Veteran Discovers Lost WW2 Bomber Crew - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Veteran Discovers Lost WW2 Bomber Crew

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For a young man from Muleshoe, Texas the past has always offered a very powerful appeal. A craving for the by-gone that Kolby Lanham could never satisfy with just books.

"My love for history is really deep," said Lanham.

So Kolby became a hunter, combing the earth with a metal detector for relics of lives come and gone.

When service in the nation's Air Force brought Kolby to an air base in Germany his harvest turned bountiful - Roman coins, medieval battle axes and artifacts from the Napoleonic Wars.

"When you have that much history you can literally kick the soil with your foot and you'll find something," said Lanham.


It was while combing the forests and countryside with the blessing of local archeologists that Lanham unearthed a discovery that would alter his young life.

"We are digging around and moving the dirt and there are bullets and there's glass and there's all types of objects and it's obvious that the plane had crashed there," recalled Lanham.


Lanham and his companions had stumbled across the final resting place of an American B-24 Liberator - a heavy bomber likely lost in the Second World War near Stuttgart.

Within minutes, the debris laden forest floor relinquished objects which demanded nothing less than reverence.

"I turned it and there was a tooth and it was a jaw, the lower part of the jaw," said Lanham.

German police quickly confirmed that the remains, which included skull fragments and vertebrae were almost certainly those of American Airmen reported missing in action.


Lanham soon learned, the crash site co-ordinates closely matched the last known location of a bomber that fell July 21st, 1944.

For the young man from Muleshoe, it was a mystery from which he could not walk away.

"If there are remains laying out in the woods, you got to get them. You got to bring them back. It's not about being politically correct. It's not about making the history book. It's about giving closure to a family that has no clue about where the remains of their loved ones are," said Lanham.

Kolby went to work, detective work.

War Department records revealed the lost bomber was known as the "Diana-Mite" knocked from the sky in a mid-air collision with a second Liberator named "Our Baby" during a daylight raid aimed at Munich.

The official "Missing Air Crew Report" listed nine of ten crew members as killed in action.

For this young veteran of the war in Afghanistan, they are heroes whose descendants deserve to know.

"I would come up with a service number and I'd connect that with a state they were from and I would look in the white pages with the last name and I would just start calling people. Randomly," he said with smile.

Those calls, thousands of them, produced connections with family members of the lost who letters, re-collections and gratitude.

"I'm reading all these letters and it fills you up with tears because it's like the saddest movie you've ever watched knowing the ending because they are asking I wonder if he was captured? I wonder if he made it over to Switzerland?," said Lanham his voice tightening with emotion.

And then there are the photographs. Lanham has a portrait of Frank Gengler who piloted the "Diana-Mite" the day she went down.

His was a veteran crew, within four missions of the 25 needed to a earn a ticket home.

"They really took care of each other and even in the family's letters back and forth they are saying 'I met your son in Ft. Worth and he was a great kid'. They looked after each other," said Lanham.

This is where the story turns disappointing.

After handing the remains over to the military's Joint POW Accountability Command, Kolby later learned there would be no official search for more remains.

Turns out, JPAC was sticking with a 1947 Army investigation which claimed all the bodies of the Diana-mite crew were accounted for and buried by the Germans. Case closed.

"I think they were overwhelmed and they wanted to give the family closure and they wanted to put it behind them. I think they left the majority of the bodies out there," said Lanham of the investigators working in the years immediately following the war.

And for Kolby Lanham that's unacceptable.

Each of the "Diana-Mite families have eagerly offered DNA to match against the newly uncovered remains.

In the meantime, "the finder" keeps the faith. On his wrist there's a HeroBracelet loyally worn as a constant reminder of the "Diana-Mite" and the brave men who didn't make it home.

Their mission is over. His remains.

"It's a calling from these guys to close the book once and for and close it the right way. Do it the right way and solve the mystery," said Lanham.


So at San Antonio's Lackland Air Force Base in shadow of a "Liberatot" within a nation which endeavors to "leave no man behind" Kolby is calling on his country to care about that commitment and bring home its brave.



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