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World War II hero's long-overdue funeral touches lives on 2 continents


For nearly 70 years, there was just a name on a wall — and an empty grave


John Kass

July 4, 2012


The young woman from the Netherlands didn't know much about Lt. Emil Wasilewski of Chicago.


But Joyce Staniszewski, 26, who works at a bank in the Dutch town of Kerkrade, wondered about him often. She'd think about him when she'd bring flowers every month and set them near the war memorial at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten.


She had adopted him, as part of a program at the cemetery, but in truth his was just a name on the wall, like so many other names on monuments, cold letters carved in stone for war dead everywhere, giving no hint about the life they stood for. And still, she wondered about the man behind the name.


"I tried to find pictures of Emil to see how he looked like," she said in an email. "I still wonder what kind of a person he was and if it always was his dream to join the military and what would his life look like if he would have survived World War II."


What Joyce Staniszewski knew about Lt. Emil Wasilewski was the most important thing:

She knew that he was an American.


And today is our Independence Day, a day of families and friends and connections as we think about this nation of Americans and how it started, and how best to keep it.


Joyce Staniszewski has a special place in her young heart for Americans. But she didn't know enough about Emil Wasilewski.


She didn't know that he was from the South Side of Chicago. Or that he was handsome and clear-eyed, so optimistic in his uniform before he was sent overseas. She didn't know that he was a bombardier on a B-17G, or that he died when his Flying Fortress crashed in Germany.


And she didn't know that his father buried an empty coffin at St. Casimir Cemetery because Emil's body could not be found, the father mourning an empty grave for years until his own death.


"In 2010 I heard you could adopt graves of WWII soldiers at the Netherlands American cemetery in Margraten," Staniszewski wrote. "And because I wanted to do something for all those men and women, I thought this is a start. A lot of Dutch friends wonder why I want to do that. Well, it's because my dad's side of the family is from Poland, and they fled the Nazis in Poland and made it to Holland. But if the Americans wouldn't have liberated Kerkrade, they wouldn't have survived WWII and I wouldn't be here today. So I'm really thankful for that."


Around Memorial Day, she heard about my column on Lt. Emil Wasilewski. And she read that nearly 70 years after he was killed in action, something amazing happened. His nephew had given a DNA swab to a special U.S. Army group that searches for the remains of lost soldiers, and she read that he'd been found in Germany, buried in a grave near the crash site.


And she learned he was to be brought back stateside, to be buried on June 26, with full military honors, at Arlington National Cemetery, the magnificent resting place for America's war dead.


"At first I couldn't believe it and then I cried," she wrote. "I couldn't wish for better news on Memorial Day and that his family now finally can say goodbye and Emil gets the funeral he deserves."


There will be another long-overdue funeral at Arlington next month. The funeral of Sgt. John E. Hogan, of Missouri, whose remains also had been lost for some seven decades. Hogan has relatives in the Chicago area. One is Sandy Skurnicki, 60, of Palos Hills, who read my column on Wasilewski.


The Army had recently linked Skurnicki to the remains of Hogan, her third cousin, through a swab of her DNA. And she also knew, through Army documents, that Wasilewski was among his crew mates. She contacted Wasilewski's relatives.


"I thought, oh my God, this is the same guy who was a crew member with John Hogan," she told us.


Then Melissa Mahoney, 49, of the Ravenswood neighborhood on Chicago's North Side, contacted us via email. Mahoney is the direct niece of John Hogan. She and Skurnicki did not know one another.


Mahoney said Sgt. Hogan's death — and missing body — was especially difficult on her grandmother, father and uncle.


"I think when you don't have the ability to say goodbye in some sort of way, it's really hard," Mahoney said. "It's like you're walking around with an open wound."

Just like Wasilewski's family, like so many other American families in so many other wars, Hogan's parents did not have a body to bury. The Army sent the family a letter, now yellow with age, saying "the Department of the Army has been forced to conclude that the remains of your loved one are not recoverable."


A few months ago, Melissa Mahoney got a call from a cousin. Sgt. Hogan's remains had been found. After the column on Wasilewski ran on Memorial Day, she began checking and cross-checking available documents.


She checked the date of the crash, Sept. 13, 1944, and where the aircraft went down, near Neustadt, Germany, after a bombing run to take out German oil refineries. Everything matched. Mahoney figured Sgt. Hogan and Lt. Wasilewski had spent their last minutes together.


"This is the wildest thing in the world," Mahoney said. "The whole thing is unbelievable. It's unbelievable that they found him in the first place."


Sgt. Hogan's remains are scheduled to be buried at Arlington on Aug. 24. Mahoney and other family members say they'll be there when he's lowered into the ground.


Wasilewski's relatives were at Arlington last week. None had ever known the young man whom they'd come to honor as he was laid to rest, finally, on American soil. But each knew the story of the grandfather, and empty grave at St. Casimir, and how the old man would stand graveside, mourning his boy.


It was sunny with a breeze at Wasilewski's burial. His casket was draped in an American flag. In the coffin were his remains and a full uniform. The casket was taken to the grave by a horse-drawn caisson. An honor guard fired a 21-gun salute. A bugler played taps.


"He got what he earned and deserved," said Wasilewski's nephew Wally Wade, of Lake Forest. Of his late grandfather, Wasilewski's father, Wally said, "He'd be smiling down."


"It's an honor to be there with him," said Wade's brother Don, a financial planner from Downers Grove. "He died for our country. And he's reuniting our family."


Joyce Staniszewski sent flowers from the Netherlands. Back in Palos Hills, Sandy Skurnicki said a prayer.


Connections happen all around us. Sometimes we avoid them or we don't notice. But sometimes we're lucky to perceive them, and we become aware.

"It's amazing," Don Wade said, "how all the ripples are expanding."

Twitter @John_Kass

Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune



Lt. Emil Wasilewski, of Chicago, was a bombardier on a B-17G who died when his Flying Fortress crashed in Germany during World War II. (Family photo / May 25, 2012)


Very interesting. It's too bad for the loved ones who have passed on before the body is found, but it good for the family members that remain to have this closure. It is so amazing that this can happen so long after the fact.

What a great story!! And so eloquently written!


Jean J

Even after this long time it's good to know for the families what happened to these men. My uncle also searched for his father (my grandfather) who was MIA in WWII some (30?) years ago until he finally found his grave in East-Prussia, only then his mother found some peace.


There is another son of a member of this crew - Sgt. Thomas G. Deitman - who is looking for information in's forum:

http://forum.armyair...4986-print.aspx. Perhaps one of you has the time to contact him or the forum with the news from the Cicago Tribune? I'm ready to depart so it's my last posting these days. Perhaps also the decendants of the other crew men are interested in more information which I have found something in the "Thuringian Aviation & Aeronautics Network" (http://www.luftfahrt...-1945-iiwk.html) about this plane and it's crew. I have tried to translate it (a bit shortened, quick & dirty), please feel free to inform the relatives if you want:



Plane crash at Neustädt

Date: 13.10.1944


Type of Incident: Fall


Accident: Neustädt

Cause: fire

Aircraft registration number: 42-31250 "Mag the Hag, the 2nd"


Manufacturer: Boeing


Luftfahrzeugart: 4-engined bomber


Aircraft Type: B-17G

Operator: USAAF


Occupants (crew): 8

Occupants (passengers): -

Victim: 8 dead

In summer and autumn of 1944, the defeat of the German Wehrmacht was clearly visible. Day

and night bombers of American and British air forces flew over the shoals of our country.

When the material of the Allied air superiority (in the fall of 1944 about 1: 10)

succeeded only German fighters suffered heavy losses on the bomber streams commercially.

Sometimes it went well as direct threats to the villages of this region. This happened on

13 September 1944 when a U.S. bomber crashed near Neustädt. This report on the witness

Alfred Goepel and Erich Sode from Neustädt / Werra:

The machine came from the direction Gerstungen. At the "bubbling" engine noises could be

heard that something was wrong. You could see that behind the bombers, which formed east

of Neustädt a loop and then flew back toward Gerstungen, a plume of smoke. It is likely

that the pilot wanted to try an emergency landing on the Werra river meadows. Flying just

5 to 10 m heigh above the roofs of Neustädt the Flying Fortress lost more and more

altitude. Just before the railway crossing towards Gerstungen they came down, and pulled

off a power pole and crashed the plane into the top of the embankment. It blew the engine

and the wreckage were scattered in the broad environment. The explosion damaged some

houses. Not to imagine what would have happened if the plane was crashed in the village.

The then active female members of the Fire Department Neustädt under the leadership of a

committed evacuees from the Rhineland tried to erase the still burning machine with a hand

sprayer with water from the Werra. It appears from today's perspective very unusual,

especially since there was another explosion. The burning of aluminum caused a sparkling

fire, as if on fire on New Years Eve fireworks.

One U.S. soldier survived the crash who jumped on time with a parachute and was captured.

Sitting on a military truck he was forced to watch the recovering of the charred body

parts of his comrades which were laid before him on the street. The fallen bomber crew

has been buried by foreign slave laborers in the New Town Cemetery. Prior to the

occupation of Thuringia by the Soviet troops, the dead were dug up by order of the U.S.

Army back to a central memorial to give them (possibly even in the U.S.) a final dignified

resting place.

More information from official sources

Walter Hassenpflug from Ludwigsau has worked for many years closely with the air war

events in Hesse and Thuringia area. He has discovered in the archives of the U.S. official

sources as follows:

Early in the morning, 1015 Bombers (673 B-17, 342 B-24) of the 1st, 2nd and 3 Bomber

division start in three major groups to attack targets in southern and central Germany. An

escort of 477 fighters (31 P-38, 34 P-47, 312 P-51) accompanied them. The 3rd Major unit,

consisting of 297 B-17 of the first Bomb Division, had the hydrogenation plant in

Merseyside and Lützkendorf assigned as targets. 274 fighters escorted this unit (36 P-47,

238 P-51). From 12:08 to 12:55 the bombers 522.7 threw tons of bombs on the main

objectives and 519.9 tons of bombs on the alternate targets Eisenach, Gera, Altenburg, and

another unknown destination. The bombs were thrown from a height of 8300-9500 m. At 12:30

a Flying Fortress fell near Neustädt on the embankment at km 184.8. The B-17 G belonged to

the 327th squadron of the 92nd Bomber Group of the 1st Bomber Division. Their airfield was

Podington in England. The aircraft had the serial number 42-31250, his nickname was "Mag

the Hag, the 2nd". The 327th Season with seven aircraft will have dropped their bombs from

17.5 to 12:15 clock at Altenburg. The crews did not detect results. When departing the

crew of another aircraft observed that the B-17's pilot had turned off the third engine

and broke away from the formation. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the squadron bombers

were attacked by German fighters. The Fortress was never seen again.

The crew of the B-17 aircraft included the following:


1st Lt. Eck, Harry W. pilot

2nd Lt. Wren, Clyde L. Co-Pilot

2nd Lt. Sauer, John R. Navigator

2nd Lt. Wasilewski, Emil T. Bombardier

S / Sgt. Keeney, Clifford E. Best Turret Gunner

S / Sgt. Bono, John J. Ball Turret Gunner

S / Sgt. Hogan, John E. radio operator

Sgt Deitmann, Thomas G. Tail Gunner

Sgt Clark, George F. Waist Gunner

Only Clark, who was wounded, was able to save with a parachute. All others died and were

buried. Clark, who was at home in Santaquin, Utah, was taken into custody by German

soldiers. He stated after the return from captivity, that the machine had lost heavily in

height and was on fire. About 15 minutes after departure from the target area it crashed

close to a small village whose name he did not know. The German soldiers had told him that

the rest of the crew had crashed but one with the airplane. Clark had been taken away by

the soldiers with a truck. Previously they had collected parachutes and other items of

three crew members.

Pilot Eck came from North Dakota. It was his 13th action. The eight dead were buried on

14/9/1944 in the cemetery in Neustädt. After the war, they were exhumed by the Americans.

In Thuringia and Hesse region and especially in the area between Hersfeld and Homberg/

Efze there were fierce air battles that day, which involved on the German side groups

of Jagdgeschwader 3, 53, 76 and 300 with more than 100 fighters. For the German Air

Force, it was a momentous defensive action. The loss of the "black 13th September" as

Colonel Walther Dahl, former commander of Fighter Squadron 300 called it in his book " ramming hunters" were 36 machines.

The Americans lost 14 B-17 (Flying Fortresses) and 7 P-51 (Mustang-fighter). Most of the

losses were, however, on account of the flak. Some aircraft were lost due to technical


School essay by Hans Schellenberg, Herleshausen (b. 1931)

Again air raid! Today at 11 clock, we just had music lessons, a boy came and said, "Mr. Head Teacher, there is already an air raid!" We put our books under the bench and ran home. I put on the radio to listen where zhe planes were. But I had not

yet heard five air messages, as the aircrafts even buzzed. I quickly ran with my mother, my brother to Bracks, for here was a cellar which protected us for incendiary bombs.

When we arrived here, Ruscher, Rimbachs, Rauschenberg and Knops were already there.

Suddenly it thundered a few times. Mr. Brack said: "These were bombs." In the sky now enemy bombers flew continuously, which were trailing almost all long contrails behind them.

Soon, very little silver dots appeared. There were fighters. Suddenly I heard a rattle. I

saw a German fighter-bombers flew between the round. Soon solved a bomber from the

group and was therefore flying very low. Suddenly he crashed. I then saw a

parachute. The hunters came in own whistles and fired again from a couple of shots. As

I've heard is the four-engined bomber in Anglo-American Neustädt crashed. This afternoon I

was there and saw that it was burned out.



Enough for now,

Kind Regards


Christoph :1028:

Thanks for the additional info. Great post!

Yes. It is a very interesting post - Thanks!