World War II Air Crash Victims Honored at Australian Embassy Event
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2006 World War II veteran John A. Glaros clearly remembers the day 63 years ago when he heard that his friend, a fellow U.S. Army Air Forces radioman, had perished in an air crash in Australia that would remain a secret for many years afterward.
(Left to right) Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England; Harry McAlpine, president of the Returned and Services League’s Washington, D.C., sub-branch; Robert S. Cutler, executive director of the Bakers Creek Memorial Association; and Australian Ambassador to the United States Dennis Richardson pose for a photograph next to the Bakers Creek air crash memorial on the Australian Embassy’s grounds Nov. 8 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“We were devastated,” recalled Glaros, now an 87-year-old resident of Silver Spring, Md. Glaros was a sergeant stationed in Australia at the time of the crash at Bakers Creek, near Mackay in Queensland, on June 14, 1943.
The crash was doubly shocking because it occurred in a non-combat zone, Glaros noted. The troops aboard the bomber were being flown back to New Guinea after enjoying some leave time in Australia, he explained.
Yesterday evening at a commemorative event held at the Australian Embassy here, Glaros saluted his fallen comrade, Sgt. David E. Tileston, and the 39 other U.S. servicemembers who died aboard the B-17C Flying Fortress bomber when it crashed soon after takeoff from Mackay. There was just one survivor.
The centerpiece of the remembrance ceremony was a granite memorial featuring the names of the fallen U.S. servicemembers. The Australian government donated the memorial’s base, made of Queensland pink granite.
Australian Ambassador to the United States Dennis Richardson hosted the event, which was attended by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England. Richardson welcomed England, as well as a small number of friends and relatives of the accident victims.
The United States and Australia share common values, England noted during his remarks. Australia is a major U.S. ally in the war against global terrorism, and hundreds of Australian troops are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“What we share is this great love of freedom and liberty and a determination to preserve liberty and freedom, not just for our own citizens, but for people literally around the world,” the deputy defense secretary said.
The ceremony was held at an appropriate time, England pointed out, noting Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.
“It is a day that we remember our veterans,” England noted. The names of fallen U.S. servicemembers inscribed on the memorial’s plaque might not be known to the public, he said, if not for the efforts of the memorial’s many benefactors, including the Bakers Creek Memorial Association and the Returned and Services League of Australia, an Australian military veterans group.
Many surviving U.S. Army Air Corps veterans knowledgeable about the Bakers Creek crash have been made aware of efforts to establish a permanent memorial in the United States, said Bill Lloyd, president of the 317th Veterans Group, a nationwide U.S. military veterans organization with more than 1,200 members.
“They’re very, very proud to get the recognition,” Lloyd said.
The Bakers Creek crash was the worst accident involving a transport plane in the southwest Pacific theater during World War II, said Robert S. Cutler, a George Washington University professor and executive director of the Baker’s Creek Memorial Association. Cutler’s late father, Samuel, was an Army Air Corps captain who supervised passenger loading aboard the B-17 before its ill-fated flight.
“Our purpose, of course, for being here tonight is to thank the Australian Embassy and the Australian government for having supported this Bakers Creek memorial project (for) seven year’s now,” Cutler said. Citizens of Mackay, Australia, marked the Bakers Creek crash site with a permanent memorial in 1992.
The U.S. memorial will remain on the Australian Embassy’s grounds until its final disposition is determined, Cutler said. He said sponsors hope the memorial will eventually permanently reside at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Our veterans’ group believes that this (memorial) deserves to be placed on American soil,” said Cutler, who wrote a book about the air crash.
The Bakers Creek crash was kept secret from the public so as not to tip off the presence of U.S. troops to Japanese forces that were threatening Australia at that time, Cutler said. That secret was kept for many years even after the war ended.