On the morning of November 15, 1944 a B-17G bomber crashed over the Austrian Alps. The aircraft and crew of 10 American airmen were returning to Lucera, Italy from a successful bombing mission of a Nazi oil refinery near Linz, Austria. While flyi...
On the morning of November 15, 1944 a B-17G bomber crashed over the Austrian Alps. The aircraft and crew of 10 American airmen were returning to Lucera, Italy from a successful bombing mission of a Nazi oil refinery near Linz, Austria. While flying at 30,000 feet at 10:42 a.m. the bomber's radio operator--Staff Sgt. Robert Haglund--reported having engine problems. In his distress call, he claimed the severe weather had caused one of the four engines to freeze up and it had begun leaking oil. A couple of minutes later he reported that yet another engine had quit working and the aircraft was in trouble. That was the last anyone heard from them. The crippled airplane had spiraled into Sch'neck Mountain near Kleins'lk, Austria at about 8,000 feet.
Three crewmen managed to parachute from the plane while the other seven did not have the opportunity to escape and perished in the crash. Of the three men that bailed out, one landed near the Village of Schladming, another landed on a mountain side three mountain tops from where the plane crashed and the third died after landing in a near freezing lake. After some evasive action, the two surviving men eventually became prisoners of war and were sent to two separate Nazi prisoner of war camps until they were freed at the end of the war. The eight remaining crew members were declared missing in action until they were found by the English Army in July, 1945. Their remains were identified and taken to the Lorraine American Cemetery in St. Avold, France for interment. Lorraine American Cemetery is the burial site for more than 10,000 American soldiers killed during WWII and the final resting place of most of the bomber's crew which included radio operator Staff Sgt. Robert Haglund of Deer Creek, MN.
Meanwhile, the ruins of the aircraft lay silently unclaimed on the mountain top until it was re-discovered in 1999 by a hobbyist aircraft researcher Richard Pieber of Predlitz, Austria. This was Pieber's third airplane crash discovery. He has since discovered 32 more crashed or shot down aircraft in the Austrian Alps. Parts of all the aircraft discovered are displayed in a museum in Predlitz, Austria.
On April 4, 2008 Patrick Boedigheimer, nephew of Staff Sgt. Haglund, received a phone call from Sally Vincent. Vincent, a volunteer working for an English organization called GI TRACE, was to find the whereabouts of missing relatives of WWII soldiers. Vincent had been contacted by the citizens of Kleins'lk to search for the relatives of the 10 crew members and inform them that a memorial had been built near the crash site and a dedication was being held on August 9, 2008. "At first I thought it was a prank call," said Pat Boedigheimer of his initial reaction to Vincent's call, "but soon realized that is was the real deal. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. However, within minutes, I knew we were going to Europe." After two weeks of research and calling, Vincent had located members of all families except one.
The search for the last family members of waist gunner Sgt. William J. O'Brien continues to this day.
Over the next few days Patrick Boedigheimer worked to spread the word that his lost uncle's crash site had been found. He contacted all of the nearest relatives and together 13 family members made plans to travel overseas and attend the ceremony on the mountain near the crash site. After much planning and expectations, all met in Munich, Germany on July 31, 2008 and took the four hour journey by car to the Kleins'lk, Austria area. Upon arriving, they were greeted by the local citizens and escorted to the memorial site for the dedication. There were approximately 250 local residents in attendance including the mayor of Kleins'lk and a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. The memorial service was officiated by Pastor Johannes Glawogger with the Austrian Honor Guards present. A wreath was provided by the U.S. Embassy and laid by the memorial. Bands played American and Austrian folk songs while honored guests and attendees were treated to native Austrian food and beer. All of the Austrian people were very gracious and happy that such a large group of Americans would travel so far to honor a member of their family. "It was a very moving experience to be so near the place of our uncle's death almost 65 years ago," claimed Pat Boedigheimer.
In addition to Pat Boedigheimer and his wife Sheryl, other family members making the trip included their daughter Tracy Kinn of Ramsey, MN; Dan and Linda Boedigheimer of Perham, MN; Marge and Diane Tetens from Circle Pines, MN; Chris, Tina, Marissa Haglund of Hugo, MN; and three other relatives, Michaela Boedigheimer, Roni Dau and Wiebke Heider who are German nationals living in Germany. The group also traveled to St. Avold, France to visit the burial site of their uncle Robert. They were overwhelmed with both the beauty of the location as well as finally standing at the marker of their long-lost uncle. The Superintendent of the cemetery, Horrace Thompson, a retired 30 year Navy officer gave the group a privately guided tour to visit all of the graves of the men who died on that mountain on November 15, 1944.
After the war the two surviving crew members returned to the United States where they lived out their lives. They have both passed away in the last few years.
Staff Sgt. Robert Haglund was a 1942 graduate of Deer Creek, MN, High School and died at age 20. He is the son of deceased Mandus (Slim) and Della Haglund, brother of deceased Kenneth and Donald Haglund, Mrs. Betty Boedigheimer of Perham, MN. Survivors include a sister and brother, Mrs. Marge Tetens and Bill Haglund of Circles Pines, MN.
Note: Richard Pieber is attempting to have memorials built in the areas where he has located the other 34 downed aircraft. The Kleins'lk crash site is the first memorial to be built and recognized by the local people. Pieber is working with the communities near the crash sites to memorialize all of the rest of the aircraft and deceased. His goal is to successfully construct memorials at all sites and locate and notify family members of similar services. The downed aircrafts include German ones as well. The search goes on entirely at Pieber's own expense.