January 22, 2018
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Family of fallen WWII gunner sought

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BELFAST — On July 28, 1944, a B-26 bomber was on a bombing run to a French city when it was jumped by a pack of German fighters.

The plane and its crew of six was four miles north of Mezidon, France, when a pilot was shot and the bomber collided with a German FW-190.

Both planes plummeted to earth, and all aboard died, according to Robert Stuard, president of the Lacey-Davis Foundation.

One man killed in the crash was Staff Sgt. Robert Joseph Birmingham, a gunner who came from Waldo County.

Not much is known about Birmingham — how old he was when he died, what town he lived in or if anyone in his family is still living — but Stuard is banking that someone in Maine will remember the young gunner who died in a field in Normandy that morning.

Last year, the Association Normande du Souvenir Aerien, or ANSA, a French organization dedicated to recovering WWII artifacts, located the B-26 crash site and is preparing to erect a monument there to honor the crew, Stuard said.

Stuard’s California-based foundation is asking for the public’s assistance in locating Birmingham’s family so that the group can help them attend the dedication ceremony in France. If relatives are unable to afford the airfare, the non-profit foundation will be able to help them get a ticket. But first, the relatives must be located, and that has not been easy in the Birmingham’s case.

“Birmingham has been unbelievably hard to find,” said Stuard.

He and his genealogy-expert associate have researched family histories, government records, old newspapers and genealogical websites to track down relatives of D-Day veterans, including the Waldo County gunner, who were killed in action. They have spent many hours searching for Birmingham that way and are now asking for help.

“I think we all owe a lot to these 21-year-old kids who never got a chance to come home,” Stuard said. “I’m 65. I got to see the first man step on the moon, got to marry, got to own a house. These kids were still 21, 22 years old and they never got a chance to experience this. They gave their lives for us.”

Monuments to the WWII veterans killed in action are constructed with money raised from the towns where the planes are recovered. Each memorial is marked with the words “Died for our Freedom,” or “Morts pour notre Liberte.” Dozens of monuments have been erected as close as possible to where American pilots and crew members died and the sites are maintained by ANSA, Stuard said.

“If you put these articles on the front pages, it usually gets seen,” he said. “If someone knew his family, hopefully they will come forth.”

Anyone with information for the foundation regarding Staff Sgt. Robert Joseph Birmingham should contact Robert Stuard at 626-815-1426, e-mail robstu45@verizon.net or write him care of the Lacey-Davis Foundation, 1309 North Brian Ave., Azusa, CA 91702.