What a proud and handsome young man! I had to wonder though--what fate befell this young man who entered the Army Air Corps a year before Pearl Harbor?
The Army Air Corps was expanded by Congress in 1939, and Croteau, a recent graduate of Gonzaga University, was one of hundreds of new pilots being recruited. Kelly Field was a training base in San Antonio. As Croteau went to Kelly Field, Europe was awash in war, the Japanese Army had conquered much of China and southeast Asia, and the United States was preparing to enter the global conflict. So what happened to our smiling lad from Wallace?
Croteau was assigned to the 83rd Squadron, 12th Bomb Group (M), of the 9th United States Army Air Force at Ismailia, Egypt. He piloted a B-25 in support of allied troops at the Battle of El Alamein. I know this because of this web page that describes the wartime service of Roland Rakow, the lower turret gunner on Croteau's bomber. Let's let Rakow tell the story:
On September 1, 1942, as our B-25 was returning from its second completed mission—dropping its bomb load on tanks, trucks and troops on the front line at El Alamein—it was struck by a German anti-aircraft 88 mm shell on the left side of the aircraft, adjacent to the top turret gun position. The shell made a gaping hole, which caused the aircraft to break open and go into a 30-or 40-degree dive.
The bombardier, navigator, and the top turret gunner were unable to leave the aircraft. The pilot, co-pilot, and I (the radio operator) parachuted to the ground. We sustained wounds and injuries. “The aircraft crashed in the desert. Capt. Croteau—who was slightly injured—and Lt. Biers located the crash site and found the bodies of Lt. McPartlin and Lt. Archer still in the aircraft. Not wanting to leave their bodies, they buried them at the site. Sergeant Andersen’s body was not found.
I had parachuted to a different location. Within a short period of time, Capt. Croteau and Lt. Biers were discovered and taken prisoner by the German Army. Subsequently, they were transported to a German POW camp and they remained there for the duration of the war.
Rakow was sent to a prison camp in Italy from which he eventually escaped, making his way back to Allied lines and was returned to the States for medical treatment. At the end of his narrative he notes: "I have never been in contact with Capt. Croteau or Lt. Biers, the remaining survivors of my B-25 crew. However, I did hear from other members of our 83rd Squadron that Capt. Croteau had passed away."
|B-25s of the 12th Bomb Group over North Africa, 1944.|
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons