The morning of November 13, 1944
was foggy, rainy and cold - not flying weather. Especially not for a B-26
bomber, known as a widowmaker. Under
certain conditions, such as icing, the plane could vibrate violently and become
unstable. Bad weather was not unexpected by the crew, but it may have meant
something else to the B-26's US Army pilot, Richard Hisey, a native West
Virginian. Hisey was used to winter weather back home. The Burgundy
weather he was flying in, however, was heavy fog and zero visibility which was
common in late
fall or early winter. Hisey keep flying his plane, despite being advised to
stop in Marseille to secure a weather update.
He continued on to Longvic, the new home of the 320th Bomb Group. The B-26
nicknamed, Patsy, was in route to the
new airbase. This choice cost all nine aboard their lives. The three crew
members - Richard Hisey, Theodore Viebrock and Marco R. Montaruli along with the support
team they were transporting: Jack B. Fields, Charles J. Peck, Earl Dawkins, Joseph
H. Hecko, Marvin Myers, and Frank Yohannan all were part of the 320th Bomb Group
that were relocating from the island of Corsica
to Longvic, France.
Patsy left Alto, near Bastia,
where the 320th was temporally stationed a little after 10:30 am. Flying toward the French mainland city of Marseille
their assignment was the transport of 320th support personnel to Longvic, including
the head radioman, food procurement head, and the chief cook.
After Marseille, Patsy followed the
Rhone River to Lyon as planned. Once over Lyon
the plane was to follow the Saône River
to Chalon-sur-Saône, then on to the base at Longvic, and next to Dijon, the capital of Burgundy. Midway
between Lyon and Chalon-sur-Saône, Patsy
descended lower to the ground, trying to find the Saône River. At this point, Patsy's crew probably realized they were
lost. The fog was not only very thick that November morning, but it was also
raining and quite cold. Patsy came
closer to the ground trying to find her visual landmark: the Saône River. Sometime around 11 am
near the southern Burgundy village of Plottes after making a U-turn, Patsy crashed
and burst into flames.
The crash site, a hilltop in the woods of Plottes, was just a few miles from
I first became aware of this crash when my wife took me to the village
of Plottes in 1998. Plottes is not
far from the farm where she grew up. She showed me the chapel with a memorial
stone and the engraved names of those that died, thanking them for their
sacrifice so that France
could be free. Recently, I was able to find out more about Patsy, her crew and visit the crash site.
Through a friend of my brother in-law who lives in Plottes, I was able to
contact Christian Lacroix who grew up less than two miles from Patsy's crash site. Since the age of
seven, Patsy's crash has captivated
Christian, along with the men that gave their lives, for as he put it 'our
Christian owns an extensive collection of material he found at Patsy's crash site plus a small portion
of the plane that includes painted bombs signifying completed missions, a shark
mouth, one of Patsy's propellers,
goggles, and a match holder made in Bastia.
He also has a large collection of WWII memorabilia including a canister used to parachute
supplies to the French resistance, a US Army helmet from D-Day, and many WWII
Not only is Christian passionate about collecting of WWII memorabilia
and learning about the men that flew Patsy,
but also in meeting and talking with Americans - thanking them for what past
Americans did to help France - especially Patsy's
crew. So much so that he was the leading force behind the memorial
celebration held November 13,
2004; the 60th anniversary of the crash, in the village of Plottes. The
memorial celebration included the laying of a commemorative stone honoring the
dead near the crash site.
The day I met Christian I also met Sylvie Monin-Badey, author of Memories
Souvenirs (ISBN: 2-9504253-4-8). The book tells the stories of four WWII plane
crashes in the Louhans region, including the one in Plottes. It is from
Sylvie's book that the narrative of Patsy's
last flight is based. Sylvie spent over three years researching her book. She
continues to try and learn more about the men who flew in Patsy that November morning.
The day I visited the crash site
with Christian and Sylvie was very sunny.
We could easily see the crash impact points and even found some debris. The
crash site is in a forest area easily accessible, not more than 100 feet from a
dirt road. There is very little left from the wreckage other than small bits of
Plexiglas and some wiring. The two impact points are visible. The first has
what must be melted rubber imbedded in one side of it.
After the crash the French police were called in to keep watch over the
crash site. They found numerous personal and military objects including: five
machine guns, letters and military papers. The nine bodies were transported to
the village. The building used to hold the bodies was transformed into a chapel
lighted by candles. It is now a memorial to the nine fallen soldiers.
At 8:00 pm
American Army police from
Chalon-sur-Saône arrived in Plottes and took the bodies to, it's thought, Dijon for temporary burial. The bodies were
then given a permanent burial either at the American Epinal Military Cemetery
in France or in the United States (Continued)