MOSINA, Poland -- About 200 Polish citizens from this small town in western Poland gathered in support of a memorial dedication ceremony held here March 18 to honor two U.S. Army Air Corps B-17 bomber crew members who were killed in action during World War II.
The unveiling of a memorial obelisk was held on the 72nd anniversary of the day the two airmen, Tech. Sgt. Leonard A. Marino and Tech. Sgt. John L. Sunberg, took fire from Russian fighter aircraft on March 18, 1945, after they'd bailed out of their bomber that had been crippled by flak during an air raid of Berlin.
As Mosina citizens gathered in a steady rain, Soldiers of 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, and the Polish 17 Wielkopolska Mechanized Brigade stood at attention in front of the granite monument bearing Marino's and Sunberg's names and the inscription "Gone but never forgotten."
"The honor and dedication the Polish people have shown to our missing Airmen, and how deeply they care about us trying to bring all of our service members back home, is probably the greatest show of respect and honor that anybody could ever do," said Capt. Christopher Kell, civil affairs officer for 3/4 ABCT, the rotational armored brigade deployed to Poland and seven other European nations as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The ceremony was attended by the Polish Minister of Family, Labor and Social Policy, Elisabeth Rafalska; Brig. Gen. Stanislaw Czosnek, Polish 11th Armored Calvary Brigade commander; and Col. Christopher Norrie, 3/4 ABCT commander.
The B-17 Flying Fortress aviators are still considered Missing in Action since their remains were never recovered. However, locals over the decades have corroborated an account by Russian soldiers that their remains were buried near Mosina, although the exact location remains unknown.
Capt. William N. West, air liaison officer and joint terminal attack controller with 3/4 ABCT, was the lone U.S. Air Force representative at the dedication.
"It was a very humbling experience to know that Poland and specifically a small town like Mosina continues to honor our two Airmen. It is also comforting to see the effort being put in by the Polish to continue to search for these men who are Missing in Action," West said.
He spoke to Norrie and the 64th BSB Soldiers who gathered around the monument after they'd offered final salutes to the fallen Airmen following the ceremony, recounting the last air mission of Sunberg and Marino to the Soldiers.
Marino, a flight engineer, and Sunberg, a radio operator, were part of a B-17 crew helmed by Lt. Jack Leon with the 837th Bomb Squadron, 487th Bomb Group that had flown bombing missions out of Lavenham, Suffolk, England since December 1944.
On the night of their final bombing run, the crew took flak just before releasing their bombs over Berlin. Leon initially tried to reach a safe landing site in Poland, but the crew was forced to bail out about 10 miles east of the Oder River near Massin, Germany (now Mosina, Poland).
While seven crew members parachuted safely, Sunberg and Marino were killed by Russian fighter planes that mistakenly strafed the men after they bailed out.
"We will continue to search for the remains of the Americans. From residents, we have more signals (of where their remains are), and we will check each of these places. We hope we find the remains of the aviators," said Dariusz Jaworski, mayor of nearby Witnica.
Sunberg, 23 at the time of his death, was from Red Oak, Iowa, and worked as a farmer prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps in October 1942. Marino, 30 at the time of his death, was from Swissvale, Pennsylvania, and left behind his wife of 4 years, Betty, and son Leonard.
"In the future, I hope to see more participation from U.S. forces to commemorate these men and their monument so the Polish understand our gratitude for everything they continue to do to find closure for their families," West said.
Following Saturday's ceremony, Mosina citizens gathered in a small auditorium for a viewing of a documentary about the ongoing search for the missing Airmen.
"This really shows the appreciation for the American Soldiers who have fought for the freedom of Europe before, and for our service members who now continue to live and work together with our European allies to maintain the freedom that was so hard fought from World War II," Kell said.