Descendant of missing WWII airman comes ‘this close’ to finding him in France

Jul 17, 2018, 7:54 AM | Updated: 8:44 am

LAYTON — Two weeks ago, KSL Newsradio brought you the story of a Layton couple set on “Finding George,” their great-uncle who was shot down in combat by German forces over northern France in 1944.

Last week, the Army pilot’s great-nephew visited what he believes was the crash site, and perhaps came very close to Lt. George “Frankie” Wilson’s remains.

On July 8, 2018, Erik Bornemeier stood on hallowed ground.

“To be in the field the exact day, 74 years later, at the exact time, with the exact weather… everything lined up,” he said.

On July 8, 1944, German forces shot down Army pilot George “Frankie” Wilson over northern France just minutes before his B-17 was set to bomb their V-1 guided missile sites.

“I cannot erase the smell and the feel of being there,” Bornemeier recalled. “It was just really quiet.”

Lt. Wilson was 24 years old. His remains stayed hidden somewhere in northern France. Bornemeier had a hypothesis from his research of old military records.

“The crew, as they bailed out, said, ‘We got captured right away, and we landed close to the plane,’” Bornemeier had read in the Missing Air Crew Report, which the U.S. Army had produced after World War II.

“The German report said, ‘We captured them in Monchy-Cayeux.”

Bornemeier found a YouTube video from that town of 300. He wrote an email to the man who posted it.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m coming into town. I don’t speak any French. I need a place to stay. I’m looking for a plane that has a lost loved one,’” Bornemeier explained.

“He fired back and said, ‘Hey, I got you covered.’”

The man is a social media reporter who happens to own a bed-and-breakfast.

So, off Bornemeier went to Monchy-Cayeux. Even before he got there, the town rallied to him.

“This 18-year-old kid is like, ‘I love World War II history. Can I help?’ I asked, ‘What do you got?’ And he said, ‘I got a metal detector.’ I said, “You’re hired!’”

They took the metal detector to places where the townsfolk told Bornemeier to search. Once he returned home to Utah, Bornemeier showed that it turned up pieces of a propeller blade, plus avionics-grade metal, all pieces of a silver B-17, like the one his great-uncle flew.

Bornemeier also found a small piece of the Plexiglas window.

“You can see the burn right here,” he said, pointing to its edge. “You can see the bubbling as the plane burned.”

He also recovered 50-caliber bullets, the same kind a B-17 would have carried.

“And there are 50-cals and weaponry in the river, too,” Bornemeier said. “A lot of the weapons, the townsfolk grabbed them and chucked them into the river.”

That’s so the Germans wouldn’t get them.

Then, an eyewitness to the 1944 crash, now in his 90s, told Bornemeier he remembered it like it was yesterday.

“‘I looked up, and I saw the plane, and it circled around the town three times.’”

That was long enough for Wilson’s nine crew members to escape.

“‘When it came straight down, it caught fire, and then exploded,’” Bornemeier recalled the elderly man telling him.

The witness walked up to the fiery scene and described what he saw.

“The position of the aircraft, the location of the aircraft, and there were bombs that were unexploded.”

Bornemeier is all but certain this is Lt. Wilson’s plane and crash site, but he still needs his great-uncle’s wallet – he thinks someone in France still has it – plus the local police report to locate the heroic Army pilot.

“So, if I can get that report, it’ll say this and this and this happened, this is what we found, and this is where we did with the deceased,” Bornemeier said.

While flying home to Utah, Bornemeier got word Lt. Wilson may have been buried at a church or a forgotten shrine within minutes of where he searched.

Still, Erik and his wife, Sonni – Wilson’s blood relative – are celebrating.

“I’ve never seen my dad excited. He’s very even-keeled, just chill,” Sonni said. “My family is excited. I’ve talked to relatives I haven’t spoken to in 10 or 20 years.”

They all shared the agony of not knowing where a loved one is. Sonni said, at one time, the family even heard rumors her great-uncle was still alive in Europe.

“It’s hard to mourn something that you’re not quite sure how to mourn,” she said.

But the Bornemeiers are securing their passports for another trip to France where they and their children hope to “find George” together.

The Bornemeiers have a Facebook page called “Finding George,” full of photographs and evidence they have collected. They’re trying to gain permission from the French and U.S. governments to dig at the crash site, especially one that may still contain live explosives buried in the ground.

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Descendant of missing WWII airman comes ‘this close’ to finding him in France