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.

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