Army’s report on 1943 crash that killed 11 made public

Quitman County Democrat
Thursday, September 25, 2003
page 4

More information has been published about the 1943 plane crash near Osborne KS, which killed Sgt. Bobby Sorres Sanford of Marks and 10 others.

A September 11, 2003, article in the QCD included Sgt. Sanford’s obituary, first published in this newspaper October 7, 1943, the details of a memorial service to be held in Osborne next spring to the soldiers killed 60 years ago.

“Crash kept quiet:  Osborne wants to remember 11 crew members who died,” an article written by Sharon Montague for the Salina (KS) Journal, explains how the story of the fallen soldiers has become newsworthy in 2003.  Portions of Montague’s Sept. 18, 2003, article follow:

Von Rothenberger, a local (Osborne) historian, first happened across information about the 1943 crash of a B24-D bomber near Waldo while reading an old newspaper about a year ago.

“A couple of weeks later, I heard someone mention it, wondering whether there was still anything left of the plane,” Rothenberger said.  “I started asking some of the older people and everyone knew about it.”

But Rothenberger, 41, a life-long resident, had never heard the story of that crash on Sept. 22, 1943, that killed all 11 people on board.

“Military officials asked eyewitnesses and other local residents at the time not to talk about it, and apparently, they didn’t,” Rothenberger said.

No memorial was ever held, and there is nothing on the hill near Waldo to mark the site of the crash.

That soon will change.

In the past year, Rothenberger, who serves as director of the Osborne Area Chamber of Commerce, has gotten the official Army account of the crash and he and others have notified descendants of seven of the 11 men killed in the crash.  At 10 AM Oct. 4, a public memorial is planned at the gazebo at the Osborne City Park.  A granite monument that includes the names of the victims will be placed at the crash site during a dedication in the spring of 2004.

What really happened

Rothenberger said locals as well as the family members of those killed have been interested in hearing the details of the crash, few of which were released at the time.

The plane was part of the 391st Bombing Squadron, 34th Bomb Group, a part of the 20th Bomber Command then stationed at Blythe, Calif., Air Field, where the training flight originated.  Rothenberger said the plane was headed for Topeka but crashed on a hill about nine miles north-northeast of Waldo in southern Osborne County.

Rothenberger said the plane had been flying low over Osborne County about 10:30 p.m. because the sky was overcast.

“Apparently there was a storm front from about Concordia to Salina, with lighting,” he said.  “Not being familiar with the area, the plane turned north.  Earlier, another B-24 did the same thing, and it landed at McCook to get out of the weather.  There is the suggestion that this one was trying to do the same thing.”

But the pilot, unfamiliar with the area and the terrain, ran into the hill, which extends 300 to 400 feet about the valley floor.

Rothenberger said a wing clipped the hillside and the plane cartwheeled, landing on its belly and bursting into flames.  At least two people were thrown from the plane, he said, and one wasn’t found until days later.  Debris was strewn over about four acres.

“Some people who moved there about a year after talked about how, when they got up in the morning, the sun would be hitting that hillside, and it would just glitter from the metal,” Rothenberger said, “A lot of that has washed away, but it was there for a long time.”

Not the first crash

Rothenberger said it was the third crash of a military plane in Osborne County within four weeks.  The first, a bomber, crash-landed near Natoma, and no one was injured.  The second, nine days before the fatal crash, involved a B-17 Flying Fortress that crashed about a mile east of Osborne.  Both planes were on training flights from Walker Army Air Force Base, which was between Russell and Hays.

“These crashes, especially the last one, really brought the war home, for the first time, to this area,” Rothenberger said.  “Before, there were stories and letters and movies.  But here, it was suddenly happening.”

He (Rothenberger) said he traced family members (of the soldiers killed) through genealogy sites on the Internet, through small-town newspapers and through telephone listings, and most plan to try to have someone present for the monument dedication this spring.

“They have all been very supportive,” Rothenberger said.  “That’s when we really realized we were doing the right thing, once we talked to some of the families.”

Reporter Sharon Montague also included an eyewitness account of the crash scene, clean-up and investigation by military crews, and the removal of remains.

(Editors’ note — Small World:  Von Rothenberger has talked to QCD editor John Fleming several times about this story, and will no doubt talk more about the monument dedication scheduled for Spring 2004.

Copied from The Quitman County Democrat, Thursday, September 25, 2003

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