From a contemporary press report:
WW II mission `finally over'
7 men to be honored 59 years after plane crashed in Siberia
November 17, 2003
Jack Parlier's first and only bombing mission began March 25, 1944, when the 22-year-old Navy meteorologist from Mt. Sterling, Illinois, took off with six crewmates from Attu Island in Alaska.
The plan was to bomb a target on the Kurile Islands in Japan and head back to Attu, near the western edge of the Aleutian Islands. But the bomber never returned.
“For over 50 years, we really didn't know what happened,” said Boris Georgeff, 86, of Northbrook, who belonged to Parlier's unit and helped look for the missing plane in 1944.
This week, remains of the crew–found years later at a crash site in Siberia–will be laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.
“I know I will feel it's finally over,” said Charlotte Davis, Parlier's older sister, who lives on Chicago's Near North Side.
For family and comrades of the men who were lost, the ceremonies Wednesday and Thursday will close the book on a decades-old mystery of what happened to the bomber. A crucial piece of the puzzle emerged only after the Cold War, when relations between the United States and Russia improved: The plane went down on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia.
By the time a U.S. expedition arrived at the crash site in 2001, the only remains were small pieces of bone. But it was enough to identify three members of Parlier's crew. Nobody knows what happened to the other four.
Few personal effects were recovered at the site, but the search team found a 1943 nickel. It will go to Davis after the ceremony, officials said.
“I've been told that he flipped a nickel with another meteorologist to see who would go on the bombing run, or a less dangerous reconnaissance flight,” Davis said. “He lost the flip.”
The wind was fierce and the snow heavy when Bomber 31 flew its last mission.
The Ventura PV-1 bomber was among five planes that took off from Attu–all of them from Unit 139 of Fleet Air Wing 4 of the U.S. Navy. The nighttime bombing runs were known as the “Empire Express,” and the men who flew them were known as “bats.”
Parlier was the aerographer, a meteorologist who also took pictures of weather systems. The rest of the crew were navigator Don LeWallen of Omaha; gunner Jimmy Palko of Superior, Wisconsin; shipboard mechanic Clarence Fridley of Manhattan, Montana; pilot Walt Whitman of Philadelphia; co-pilot Jack Hanlon of Worcester, Massachusetts; and radio operator Sammy Crown Jr. of Columbus, Ohio.
Lieutenant Whitman, known as one of the most highly skilled pilots in his unit, was at the controls as the bomber followed the other four into the sky, Georgeff said.
“One of the theories was that because Whitman was the last one over the target, that the earlier planes might have alerted the Japanese,” he said.
Whatever the reason, the bomber never came back. Georgeff was among those who participated in searches during the next week.
Pilots were taught that if they were in trouble anywhere near the Russian coast, they should head toward a small air strip on Kamchatka, but that area wasn't searched in the week after the plane went missing because it was Soviet territory, Georgeff said.
Two years later, the U.S. government declared Parlier and the rest of his crew missing in action and presumed dead.
In 1962, a Russian geologist made a discovery that would become known to U.S. officials decades later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While mapping an old volcano on Kamchatka, the geologist stumbled across a wrecked aircraft on the side of the mountain. It had crash-landed, but most of the plane was intact.
It wasn't until 37 years later, after the U.S. and Russia had created a joint POW/MIA commission, that a Russian historian informed the United States of the 1962 find.
In 2001, a team of forensic investigators traveled to the crash site. They discovered the plane had taken fire, although they couldn't tell if that's why it crashed.
The team recovered whatever they could. After nearly six decades, there wasn't much, but enough to confirm–with DNA samples from family members–that LeWallen, Palko and Fridley were among the dead, said Ken Terry, head of the POW/MIA section for Navy Casualty, a division of the U.S. Navy.
Investigators were unable to match any of the rest of the remains with the other four.
A portion of the remains will be laid to rest Thursday to symbolize the entire crew. Palko's family requested that his remains be buried with those.
LeWallen's family requested that he be interred separately at Arlington, and the ceremony for him is Wednesday. Fridley's family buried his remains on Veterans Day in a cemetery in Eureka, California, near where they live.
Not all the survivors will attend the ceremonies in Arlington. Davis' younger sister, Phyllis Thompson, said the burials will not remove the lingering pain of losing her brother.
Parlier had been attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for two years when he joined the Navy in 1942, and he seemed to have a bright future, his sisters said.
“After all those years, I really had my doubts about what would be found,” Thompson said. “And now I guess this is the last we'll ever know.”
Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
PARLIER, JACK J
AERM2 US NAVY
- VETERAN SERVICE DATES: Unknown
- DATE OF BIRTH: 03/06/1922
- DATE OF DEATH: 03/25/1944
- DATE OF INTERMENT: 11/20/2003
- BURIED AT: SECTION 60 SITE 8249
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard