Pam Whitelock, a New Albany resident, made a fateful visit to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, northeast of Dayton, in 2006 that changed her life.
She was intrigued by the museum displays of the B-17 Flying Fortress bombers used the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, known for their daylight precision and durability under enemy fire.
The experience began a quest to learn more about her uncle Lt. Ewart Sconiers, who died in a German concentration camp and was buried in Allies Park, in Lubin, Poland, on January 27, 1944.
He was a bombardier who heroically took over the controls of a damaged B-17 following a mission over Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, when the pilot was seriously injured and the co-pilot was killed by enemy fire.
He safely landed the plane in England.
Lt. Sconiers was later captured and spent time in a German POW camp, and, according to Whitelock, was “the only American who hadn’t been recovered” from Stalag Luft III, the prison camp depicted in the 1963 movie The Great Escape.
The German army buried Lt. Sconiers in what is now known as Allies Park, in Lubin, Poland, but the gravesite markers were removed during the Russian occupation at the end of World War II.
At some point in the 1950s, his body was exhumed and moved to a French cemetery near the Baltic Sea, unbeknownst to his family in the United States.
Through a remarkable series of twists and turns, Whitelock ended up contacting a Columbus archaeologist, Dr. Jarrod Burks, who made two trips to Poland.
The second one, in 2015, led to an excavation of the site, where records indicated Lt. Sconiers had been buried.
Although Burks had acquired sufficient data to prepare a report for the U.S. government that allowed the approved the search to go on, Lt. Sconiers’ grave was not found.
During Burks’ second visit to Lubin, Poland, in 2015, a friend of Whitelock’s came across a picture on the Internet showing a cross bearing the name “Edouard Sconiers” in a cemetery three hours away, which ultimately led to the retrieval of his remains by the U.S. government.
Lt. Sconiers received full military honors when he was buried in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, on Jan. 27, 2018, on the anniversary of his first burial in Poland, bringing a sense of closure.
Whitelock wrote that “descendants of 4 of the original POW burial party stood graveside as Sconiers was laid to rest next to his mother.”