Earl H. Spredemann
Sergeant, United States Army
Sergeant, U.S. Army
718th Air Force Base Unit
Entered the Service from: Wisconsin
Died: September 8, 1945
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
For more information
Found on Indonesian mountainside, soldier's remains coming home at last.
For a long time, there was no reason to believe that Sergeant Earl H. Spredemann would ever come home to rest in the family plot at Arlington Park Cemetery in Greenfield.
I remember hearing people say, 'Uncle
Earl isn't in there. Uncle Earl is in the ocean ... And I would tell them,
'No, he's in the jungle.'
Spredemann died September 8, 1945, just weeks after the end of World War II. He was one of eight Army Air Force men aboard a B-25H, which was transferring Spredemann and four others from the state of Queensland in Australia to Biak Island, off New Guinea.
They never arrived.
Despite exhaustive search efforts, no one turned up any sign of the plane. The sad telegrams went out, including to the Spredemann family in West Allis. All aboard the plane were missing, believed to have been lost at sea.
Nothing more was known for 50 years.
A chance sighting in December 1995 began the process that changed that. A helicopter pilot with the Freeport Mining Co., flying over a mountainous region of what is now the Irian Jaya province of Indonesia, spotted what looked like the wreckage of a military plane.
"It was a fluke that that guy found that aircraft at all," said Army Lieutenant Colonel Ron Long Jr., chief of the Mortuary Affairs and Casualty Support Service in Alexandria, Virginia.
Now Sergeant Spredemann is coming home. His remains will be laid under the headstone installed by his parents. They were later buried under the same stone.
"Dedicated to the memory of our beloved son . . . "
It has carried his name since 1946.
Olga and H. Frank Spredemann never learned what happened to their son.
"My grandmother bought the headstone at Sears on Mitchell St.," said niece Sharon Dreyer. Her father was serviceman Ralph Spredemann, sent home as the family's only surviving son.
H. Frank Spredemann died in 1965. The H stood for Herman and, though he hated it, it became Earl's middle name. Olga died in 1970. Ralph Spredemann died about 1984.
"The family thought there would never be anybody in that grave," Dreyer said.
Soon after the plane was first seen, mining company personnel returned to take photos from the air.
By 1996, the Army's Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, was ready to send investigators to the crash site in what is now Irian Jaya, the western portion of the island of New Guinea. Internal strife in Indonesia made any work too dangerous, delaying recovery efforts until early 1999.
The main portion of the plane was found on a hazardous rock slide, at an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet. The tail section had slipped onto a ledge hundreds of feet below.
No roads led through the jungle below the mountainous area, accessible only by helicopter. Led by anthropologist John Byrd, teams were flown in during the brief window each morning when visibility improved, then pulled out after 24 hours. Some of the 25 team members fell ill with altitude sickness.
All artifacts and remains were brought to the laboratory in Hawaii, where the investigation continued.
By 2001, it was time to contact the families.
Memories of Uncle Earl
Sharon Dreyer remembers only the most fleeting impressions of her Uncle Earl, perhaps more someone else's memories than her own. She was just a toddler when Spredemann went off to war. One family picture shows her uncle standing in uniform, little Sharon perched on one hip.
The family stories tell that he was a fun-loving young man. He graduated from high school in West Allis, then went to Kearney & Trecker, where his father worked. He enlisted in Army Air Corps in 1942 and was trained in radio and radar work.
He wrote nice letters to his parents, telling them not to worry. He had a girlfriend, but never married. He was 24 when he died.
Dreyer remembers visiting the grave with family on Memorial Day.
"We would be at the services," Dreyer said. "And I would be shifting from foot to foot and know that I had to be respectful."
"And I remember hearing people say, 'Uncle Earl isn't in there,' " she said of the grave.
"Uncle Earl is in the ocean," they would say. "Uncle Earl's plane went down in the ocean."
"And I would tell them, 'No, he's in the jungle,' " Dreyer said. It was always something she knew, she said, and nothing anyone said ever changed her mind.
Just weeks before the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Dreyer heard the news of another World War II plane being found.
"She said, 'Wouldn't it be something if they found Uncle Earl's remains?' " said her husband, Lee Dreyer.
Soon after September 11, a woman called from the military.
"She was describing how the plane was found high in the mountains, on the face of the mountain," Dreyer said.
"In the jungle," Dreyer said.
"How did you know that?" the caller asked.
The families were told that DNA testing would be the final step in the identification process. A blood sample was needed from a female relative.
In the case of Sgt. Spredemann's family, few relatives survived. A cousin, Ruth Lawonn of Brookfield, provided a blood sample.
Those tests showed, in a scientific way, just what the name on dog tags said. His remains had been found.
The details of the research were compiled for the families:
The plane's crew failed to clear their flight plan with the military weather service. A weatherman frantically tried to reach the pilot about developing weather conditions.
The last anyone heard was that they were beginning to encounter bad weather.
Investigators believe that other factors may have played a part. Elevation maps for the area may not have been accurate. The same visibility problems that plagued recovery efforts probably cloaked the mountain until it was too late.
The pilot likely attempted a hard turn to avoid a large vertical rock face at an elevation as high as 13,500 feet. The plane struck the rocky ledge after nearly completing the turn, according to the report.
Death came on impact.
Burying the dead
A ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery on June 18. All remains that could not be identified were buried together, under a headstone with eight names.
Seven families, including members of the Spredemann family, attended the service. Dreyer was given the only items that could be identified as her Uncle Earl's. A small, black velvet bag held his dog tags.
A local service is planned, with full military honors.
"His casket will come, flag covered, from Hawaii," said Dreyer, her eyes tearing with pride. "It will be accompanied by a man in uniform. We picked out a casket. They told us, we want you to know that, in the casket, there will be a full uniform and insignia."
Visitation is planned for 1 to 2 p.m. July 26 at the Heritage Funeral Home, 6615 W. Oklahoma Ave. The service will be held at 2 p.m. Burial will follow at Arlington Park Cemetery in Greenfield.
Survivors include sister-in-law Veloris Spredemann; cousins Ruth Lawonn and Audrey Cannon; nieces Beverly Gygax and Sharon Dreyer; great-nieces and great-nephews.
From the July 6, 2003 editions of the Milwaukee