Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Breakthrough

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.

Photos
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

Dominique


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 xxx@xxx.com.