Nebraska's Fatal Air Crashes of WWII
The "Nebraska's Fatal Air Crashes of WWII" project was started in the fall of 2006 by Jerry Penry of Milford, Nebraska.   It was decided to locate and document every WWII fatal crash site in Nebraska while eyewitnesses were still living.
Nebraska was home to twelve army air fields during WWII, with eleven of them built specifically for the War effort.   Due to the high volume of planes and the inexperience of those young men and women learning to fly them, there were hundred of crashes in Nebraska.   Some were able to bail out of the stricken planes while others survived emergency crash landings.
Nebraska's Army Air Fields
Tail section of one of the Harvard B-17's. - United States Army photo.
All of the fatal crash sites have now been researched.   At these sites the area residents have provided a tremendous amount of assistance in locating the exact areas where the planes struck the ground.   Although it took a lot of searching, there was generally at least one person who still remembered enough details to begin each search.  The use of a metal detector has greatly helped find and pinpoint the exact locations of many of the crash sites.   Pieces of wreckage have been recovered at 38 of the sites.   A handheld GPS receiver is also used to record the exact location for historical preservation.
Jerry Penry and Larry Carpenter (on ridge in background) mapping the Merna B-24 crash site in November 2006.
The military crash reports are not very detailed as to the exact locations of the sites.   Some descriptions are actually wrong, such as giving the wrong distance or direction from a particular town.   The newspaper accounts will often give some additional clues, but most editors respected the desire of the military to not release a lot of detailed information.
Only fives sites in Nebraska involving seven planes have been recognized with memorials - Chappell, Laurel, Naper, Wayne, and Wood River. It is hoped that the communities where memorials need to be placed will join together for this effort.
Highway Memorial Signs
The goals of this project are twofold.   First, each site was located, researched, and the personal stories from those who still remember the details was obtained.   The eyewitness stories are important because they sometimes differ from what the military officially said occurred.   Second, this research will be preserved in an upcoming book which will detail each of the 60 fatal crash sites in Nebraska. Four of the 60 sites do not involve an actual crash of the plane. These involve parachutes not opening, the propeller of a plane striking another airman on the ground, and one airman intentionally jumping from a plane to end his life.
In addition to local landowners being involved with this project, several survivors of a few of these crashes as well as family members of those who died have been located.   For the first time many family members now know the exact location where their husbands, fathers, or grandfathers had died while training in Nebraska. Of the 243 deaths, two were women. (See the Tecumseh and Beaver Crossing sites).  There were also 60 survivors from the planes that involved fatalities.