PROCTOR, Vt. – Almost 64 years after Felix Shostak’s B-24 bomber was shot down over France, he has come home – at least in the heart of his brother.

A twisted dog tag and a 1938 Proctor High School class ring belonging to him – found by crash site investigators – have been returned to the family of the Vermont soldier last seen on an Aug. 18, 1944 mission over northern France.

On July 5, a soldier with the Vermont Army National Guard turned over the items Shostak was believed to have been wearing when he disappeared.

His brother, a World War II veteran who was wounded three times fighting in Europe, says he had long since accepted that even though Shostak was listed as missing in action, he was dead. Their mother died in 1964 never knowing what happened to her son.

“After I came out of the service, she and I had to sit down and just forget it,” Charles Shostak said. “Her feeling was he’s still around because he was missing in action.”

The artifacts were uncovered last fall by a group in northern France investigating the crash site. It took six months, but through a relative in York, Pa., John Pena, they found Charles Shostak and his wife, Mary, in Proctor.

“It was a miracle,” said Mary Shostak, 79, who never knew Felix, but still cries at his memory.

Now, the artifacts that lay in French soil for more than 63 years are stored in an ornate wooden box provided by the National Guard.

Felix Shostak graduated from Proctor High School in 1938 and went on to become a cook at several area restaurants. He was drafted in 1942.

He was first sent to cooking school, but he volunteered for the Army Air Corps. In February 1944, he graduated from gunnery training.

“I am a top turret gunner and so far a gunner’s life doesn’t seem too bad,” he wrote in a letter published in the “Proctor War Cry” a local newsletter about service members, which is on file in the archives of the town library. “It gives me a sort of joyful feeling to know that before long I’ll be able to do my bit and help my buddies who have already done so much.”

His last mission with the 493rd Bomb Group wasn’t supposed to be especially dangerous. The planes were sent to attack a German fighter base in northern France. The crews were told there would be no enemy fighters and little anti-aircraft fire.

The reports were wrong.

Anti-aircraft artillery knocked out both engines on the left side of Shostak’s airplane, according to a magazine article about the plane’s only survivor, Norman Grant, of Richfield, Minn., who parachuted to safety and was then captured by the Germans.

The next day, a group of local French civilians buried the remains of the crew in a cemetery at Pierrepont, France.

Even though the crash was well documented, the Shostaks never knew for sure what happened to him. In 1951, a letter from the Department of the Army told them they’d never find out.

A special team had disinterred the soldiers from the Pierrepont cemetery.

“When the remains were recovered from this cemetery, it was found that these were the remains of only six decedents,” said a letter to Shostak’s mother, also named Mary. “After having been reprocessed, these remains were identified as those of six of your son’s crew members.”

The Army kept looking, but found nothing. “Therefore, it is necessary to declare that the remains of your son are not recoverable,” the letter said.

Shostak’s name is inscribed on the Tablet of the Missing in the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium.

In the late 1990s, Grant returned to France, wanting to know what happened. In August 2000, 56 years after the crash, a memorial to the plane and its crew was dedicated.

In a brief memoir, Grant, who has since died, said it was believed Shostak and another missing crew member were consumed by fire after the crash. Pena said it’s believed the fire reached 1,000 degrees, more than the melting point of aluminum.

Several people, including Pena’s uncle, continued to investigate the site. Last summer, they found Shostak’s items.

Pena said his uncle in France gave him Shostak’s name and serial number. Through the National Archives, he found Shostak’s draft record in Rutland and learned of the nearby Proctor High School.

When Pena’s initial call wasn’t returned, he got in touch with a local veterans advocate in Rutland, who then involved the office of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

They all worked together to present the dog tag and ring to the Shostaks on July 5.

Pena, who immigrated to the U.S. from France in 1970 with the help of a B-17 tail gunner who met his mother, said the searchers in France felt obligated to return remains to their families.

“We share the same feelings,” Pena said.

The artifacts aren’t enough to change Shostak’s status from missing to killed, said Shari Lawrence, a public affairs officer for the Army Human Resources Command in Alexandria, Va.

Pena said he’d been told the U.S. Department of Defense might do another search of the site to look for human remains. Lawrence said she didn’t know, but it was possible.

“We’re the only country in the world that goes out and actively seeks the recovery of missing service members,” Lawrence said. “The promise of coming home to the States isn’t one that has a statute of limitations on it.”

Charles Shostak said that the horrors of ground combat in Europe that he experienced make him believe his brother is dead.

“I don’t want to go back to see where he is. I am going to take it for granted,” Shostak said. “This here is more to me than what I could see with my eye, a monument. That’s how I feel. If I go over there, what would I see?”

AP-ES-07-13-08 0847EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.