WATERLOO — An airline pilot and U.S. Navy veteran is trying to find information about a Waterloo airman killed in a World War II crash — before he could get home to see his terminally ill mother.
Cape Coral, Fla., resident Ted Mikita is working on a book about the crew of a U.S. Army Air Force B-24 Liberator bomber shot down over the island of Koror in the Palau archipelago during a bombing run in late August of 1944.
Eleven crew members perished, including Mikita’s cousin, Herb Farnam, and a buddy, Don Elliott of Waterloo. Mikita is writing a book on the crew. A quick check of Courier files yielded scarce information on Elliott, and Mikita solicited the paper’s help in getting the word out.
Mikita is a 1980 graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., who was a Navy anti-submarine patrol plane commander. He is now an international long haul pilot with Delta Airlines. His project is a spin-off from family genealogical studies.
“As I researched and actually visited known parts of the wreck I learned how little was known of the individuals who were each very remarkable young men,” he said.
He is writing the book as a memorial to those men.
“I hope to bring them to life for the relatives, including myself, by telling the individual stories of their upbringing, joining the Air Corps and the exciting combat missions they were involved in,” Mikta said.
They flew about 25 combat missions before they were shot down.
“Don Elliott has been the toughest nut to crack” for research, said Mikita, whose mother-in-law was originally from Waverly. What is known about Elliott is he attended West High School, Iowa State University and was “the only son of an ailing mother.”
Elliott’s mother, Grace Bannon Elliott, was critically ill. Donald’s father and Grace’s husband, Claire Elliott, wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking that Donald be granted a furlough “to see his mother before it was too late.”
Donald never made it back. A Sept. 10, 1944, Courier article reporting his death and the efforts to get him home carried the headline, “Furlough Plans Ended by Death.”
The article quotes part of a letter Don Elliott wrote his mother: “As the glowing twilight fades to darkness, remember that your job has been well done. ... Dad and I will carry on the best we can. Then the three of us will be together again ... in a world of eternal happiness.”
Grace died a month after her son was shot down. Claire Elliott remarried twice and died in 1962. According to Mikita’s research, he was survived by three stepchildren, all of whom are deceased.
According to Mikita’s research, Elliott and Farnam, Mikita’s cousin, shared a footlocker and manned the B-24s’s fuselage or “waist” machine guns. Elliott also was a radio operator on the plane. The crew had distinguished itself in raids on Truk lagoon and Yap island.
On the fateful Aug. 28, 1944, mission, Mikita wrote, the plane, commanded by Capt. Gordon Dixon, head of the 372nd Bomb Squadron, led a group of planes in a bombing run over Palau when it was struck by a 70mm Japanese anti-aircraft cannon.
Mikita says according to the 372nd Bomb Squadron’s historical entry, “The airplane burst into flames immediately after being hit and went into a shallow dive for about 200 yards, then leveled off and the bomb load was salvoed (dropped). After the bombs were salvoed, the right wing broke off in flames and the remainder of the airplane fell straight down, flaming. One body was thrown clear of the wreckage. No parachutes were seen to open.”
Portions of the wreckage were recovered in a series of expeditions over the years since the war with the cooperation of native Palauans, including one such trip by Mikita and members of his family.
Mikita asks that anyone having direct or historical information about Don Elliott contact him at Ted.Mikita@gmail.com.