Frank LaLone, Marauder Man
323 Bomb Group, 454 Bomb Squadron
|Article published May 29, 2006
Downed WW II flier gets pieces of plane
Researchers located debris in France
Frank LaLone's ammunition box contains parts of a B-26 bomber he was flying in when it was shot down in 1944. ( THE BLADE/TIM M. GRUBER )
ANTWERP, Ohio - Six decades after flight engineer Frank LaLone was shot down over a French farm, the 84-year-old Antwerp-area resident was given a metal ammunition box containing pieces of his ill-fated Martin B-26 Marauder.
Two Frenchmen arrived at his home last week with the box as a thank-you for his role in helping to liberate France from the Nazis during World War II.
Staff Sgt. LaLone's flight over Normandy on April 13, 1944, to bomb targets in Le Havre was his final mission. Fifty was the magic number that could send aviators stateside.
"I had 39 missions," Mr. LaLone said. "But they only gave me credit for 38 because I didn't come back from the last one."
After dropping its bombs, Mr. LaLone's twin-engine bomber nearly collided with another plane and became separated from its unit. In the confusion, it flew in the wrong direction, heading toward the Cherbourg peninsula and a heavily defended base.
Emerging from the clouds to try to find their position, the crew of the B-26 flew low into a thicket of anti-aircraft fire that turned the aircraft into a sieve.
"They [the German gunners] hit that airplane so many times the pilot had no control," Mr. LaLone recalled in a phone interview from his rural Paulding County home.
When the signal to bail out was given, the plane inexplicably went straight up, making it impossible to get out. Then the B-26 leveled off momentarily, allowing the crew to bail out.
In the rear of the doomed bomber, several crew members who were to jump first were too terrified to move, he said. "They stood there like they were mummified," Mr. LaLone said, adding that he decided to lead the way. "When we got out, we were scattered quite a ways."
The plane then nosed down, hitting the ground in a fireball, Mr. LaLone recalled.
He and four other crewmen were quickly captured and held by the Germans and eventually taken to Stalag 17, a prisoner-of-war camp in Krems, Austria.
Staff Sgt. Waldo Shows, the radio operator who lives in Mississippi, opened his parachute late, floating away from his group. He hid in brush until night. A French farmer and others helped him return to England after several months of hiding.
Like other World War II riddles, the pieces of Mr. LaLone's six-decade-old puzzle are scattered across two continents.
The catalyst for reassembling the pieces for Mr. LaLone was Roy Bozych, a former air traffic controller in Chicago. He's also a historian for the 323rd Bomb Group's 454th Bomb Squadron Association, recording the history of its aviators.
Mr. Bozych, who works for AT&T, was interested in finding the remains of another downed aircraft that belonged to a unit his father had flown with. A French researcher, Claude Letellier, contacted him.
Mr. Letellier had found the wreckage and production numbers from the manufacturer and searched the Internet for information and crew members who flew the Martin Marauder.
His research also him to Georges Dennebeouy, a grandson of the farmer who aided Sergeant Shows. Mr. Dennebeouy, a pilot for Air France who flies between Paris and the United States, recalled hearing stories about a warplane that had crashed near his village.
Though disappointed that the plane belonged to a different squadron, Mr. Bozych said he was determined to find the survivors of the ill-fated B-26 from the 322nd Bomb Squadron and give each of them some pieces from their aircraft. He called Mr. LaLone around Christmas and asked: "How would you like to get your plane back?"
Mr. Bozych traveled with the two Frenchmen and their wives to present the pieces to Mr. LaLone at his home May 22.
Inside the 50-caliber ammunition box was a piece of a cylinder head and rocker arm from the engine, a support brace from the nose, and a control arm from the propeller. Most of the pieces were pretty smashed, Mr. LaLone said. They also gave Mr. LaLone and his wife, Shirley, a print of a bomber.
Asked to describe the fragments, Mr. LaLone said the pieces he was given "didn't amount to much." But Mr. Bozych says they had a magical effect on the World War II veteran:
"He was like a kid at Christmas when he opened that box."