French ceremony honors lost U.S. pilot
TOULOUSE, France (AP) _ Though his body was whisked away before anyone could learn his name, this southern city could not forget the American World War II pilot who was shot down while trying to liberate Toulouse from the Germans.
More than half a century would pass before residents here finally discovered who he was. On Wednesday, as ``The Star-Spangled Banner″ played, Toulouse unveiled a memorial honoring him: 2nd Lt. Daniel Haley of Chicago.
The story was well known in Toulouse, 430 miles southwest of Paris. Many people had witnessed the crash on Aug. 17, 1944.
The Lockheed P38 had been hit on its right engine. The pilot tried to bring the nose of the plane up so he could jump, but the maneuver failed. He rolled the plane over to try to bail out upside down. His parachute opened, but he landed in trees and then plunged head-first into a concrete wall.
The Germans swooped in and made off with the body, wrapped in the parachute.
Over the years, he came to be know simply as ``the unknown pilot.″
But the Toulouse daily, La Depeche du Midi, began searching for clues to the man’s identity. It took reporters months of investigation on two continents to piece together the last moments of Haley’s flight from Corsica.
U.S. Air Force archives in Montgomery, Ala., led them to Roger Weatherbee, one of two pilots to survive the three-plane bombing run. The newspaper published a series on Haley, then witnesses came forward, adding more detail to the story.
With Weatherbee’s help, the newspaper managed to contact Haley’s younger sister, Mary Haley Poole, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.
Mrs. Poole said she never thought she would live to know what happened to her brother.
U.S. Air Force officials had told her parents that 20-year-old Daniel was missing in action, she said. After the war ended, his status was changed to killed in action.
A body eventually was found and buried in a military cemetery in Liege, Belgium. The Poole family had never been certain that it was Daniel.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Poole, 72, thanked the people of Toulouse for remembering her brother.
``This is the best day of my life,″ she said tearfully.
Her daughter, Mindy Chebaut, who lives in Paris part of the year, added:
``This is a very touching gesture. It shows that the French and the Americans _ contrary to what people say sometimes _ are friendly and united peoples.″
Weatherbee, now 72 and active in veterans’ reunions, also was in Toulouse on Wednesday to see Mayor Dominique Baudis unveil the plaque at the crash site _ now occupied by the French space agency, Aerospatiale.
The city also may rename a street in Haley’s memory.