This article came from the Chronicle published October 1985. Page 65
ONE AIRCRAFT AND NINE MEN
Author: W.T. Chapman
On the 25th June 1944, aircraft of the 8th U.S. Army Air Force took off from R.A.F. Bassingbourn, situated 3 and a half miles north of Royston, Herts. The aircraft were Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 91st Bombardment Group, nicknamed “The Ragged Irregulars”. Their task was to bomb airfields near Toulouse to divert attention from other units which were dropping supplies to the French Maquis. Over the target, flak was moderate to heavy and accurate. A damaged B-17 of the 91st B.G. landed in Spain and the crew was interned. Another B-17, of the 401st Squadron, 91st B.G. was hit in the number three engine. This aircraft was serial number 42-37958 “Old Faithful” code letters LL-G, piloted by 2nd Lt. Mikonis. The entry for that day in the War Diary of the 401st Squadron baldly states,
“Lt. Mikonis and his crew, flying aircraft 958 missing in action. When last seen his 3rd engine was on fire and they seemed to be heading for Spain”.
The aircraft did not arrive in Spain, it made its way back to England. During the afternoon of the 25th June “Old Faithful” flew over Wincanton. Eye witnesses saw the wing suddenly collapse (most likely due to battle damage). The plane dived into the ground and there were no survivors.
After the war a Memorial was erected by the citizens of Wincanton, in a wall alongside the road from Wincanton to Bayford. The inscription reads as follows,
“This tablet was erected by the people of Wincanton in honour of United States Airmen who lost their lives when their Flying Fortress “Old Faithful” crashed in flames at Snag Farm near this spot, when returning disabled from a routine sortie over Toulouse, France, on 25th June 1944.
2nd Lt. Peter Mikonis, Margate City, New Jersey.
2nd Lt. Frank E. Pepper Jnr., Berkley, California.
2nd Lt. Joseph E. Sullivan, Belmont, Massachusetts.
2nd Lt. Will H. Stevens, Smithfield, North Carolina.
S. Sgt. Roy C. Anderson, Sacramento, California.
S. Sgt. Douglas K. Deurmyer, Topeka, Kansas.
Sgt. Ralph Stein, Savannah, Georgia.
Sgt. Richard A. Mehlberg, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Sgt. Dean A. McDowell, Omaha, Nebraska.”
Forty years after the crash of “Old Faithful” a ceremony was held by the Memorial Plaque on Bayford Hill. Wreaths were laid by representatives of Wincanton Town Council and the U.S.A.F. lour Chairman was privileged to lay a wreath on behalf of the U.S. 8th Air Force Historical Society with the following dedication,
“In memory of 9 men of the 8th U.S.A.A.F. who died a long way from home, along with many of their comrades, so that we might be free”.
Roy C. Anderson, Richard A. Mehlberg, Peter Mikonis and F.E. Pepper Jnr., are buried at the American Military War Cemetary near Cambridge with nearly 4,000 of their comrades. The cemetary also has a Memorial to 5,125 other Americans with no known graves.