Underwater Memorial for World War II Airmen
On Memorial Day, May 30, after nearly 74 years, six WWII Army Air Corps airmen who died in a B-26 Marauder training crash will be formally honored for the first time.
The men died on November 16, 1942, off the Florida coast, and they will be recognized for their service with Military Honors at Ft. Meyers, Florida.
Of the crewmen, only Pilot Donald Vail and Co-pilot Fred Dees were ever recovered and identified. The fallen crewmen were (alphabetically):
Lt. Fred Dees, Jr., Co-Pilot from Burgaw, N.C.
S. Sgt. William G. Kittiko, Top Turret Gunner from McKeesport, Pa.
Lt. Louis Mikes, Bombardier from Queens, N.Y.
S. Sgt. Milton Newton, Crewman from Davidson, Nashville, Tenn.
S. Sgt. Richard Treat, Crewman from Marblehead, Essex, Mass.
Lt. Donald Vail, Pilot from Macomb, Ill.
An Underwater Historical Explorations dive team discovered the crash site in 2008, more than 42 miles offshore Ft. Myers, researched the flight history and notified remaining family members at that time. The six-man crew was on board the first of eight B-26 planes from the 480th Bomb Squadron, 336th Bomb Group, lost in training accidents between November 16, 1942 and November 15, 1943. In all, 47 airmen died.
Eternal Reefs, Reef Innovations and the Reef Ball Foundation have partnered with Underwater Historical Explorations and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10097 to honor and memorialize the men.
Inscribed plaques will mark large memorials that will be placed on the ocean floor crash site at a later date by an Underwater Historical Explorations dive team.
Seven memorials in total will be placed at that underwater crash site and noted as sacred ground in recognition of the sacrifice of the airmen. One memorial weighing approximately 1,300 pounds and standing three foot high by four foot wide will commemorate the entire crew. Six separate memorials, about 700 pounds each and two foot by three foot, will honor the sacrifice of each individual man.
“I’m just interested in respecting the dignity of my uncle and his crewmates,” said Mark Casey, nephew of Top Turret Gunner Kittiko. “After all these years, I want to be sure the honors are bestowed correctly and their service and sacrifice is properly recognized.”
“One of the most gratifying things we do at Eternal Reefs is provide closure to families,” said George Frankel, CEO of Eternal Reefs. “That’s exactly what we’ll do on Memorial Day as we honor the memory and sacrifice of these six WWII heroes.”