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WWII Paul E. Rose bracelet leads to search for airman's kin in Dallas

10:19 PM CDT on Friday, July 24, 2009

By MICHAEL E. YOUNG / The Dallas Morning News

The battered bit of metal poking from a French farmer's field carried a name, a string of numbers and the ghostly outline of an aviator's wings, but it had a story to tell, a story that stretches all the way to Dallas.

The field lay near an old airbase, used by the Germans in World War II until Americans captured it in the last months of 1944. The owner of the ID bracelet, Paul E. Rose, might have served there, the farmer decided. But the war had ended long ago, and finding Rose seemed almost impossible for a man with a farm to run.

So he tucked the bracelet away for 15 years or so until he learned that people in the nearby village of Saint-Péravy la Colombe were dedicating a memorial earlier this year to the crew of an American B-26 bomber that had been shot down near town a week after D-Day, in mid-June.

The farmer took the bracelet to the dedication, met local history buff Christian Dieppedalle and showed him what he had found.

Dieppedalle took up the quest.

He pulled out a copy of the book Bridge Busters, by J. Guy Ziegler, which detailed the operations of the 394th Bomber Group of the U.S. 9th Air Force, the group that used the airfield in 1944.

In it, Dieppedalle found a mention of the midair collision of two B-26 bombers on Oct. 8, 1944, which claimed both crews, including Sgt. Paul E. Rose.

The two B-26 Marauders were part of a group flying in tight formation after a low-altitude raid on a German railroad bridge. They even flew over other members of the 394th holding a memorial service for the same crew honored in Saint-Péravy la Colombe 65 years later.

"They probably had the formation a little tighter than usual because of the memorial service, and two of the planes got together," said Don Enlow, whose father flew with the 394th, and a part of the effort to find Rose's survivors.

Using the Internet and military records, Dieppedalle found some sketchy information about Rose.

He was single, born in Ohio (city unknown), and joined the Army Air Corps in Tucson, Ariz., in December 1942. He listed his hometown as Dallas, Texas. He was 22 when he died.

An Internet search for "Rose" and "Dallas" turned up dozens of addresses and phone numbers, he said, a daunting task for a man on the other side of the ocean. So he enlisted help on a B-26 Web site, and got an e-mail from Enlow, of Jena, La., who offered to do what he could.

"This isn't new to Christian Dieppedalle – he does this as a hobby," Enlow said. "The French people think a lot about what the Americans did for them in the war. They're more sentimental about it than we are."

But Enlow knows that finding someone close to Rose could be very difficult.

"We know what year he was born and his service number. But what scares me about this is what we don't know," he said. "What was he doing in Dallas at the time of his enlistment? Had his family moved from Ohio to Texas? Was he down there working? Had he gone to school there?

"What if we're looking in the wrong place? What if his family never left Ohio?"

The Army can't release next-of-kin information to the public, said Lt. Col. Maria Quon of the Army's Human Resources Command in St. Louis. She suggested that the farmer in France send the bracelet to the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

"The basic problem is it will end up on some bureaucrat's desk," said Roy Bozych of suburban Chicago, another member of the team trying to track down Rose's kin.

"Do you recall the very last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark , where the Ark is boxed up and basically buried in this huge government warehouse? That is what will happen with the bracelet."

Like Enlow, Bozych is the son of a B-26 crew member, and like Enlow, a pilot himself.

Both feel a deep personal involvement, and a debt.

"We've gotten to know a lot of these World War II vets. We've broken bread with them," Bozych said. "Doing this is our way of saying thanks."

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