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WWII Airmen lost in 1942 to be honored and memorialized this Memorial Day

By Staff | May 27, 2016

On Memorial Day, after nearly 74 years, six WWII Army Air Corps airmen who died in a B-26 Marauder training crash on Nov. 16, 1942 off the Florida coast will be recognized for their service with Military Honors on Fort Myers Beach. Of the crewmen, only Pilot Donald Vail and Co-pilot Fred Dees were ever recovered and identified. The remaining four men (noted below*) will be honored for the first time this Memorial Day. The fallen crewmen were (alphabetically):

* Lt. Fred Dees, Jr., Co-Pilot from Burgaw, N.C.

* S. Sgt. William G. Kittiko, Top Turret Gunner from McKeesport, Pa.*

* Lt. Louis Mikes, Bombardier from Queens, N.Y.*

* S. Sgt. Milton Newton, Crewman from Davidson, Nashville, Tenn.*

* S. Sgt. Richard Treat, Crewman from Marblehead, Essex, Mass.*

* Lt. Donald Vail, Pilot from Macomb, Ill.

The ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 30, at VFW Post 10097, 17770 Pine Ridge Road, Fort Myers Beach.

Eternal Reefs, Reef Innovations and the Reef Ball Foundation have partnered with Underwater Historical Explorations. Ltd. (UHE) and VFW Post 10097 in Ft. Myers, Fla. to honor and memorialize these men. A UHE dive team discovered the crash site in 2008, more than 42 miles offshore, researched the flight history, and notified remaining family members at that time. The six-man crew was aboard the first of eight B-26 planes from the 480th Bomb Squadron, 336th Bomb Group, lost in training accidents between Nov. 16, 1942 and Nov. 15, 1943. In all, 47 airmen died.

Inscribed plaques will mark large memorials that will be placed on the ocean floor crash site at a later date by a UHEdive team.

Seven memorials in total will be placed at that underwater crash site and noted as sacred ground in recognition of the sacrifice of the airmen. One memorial weighing approximately 1,300 pounds and standing 3′ high by 4′ wide will commemorate the entire crew. Six separate memorials, about 700 pounds each and 2′ by 3′, will honor the sacrifice of each individual man. For an image of the plaques, visit www.facebook.com/eternalreefs.

“I’m just interested in respecting the dignity of my uncle and his crewmates,” said Mark Casey, nephew of Top Turret Gunner Kittiko. “After all these years, I want to be sure the honors are bestowed correctly and their service and sacrifice is properly recognized.”

Casey’s mother, Abigail Kittiko Casey of White Oak, Pa., now deceased, had recalled memories of her brother William (Bill) Kittiko when the UHE notified the families of the discovered B-26 Marauder wreckage in 2008.

“Bill was not one to have a big discussion about something,” she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2008. “He made up his mind to do something and he told you.”

Abigail, two years younger than Kittiko, was a high school senior when the plane disappeared and told the Post-Gazette she remembered the series of telegrams in late 1942 that impacted her family, first saying her brother was missing and another that they were still searching.

“One of the most gratifying things we do at Eternal Reefs is provide closure to families,” said George Frankel, CEO of Eternal Reefs. “That’s exactly what we’ll do on Memorial Day as we honor the memory and sacrifice of these six WWII heroes.”