World War II vet's remains found 63 years after death

October 03, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Staff Sgt. Robert J. Flood and his B-24 crewmates disappeared in the skies over Nazi Germany 63 years ago.

But his remains have been recovered from the wreckage of the Liberator bomber, and his final trip home will end this Saturday when he is buried with full military honors in a Franklin County cemetery.

Flood was 22 when his plane was lost July 7, 1944, during a bombing raid on an aircraft factory in Bernburg, Germany. A native of Neelyton, Pa., in Huntingdon County, he worked at Letterkenny Army Depot near Chambersburg before serving in the U.S. Army Air Force, according to his obituary.

The fate of Flood and the other eight airmen in the plane - pilot Lt. David McMurray, bombardier Raymond Pascual and radio operator Hyman Stiglitz among them - was unknown until pieces of the plane, along with human remains and personal belongings, were unearthed in a farm field near Westergeln four years ago.


For six decades, their names have been engraved among those on the Wall of the Missing at the American Cemetery in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium. Flood's name also was engraved, along with those of his father and mother, on a tombstone in the Upper Path Valley Cemetery in Dry Run, Pa.

Connie Strawser, the daughter of Flood's brother, Richard Flood of Mifflintown, Pa., said the family was approached a few years ago by the military.

"They came to the family and got DNA and made a positive identification with a bone and his dog tags," Strawser said. The crash site had not been accessible to the U.S. military for many years because it was in a part of the former East Germany, she said.

A German found artifacts, personal belongings and remains from the plane and turned them over to U.S. authorities, said Paul Bethke of the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center in Virginia. Based on that information, a team from what then was known as the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii was sent to Westergeln to survey the site.

An archaeological excavation was done between Aug. 19 and Oct. 1, 2003, yielding 95 bone fragments suitable for testing, 77 of which yielded usable DNA, Bethke said. Individual identifications subsequently were made of eight of the nine crewmen, with personal belongings of the ninth found at the site, he said.

"I can't tell you how happy we are," Robin Miller of Shippensburg, Pa., said of the remains of "Uncle Bob" coming home. Three of her cousins informed Richard Flood of the positive identification on Father's Day in June of this year, she said.

"Most of us were not born when Uncle Bob was in the war," Miller said. Their knowledge of him comes from old photos and the memories of others.

"They were the hard-luck crew of the hard-luck group," said Paul Arnett, Web historian for the 492nd Bomb Group. Flood's luck was worse than most.

The turret gunner had been assigned to "Sweet Chariot," a B-24 that ran low on fuel and crash landed May 11, 1944, in England at the end of its maiden mission, killing one crewman and injuring Flood and several others.

Flood recovered enough to soon be assigned to another B-24 under the command of McMurray, according to the Web site, Flood and another man from "Sweet Chariot" replaced crewmen who were wounded and killed on McMurray's plane on a May 29, 1944, mission.

On June 15, McMurray's plane was shot down over occupied France, but the crew was able to bail out and return to Allied lines and, eventually, the flak-darkened, fighter-infested skies over Germany, Arnett said. On July 7, McMurray's plane was one of 20 heavy bombers from the 492nd to reach the target, a dozen of which failed to return to base at North Pickenham, England, according to the Web site.

Sixty-seven men of the 492nd were killed that day and 52 were taken prisoner.

The 492nd was disbanded after 89 days and 67 combat missions due to casualties, said Arnett, whose father was a member of the unit. Out of 70 original crews and 55 replacement crews, the 492nd lost 55 Liberators, with 234 men killed, 26 wounded and 131 taken prisoner, he said. Another 129 sought refuge in neutral Sweden and Switzerland.

Strawser and Miller said they were grateful for the military's efforts to bring their uncle home.

"It's unbelievable," Strawser said. "They are still looking for everyone they can, whether it be World War II, Korea or Vietnam."

On the Web

To learn more about the ill-fated 492nd Bomb Group to which Staff Sgt. Robert J. Flood belonged, log on to Click on missions.

Click on 492nd Bomb Group Missions on the upper right-hand side of the screen.

Scroll down to the July 7, 1944, mission to Bernburg. That was Flood's final mission.

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