PlottesLast Flight of a WWII B-26
The morning of November 13, 1944 was foggy, rainy and cold, not flying weather. Especially not for a B-26 bomber, known as a 'widowmaker'. Under certain conditions, such as icing, the plane could vibrate violently and become unstable. Bad weather was not unexpected by the crew, but it may have meant something else to the B-26's US Army pilot, Richard Hisey; A native West Virginian, Hisey was used to winter weather back home. But the Burgundy weather he was flying in, was heavy fog and zero visibility, common in late fall or early winter. Hisey keep flying his plane, despite being advised to stop in Marseille, to secure a weather update.
He continued on to Longvic, the new home of the 320th Bomb Group. The B-26, nicknamed, Patsy, was in route to the new airbase. This choice cost all nine aboard their lives. The three crew members - Hisey, Theodore Viebrock and Marco Montaruli along with the support team they were transporting: Jack Eields, Charles Peck, Earl Dawakins, Joseph Hecko, Marwin Myers, and Frank Yohannan. All were part of the 320th Bomb Group, relocating from the island of Corsica to Longvic, France.
Patsy left Alto near Bastia, where the 320th was temporally stationed a little after 10:30 am. Flying toward the French mainland city of Marseille, their assignment: transport the 320th support personnel to Longvic, including the head radioman, food procurement head and the chief cook.
After Marseille Patsy followed the Rhone River to Lyon as planned. Once over Lyon the plan was to follow the Saône River to Chalon-sur-Saône, then on to the base at Longvic, next to Dijon the capital of Burgundy. Midway between Lyon and Chalon-sur-Saône Patsy descend lower to the ground, trying to find the Saône River. At this point Patsy's crew probably realized they were lost. The fog was not only very thick that November morning, but it was also raining and quite cold. Patsy came closer to the ground trying to find her visual landmark: the Saône River. Sometime around 11 am near the southern Burgundy village of Plottes, after making a U-turn, Patsy crashed and burst into flames.
The crash site, a hilltop in the woods of Plottes, was just a few miles from the Saône.
I first became aware of this crash when my wife took me to the village of Plottes in 1998. Plottes is not far from the farm where she grew up. She showed me the chapel with a memorial stone and the engraved names of those that died, thanking them for their sacrifice so that France could be free. Recently, I was able to find out more about Patsy, her crew and visit the crash site.
Through a friend of my brother in-law who lives in Plottes I was able to contact Christian Lacroix, who grew up less than two miles from Patsy's crash site. Since the age of seven Patsy's crash has captivated Christian, along with the men that gave their lives, for as he put it 'our liberty'.
Christian owns an extensive collection of material he found at Patsy's crash site plus a small portion of the plane that includes painted bombs signifying completed missions, shark mouth and one of Patsy's propellers, goggles and a match holder made in Bastia. He also has a large collection of WWII memorabilia, canister used to parachute supplies to the French resistance, US Army helmet from D-Day and many WWII weapons.
Not only is Christian passionate about collecting of WWII memorabilia, learning about the men that flew Patsy but also in meeting and talking with Americans. Thanking them for what past Americans did to help France, especially Patsy's crew. So much so that he was the leading force behind the memorial celebration held November 13, 2004, 60th anniversary of the crash, in the village of Plottes. The memorial celebration included the laying of a commemorative stone honoring the dead near the crash site.
The day I met Christian I also met Sylvie Monin-Badey, author of Memories Souvenirs (ISBN: 2-9504253-4-8). The book tells the stories of four WWII plane crashes in the Louhans region, including the one in Plottes. It is from Sylvie's book that the narrative of Patsy's last flight is based. Sylvie spent over three years researching her book. She continues to try and learn more about the men who flew in Patsy that November morning.
The day I visited the crash site, with Christian and Sylvie was very sunny. We could easily see the crash impact points and even found some debris. The crash site is in a forest area easily accessible, not more than 100 feet from a dirt road. There is very little left from the wreckage other than small bits of Plexiglas and some wiring. The two impact points are visible. The first has what must be melted rubber imbedded in one side of it.
After the crash the French police were called in to keep watch over the crash site. They found numerous personal and military objects, including five machine guns, letters and military papers. The nine bodies were transported to the village. The building use to hold the bodies was transformed into a chapel lighted by candles; it is now a memorial to the nine fallen soldiers.
At 8:00 pm American Army police from Chalon-sur-Saône arrived in Plottes and took the bodies to, it's thought, Dijon for temporary burial. The bodies were then given a permanent burial either at the American Epinal Military Cemetery in France or in the United States.
Here are the coordinates of the Patsy crash site.
You can see a drawing of what Patsy looked like here (Scroll down to print No. 57 - yellow tail battle number 78).