Family Shares Story of Greek-American Airman Missing since WWII

Sgt. Michael Pappas and his mother Maria in front of the Taxiarchae/Archangels Greek Orthodox Church his father helped found. Photo: Courtesy of the Pappas family

WATERTOWN, MA – The dramatic World War II story of Sgt. Michael Pappas was shared by members of his family on August 7 at the Taxiarchae/Archangels Greek Orthodox Church Hellenic Cultural Center Hall in Watertown. More than 50 people attended the event to learn about Watertown resident and first-generation Greek-American Pappas, Wicked Local Watertown (WL) reported. Still considered missing in action, Pappas served in the 15th Air Force and on December 26, 1944 disappeared during a bombing mission with his team including pilot Arthur Lindell.

What happened to the B-24 and its crew on its mission over Blechhammer in German-occupied Poland is not known for certain, but the family found help from a historian in Poland. Pappas’ niece, Claire Welch, his sister Julia’s daughter, and Claire’s husband Ed Cornelia both spoke with WL about their uncle. Welch said, “We grew up knowing the spirit of my uncle. My grandmother had pictures of him all over the house. His was the first she would say good morning to, and the last she would kiss goodnight. We knew of his sacrifice, but we never knew of his mission, until now,” WL reported.

Sgt. Michael Pappas. Photo: Courtesy of the Pappas family

Cornelia began researching and found the Blechhammer Association located in modern-day Blechhammer which is now Kędzierzyn-Koźle in Poland. Blechhammer translated from the German is “sheet metal hammer” and during the war, the area was where the Nazis set up chemical plants, and forced labor and POW (prisoner of war) camps.

The Blechhammer Association was established in 2010 and, working with the Aircraft Missing in Action Project, “conducts research on the actions of the American air forces in Poland during World War II,” WL reported adding that “they have created a memorial exhibition room dedicated to the pilots of the 15th Air Force, forced laborers, and prisoners of war.”

Through the association, Cornelia found historian and curator Marcin Kopyn who helped the family “track Pappas’ last flight,” in order to gain some insight into what might have happened, WL reported.

The mission was to bomb the Blechhammer synthetic oil plants and Cornelia told WL that “Pappas’ orders were part of America’s greater plan to destroy the Germans’ industrial capacity,” laying the groundwork for the Allied victory over the Nazis. The bombing of Blechhammer, thought to be one of the Nazis’ four principal plants took place July 7 to December 26 with Pappas and his fellow crewmembers in a B-24 Liberator, WL reported.

Kopyn and Cornelia believe that “anti-aircraft gunners shot down his [Pappas’] B-24,” WL reported, adding that British prisoners of war held in the area probably buried the remains of the airmen who perished in the crash.

A Consolidated B-24 Liberator from Maxwell Field, Alabama, four engine pilot school, glistens in the sun as it makes a turn at high altitude in the clouds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Public domain)

Pappas and the crew are still officially missing, though Joseph D. Ryan’s dog tag found this year may offer a clue as to the location of the graves. Ryan was Pappas’ friend and fellow crew member. Kopyn and his associates made the find, WL reported.

The Wall of the Missing in the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten includes Michael Pappas among the names inscribed in stone. The only American military cemetery in the Netherlands, according to its website, Netherlands American Cemetery is a moving memorial to those who lost their lives in the fight against fascism. Since 1945, the members of the local Dutch community have adopted the graves of Americans in the cemetery, placing flowers by the graves, and honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The Pappas family was moved by the efforts of the Dutch and the Poles to honor the members of the Greatest Generation and to find that Otto Schouten, a conductor for the Netherlands National Train, has adopted Pappas’ grave, WL reported.

The Faces of Margraten project’s main goal is to decorate as many graves and names on the Walls of the Missing with a personal photo of the soldier to put a face with the name In addition to using the photos for the unique tribute at the cemetery during the Netherlands’ commemorations of its liberation, photos will also be stored for future generations in the Fields of Honor – Database. The database includes information and photos of thousands of fallen American soldiers, including many buried in Margraten. More information is available online: fieldsofhonor-database.com.