The Uxbridge Bomber Crash – May 18, 1944

THE UXBRIDGE BOMBER CRASH

May 18, 1944

 By Jim Ignasher

    

 B-24 Liberator

B-24 Liberator

Tucked away on a two-acre wooded lot in the middle of a quiet upscale neighborhood in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, is a granite monument honoring five servicemen who died in the service of their country when their B-24 Liberator (42-7347) crashed on that spot during World War II. The incident occurred on May 18, 1944, as a formation of three B-24 bombers droned through the sky over the Blackstone Valley.

     The planes were on their way back to Westover Air Field after a day of formation flight training, the purpose of which was to give one of the bomber crews experience in formation flying so they would have enough hours to qualify for overseas duty.  

      24-year-old navigator, Lieutenant Joseph H. Talbot, was sitting in the plexiglass nose of bomber number 42-7347, watching the landscape below take on more definition as the formation descended from 20,000 to 10,000 feet so the crews could come off oxygen.  Then, without warning, the plane suffered a hard jolt accompanied by the sound of crunching metal as it was struck by another B-24 in the formation.  Almost immediately the plane began shaking and shuddering and Talbot heard the pilot’s frantic voice come over his head phones, “Bail out! Bail out!”     

     Talbot was wearing his parachute harness, but not the chute, and the buffeting of the plane made attaching the two difficult.  As the seconds ticked by the plane dropped lower.  Other members of the crew were possibly in the same predicament, for Talbot was one of the first out of the plane. 

      He no doubt breathed a huge sigh of relief as his chute billowed open. He would later recall how quiet it was as he hung in the air over Uxbridge.  The other B-24s had disappeared, and his own was a flaming wreck.  He didn’t know it then, but another crewman, 18-year-old, Corporal Robert Kelly, was the only other member of the crew to get out safely. Three others jumped, but the aircraft was too low to the ground when they did, and their chutes didn’t have enough time to deploy.  The co-pilot had waited the longest, perhaps to make sure the others had jumped first. His remains were found in the bomb bay.  To his credit, the pilot, 2nd Lt. Arnold Moholt, never left the controls, trying to save his men while directing the plane away from the populated downtown Uxbridge area.    

Pathway leading to the Uxbridge Bomber memorial.

Pathway leading to the Uxbridge Bomber memorial.

Talbot came down in a wooded area where he was found by an army sergeant home on leave.  He had lacerated his hands while escaping from the plane, and was taken to Whitinsville Hospital.  There he and Corporal Kelly were admitted and prevented from returning to the crash site.

     The other aircraft involved in the collision, (41-28508), suffered damage, but was able to remain airborne and made it back to Westover.

     Woonsocket Call reporter Russell Krapp was at the downtown Uxbridge field office when he heard the formation passing overhead and happened to look out the window just as the accident happened.  The doomed bomber plummeted to earth in the High Street area where it exploded in a massive fireball sending a plume of smoke hundreds of feet into the air.  Krapp, along with dozens of others, raced to the scene.  

     The fire burned over forty acres before it was brought under control by firemen from Uxbridge, East Douglas, and two state forestry trucks. 

Memorial to those who lost their lives in the Uxbridge Bomber Crash - May 18, 1944.

Memorial to those who lost their lives in the Uxbridge Bomber Crash – May 18, 1944.

The site was cleared of wreckage, and little by little Mother Nature began to reclaim the land.  It remained wooded for many years afterwards, but by the 1980s the land ready for a housing development.  Fortunately, there were those who remembered the crash and sought to have at least a portion of the area preserved.  The result is a two-acre wooded lot across from 84 Chamberland Road, marked by a sign that directs visitors along a well maintained path leading to a memorial honoring those who died.  Next to the monument is a piece of melted aluminum that had once been part of the aircraft.  

The inscription on the monument reads: This spot is sacred to the memory of

2nd Lt. Arnold Moholt

2nd Lt. John T. Goodwin

S/Sgt Thomas L. Cater

Sgt. Merle V. Massar,

Sgt. Anthony J. Pitzulo

 They died when their US Army Airplane Crashed here May 18, 1944.  They Gave Their Lives Four Country And Humanity. 

    The monument was dedicated October 11, 1944.

Uxbridge Bomber Memorial Site - August, 2012

Uxbridge Bomber Memorial Site – August, 2012

 Lt. Arnold Moholt was born December 15, 1920 in Glendive, Montanna, where he lived until he graduated high school.  He went on to attended business college in Spokane, Washington, before enlisting in the Army ordinance division in March of 1941.  In 1942 he transferred to the Army Air Force, and was commissioned an officer in January of 1944 at Maxwell Field, Alabama. He had recently written to his surviving relatives in Missoula, Montanna, that he expected to be sent overseas in the near future.  He is buried in Missoula Cemetery.       

     Sergeant Merle Massar was 21-years-old, born June 7, 1922, and was just shy of his next birthday when the accident occurred.  He was born in Mount Vernon, Washington, where his father was a prominent businessman.  He was an accomplished violin musician, and often participated in musical and theatrical productions at Mount Vernon High School.  He was also a member of the school’s Thespian Society, and Ski Club. 

     After graduating in 1940, he enrolled in college, studying at the University of Washington where he excelled at writing.  One of the university professors, Dr. George Savage, stated Massar’s writing ability “showed great promise”. 

     “With Merle it is more than a personal grief,” said Dr. Savage, “It is the knowledge that a great writer is lost, for Merle was one of the few students I’ve had who was passionate about life – who felt deeply and surely because he loved and sorrowed for his fellow man.” 

     Dr. Savage last spoke with Merle when he was home on furlough.  He recalled Merle saying to him, “If I want to live for my generation, I have to be ready to die with it, too.” 

     Mrs. Mary McDonnell of Chicopee, Massachusetts, wrote to Merle’s mother after the accident.  Part of the letter said, “Just last Monday, he came to the door holding a lilac in his hand. ‘This is for Mother’s Day’ he said, but I know he was just plain lonesome for his own mother.”        

      In April of 1943 Merle entered military training for radio-aerial gunnery school, and at the time of the accident had been serving as a top-turret gunner. 

     He was survived by his mother and brother, Clifford.       

     Sgt. Anthony Pitzulo was two days shy of his 25th birthday when he died. He was born and raised in Lowellville, Ohio, the son of the late Joseph and Mary (Aurclio) Pitzulo.  He entered the army in 1942.  He was survived by a sister, four brothers, two half brothers, and a half sister. 

     Lieutenant Talbot survived the war and later married and raised four children. He later became a grandfather nine times over.  He returned to Uxbridge sometime in the1950s, and again in 1984 at the request of local officials to attend a memorial ceremony.  Forty years after his ordeal, he recalled the details of the crash to reporters.  He passed away in 1995.    

Sources:  

Uxbridge Times, “Three Chute To Safety When Bomber Crashes In Woods Off High Street.”, May 19, 1944, Pg. 1

Uxbridge Times, “Eyewitness Story Of Crash”, May 19, 1944, Pg.1

Uxbridge Times, “Death Toll Reaches 5 In Plane Crash”, May 22, 1944, Pg. 8

Woonsocket Call, “3 Forterss Crew Members Bail Out; Plane Explosion Starts Forest Fires” May 18, 1944.

Woonsocket Call, “Call Reporter Sees Crash, Covers Story And Fights Fire”, May 18, 1944

Woonsocket Call, “5 Airmen Dead In Plane Crash Are Identified”, May 19, 1944

Woonsocket Call, “Plane Crash Victims Remembered –Survivor Returns For Uxbridge Rites 40 Years Later.” May 21, 1984

Mount Vernon Daily Herald, “Merile Massar Loses Life In Bomber Crash”, May 19, 1944, Pg. 1.

Mount Vernon Daily Herald, “Rites Are Set Thursday For Heroic Flyer”, May 23, 1944, Pg. 1

The Daily Missoulian, “A Moholt Is Killed In Plane Crash”, May 20, 1944

The Daily Missoulian, “Rites Today For Army Lieutenant”, May 23, 1944

Youngstown Vindicator, “Air Crash Fatal To Sgt. Pitzulo”, May 19, 1944, Pg. 25

Youngstown Vindicator, “Plan Military Funeral For Sergeant Pitzulo”, May 21, 1944, Pg. A10

www.findagrave.com  Joseph H. Talbot

North Stonington, Ct. – June 28, 1944

North Stonington, Ct., (Pawcatuck) June 28, 1944

     Shortly before 6 p.m. on June 28, 1944, a single-seat navy plane from Quonset Naval Air Station was flying over the Westerly – Stonington area at 18,000 feet when the tail developed a “flutter”.  The pilot dropped down to 10,000 feet and the “flutter” got worse.  Since the pilot was near Westerly Air Field, he radioed a distress call, and said he would attempt to land there.  As he attempted to reach the field the “flutter” got even worse, forcing the pilot to bail out.

     The plane began falling from the sky, but as it neared the ground it leveled off of its own accord, and swept across North Stonington Road tearing away power lines and smashing into the home of Earl and Grace Norman.  Both received burns from exploding aviation fuel.     

     Meanwhile the pilot landed safely in a field about three miles away.

Source: Providence Journal, “Plane Hits House; Man, Wife Burned”, June 29, 1944, page 1

 

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