by Kimberly Rivers
German researchers are reaching out to local news outlets throughout the United States in the hopes of contacting living relatives of World War II American soldiers who were aboard planes that crashed at sites currently being uncovered in Germany.
A team of researchers have located the crash site of an American B-17 Bomber, named “Strictly GI” by the crew, that was shot down by German anti-aircraft guns on Sept. 9, 1944, in a forested area outside the German village of Speyerdorf. One of the U.S. Air Force crewmembers lived in Ventura and the German researchers are trying to locate his family.
“His name was 2nd Lieutenant Dale W. Burkhead,” said Erik Wieman, founder of the Historical Research Community Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, the team that found the site. The goal is to locate the family of the crew of downed planes, who perhaps might participate in the unveiling of memorial stones the team erects at the crash sites. “He was the co-pilot aboard the plane . . . from Spokane, Washington.” His last listed address with the military was a P.O. Box in Ventura. His USAAF Service number was 0-768434.
The team’s records indicated Burkhead survived the crash and was held as a prisoner of war by the Nazi’s until the end of the war, when he was then released. His wife’s name was Doloris. Wieman still wants to connect with the families of crash survivors so that they can participate in the unveiling of the memorial.
This site was located with the help of an 80-year-old local man who was a forest worker after the war. He remembers the plane, although the site looks much different today. Trees planted right after the war are now mature.
Originally from the Netherlands, Wieman began as a volunteer researching Roman and Celtic historical sites in the early 1980s. He served in the Danish Royal Marines, and later married a German woman and moved to Germany. During his search for those sites he began finding plane parts.
“The aircraft, my grandfather in the Netherlands always told me about, crossing Holland to bomb Germany during five years of occupation by the Germans. My grandfather was in Rotterdam when it was bombed by the Germans in 1940, and he always thought of them boys way up in the sky, heading for Germany,” said Wieman.
“The coincidence is, I work at the base in Ludwigshafen, the main target of this aircraft,” he said. Historical records show Strictly GI was on a mission to bomb that city. Wieman wants to give something back, and finding and documenting these crash sites and notifying the families of the airmen is part of that. “Many of them paid the highest price and died for our freedom.”
Since 2015 Wieman and his fellow team members have focused on WW2 aircraft, which is getting harder as witnesses are passing away. Right now they know of 20 crash sites. They comb the area with metal detectors and screens, sifting for pieces of the planes and sometimes exploded ammunition. They try to locate pieces that have some identifying information, such as a serial number, and then comb through military records to find a match.
“These forgotten sites are not visible anymore. We are going to change that.” Wieman said that since 2016 his team has been placing a stone memorial on crash sites every year and hopes to unveil the fourth stone at this site. They invite the families, many of which don’t know what happened. Sometimes all they know is that their family member died in Germany.
“What exactly happened is usually not known,” said Wieman. “Now they can find closure.”
If you have information about family members of Dale W. Burkhead please call or email the VCReporter at 805-648-2244, ex. 241, email@example.com.