Remains of World War II pilot John Dudley Crouchley Jr. come home to rest in Rhode Island
By MARK REYNOLDS | Providence Journal | Published: May 3, 2019
WARWICK, R.I. (Tribune News Service) — The grandchildren and great grandchildren of a long-lost World War II bomber pilot were on the tarmac at T.F. Green Airport Thursday night when the Providence native finally came home to Rhode Island.
The flag-draped casket of Lt. John Dudley Crouchley Jr. arrived at the airport with military honors and was taken to an East Providence funeral home with a motorcycle police escort.
The decorated flier, shot down on a bombing mission over Romania, kept his disabled B-24 aloft long enough to allow his entire crew to parachute into Bulgaria in 1944.
Crouchley could not save himself as his plane, riddled by enemy fire, flew into mountainous terrain near the village of Churen.
The U.S. government's recovery of Crouchley's remains, aided greatly by a nephew, by the son of nose gunner on his plane and by a retired police investigator, took place in 2017.
Confusion about where the plane had crashed stymied the effort to recover Crouchley's remains.
The B-24 Liberator, part of the U.S. Army Air Force, had participated in a bombing mission on a Romania oil field. An after-action report cited witnesses who said the plane had crashed in Romania.
The recovery of Crouchley's remains is, in large part, a product of the tech era. Internet-supported research and networking initially helped connect a group of curious family members and others — including a retired police investigator — who were hungry to know more.
The information they gathered, particularly related to the prison camp experience of Crouchley's crew, in Bulgaria, led them to that country.
There, a former Bulgarian military officer and academic located relevant records that had documented the burial of an American pilot.
In September of 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that high-level DNA testing confirmed the recovery of Crouchley's remains.
Mark LaScotte, of Minnesota, the son of a nose gunner on Crouchley's bomber, was among the people on the tarmac.
LaScotte has visited the site of the crash in Bulgaria, where the engines of the B-24 left craters in the ground.
LaScotte's father, Eugene LaScotte, and eight other members of the bomber crew bailed out of the bomber and parachuted to the ground as Crouchley held it steady in the final moments of his life.
Crouchley had already given his life before LaScotte's father touched the ground.
"It's emotional," LaScotte said. "It's very emotional."
After the crash, Crouchley's wife, the late Dorothy (Barber) Crouchley, gave birth to their son, the late John Dudley Crouchley III, who grew up in Barrington and had a son, John Dudley Crouchley IV, and a daughter, Autumn (Crouchley) Williams.
They both stood on the tarmac and waited as a Southwest plane carrying the remains of a pilot, a "Fallen Angel" in military parlance, taxied toward them. It passed under an enormous arch of water, an honor provided by airport firefighters.
"It's amazing that after 75 years he's finally coming home to be with his wife and child," Williams had said earlier. "And his child was the whole reason he was on the mission to begin with."
Her comment was a reference to Crouchley's involvement in the mission to bomb the oil field.
He had ended his vacation early and returned to his bomber wing's base in Italy, because he wanted to get the latest mail from his wife, Dorothy (Barber) Crouchley, who was nearing the end of her pregnancy.
The lieutenant's presence on the base made him eligible for a bombing mission. He would take it, sealing his fate on a run that drew intense ground fire and an estimated 50 enemy fighter aircraft, including planes marked with swastikas.
Calling hours at the Smith-Mason Funeral Home, 398 Willett Ave., Riverside, will be public on Friday.
They will be held Friday, from 1 to 5 p.m. A funeral on Saturday at the North Burial Grounds in Bristol is closed to the public.
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