It was late one winter’s night when my calendar reminded me it was my brother Eugene’s birthday. Inadvertently, I typed “B17” into Yahoo Search and found websites for the American units that flew from England to bomb Nazi Europe during World War II. As I was browsing, I discovered many stories of families still searching for their missing loved ones, and also of people trying to help them.
The next morning, I found the 50+ year old letter the War Department sent which showed the aircraft serial number, the mission, and the date. I typed this information in an email and randomly sent it out to a dozen people on the websites I found the night before.
The very next day an email arrived with an attachment that included the name of the B17, Lonesome Polecat II, and the names of the 10 crew members. My brother’s name was there, S/Sgt Eugene F. Darter, and beside his name was “KIA”. I was shocked when I read it and I began to cry. This was the very first information about the crew in the photo I had stared at for over 50 years, never even knowing their names.
Soon, I found the phone number of a crew member named Doral Hupp and I called. A lady with a great southern accent answered, and told me I was in luck as Doral Hupp was sitting right there on the sofa! Doral got on the phone, and after he discovered who I was, told me the story on how he discovered Eugene in the shattered radio room of the plane, and how my brother was lying on the floor in a pool of blood due to being shot in his arm and leg by an attacking fighter.
It turns out that Doral stopped his bleeding, got him up, and got a parachute clipped on “upside down” as his right arm was shot and useless, thereby saving his life. Doral said that the B17 was badly hit and on fire, and it was going down. The crew was frantically preparing to bail out, with Eugene going first. Doral saw my brother’s parachute blossom as he descended into total cloud cover below, vanishing forever. That was the last time he was ever seen. The other crew bailed out soon after, miraculously landing on a Dutch island in the North Sea called Texel.
As Doral talked, I was stunned! I cried and I was very emotional. I could hardly believe what I was hearing, and this was just the beginning of many discoveries that occurred. Over the next few years with the help of Doral, we discovered three other crewmembers still alive, including Loren Dodson, my brother’s best friend, who amazingly lived just two hours from my home in Champaign, Illinois, and Charlie Schreiner, who actually witnessed Eugene get hit by an incoming German fighter.
I also discovered that crew member Ed Woollen’s son John, was actually my classmate at The University of Texas Department of Civil Engineering. We even shared the same advisor. Had I known then that his father was a crewmate of my brother (and actually wrote a beautiful memorial for my brother and the two pilots who were also killed and missing), it would have reduced the agony by four decades!