Michael Darter's incredible journey to find his brother missing in action 70 years ago.
Our first meeting was in October 1943, just four months after I was born when my older brother Eugene Darter came home on leave from his flight training, fell in love with his new baby brother, and carried me on a pillow all around the neighborhood. A few days later, he and his B-17 crewmates flew off to a bloody war from which he never returned. It was then over 60 years until we were together again on a dike on Texel Island off the coast of the Netherlands overlooking the mysterious Wadden Sea where he was last seen to be “gone with the wind”. Between these events was a lifetime of yearning and anguish, wondering “what happened to him?”
My brother Eugene F. Darter grew up in Long Beach, California. He graduated from Long Beach Polytechnic high school and went on to four years of college. His friends said he had a photographic memory. After Pearl Harbor, this patriotic young man of 29 years joined the US Army Air Corps and eventually became a member of a B-17 crew that flew from England to bomb military targets of Nazi Germany during World War II (which turned out to be the most dangerous US unit in WWII, losing over 26,000 airmen). Just eight weeks after our first meeting on the pillow, he disappeared on his first bombing mission to destroy large submarine facilities near Bremen, Germany. But our family only had minimal information from a few letters from the government on what happened to him as he simply vanished on 16 December 1943 after his B-17 was reported to be badly hit over Bremen.
Our family mourned his loss for decades and his younger brother pledged to find out what happened no matter what it would take. Then, just over a decade ago, a late night Internet search resulted in the miraculous discovery of a crewmate who found Eugene shot and collapsed in a pool of blood in their shattered and burning B-17. Over a decade of cold case discovery followed as stories of heroism, love, loss, and miracles unfolded beyond imagination. Four surviving crew were found with stories of horrific aerial combat. Eyewitnesses were found on a Dutch island, who, 60 years ago saw the burning B-17 roar over their village and crash into the North Sea with some crew captured by the Nazis. Then, a “message from beyond” was found on the beach just days before a long planned memorial. But the greatest and most amazing discovery was that a then 17-year old Dutch boy on Texel saw an American airman come down through the storm and splash down into the freezing Walden Sea, crying for help, but was carried away by the fierce wind farther out beyond reach. “Gone with the wind” was his description of the shocking even that unfolded just in front of him.
Gone with the Wind, He Said will be of great interest to the more than 83,000 families who have had their young men and women become MIA from America’s wars. The book describes the information available today on the Internet, in databases, X-files, researchers and organizations, publications, and the National Archives. The American government has many teams searching, finding, identifying, and bringing home our hero MIAs. The discoveries indeed brought heartwarming closure to the Darter family, but also to the surviving crewmates and especially the former wife of the MIA pilot Lt. Fred Delbern, who, after six decades finally knows what happened to the love of her life.