Years ago, in November 1944, I was walking home from school in Refugio with a friend of mine when I noticed a number of cars gathered around our house.
I thought maybe my mother’s Sunday school class was meeting at the house, but it turned out to be the day the War Department notified my mom and dad that my brother “Rex” had been shot down over Germany and was missing in action (later changed to killed in action).
Rex flew a P-38 with the 474th Fighter Group and 428th Fighter Squadron. His last mission was on Nov. 5, 1944, to Schmidt, Germany, which was one of the objectives in the Battle for Hurtgen Forest.
From mid-September to mid-December 1944, the U.S. First Army fought in the Hurtgen Forest trying to take Schmidt and suffered more than 33,000 casualties while the Germans suffered 28,000 casualties.
The following is taken from a letter written Aug. 17, 1945, to my mother by one of Rex’s squadron members.
“Your son was in the #2 position, and I was in the #3 position in the same flight. The whole group-36- was circling the town of Schmidt at an altitude of approximately 5,000 feet preparing to go in and dive bomb enemy troops concentrated in town.
“It was the third circle just to the north of town that Pitz was hit. I was not more than 100 yards behind him, and I just happened to be looking at his plane when both his engines blew up and caught fire. I called him immediately, telling him to bail out. There was no reply, and his plane slipped off in a gentle downward curve to the right.
“I followed him down to about 2,000 feet where I called him again to bail out! There was no answer again, and he made no attempt to pullout. I watched him all the way to the ground, and there was no parachute. I am inclined to believe that he was hit in the cockpit and was killed instantly.
“The fact that he made no attempt either to jump or recover his plane’s altitude has made me — much against my will —believe that he was personally hit.
“With my deepest sympathy, Max Hagemeyer.”
His body was never recovered, although it was seen outside the crash by locals (they tried to get to the plane, but the artillery fire was so intense that one of them was killed).
After the war in 1949, an investigation of the crash was conducted, and it concluded that some U..S troops must have come through and buried the body.
Time passes but memories remain, and I always wondered what happened to his body and how best to memorialize him. About three years ago my family decided to install a headstone in the family plot in the Bayside cemetery in honor of him.
Within a few weeks I received correspondence from JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, the recovery team for MIAs) that Rex’s crash site had been excavated, and no remains were found. Some pictures of the excavation were sent me, and I began to wonder what that area (Strass, Germany ) looked like.
On Sept. 3, 2014, I made that trip to Germany and, while driving to the crash site, we passed through the small town of Vossenack which I had read supported a good little museum, mostly about the battle of Hurtgen Forrest. It only opens on Sunday, but this was Sunday, so we stopped in.
The curator of the museum asked why we were touring this area, and I told him I had a brother who had been shot down not far from here. The curator told us there was an aircraft section upstairs. We spent a good hour or so in the lower section before we went upstairs.
When we got upstairs I noticed some of the pictures looked like that area around Strass. All of a sudden my daughter said, “Dad, Dad, look behind you,” and there on the wall was a picture of my brother and his plane and a short write-up about him as well as pictures of the excavation site.
I immediately ran down to the curator and told him “that’s my brother up there.”
I don’t know who was more excited, the curator or me. He immediately took pictures with me holding Rex’s picture and asked if I had more info (which I did). We exchanged e-mail addresses, and I gave him a copy of the 1949 report.
After we left and went to the crash site it seemed a little anticlimactic, but what more could you ask for ... a memorial for my brother in a museum! That beats a tombstone any day.
Reginald A. “Rex” Pitzer was born June 21, 1924, and died Nov. 5, 1944. A memorial marker honoring Pitzer is located in the old St. Mary’s Cemetery in the Bayside area.