The desperate search for 2nd Lt. Peter Pokrifcsak
The letter was dated July 2, 1944. Like so many tens of thousands written during the War, it was a plea for information, any information at all. It was written by Ellen Kroboth, girlfriend of 2nd Lieutenant Peter G. Pokrifcsak and friend of his family. (Ellen’s last name is misspelled in the typed letter.)
Chaplain Frank L. Whitney:
I am writing on behalf of Lt. Peter Pokrifcsak’s family and myself. We want to thank you very much for your consoling letter which has been received.
The news of Peter, of course, was a very great shock to us all and quite hard to believe especially since he had been over there for only such a short time.
We’ve received no further information what-so-ever about the accident. The letter from the Gov., which followed the telegram, arrived but told us no more than the telegram.
Since no further information seems likely to be received, we’d like to appeal to you, even if it is only the slightest bit of news.
No information was given whether the plane and all its crew were lost or whether some of the members survived.
Could you possibly obtain for us the home addresses of some of the members of the crew, particularly the pilot and the navigator?
Did you perform the burial rituals?
Perhaps you may not be able to give us any of this information, but I’m sure if anyone possibly can, it would be you.
We must find out in someway, for it was Peter himself who told both his family and myself, if ever we were to receive news of his being lost, we were not to give up hopes unless we had some very definite information.
Now we are doing just that as he has told us to do. Our hopes are still great, but should they be in vain, it still would be more consoling to get all the news of him, that we possibly can.
We’d be ever so grateful if you could help us in this.
Very respectfully yours, Ellen Knoboth
B-24 tail # 42-94885, nicknamed “Maxwell House”, of the 490th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force was returning from a tactical mission to France, in support of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. The pilot, 1st Lieutenant Douglas G. McAusland, continues the story.
“Returning from the enemy coast, I checked the gas gauges from the pilot’s seat as best I could, noting that the supply was low….
“ …we left the formation at cloud level to let down, breaking out at 8000’…. I was informed we had 50, 35 and 30 gallons with number 3 empty….I immediately notified crew of condition; calling each turret individually giving the crew member careful instructions to prepare for ditching or bail out as I had not yet decided which it would be.
“Approximately three minutes after number three (engine) went out the other engines began to sputter, going out simultaneously. It was evident that we couldn’t reach the airfield at Warmwell, but could possibly bail out over the shore line or very close to it.
“At 3000’ I ordered bail out to insure all chutes opening…..(I) noted a short gravel beach and decided to crash land. The two remaining officers, Lt. J. B. Neal, co-pilot, and Lt. W.J. Bogan, had not jumped. I then instructed them to brace themselves against the pilot’s seat which they did. The plane smashed except for pilot’s compartment and nose section.
“Boats were sent out from the beach to pick up men (who had bailed out) before plane had landed….two men, S/Sgt J. K. Convery and S/Sgt Smetzer, were picked up by fishermen one half hour after leaving ship. S/Sgt W. H. Murphy and S/Sgt Glenn Larson were in the water for one and one-half hours and had drifted with tide approximately six miles along coast eastward to Portland. S/Sgt Larson was strangled by his Mae West and parachute, as a consequence, died. Lt. P.G. Pokrifcsak was also drowned. T/Sgt Hild and F.W Kemp were reported safe.”
Peter George Pokrifcsak, of Martins Creek, PA, joined the Air Corps in late 1942. It is uncertain how many missions he flew in combat, since the 490th Bomb Group only went into combat in June of 1944. At the physical he took at Mountain Home Army Air Base in Idaho in May of 1944, just before going overseas, he told examiners that he had measles as a child, but no other significant illnesses. He was 68 ½ inches tall, and weighed 155 pounds.
His remains were recovered and identified by his dog tags, and he was buried at the Brookwood American Military Cemetery in England on June 8, 1944, at 2:00 PM. With his remains were found a wristwatch; a ring; a knife; a Rosary; a pencil; a medal, some photographs; his 2nd Lieutenant bars, and a Catholic prayer book. On his right in Brookwood were the remains of Ensign Virgle E. Wilkerson, of Springfield, Missouri; on his left was Corporal Earl R. Krogstag, of the 743rd Tank Battalion, from Fertile, Minnesota. Like Lieutenant Pokrifcsak, Corporal Krogstag too had been killed on D-Day.
John Pokrifcsak, father of Peter, originally planned that his son’s remains be buried overseas. But after a change of heart, he requested instead that they be returned to the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Then he learned that the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post was to be named in his son’s honor, and so he requested that the remains be permanently interred in Martins Creek, PA. The post was the Pokrifcsak Peter (Lieutanant) and Corporal Harold Brandt VFW Home Association of Martins Creek PA. It has since been dissolved.
The body of Lieutenant Pokrifcsak was disinterred from Brookwood, and placed aboard the USAT Lawrence Victory at Cardiff, on June 16, 1948. It was received at the Port of New York on June 28th, and then sent by train to Martins Creek. He is buried in Church Hill Cemetery, Plot 269, Section 2, in Bangor (Martins Creek), Pennsylvania, USA.
Lt. Pokrifcsak’s photo (first row, far right) appeared in his local newspaper, the Sunday Call-Chronicle with a dozen other young men from the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, with the caption, “Thirteen more good reasons why the Axis can’t win.” Peter Pokrifsak was the only one in the photo not to survive the war.
Based in Eye, East Anglia, UK, the crewmembers of “Maxwell House” were:
- 1st Lieutenant Douglas J. McAusland (Pilot)– Returned to Duty
- 2nd Lieutenant Jerome B. Neal (Copilot)- Returned to Duty
- 2nd Lieutenant William J. Bogan (Navigator) – Returned to Duty
- 2nd Lieutenant Peter G. Pokrifcsak (Bombardier) – Killed in Action
- Staff Sergeant Francis W. Kemp (Radio Operator)- Returned to Duty
- Staff Sergeant Marvin E. Hild (Top Turret Gunner) – Returned to Duty
- Staff Sergeant William H. Murphy (Ball Turret Gunner) – Returned to Duty
- Staff Sergeant James K. Convery (Right Waste Gunner) – Returned to Duty
- Staff Sergeant Harvey C. Smetzer (Left Waste Gunner)- Returned to Duty
- Staff Sergeant Glenn N. Larson (Tail Gunner) – Killed in Action
The remains of Staff Sergeant Larson were also recovered, and he was laid to rest in the Blossom Hill Cemetery in Badger, Iowa.
Special thanks to Katherine (Haring) DiFebo (Pokrifcsak family friend and Church Hill Cemetery manager) and Joe Pokrifcsak (Peter’s brother) of Martins Creek, PA for their contributions to this story.