On the morning of March 6, 1944, 1st Lt. Herschel H. Mattes, a 22-year-old Army pilot from Pittsburgh, flew his A-36A Apache ground attack/dive bomber in central Italy, looking for targets. The plane, which he called “Stelloola” after a nickname he had given his kid sister, Estelle, was hit by gunfire from below. It crashed on the grounds of a villa 25 miles northwest of Rome.
German soldiers occupying the villa buried Mattes—with scraps of his flight jacket—just yards from the house. They marked the makeshift grave with a wooden sign identifying the remains as an American fighter-pilot who was shot down on March 6, 1944.
Three years later, a team from the Army’s Graves Registration Service moved the remains to an American military cemetery on the other side of Rome. With no dog tag or other means of identification, the body was reburied and entered onto the military’s roster of unidentified dead as X-977.
So began a story that, astonishingly, would take 75 years to reach its conclusion. It did so with the help of Stephen Johnson, ’99, a historian with the Department of Defense.
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Historian solves mystery of lost World War II pilot
Submitted by Alexandra Colley Dusablon on September 21, 2020 - 1:19pm