The following article was written by Maura Gaffney in August 2001, information taken
from: "Defenders of Liberty" and Joseph Owsianik 20th Squadron POW from New Jersey
and member of Lt. Bill Tune's Crew Who arranged for this story to be written.
"Dearest Joseph, Even if both of us get old,
I can still see your
B-17 exploding in the blue sky and white parachutes with your
bodies descending to unknown fate, people and country. It has
been 55 years since that sad event, but it is not possible for me
to forget it"
The letter to Joseph Owsianik (pronounced "oh-shanik") of New Jersey, a World
War II veteran and former prisoner of war, was written in 1999 by Marie Krivankova
of the Czech Republic. Her words reference a major air battle which took place over
Czechoslovakia in August of 1944. Joseph Owsianik survived the air battle witnessed
by Marie in 1944. Yet when he looks at a simple little cross hanging on a plaque in
his home, he is reminded of the men who did not survive. The original owner of the
cross was one of Owsianik's fellow crew members who was killed during the 1944
The cross also helps
to bring the reality of past events into the present, lest we forget.
Force, 2nd Bombardment Group, based in Amendola, Italy, were on a mission to
destroy the Privoser Oil Refinery and Moravska Marshalling Yards in the northern
region of German-occupied Czchoslovakia.
The German Luftwaffe took advantage of the American bombers in a vulnerable
moment, and launched a surprise attack. It was successful. The American bombers
began to drop from the sky like wounded birds. When it was over, the Germans had
completely wiped out the entire 20th Squadron of the 2nd Bombardment Group.
All seven of the 20th Squadron's B-17s (Flying Fortresses) were shot down that
morning, including B-17 #159 which carried Owsianik and Marinello and piloted
by 1st Lieutenant William Tune. Three additional bombers from other Squadrons
were destroyed as well. The battle lasted only twenty minutes. Forty-one young
American men died during the battle or soon thereafter. It was the darkest day in the
long history of the 2nd Bombardment Group.
after the second and third waves, the doomed Flying Fortress struggled to survive.
The Germans had shot several holes in the wings, and engine had caught fire, and
shells were exploding outside and inside the aircraft. Lt. Tune quickly ordered his
crew to bail out. Eight of the ten crew members managed to bail out. The other two
crew members , 2nd lt. Russell W. Meyrick and Sgt. Joseph Marinello, Jr. went
down with the plane. Their bodies were found with the wreckage. Lt Meyrick
and Marinello, Jr. were found near the town of Rudice in the Eastern region of
Czechoslovakia. Sgt. Marinello's body was discovered by a young Czech woman,
Maria Krivandova. With the help of a friend, Maria pulled Sgt. Marinello from the
mangled wreckage and managed to transport his body to the nearby town. There
they had a simple coffin made for him, and with the help of another local man,
they brought his body by horse and buggy to a church in Rudice. They received
permission from the German authorities to hold a funeral for the American and
were told that the body of Lt. Meyrick, which the Germans had discovered, could
be buried as well. The German soldiers who attended the solemn funeral offered a
salute to the American by firing shots in the air.
Before the burial, Marie noticed that Sgt. Marinello wore a simple alabaster
cross around his neck. Carefully, she removed it. She hoped someday to return the
the young man's family.
the air battle, the bodies of twenty eight Americans who were killed during the battle
were dumped into a mass grave by German soldiers. A wooden marker at the grave
read: "28 American Flyers, Died August 29, 1944, buried August 31, 1944."
German orders strictly forbade anyone from bringing flowers to the grave. Eleven
other flyers were buried in neighboring Czech towns. Eventually, all of the bodies
were exhumed and returned to an American military cemetery in Europe or
returned to the United States, but the people of the Slavicin area would not forget
those men or those last days of August 1944. The Czech people understood that the
Americans had made the ultimate sacrifice not only for the liberation of
but for humanity and for peace .
of the battle and to learn the names of the men who had been buried in their town.
However, the political climate changed quickly after the war, and as a result the
search for information was essentially halted. Nevertheless, the Czech people
did not forget about their American Liberators. Every year since the battle, on
the last Sunday in August, a special mass has been held at the church in Slavicin
in memory of their fallen heroes. Slowly and patiently, the Czechs continued to
collect information and pieced together details related to the battle
and the men who fought it. Finally in 1994, fifty years after the bombers had been
shot down, the town of Slavicin formally thanked their liberators. On August 28,
1994, the town held a grand commemoration ceremony which included the dedication
of a new stone monument to the site of the original grave. It is inscribed with the
of the 28 American
men who had been buried there fifty years earlier.
Slavicin for the touching ceremony. These veterans included Lieutenant Tune
from B-17 #159. It was during this ceremony that Mari Krivankova approached
pilot Tune. She gave him Sgt. Marinello's cross and asked if he would return the
cross to Marinello's family. After exhausting his efforts, he contacted his crew member
on #159, Joseph Owsianik. He hoped that Owsianik, a New Jersey resident, would
have more luck finding the relatives of the Brooklyn-born Marinello. Tune mailed
the cross to Owsianik, who began the search immediately. Owsianik's wife had
saved several documents from 1944. Through those papers and some luck with
the local phone book, Owsianik was able to locate the sister of the deceased hero.
After all these years, he thought, the cross would finally be returned to Marinello's
family. Unfortunately, his hopes were dashed after speaking with the elderly
woman. She simply did not want the cross once worn by her brother.
The motto of the 2nd Bomb Group is Defenders of Liberty. Just as a cross is the
ultimate sign of one man's sacrifice for the sake of humanity, Marinello's cross is the
tangible symbol of his personal and ultimate sacrifice for liberty. Although the story
of what happened to Marinello and the other members of the 2nd Bomb Group
is tragic, forgetting the sacrifice made by them and hundreds of thousands other
soldiers would be the greatest tragedy of all. Marinello's cross prompted the
telling of this story. Hopefully, it will ensure that the "Marinellos" will never
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