New Rockford Transcript - Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

Never Forgotten after 75 years

Longnecker one of two aviators honored by Norwich Area Veterans Council


October 7, 2019

In the woods that border the Connecticut towns of Norwich and Preston lie the ruins of two World War II fighter planes that crashed there during a night training in October of 1944.

The remains of the wreckage are reportedly underground, having been buried by the United States Navy. The pilots who flew these planes perished as well. Now 75 years later, these communities still commemorate the fallen aviators: Merle Longnecker of New Rockford, ND and George Kraus of Wawatosa, Wisc.

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, members of the Norwich Area Veterans Council gathered in the Preston Woods to place a marker at a crash site of these two World War II "Hellcat" fighter planes and to honor both Kraus and Longnecker.

On Saturday, Oct. 19, the public portion of this commemoration will be held at the Preston Library at 1 p.m., to ensure that the pilots and their contributions to the war effort, and sacrifice for our nation, will not be forgotten. That ceremony will be held 75 years to the day of that tragic accident.

On Oct. 19, 1944, Kraus and Longnecker had been flying their Grumman F6F-5N "Hellcats" for about three and a half hours when something went wrong. It was a particularly dark night, as there was no moon.

The two young Naval Reserve pilots from the Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Air Field were flying at an altitude of 6,000 feet, and practicing a dangerous maneuver: night interceptions using a newly developed on board radar system. One plane acted as the enemy target and the other tried to find it in the dark and then approach within firing range.

Longnecker was acting as the pursuit plane and had sent the radio message "Splash!" at 11:13 p.m., indicating that he had approached Kraus's plane close enough to target it and destroy it. That was the last radio transmission heard that evening.

Both aircraft were over the Norwich State Hospital area conducting these mock interceptions when they were involved in a mid-air collision with each other. Eye witness reports indicated that the two placed had scraped winds, then veered away from each other, and finally plummeted to the ground near the Norwich-Preston town line.

The official Navy accident report speculated that the planes were flying at approximately 175 miles per hour. The scattered wreckage fell over a large area, some coming down about one mile northeast of the hospital in a heavily wooded area.

It took the would-be rescuers about 25 minutes to hike to the impact area. Upon their arrival both pilots were dead and the wreckage of the two planes, which came to rest about a quarter mile apart, was burning.

The "Westerly Sun," a news publication out of Westerly, R.I. reported that Merle H. Longnecker grew up in New Rockford, N.D. and entered the Navy in 1942. Longnecker received flight training in Washington, California and Texas, and was commissioned as an officer at Pensacola in February 1944. While in Florida, he married Blanche Lucy, a native of West Virginia. He then was sent to Rhode Island for night-fighter training. At the time of the accident, he had accumulated 466 hours of flying time.

Longnecker had become well acquainted with the people in the neighborhood, and his death came as a severe blow to all his friends, who had come to appreciate his quick smile and amiable ways.

His family remembered him as a young man who enjoyed checkers, cards and boxing. Longnecker was just eight days shy of his 21st birthday. He is buried at Prairie Home Cemetery in New Rockford.


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