A doomed mission, a father's courage
TOWN OF DELAVAN — There was a time in our nation's history when taking up arms in defense of our allies took on a very different meaning than today. “Over there” was a rallying chorus designed to inspire our troops and signify other lands were in peril from contrasting beliefs. The political and physical landscape of Europe would be changed by World War II. The scars left by the Great War are still felt to this day
There are hundreds of stories of personal sacrifice, courage and ultimately casualties. On a hillside in a small community of the Tuscany region of northern Italy, one such story recently was relived through the very personal journey of Brenda Dean, a town of Delavan resident.
Dean's father, Sgt. Wilmer Henry Hochstatter, was an Air Force tail gunner, flying tactical and reconnaissance missions over North Africa, the Mediterranean and eventually Italy. A humble farmer's son from Mendota, Illinois, Hochstatter was credited with shooting down a German Messerschmitt (fighter plane) over Tunisia. He was awarded the Purple Heart, three bronze stars and a good conduct medal.
Assigned to the 379th Bomb Squadron, Hochstatter would fly 49 successful missions.
On June 7, 1944, just one day after D-Day in France, Hochstatter's B25J would be shot down by artillery positions guarding the “Gothic Line,” a massive German defense stretching from coast to coast in northern Italy. Mission number 50 would prove to be fatal for all six of Hochstatter's brothers-in-arms. Several of the crew died when a bomb on board the aircraft exploded shortly before the plane slammed into the hills above Vernio. Two others perished while parachuting as they were spotted and killed by German forces.
Hochstatter would prove not only to be extremely fortunate that fateful day, but incredibly resourceful, surviving behind enemy lines for 88 days after the crash.
Some six decades later, a group of Italians passionate about keeping the memory of liberation alive and war artifacts they had unearthed available for display created an association. Linea Gotica Val di Bisenzio was founded in 2012 with two goals — to display artifacts from the village in a permanent museum and to erect a memorial display on the hillside where Hochstatter's plane went down. The association also felt surviving family members should be present for a presentation.
Linea Gotica President Lisa Nannini explained that the discovery of the Eichorn dog tag (the pilot killed in the crash) was the catalyst for the reunion.
Read the complete story HERE.