The target for the February 19, 1945, for the 14th Fighter Group was Vienna, but the bombers the two dozen fighters were escorting decided to attack the alternate target of Bruk, southwest of Vienna. A dozen of them, including Dan Wilson, have an additional mission near Graz—providing cover for an experimental skip bombing. This is similar to the skip bombing over water Dale did in New Guinea except that this done against a sixteen-car train.
After a strafing run, Number 4 of the flight dropped back to take photos of the damage. When he pulled up over the train, the left engine was smoking. When he didn’t return to his formation, two P-38s returned to the area but find no trace of Danny’s plane.
His plane had hit a pole and crashed about two kilometers south of the railroad station at Schwanberg, Austria, in a forest along Sulm Creek in the snowy forested foothills of the Alps. According to his casualty records, the dead American “Flying Lieutenant” found in the wreck was identified by his tags as Daniel S. Wilson. Wehrmacht soldiers kept the tags but turn the body over to village officials.
The next day, a grave was dug at the edge of the Schwanberg cemetery. Daniel S. Wilson was buried in a pine box provided by the village. A service was held secretly by the local Roman Catholic priest. Attending were the bergermeister, the chief of police, and the grave digger.
Someone made a wooden cross for the new grave–in the uppermost lines, entrance on the left side–marked “Daniel S. Wilson 19.2.1945.”
At Schwanberg his death certificate, in German, was registered. And at his base at Foggia, a Missing Aircraft Report (MACR) was filled out for P-38 L1LO #44-24123, which carried weapons manufactured by Colt, Frigidaire, and International Harvester—companies that had retooled for war.
Two days later at their headquarters in Graz, the Wehrmacht reported the death of a member of an enemy air force, recording the place, date, serial number, name, and that two ID tags had been found on the American flyer.
This information would be how Dan Wilson’s remains would be located over a year later. They wouldn’t learn the details of his loss and burial for four more decades.
At Triolo field, Lt. Richard Tomlinson had typed up a report on the loss of the plane. His belongings were inventoried by a squadron Personal Effects Officer.
And the Flight surgeon filled out another form on Dan, adding, “Good man—good pilot.”
WASHINGTON DC VIA MINBURN IOWA CLABE D WILSON MAR 10 THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR SON SECOND LIEUTENANT DANIEL S WILSON HAS BEEN REPORTED MISSING IN ACTION SINCE NINETEENTH FEBRUARY OVER AUSTRIA IF FURTHER DETAILS OR OTHER INFORMATION ARE RECEIVED YOU WILL BE PROMPTLY NOTIFIED J A ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL
Writing them the same day, Major General Twining, Commanding General of the Fifteenth Air Force, wrote,
“My dear Mrs. Wilson:
“I am certain that the news that your son, Second Lieutenant Daniel S. Wilson, is missing in action must have been a great shock to you, and that you have been eagerly awaiting further data. Although I can give you no definite information as to Daniel’s fate, the following facts may be of some help.
“On February 19, 1945, your son took his P-38 on a mission to escort a formation of bombers to Bruck, Austria. After reaching the target, the fighter escort set out to destroy enemy communications in the vicinity of Graz, Austria. When the flight reassembled after attacking a train, Daniel was missing. Two planes returned to the area but could find no trace of your son or his ship. Should there be a change in his status at any time in the future, you will be notified immediately by the War Department.
“Daniel’s personal possessions have been carefully packed for shipment to the Effects Quartermaster, Army Effects Bureau, Kansas City, Missouri, who will forward them to the designated beneficiary.
“For the courageous manner in which he carried out his hazardous duties during the course of frequent combat operations, your son has been awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. I share your pride in his achievements and your hopes for his safe return.”
Such a sad but heroic story. I don’t know if there really is such a thing as “closure,” but finding out what happened to a son, even if much later, would have to help fill painful voids.
It sure made it final, anyway. That same week, Junior Wilson received his pilot’s wings and came home on a furlough, only to learn that now two brothers were MIA. That story is Friday’s post.
I can’t even imagine what Danny’s parents were going through emotionally. The fact that his body was eventually found and identified is amazing as well to me. In so many ways his remaining family are hero’s to me 🙂
Thank you, Sharon. The story of finding him is so heartening, the details in the thorough paperwork so compelling. I’m still working through 1945 with my posts, then will begin the aftermath. I have a photo of Danny’s wrecked plane. It’s in a history of the town where he was killed, sent to me by the bergermeister there. I’ll eventually publish that too, but it’s sure hard to look at.
A parent never gets over this news, it replays in their mind every day.
Grandma was so good with dates–knew birthdays of all her siblings, children, grandchildren. I know she relived the dates the telegrams came because now I am, along with the dates they were lost.
Each one takes a part of you with them.
Very nice article and it really comes home as I know the area where his plane went down very well.
You do? Before I became ill, it was on my bucket list. I’ve corresponded with the bergermeister there and have a copy of the town history, which lists the crash and even has a photo of the wrecked P-38. I’ve never published the photo, but will when I write about the aftermath. The care the Allies used in finding these men–first a British Registration Team located him, turned it over to the Americans. The paperwork is so thorough and so heart-breaking.
Before I came down with fibromyalgia, Schwanberg was on my bucket list. I’d corresponded with the bergermeister and he sent me a village history with a picture of the wrecked P-38 in it.
We traveled to Vienna to Graz to Hungary several times and spent some time in the area and got to know it pretty well. You did a remarkable job documenting the story, Gut gemacht!