Original U.S. WWII Named Navigator Army Air Corp's Transportation Unit Grouping

Item Description

Original Items: One-of-a-kind set. Lt. John Kurek Jr. ASN 413233 from Stafford Springs Connecticut was a navigator in the 33rd Ferry Group. His primary task in WW2 was to bring new planes from the Midwest United States to England for use in the war and then return with older planes for repairs and upgrades. He crashed in Northern Spain and was held as a POW for 6 months before returning to service. Here is the story of his crash landing as told by the pilot Lt. Eugene Casale and how a photographer took a photo of the downed Douglas A-26 Invader in the surf and a curious Spaniard tracked down the pilots family 70 years later.

Glastonbury, CT — As Lt. Eugene Casale aimed the nose of the Douglas A-26 Invader toward England on an October evening in 1944, the cockpit area felt a little cold. So Casale flipped a switch activating a gas heater in the state-of-the-art twin-engine light bomber he was transporting to the European theater.

Shortly after switching on the heat, a fire broke out in the cockpit near the plane's navigator, Lt. John Kurek Jr. Casale was faced with a difficult choice. A crash landing or ditching into the ocean would likely mean death if no one rescued them. With the shoreline of northwest Spain visible in the distance, Casale decided to try to land before the flames reached the plane's half-full gas tank.

Casale — 23 at the time — was a member of the Army Air Corp's transportation unit, which brought new planes from the Midwest to England for use in the war and returned with older planes. Flying brand-new planes right off the assembly line over non-combat areas, Casale said, the trips were usually smooth and uneventful.

But not this time.

Aiming at what Casale described as "one of the most beautiful beaches" he had ever seen, he was able to land the aircraft on the white sand, and they ejected from the plane. Afraid of an explosion, both men ran down the beach with their headgear on.

"It was a lucky thing it was low tide," Casale said Thursday from his Glastonbury home, recalling the landing. "We weren't worried if we would make it to shore — we were worried we would blow up. As soon as we hit the ground, we just ran for our lives and we figured it would blow up at any minute. But it never blew up. We couldn't believe it."

Casale and Kurek, a Stafford Springs native and Simsbury resident who died in 2003, found a Spanish army encampment on the beach. They were held as prisoners of war for six months in Madrid before they were released to the U.S.

The successful landing became a story Casale would tell his children and grandchildren, something that receded further into history with each passing year.

That was until Casale's son Gene received an email last February from Emilio Seoane in Spain. Seoane, who was visiting a bar in Laxe, saw a photograph of the plane in the ocean with children playing nearby in the waves. Using the plane's ID number -- clearly seen on the plane's tail — Seoane contacted the U.S. Air Force's Historical Research Agency. He also contacted a Spanish military historian, who was able to find Casale's name. Others also gave him some advice.

"He very actively discouraged me from trying to get in touch with former pilots and so on, saying it was doomed to fail anyway," Seoane wrote to the Casales. "Some people just have no heart or imagination … I just love the picture and from time to time share it with friends."

When he heard from Seoane that February day, "I was just about to head out and plow after that huge snowstorm," Gene Casale recalled. "We kept going back and forth with [Seoane], and he sent us the photo. It was like turning the clock back for Dad.

Seoane told Casale that the photograph was taken by Jose Vidal Garcia, a local chemist who "loved photography and took pictures of just about everything" in the northwest corner of Spain. Seoane said he heard tales of people watching over the plane at night so no one would steal parts or ammunition. The $250,000 plane was powered by Pratt & Whitney engines, Casale said.

According to Seoane, Air Force records showed the plane crashed because it ran out of fuel. After Seoane contacted him, Gene Casale got in touch with his father, who was vacationing in South Carolina.

Eugene Casale was vehement about the cause of the crash: "I just said 'bullshit' when I heard the part about running out of gas," he said. "We were on fire."

After the war, Casale and Kurek went their separate ways. Casale owned Aircraft Hardware in East Hartford and became a successful trainer of hunting dogs. Kurek became a mechanical engineer and passed away in 2003.

"That was the last time John ever took a flight with me," Eugene Casale said with a laugh. "That was a lucky, lucky day for us. We never thought we would make that beach.

Included in this wonderful grouping are the following items:
• Khaki USAAF Tunic named to Lt J Kurek Jr. and dated 3/17/43. The tunice features embroidered navigator wings, USAAF patch to left shoulder, lieutenant bars, good buttons and collar tabs. Maker label reads The Stors-Schaefer Co. Cincinnati.
• Khaki officer visor crush cap.
• Shaving kit with soap tin full of WW2 coins from multiple countries and miscellaneous the bits.
• Pilot’s flight log book with numerous entries from 1942.
• 1945 Diary named to Kuerk. It begins January 1st 1945 with KHARTOUM EGYPT, January 2nd reads left Khartoum Landed ACCRA and so on. There are nearly daily entries until the end of June 1945. The final entry in Friday December 7th, 1945 and reads Last Day in Service Terminated Leave ended.
• WW2 address book with multiple entries.
• Dead Reckoning Computer AN-C-74 in case named to Kurek.
• Computer; True Air Speed Type G-1 in case.
• Photograph of sketch Kurek in uniform, the reverse is marked Made in Algeria in WW2.

A truly unique grouping of a soldier that helped the war effort by getting new planes to Europe for the bombing runs that were crucial to the allied invasion and pushing AH’s forces back into Germany which ultimately to the demise of the Third Reich.

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