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.
 On the morning of August 29, 1944, American bombers from the 15th U.S. Army Air

 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.
     Pilot William Tune's aircraft withstood the first wave of the German attack, but

 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

 cross to the young man's family.
     A short distance from Rudice is the larger town of Slavicin. Here, two days after

 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

 Czechoslovakia, but for  humanity and for peace .
    After the war, a group of people from the Slavicin area tried to uncover the details

 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

 names of the 28 American men  who had been buried there fifty years earlier.
     Much to the pleasure of the townspeople, a few American veterans traveled to

 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

 be forgotten.

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