For me the discovery of any item of WW2 militaria is always exciting and finds me wanting to know more about the circumstances of the item, how it got to where it was found, the owner or the story behind it. In the case of this WW2 US Armed Forces identity disc the origin was plain enough. The tag had been produced by a member of a Graves Registration Team, after the fighting was over. The task of the GRS (Graves Registration Service) was to trawl reports into the loss of servicemen and then to diligently search that area for evidence of their grave, or final resting place.
For the members of the GRS the task was often gruesome, and it went on for years after the end of the war. Across Europe and beyond teams followed up on reports and spoke with the civilian populace in order to ascertain the existence of and the circumstances behind the burial of service personnel in fields, roadsides, farms and among civilian cemeteries.
The perseverance and dedication to that task means that as long as there are still men missing from war there are teams who work tirelessly in times of peace to bring them home or to be recognised in a marked grave among their peers. Such has been found the case in X-598.
The story begins on 23rd March 1944 in England as the crew of a Boeing B-17, aircraft number 42-30808 climb aboard for yet another mission to bomb the Reich. Today is Mission 84, to bomb the industrial targets around Brunswick, Germany. The crew belong to the 388th Bomb Group.
They settle themselves at their stations in the aircraft. At the pilots controls is 2Lt Donald Filler, ASN O-672586. He's from Oklahoma. Alongside him is co-pilot 2Lt Hugh Wetzel, ASN O-693440 of New Jersey. Behind them sits Navigator Robert Morin, Engineer T/Sgt Edwin C. Rechlin, Waist Gunners Humble and Adams, tail gunner Raymond Wilson, ball turret gunner Harold Asmussen. Right in the nose of the B-17 sits Bombardier William Findley.
The plane begins its run along the runway and then rises awkwardly into the early morning sky. It is 06.00hrs, March 23rd and for the crew of this aircraft their last mission together is beginning.
They are not alone in the sky, for this is another huge daylight raid on the German homeland, there are 31 other planes from their group in the air and the formation is making good time, crossing the coast of occupied France ahead of schedule. As the flight goes on though there are calls from other aircraft, 4 of them turn for home, having developed mechanical faults.
Making good time is not without it's hazards however, the formation has no friendly fighter cover. The formation is intercepted by enemy fighters, Fw190's flash past the windows of the B-17's and the crews headsets are noisy with calls of warning, observation and tension.
The duel in the skies is vicious and relentless. Three B-17's are shot down in the first pass of the fighters. An Fw190 collides with another bomber and both go tumbling through the formation and into oblivion.
Finally the bombers are over the target, it's cloudy and the bombs are dropped North of the city of Brunswick, but are on target! It is 10.40hrs.
The formation turn for home. No one can relax as now the enemy know for sure that the bombers are overhead. Again and again the fighters come into the formation and like sharks among a shoal of fish they pick off the aircraft on the perimeter, the formation has to stay together. Their strength is in staying together.
For 2Lt Donald Filler and his crew their luck has run out. The fighters descend upon them once more. Number one engine is aflame and Filler tells the men to bail out... Witnesses recall seeing parachutes blossoming in the sky, but also the horror at seeing one crew member fall to his death, his 'chute having failed to deploy.
Theirs is just one aircraft among 5 lost on this particular raid.
Of the crew of 42-30808, Donald Filler, Hugh Wetzel, William Findley, Edwin Rechlin, Harold Asmussen are killed. The others survive to be liberated from Stalag Luft 1 at Barth-Vogelsang their freedom being confirmed during June/July 1945.
For one of the crew, located and then interred at the huge cemetary at Neupre near Liege, Belgium there was only the identity of X-598. For one family there was the long wait to hear of the location of their son. Finally in September 1949 the Graves Registration Command published the results of their research. X-598 was in fact the mortal remains of T/Sgt Edwin C. Rechlin of Buffalo, New York. He could now be laid to rest, named, known, honoured among his brothers in arms.
Today Edwin C. Rechlin, who was born in 1917 and in August 1942 answered his country's call to arms and volunteered for the Army Air Force lies in honoured rest at Arlington National cemetary, his family having opted for his remains to be brought home.
Below left, Edwins name is among those from Buffalo who are recalled on their local memorial. At right the marble headstone at Arlington, courtesy of photographer John Evans.
The small alloy disc that had been assigned to his grave was discarded, only to be found many years later. It is a privilege to be able to tell his story as the result of the discovery of such a small item.
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