1946 B-17 crash leads family to discover more family
By FRANK WARNER | The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) | Published: December 26, 2012
When the Defense Department last spring asked Carlton Z. Dobovich for a DNA sample to help identify remains of his uncle who died in a B-17 crash in 1946, Dobovich didn't help at all.
"They sent a DNA kit," he said. "But my wife thought it was a scam and she wouldn't let me do it."
In September, the military Central Identification Lab in Hawaii called back to report it was now certain it had rib fragments of his uncle, Army Staff Sgt. Zoltan J. Dobovich, killed when the B-17 failed to clear the French-Italian Alps.
The Bethlehem Township man's remains were delivered Monday afternoon to Philadelphia International Airport, where an honor guard, veterans, Carlton Dobovich and other family members received the flag-draped casket.
Zoltan Dobovich will be buried Thursday in Arneytown, N.J.
Carlton Dobovich wondered how the military investigators identified the remains, which had been collected in decades of searches of the crash site. The investigators told him that they matched the bones with the DNA of his cousin Barbara Rice.
"I had never heard of Barbara Rice," said Dobovich, who lives in Jackson Township in central New Jersey. The Defense Department found her in Georgia, he said, and it turned out she is the daughter of Zoltan Dobovich's cousin.
Zoltan Dobovich, a World War II veteran, was one of eight crew members of a B-17 Flying Fortress who died Nov. 1, 1946, when the plane smashed into Mont Blanc on a flight from Naples to London. He was 21.
Carlton Dobovich had heard about his uncle from his late father, Anthony Dobovich. And more than once, Carlton's family had visited an Arlington National Cemetery memorial to the lost B-17 crew. But he said having the identified remains brings a new dimension to his uncle's life.
"It's a big difference," Dobovich said. "Now it's more personal. Now it's him."
He said he felt the difference Monday at the Philadelphia airport, where the remains arrived from the lab in Hawaii.
There, an Army honor guard from Fort Dix, N.J., carried the casket from the jet and two veterans motorcycle groups, the Patriot Guard Riders and the Warriors Watch Riders, lined up their bikes to escort the hearse to a Mount Holly, N.J., funeral home.
"It was quite a scene," Dobovich said. "I actually started to break down. I know my dad would have wanted to do everything that's being done for his brother now.
"Now he's home with us," he said, adding that the long search came with another gift -- a bigger family.
"What really came out of this is that we have now found relatives who we never knew existed," he said. "It's like a Christmas present from Zoltan."
The hearse took Zoltan Dobovich's remains to the Perinchief Chapels in Mount Holly. He will be interred Thursday next to his brother Anthony in the Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Cemetery.
Zoltan Dobovich was the son of Joseph and Rose Dobovich, Hungarian immigrants to the United States.
His father died when Zoltan was a little boy, so he grew up with his mother, two brothers and two sisters on a Butztown farm just east of Bethlehem, where his family worked for the farm owner.
For a short time, Dobovich worked for the Sure Fit Co. and Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, but then he enlisted in the Army in 1943 and became an Air Forces radio operator-mechanic.
World War II had been over for more than a year when he left Naples on the fatal B-17 flight. He had seen his soldier brother Stephen in London only two months earlier.
French soldiers discovered the first pieces of the wrecked bomber in July 1947. Two months later, Zoltan's brother Anthony had a son, Carlton Z., whose middle name was chosen for the uncle he'd never know.
A visitation service is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Perinchief funeral home. The funeral service will be 11 a.m. Thursday, with military burial to follow.