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On the trail of missing GIs

Luxembourg's battlefield detectives track down crash site

Luxembourg Word, 8 June 2016

Full mission report on PARD 2016.

The gravestone of First Lieutenant Hanford “Rusty” J Rustand at the American Military Cemetery in Hamm, LuxembourgPhoto: Patrick Murphy

Published on Wednesday, 8 June 2016 at 14:54

(JB) A group of historians in Luxembourg, which aims to track down American soldiers who went missing in action in Europe during World War II, has completed its first successful mission.

The WWII Battlefield Research and Preservation Group asbl, which was founded earlier this year in Luxembourg, set out to track down the crash site of First Lieutenant Hanford “Rusty” J Rustand.

Although Rusty's body was recovered and is now interred at the American Military Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg, the search was prompted by his daughter, Marilynn Lieurance.

She had never met her father, who died six months before she was born. After his death, her mother remarried and her father was not mentioned until she discovered letters and other documents around 20 years ago. It was this discovery that prompted her to find out more.

“I ran into Marilynn during Memorial Day in Luxembourg last year,” Patrick Murphy, one of the founding members of the asbl told wort. “He was shot down over eastern Germany but she wasn't sure where.”

Rusty was a pilot for the 323 Bomber Squadron, whose plane was shot down on November 2, 1944.Of his crew, six survived and were taken, prisoner. Those still alive were unable to provide any details about the crash site, however.

Photo: Marilynn Lieurance

Patrick had previously worked with JPAC (now DPAA), which helps recover WWII soldiers around the world who went missing and with which he had recovered 16 Americans from three different plane crash.

He researched reports from the German and US authorities and through a process of elimination identified a village which he then traveled to with asbl vice president James Still in May this year.

After speaking to elderly villagers, incredibly the pair found the crash site during their first day Within less than a week of being notified, Marilynn flew to Europe, and Patrick drove her to the site.

 “We ended up meeting another woman (in the village) who was 12 or 14 at the time and recalled seeing the dead pilot beside the crash. Marilynn was crying but she said, 'That's why I'm here. I wanted a clear picture of what it looked like what really happened,'” Patrick explained.

The pair spent four hours at the site collecting pieces of plexiglass and aluminum from the plane, and then Patrick set up speakers and played a recorded version of “Amazing Grace & Taps” on bagpipes, a song which is traditionally played at military funerals.

Patrick also described to the Germans in the village what had happened prior to the plane crash, how Rusty had flown under another American aircraft to protect it from attack and kept his own plane from landing on the village. “The last heroic thing I could probably say he did.”

Marilynn Lieurance stands in the field in eastern Germany where her father died in 1944Photo: Patrick Murphy

Around 19,000 GIs are still missing in action in Europe from WWII, most of them airmen.

After this first successful mission, the team is now set on finding some of those who disappeared in Luxembourg and the Greater Region.

The next mission will involve tracking down another airman who disappeared in the north of Luxembourg and who is listed on the wall of missing at the American Military Cemetery in Hamm.

The WWII Battlefield Research and Preservation Group asbl is one of a number of WWII research and military history organizations in Luxembourg.

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