EFFINGHAM, Ill. — A lifelong mystery involving a World War II pilot, who disappeared on a training mission in England, has been solved.
The remains of Charles “Butch” Moritz, who was 21 at the time of his death, were found near Toft Newton, Lincolnshire.
The remnants of his P-51C Mustang bomber escort were buried 18 feet in the ground from the impact of a mid-air collision on June 7, 1944, just hours after the launch of the Normandy Invasion.
The recollection of the crash is something that gives chills to Pamela Landers of Nisswa, Minn., Moritz’s niece and oldest living relative. She was only a year old when her uncle died, so all she heard were stories.
She got a call last fall from the Department of Defense saying the government may have discovered his remains.
“Oh my,” Landers said in response to how she reacted to the call. “I was just amazed that they could find him after all these years ... 68 years.”
The surprises behind the story don’t seem to stop. Not only was Moritz discovered, he was discovered by a private group of vintage aircraft enthusiasts, called the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group. It had been searching for the remains of the plane that collided with Moritz’s aircraft. Instead, they found Moritz’s bomber.
The information was turned over to authorities in the U.S. and the military recovered human remains and military identification tags bearing Moritz’s name from the site, according to a press release from the Department of Defense.
A second excavation recovered additional remains and material evidence, including a bracelet with the inscription “Butch Moritz” and a wallet that contained several cards bearing Moritz’s name, the release stated.
Those items were sent to Landers, and her hands quivered as she opened the package that would finally solve her family’s long mystery.
The wallet had papers and receipts, such as war bonds Moritz had purchased for his twin brothers, George and Don, a Red Cross identification bracelet, results of a physical test and a card listing everything he’d been issued by the military, such as uniforms.
“When I opened the package ... it’s just unnerving to have those items in my hands,” Landers said, adding she had a vague recollection of the family tragedy, and an even more vague recollection of her uncle.
“It made him so real. And I keep thinking, oh my goodness, what we did lose,” she said.
After the war was over, Moritz’s father traveled to England in search of his son, but was unable to find out much information.
The family exchanged stories about Moritz over the years and tried to keep his memory alive.
“All his brothers and sisters talked one time or another about it to their kids. All we know is what we heard from our parents,” Landers said, adding her mom, who was Moritz’s sister, died two years ago.
But it wasn’t until a few years ago while cleaning her mom’s house, Landers’ brother found a safe in the home’s crawlspace.
What was inside the safe answered questions the children had for years, but knew better than to ask. It contained a letter from the military to Moritz’s parents, who were Landers’ grandparents, that their son was lost and the military didn’t know where he was.
There were photographs of Moritz with his plane before the fatal crash were also inside the safe, locked away to prevent anguish and sorrow from resurfacing in the family.
Landers is still overcome with saddened joy, but is glad that a family struggle has ended.
“It’s been a mystery all these years. We knew so little.”
Details for this story were provided by Samantha Newburn, a reporter for the Effingham (Il.) Daily News.