By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterJune 27, 2017
More than 70 years after American servicemen perished in an Australian plane crash, an Illinois woman is uncertain of the circumstances behind the death of her great uncle.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Vern J. Gidcumb, Jr., was the pilot of the B-17 transporting servicemembers back to the front in New Guinea when the plane crashed moments after takeoff at Bakers Creek, near Mackay, Queensland, Australia. Forty American servicemembers died in the crash.
Cynthia Overstreet of Eldorado, Ill., is the great niece of Gidcumb, who was only in the service for a year before dying in the crash. Overstreet placed a personality to a name on a dog tag during a phone interview from her Southern Illinois home.
"This (information) is from my parents: He was a very personable person," Overstreet said. "He was always kidding and joking around. He was an enjoyable person to be around. He went to high school with my dad. We called him Jimmy Vern."
A book assisted Gidcumb's ancestors in providing some answers of the mystery behind the Bakers Creek tragedy. The book entitled "Mackay's Flying Fortress: The Story of Australia's Worst Air Crash in World War II," was written by Dr. Robert Cutler, executive director of Bakers Creek Memorial Association.
"What was said in the book about not notifying the parents was very true," Overstreet said. "They said they were just killed in action. They didn't go into any details for several years.
"When I found this book and read it, I was shocked, because I only knew that he had been killed in the war," Overstreet added. "I had no idea he was a pilot, and a plane had crashed."
Cutler was a part of the June 14 commemoration at Joint Base-Myer-Henderson Hall. He said he would like to meet Overstreet at a future remembrance.
"We'd love to have Cynthia here next year," Cutler said. "In fact of the 40 casualties, families are spread across 23 different states throughout the country."
Overstreet explained one of the hardest parts for the family was the fact that their son, husband, cousin and uncle would never return stateside.
"It was such a hard thing for his parents that they just really closed up about it," Overstreet said. "He wasn't mentioned. His mom just took it really badly."
Overstreet was unaware that a Bakers Creek memorial was on American soil and near Arlington National Cemetery.
"There's a memorial to them in the United States? No, I did not know that," she said. "I do know of the memorial in Australia."
Overstreet has now put visiting the Fort Myer memorial and attending a future commemoration on her bucket list.
Gidcumb is buried in Eldorado. The town of 4,000 is located 120 miles southeast of St. Louis.
Pentagram Staff Writer Jim Dresbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.