Nearly 70 years after they were killed when their crippled bomber hit a northern Italian mountain, the American warplane’s two pilots are being honoured by villagers near the crash site.
The B-25 Mitchell dubbed “Maybe” was damaged during a raid near Trento during the Second World War.
Pilot Earl Remmel, from Hooker, Oklahoma, and co-pilot Leslie Speer, from Jefferson, Kentucky, kept the plane steady long enough for the other five crew to bail out before the crash moments later.
“There’s no question that Remmel and Speer were heroes,” said Silas Barrett, from Norfolk, Massachusetts, who was a 19-year-old gunner when he and four other crewmen parachuted to safety on 6 February, 1945.
Once on the ground, all five were captured by Italian police and handed over to the Germans.
In the alpine village of Ronzo di Chienis, the two pilots are remembered as heroes for another reason. With their plane severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire before it could complete its bombing run over a rail yard, Remmel and Speer apparently decided not to jettison their bombs as they flew over the nearby village during a desperate effort to gain altitude so the crew could bail out.
“From reports I’ve heard from the town, they consider my dad a hero also because it saved the town,” said Barbara Nash, Remmel’s daughter, who was a child when her father died.
Mrs Nash, from Troup, Texas, will be in Ronzo di Chienis tomorrow for the dedication of the memorial to her father and Speer. Her husband, their three daughters, a son-in-law and a granddaughter will also make the trip, which includes a visit to Remmel’s grave in the US military cemetery in Florence.
Mrs Nash said she was overwhelmed by the Italian tribute. “It’s a great honour,” she said.
Also due to attend are the two daughters of Bronx-born Isidore Ifshin, the only other of the five crew still living, though health problems will keep the 90-year-old at home in Florida.
Remmel was on his 70th mission when his plane was shot down, said Ben Appleby, an organiser of the memorial ceremony and co-author of a book on the Maybe’s last flight.
For Mr Ifshin, the plane’s top turret gunner, it was his 60th and final mission. “They got me in the end,” he said. “Sooner or later, something’s gotta give.”
The ceremony, to be attended by members of the US military, includes the unveiling of a memorial plaque.