominique says that storms have moved or hidden the wreckage, so I feel less bad about not knowing how to dive.

Not everyone made it off the plane. It's worth remembering the crew members who died in that wreck 66 years ago today:

• Vaessen H William 1st Lt 0-536855 829th BS 485th BG Pilot
• Sipes R William 2nd Lt 0-705827 829th 485th BG Copilot
• Wittenbrink E George S/Sgt 36446168 829th BS 485th BG Radio Operater
• Duer N Richard 2nd Lt 0-703456 829th BS 485th BG Bombardier
• Witham L Harris Sgt 35753847 829th BS 485th BG Nose Gunner
• McGregor W Jack Sgt 35613832 829th BS 485th BG Ball gunner

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


While I had found some important information about Dad's plane and crew, I was lost in my search for its crash site. I was preparing to set aside time to visit the military archives in St. Louis, but in a last Google frenzy I found the Facebook page of Dominique Taddei as a Corsican author on World War II subjects. With no expectation of a reply, I sent him a message -- and got a response!

I emailed him per his invitation and found that he had more information than I had dared hope would be available:

Joe, as you do in America call me Dominique ,
now about the B-24 in which your Father crashed, Here are the results of my inquiry.
It is thanks to my friend Frank Allegrini that i found out the story of this B-24 assigned to the 458th BG 829th BS.

A few years ago, Frank (Archeologist) warned by some Corsican eyewitnesses and informed by a former American newspaper obituary column went to the beach and found some wreck parts of the plane. He had also been in contact with Judi Korkuc Gniewosz who is the Daughter of David Korkuc who had saved some crew members. But i don't know the names.

As you certainly know, we didn't find any MACR telling the B-24 "42-78127" Tyer's Flyer loss and that's why we do not have the confirmation of the position crash.
We are sure at 99% that she was Lt Vaessen B-24, i also wrote to the French Gendarmerie Archives but there too there is no report.

So we think that the crash site was on the beach of Argentella, Crovani bay nearby the town of Galeria on the west coast of Corsica. (Google Earth)

In reading the obituary newspaper, i saw that Lt Vaessen was from Dixon lee Illinois, so with nerve i wrote to several Dixon Lee admnistrations, city Hall, companies, firms and miraculously one company named IT replied, a Certain Mr McBride told me that he was in contact with a relative of Lt Vaessen and bingo i got a photo of Lt Vaessen given by his nephew Greg Cavanaugh who was a Marines in Vietnam.

About Lt Richard Duer, there too i wrote to the Mayor of Marinette Wisconsin and again bingo i got a photo.

Here is the list of the crew members who were in the plane, in red the KIA in black the survided ones.

• Vaessen H William 1st Lt 0-536855 829th BS 485th BG Pilot KIA

• Sipes R William 2nd Lt 0-705827 829th 485th BG Copilot KIA NC

• Wittenbrink E George S/Sgt 36446168 829th BS 485th BG Radio Opr KIA NC

• Duer N Richard 2nd Lt 0-703456 829th BS 485th BG Bombardier KIA

• Witham L Harris Sgt 35753847 829th BS 485th BG Nose Gunner KIA NC

• McGregor W Jack Sgt 35613832 829th BS 485th BG Ball gunner KIA NC

• Curtis W Carl S/Sgt 15195606 829th BS 485th BG Engineer NC

• Falerics M Wayne 2nd Lt 0-712782 829th BS 485th BG Navigator NC

• Korkuc David S/Sgt 32769227 829th BS 485th BG Tail Gunner vivant

• Kristan J John Sgt 36650977 829th BS 485th BG Top Gunner NC

NC means No contact with the families.

Now you must know that on the beach there is no more evidence of the crash, just the beach, if you dive you'll have a chance to see some wreck parts. (not very deep)
In a camping site you'll see these propellers, and with Frank you'll have a chance to find out a very small piece of metal.

In July 1944 All the men who died had been buried in the American cemetery of Bastia Corsica, but in April 1945 when the USAAC left Corsica for Italy all the WWII American remains have been transferred from the cemetery of Bastia to the American Cemeteries of Nettuno Rome and Firenze Italy.

There are no more American graves in Corsica.

1) Beach of Argentella
2) Crash site
3) B-24 Propellers

That's all i know about your Father airplane, Frank told me that all these airmen were in the 801st Provisional Group list before to be in the 485th BG except for your father, Witham and Falericks

As you imagine i'll appreciate very much if you give me somes photos of your Father.

Thank you


Amazing. Somebody has already done the legwork and is willing to share it. What a stroke of luck, and what generosity!

Next Post: Photos and mapping.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

William Vaessen, pilot

The Internet is the obvious place to begin to find information about anything. There is a surprising (to me) amount of digitized information from World War II, including "missing air crew reports" and the fate of B-24s, by serial number. Unfortunately, if there was a missing air crew report filed on Dad's plane, I couldn't find it. Nor could I find details about a B-24 crash on or about July 5, 1944 that would fit Dad's mission.

I was able to find a crew list of Dad's outfit, which gave me the names of Dad's crew:

The were grouped together under the pilot's name, obviously.

That helped me find an obituary for his pilot:

WILLIAM M. VAESSEN , son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. Vaessen, Route 2, Dixon, was born in Sublette township. Lee county, Illinois, on Oct 3, 1921, and was killed in action while acting as the pilot and commanding officer of a B-24 Liberator bomber In the course of duty over Toulon, France, on July 5, 1944. He was buried in the American Cemetery at Borga, Corsica. Lieutenant Vaessen enlisted in the army air corps on July 10, 1940, as a private and he took his basic training at Kelly Field, Texas. Following his basic training he made rapid strides and received his wings and commission and was retained as an instructor of navigation at Hondo, Texas. Lieutenant Vaessen had been very anxious to receive oversea duty and had made many requests for such an assignment but his ability as an instructor had kept him in this country for many months. While at Hondo Field he was an assistant engineering officer of the field and held many other important positions. His request for oversea duty was finally granted and after special training with a selected crew, he left this country May 30, 1944. He was assigned to the Mediterranean air theater and had flown at least ten bombing missions over France and Germany before meeting his death. From information received by his parents his plane was damaged by anti-aircraft fire over Toulon and Bill was unable to reach the flying fields of Corsica before crashing into the Mediterranean Sea. His parents have been informed that his body was recovered and burial was at Cosica. They were further informed that there were four survivors out of the crew of 10 in Bill's plane. From letters received by the surviving members of his crew his parents have been informed that "Dutch" as he was known to his crew members, was very highly regarded both as a pilot and friend by all of them. They had named the bomber "The Flying Dutchman" in honor of Bill and they all stated that they felt that he was one of the best pilots in the Army air corps. They all felt perfectly safe when Bill was at the controls and the survivors said the loss of six of the crew and the plane was in no way attributable to lack of flying ability but rather to the mechanical failures as the result of shell fire. Since receiving official notice from the war department of their sons death, Mr. and Mrs. Vaessen have also been presented with posthumous decorations for Lieutenant Vaessen consisting of the Order of the Purple Heart and the Presidential Citation. Memorial services were held in St. Flannen's Church in Hamon, of which church Bill had been a member before leaving for service, on July 21, 1944 and Dixon Post of the AMeircan Legion and Company "A" of the Illinois Reserve Milita assisted in the observance.

Dixon Telegraph September 2, 1944 William Vaessen, son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Vaessen, of Harmon, was born in Marion township on the 3rd day of October, 1921. He was graduated from the Dixon high school in June, 1939. He enlisted in the army air corps July 10, 1940 and took his primary training at Kelly Field, Texas, where he was stationed for 18 months, receiving his wings on September 6, 1942. He was then transferred to hondo, Texas, where he trained for oversea duty for 14 months. He was assigned to transport and combat duty in the Mediterranean area and was killed while on duty on a flying mission over Corsica on July 5th 1944, as pilot of an American bomber. Lieutenant vaessen is survived by his parents, two brothers, Ellwyn and Eugene; four sisters, Dorothy, Adell, Rosella and Katheryn; his paternal grandmother, Mrs. Anna Vaessen, his maternal grandfahter and grandmother, Mr. and Mrs. John Ruhel, Staples Minnesota; several aunts and uncles living in this community. A memorial service for Lt. Vaessen was held at St. Flannen's church in Harmon, at 8:30 on Monday morning, July 24th. The mass was celebrated by Father David Murphy, pastor, assisted by Father Daniel Daley of Walton parish. A large number of the members of Dixon Post No. 12, American Legion, and the Ladies' AUxiliary atended this service. A color guard of the American Legion and a firing squad of Company A, Illinois Reserve Militia conducted the military rites.

From the Dixon Telegraph 1 Aug 1944 Tuesday

Something to work with - a cemetery in Corsica, an airplane nickname, and crew names. It also said there were four survivors. But I still had no details on the crash site, and no idea how to find it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The old information

When Dad was still alive, I found and ordered off the internet a history of the 485th Bombardment Group. Until I started the current round of research this spring, the book supplied all of the third-party information I had about the wreck of Dad's plane on July 5, 1944.

You'll notice that nowhere in the report is there a mention of the fate of the plane, its serial number, or the names of its pilot or crew. I had thought "812" was Dad's airplane -- it was headed in the right direction and all. But now I think Dad's plane was "127", based on what I've learned since, as I will relate in another post. It does fill in some holes -- I believe Dad's plane made it to the target and took flak, based on what I remember him saying, and what he told my sister of the flight. Both planes would have headed towards Corsica, as it was the nearest friendly place to land on the way back to their base in Venosa, Italy.

Toulon is "A" on the map, and Venosa is "B". Corsica is on the way.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Why 42-78127

My Dad, John Kristan, was with the 15th Air Force, 485th Bombardment Group (H), 829th Bombardment Squadron, in World War II. He was on a B-24 that went down at Corsica on July 5, 1944, killing most of the crew. I thought he said the plane had wrecked in some sort of swamp. This is about all I knew, or thought I knew, about the wreck when I was a kid. Dad seldom spoke of the war.

When our family decided to plan a European vacation, I began trying to find out more about the wreck in hopes of visiting the spot and perhaps decorating the graves of those who died in the plane. I have been more successful than I could have hoped, thanks to a French gentleman who I found by a stroke of luck.

I will be posting here what I have learned about the airplane -- which appears to have been B-24 with the serial number 42-78127 -- the crew, and what I find out when we visit Corsica. I post it here to share what I find with my family, with relatives or friends of the other members of Dad's crew, and with any history buffs who might be interested. I would be thrilled to hear from any of you, and I will pass along any information you might have about the flight or the crew that you wish to share. Just leave a message in the comments or send me a note joesaysso - at - gmail dot com, in the usual email format of