Newspaper article The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Australia)

Air Disaster Censored at Time; US Servicemen Killed in Crash Not Forgotten

Newspaper article The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Australia)

Air Disaster Censored at Time; US Servicemen Killed in Crash Not Forgotten

Article excerpt

THE memorial to those who lost their lives in Australia's worst aviation disaster at Bakers Creek almost 75 years ago is built on sacrifice and years of dedication to uncovering the truth - but it's a story that was almost never told.

Mackay residents knew of the horrifying crash of a B-17C Flying Fortress on June 14, 1943, however, censorship kept it under wraps beyond the end of World War II and the passing of time pushed it to the back of people's minds for almost 50 years more.

The truth behind the tragic loss of 40 US servicemen didn't begin to emerge until the 1990s and only then did some of their families learn what had really occurred.

The plane crashed after catching fire soon after taking off from Mackay aerodrome on a Monday morning, killing all but one of the 41 men on board - crew members and servicemen returning to the front after R&R leave in Mackay.

Flames licked along the fuselage and across the wings as it screeched low towards Bakers Creek and struck the ground. The lone survivor, Foye Roberts, had been quartered in the remote end of the tail space, which had broken off as the plane crashed.

It took years of research to trace the US families of the crash victim and many have travelled to Mackay to pay their respects at the memorial.

Photos of many of the men will be displayed during a commemorative service at Bakers Creek memorial tomorrow from 3pm to mark the 75th anniversary of the tragedy.

The research also led to Delmer 'Del' Sparrowe who, because of the toss of a coin, swapped places with another crewman that day.

He carried the coin, a 1937 Australian Crown, as a good luck charm and displayed it when he attended a service at the memorial in 2000.

Mr Sparrowe also sculpted a replica of the plane, which was cast in bronze and gifted to the city of Mackay by American veterans, families of the crash victims and the Fifth Air Force Memorial Foundation. …

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