A 60th Anniversary Surprise
By David Pulcrano
On 5 February 2005, I unexpectedly received a forwarded
e-mail via Stefan Theil, (Newsweek - Berlin Office), via Wendy Butler (464th website), from
Mrs. Christina Oppermann-Dimow, of Vienna, Austria. I was surprised and amazed that
someone I had never met had information regarding Teddy and was trying to contact me.
The content of this message was hard to believe. This excited my curiosity and I was eager
to respond to this communication. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Please allow me to
lay the foundation, upon which to explain to you this singular circumstance and unusual
turn of events.
During my genealogical research of the families, a cousin
of mine, 2nd Lt. Theodore David (Teddy) Toscano, who had served during World War II,
with the 464th Bomb Group, 779th Bomb Sqdn, 15th Army Air Force, at Pantanella, Italy,
was shot-down over Heiligenstadt, Vienna on 22 March 1945. Eight of the nine crew-members
perished, while Cpl. George R. Frazier, Jr., the ball turret gunner was the sole survivor. He
and the eye-witness reports stated that, Teddy's B-24 (serial number 44-50332) took a
direct hit in the bomb bay area, and became engulfed in flames, spiraled down and crashed
into a wooded area, in the vicinity of Neuwaldegg and Dornberg. Being anxious to obtain
information concerning Teddy and of the 464th, I had sometime earlier placed an inquiry
on Wendy Butler's message board. The effort was fruitful, and as a result, I was able to
receive the forwarded e-mail.
Now, Mrs. Oppermann's message contained specific
information, that her brother Wassil Dimow and his friend, who as teenagers, visited the
crash-site sometime around 1960. After some 15 years later they discovered some artifacts.
The wooded area is designated as a restricted to the public.. The area then, as now, is protected
by a fence and a historical marker has been placed there citing the incident on 22 March
45. This may account for the artifacts still remaining in their original location. However, being
'boys!' they explored these woods. Mrs. Oppermann sent me a description of the location,
photo copies of maps, both of Vienna and the crash-site area, and of the artifact.
Upon receipt of her e-mail, I immediately contacted her,
identifying who I was and how related to Teddy. Then, unexpectedly Mrs. Oppermann called
me from Vienna to inform me that her church, which was damaged by (we believe, from
Teddy's salvoing his bomb load prior to the crash), had held a 60th Memorial Service and
that the priest had spoken about the incident; citing the names of the crew-members that
were lost. Also making mention that George, who with the aid of the local Austrian Partisans,
provided medical attention to his burns and wounds, and were instrumental in his being
repatriated with the Allied Forces.
The logical question arises, "How do I know it was
Teddy's plane that 'salvoed' the bombs?" Well, I (we) know by the eye-witness reports
from the other crew-members from at least two other aircraft, saw one chute blossom and
bombs falling from Teddy's burning inferno. The local residents of the town who saw and
reported the incident, and stated that the aircraft crashed in the cited location. There were
no other aircraft being in a similar situation at that moment in time. Also, I believe it is
customary practice, when an aircraft experiences an in-flight fire, that it is standard operating
procedure to salvo the bomb load; in an effort to reduce the possibility of an on-board
explosion. Whether or not Teddy or the bombardier actually released the bombs, is obviously
unknown. From the moment the plane was hit by flak, fire erupted, which started in the
bomb bay and extended to the empennage section (tail assembly), and there was no chance
for any of the other crew-members to 'bail-out'! George stated that his flight suit and hair
were on fire when he left the aircraft.
Further, no other aircraft were seen to have dropped
any bombs in this vicinity of the church. Upon compiling this information with what I had
already found in my research, I discovered these several trivial coincidences: Teddy was
the pilot and was on his 13th mission; 1st Lt. Edward Cockerham, Flight Leader of Teddy's
box formation, flew his last mission. Another individual, Lt. Roy Wehman, co-pilot, was
also shot-down over Heiligenstadt, he became a guest of the German hospitality for the
duration. Both providing me with valuable information. One friend, S/Sgt. Robert H. Hoskinson,
tail-gunner with the 778th, who had flown on several missions, as did Teddy, was most
instrumental in assisting me with obtaining the MACR and accident reports.
On this very day, 13 planes were reported lost-downed!
Trivial coincidences perhaps, but here's a few more that might interest some folk, who
might consider to be an omen from numerology, or might enjoy reading about these unexpected
tid-bits. For instance: on the 19th March, three days before the fatalities, Teddy was taxiing
to the runway when the left landing gear collapsed unexpectedly! The nick-name of this
plane was "The Flakman!" The serial number was 42-95332. And, the renowned
Tuskegee Airmen, who escorted the 464th to and from the target area on numerous occasions,
was the 332nd Fighter Group. And, it just so happens, that the last two digits in the year
of my birth is 32! Now, recall if you will, the serial number of Teddy's plane was 44-50332!
At the last two Unit reunions in Nashville and Mobile,
I had the pleasure to meet and/or correspond with these fellows who, at one time or another,
flew in "The Flakman": Lts. John Klika, pilot, and Don Sherard, bombardier;
Sgts. Don Harder, radio operator, and Ernie Neal, nose gunner; all of whom are members
of the 779th and assigned to four different crews. John, Don and Ernie each reported that
"The Flakman" was 'ventilated' by flak on several occasions and that no one
was wounded. "The Flakman's" reputation reflected and lived up to it's name!
Oh! I almost forgot the most important part of this story!
The artifact that was found was Teddy's Dog-Tag! Other articles found were: flight suits,
boots, aircraft wreckage/parts, and a class ring, which contained a ruby stone and
inscribed "St. Joseph's." It was not stated if this was a high school or college
ring. And now, you know the 'Best of the Story'!
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