At long last, we know What was in a Military file about Dad’s death, labeled “Secret/Restricted” in 1944; but we still don’t know Why it had to remain a government-guarded secret for nearly 70 years.
This Memorial Day (and every year) we remember my father-in-law, who was declared dead in May of 1944, during WWII. For years, we tried repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, to discover the details surrounding his disappearance. We were always told that it was “Top Secret” information, not to be released to anyone. In the 1960’s, Ken (Eugene’s son; my husband) even approached the powerfully influential Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois. Ken served as executive chef at many fundraisers for the Senator. Dirksen assured Ken that he would get to the bottom of the story, and soon reported back his findings. Those were:
- Senator Dirksen pulled all the strings he could, but they wouldn’t let him near the file. It was Top Secret. He was sorry; and intrigued. He had previously gained access to supposedly secret files, but this one was TOP SECRET.
This is what Ken and his family had known since WWII:
- In early May, 1944, 1st Lieutenant Eugene H. Karner was driven to his house in a government limo, accompanied by Military Police, to spend a few brief hours with his wife and sons before he left on a mission. He wasn’t allowed to tell them where he was going. He had a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. He was a pilot.
- One week later, the family was notified he was missing. His plane had gone done in a storm, the officials said, over the Atlantic.
- Eugene’s sons received, among their survivor benefits, educational support. Ken was offered an appointment to West Point, which he turned down because he preferred their other offer–a full tuition scholarship, plus a generous monthly check for living expenses, at any college he wanted to attend. He chose to attend Northern Illinois University.
- But where had his father been going when he disappeared? What attempts had been made to find him? No one was talking. The secrecy surrounding the incident caused Ken to imagine many scenarios, including one in which his father had been recruited to be a spy but had to change his identity, was still alive, and would someday return to put his arms around the son who desperately missed him.
- All the war department ever told him was that his father was a great pilot and a war hero, and he should be proud. Pride, however, did nothing to assuage the bitter bereavement of a fatherless boy. If anything, it made him miss his father even more.
Recently, I discovered online this photocopy of a 6-page Secret/Restricted Missing Air Crew Report.
This is what we know now:
- On May 4, 1944 a B-253 aircraft with serial number 43-27548 departed Ascension Island on a ferry mission with an intended destination of Roberts Field (now Roberts International Airport) in Liberia. The 5-man crew included:
- Pilot, 1st Lieutenant Eugene H. Karner
- Co-Pilot 2nd Lieutenant Michael J. Meno
- Navigator 2nd Lieutenant Dalton L. Blackburn
- Engineer Technical Sergeant Francis E. Herlihy
- Radio Operator PFC Roland R. Blanchette
- Last radio contact was 4 May 1944 at 0937 from location 1′ S 12’20” W. Plane lost at sea. Disappearance believed to be caused by frontal conditions.
- Beginning on May 5, 1944 and every day for 10 days, 7 planes were sent out to try to locate the missing aircraft. Three craft were assigned to search the area to the right of the course, 2 on course, and 2 left of course. (That’s a total of 70 manned flights, to search for 1 missing plane!!) In addition, a OA-10 was assigned on 3 occasions to search an area 20 miles wide from 00’30” N to 01’00″S.
- No trace found of plane or crew.
What we still don’t know:
- To whom in Liberia was the briefcase intended to be delivered? What was in it?
- What were the Allies doing in Liberia in May, 1944? Why was this mission classified as secret and restricted?
- Where are the files with the rest of the information about the mission?
National Moment of Remembrance
The “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”
If you have any knowledge or insight into this mystery, please contact me. Meanwhile, if you feel moved to, you can join Ken and me at 3 p.m. (your time, wherever you happen to be) on Monday, May 25, 2015, for a 1 minute remembrance of his beloved father Eugene F. Karner and his crew, also remembering all who have lost their lives in service to country.
Do you cherish memories of loved ones, strong memories that refuse to die?