A lost WWII hero comes home to Idaho
By SCOTT JACKSON | Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho | Published: July 13, 2018
MOSCOW, Idaho (Tribune News Service) — Seventy-three years after his bomber was shot down over East Germany, Staff Sgt. Charles H. Daman has come home.
It was the spring of 1945 when 21-year-old Daman was killed in action after he and the crew of his B-24M Liberator were shot down over a field just north of Wittenberg, Germany.
Daman's plane, nicknamed "Red Bow," was one of more than 400 bombers participating in a series of airstrikes meant to cripple what was left of the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe.
"Red Bow" and its crew were struck by an air-to-air missile fired by an enemy Messerschmitt 262 on April 4, destroying their tail section and causing them to crash into farmland below. Nine of the 10-person crew were killed on impact.
Nearly a month later, German forces surrendered, ending the war in Europe.
"My grandmother swore until the day that she died that Uncle Charles was going to walk in the kitchen door. Any second, he would walk in that door and be home," said Wilber Tanner, Daman's nephew and one of his closest surviving relatives. "We brought him home last Monday."
While he never knew the man, Tanner, 83, is one of 19 nieces and nephews that are Daman's only living relatives. Tanner said Daman's family had always assumed he'd been buried at sea. Unbeknownst to him, Tanner said his aunt, Maxine Mamau, had her DNA tested for a match against remains recovered on the battlefield. She died before seeing the results, but in September of last year, Tanner received confirmation that the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency had positively identified the remains of his uncle.
Tanner's wife, Beverly, said while search teams believe they have recovered every crew member, only two have been identified.
"They don't have any DNA from their family, so they can't identify them," Beverly said.
Daman, a nose gunner and togglier, was responsible for manning the pair of .30-caliber Browning machine guns mounted at the fore of the plane and for manually arming the aircraft's 5-ton payload of 20 bombs.
Daman had done his job — all 20 were armed and set to explode on impact when the plane struck the ground. By the time what was left of the plane was collected decades later, even the largest pieces of debris were no more than a few inches wide.
"That's the plane," Beverly said, gesturing to a picture of what looked to be a layer of dirt and small debris, including fragments of a comb, wedding rings and pieces of a flashlight, poured onto a blue tarp.
"After the explosion, that's all there was," she said.
Daman was identified by a single bone fragment less than 5 centimeters across.
While the family may have been unaware there were any remains to be interred, Daman's recovery was delayed by years of geopolitical turmoil.
"What held up Sergeant Daman was the Cold War," said Joe Fry, an Army Sergeant out of Lewiston acting as liaison between Daman's family and the government. "Where he was at was actually at one time in East Germany."
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Tanner said recovery efforts still had to wade through decades of red tape. He said it was necessary to acquire permissions from the German government and the landowner, after which recovery crews had to wait for the crops planted over the crash site to be harvested before searching the site.
"This was like an archaeology dig," Tanner said. "This stuff is like 40 or 50 years old; (it's) been in the ground."
Even now, most of a century after the end of the war, Chairman of the Board for the National League of POW MIA Families, Ann Mills-Griffiths, said recovery of remains of those killed in World War II is an ongoing project. Although, she said, the majority of those who were lost will likely never return home.
"Out of 73,000 or so (soldiers missing in action), they only estimate they may be able, just 'may', be able to get accountability for 26,000 or so," Mills-Griffiths said.
Moving forward, Tanner said Daman's uniform and medals will be donated to a museum at Gowan Field in Boise — the base where Daman and his crew trained together. With some difficulty, Tanner said he has arranged for Daman to be laid to rest with his mother.
A funeral service with full military honors will be held at 1 p.m., July 17 at the Coeur d'Alene Memorial Gardens, 7315 N. Government Way, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. His family will be awarded the Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.
©2018 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho)
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