Four WWII Fliers Buried 50 Years After Deaths
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ For 50 years Don Weiss was mostly a mystery to his only daughter: a smiling pilot in an Army photograph, one in a long list of names of young American men who never came home from war.
On Wednesday, Sue Ann Reisdorph watched as Lt. Col. Don L. Weiss and three of his crewmen came home.
Mrs. Reisdorph, who was 6 months old when her father’s B-26 bomber was shot down over France in World War II, held a folded flag as Army gunners saluted a single casket at Arlington National Cemetery.
The casket held the remains of Weiss, copilot Axel ``Pete″ Slustrop, bombardier David Meserow and navigator George H. Hazlett Jr.
``The best part of it for me was we were able to complete things, to give closure in such a dignified way,″ Mrs. Reisdorph said after the simple burial service under cold, clear skies.
She traveled from her home in Spring Hill, Fla., for the service, joining more than 40 relatives of the four fliers. Others traveled from New York, Maine, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oregon and Illinois.
``It’s another chapter, the last chapter,″ Mrs. Reisdorph said.
The crewmen were members of the 386th Bombardier Group based in England. Weiss, of Denison, Iowa, was 29 when the twin-propeller plane was shot down on June 22, 1944, over Caen, France. Slustrop, of Portland, Ore., and Meserow, of Oak Park, Ill., were 22. Hazlett, of Belmont, Mass., was 24.
The body of a fifth crewman was found shortly after the crash. Remains of three others on the plane were never found.
Several years ago, Mrs. Reisdorph began looking for answers, eventually travelling to see her father’s name inscribed on a memorial in Normandy, France, and contacting some of his wartime friends.
In 1986, bone fragments and bits of ammunition turned up in a pasture near Caen. Army experts found bits of leather flight jackets, several shoes, the dial of an altimeter, and a ripped name tag.
In November, the Pentagon told family members that Weiss, Meserow, Hazlett and Slustrop were no longer among the 79,000 Americans missing from World War II.
``It was quite an amazing phone call,″ said Meserow’s son, David Sauer.
Like Mrs. Reisdorph, Sauer was a few months old in 1944 and never met his father. Sauer’s name was changed when his mother remarried.
``It was important for me, and for my mother,″ said Sauer, of Mobile, Ala. ``She only had telegrams, not a visit from the Army to tell her for sure that he was dead. When someone is missing, you never are certain what happened.″
The crew would be old men now, like many of those who stood in bright, cold sunshine Wednesday to bury them.
Warwick Clark smoothed his gray hair in the chill wind and saluted after six horses drew the caisson toward the hillside gravesite.
Earlier, the retired Air Force officer thumbed through memorabilia of the 386th Bomb Group during a brief memorial service. Clark said his bunk was close to Slustrop’s at the bomber group’s home base in England.
``I had loaned him a pair of my pants, and I think he was wearing them that day,″ Clark said. ``I have always wondered about what happened to that crew.″