bomber with 12 American soldiers crashed on April 16, 1944, in the Cugir Mountains, Romania. Seventy years after the tragedy, representatives of the community from Cugir erected a crucifix on the place where the plane on which it fell and a small cross made of steel from the very structure of the plane.
For the elderly in Cugir, a small town in Romania, the American plane that crashed on April 16, 1944, is still a source of stories for children and grandchildren. The local community is still talking about the catastrophe of 1944 and is proud of the way the people who arrived first at the wreck site acted. One of those who contributed to preserving the memory of the fallen American soldiers is Aurel Voicu, former mayor of the town.
Bomber squadron over Cugir
The beginning of 1944 was a difficult one for Romania. The country was still allied with the Germans. For this reason, it was heavily bombed by anti-Nazi alliance planes. There were negotiations with the Americans to side with them, but at the time, they were shy and did not predict a close result in time. This was the context in which the catastrophe in the Cugir Mountains occurred.
Witnesses recall how on Easter Day, April 16, 1944, the peace of Cugir was disturbed by the appearance in the sky of a squadron of American bombers coming from the east. Apparently, the aircraft had no intention of hitting the nearby weapons and ammunition factory. Alerted by the noise made by the crowd of planes that covered the sky, the locals noticed how one of the devices detached from the group and dropped some bombs in the area known as Sas Valley, after which, with a deafening noise, crashed in the forest of Poiana Răchita.
The soldiers’ bodies were burned
The first to arrive at the catastrophe’s site was the mountain villages’ inhabitants and the shepherds from the nearby sheepfolds. They saw the disaster with their own eyes. The explosion almost completely destroyed the plane, the soldiers’ bodies were burned, dismembered, and thrown tens of meters away from the plane, and personal belongings belonging to them, as well as war equipment, were scattered through the forest “, Aurel Voicu said. He is still impressed by the way the locals acted then. “It was a gesture of consideration for soldiers killed on duty. The cross we erected at the crash site is also a symbol in the memory of those who contributed to the recovery of the deceased soldiers “, said Aurel Voicu.
The Americans, buried in the hemp cemetery
The head of the local gendarmerie, the director of the communal hospital, and the director of the general school coordinated the activity of recovering the bodies. The three, recognized as local authorities, have drawn up an action plan and will proceed to the most urgent measures necessary in such a situation. So, the next day, a group of soldiers from Cugir went to the area to collect the remains of the victims. They had 12 wooden crates in which they placed the remains of the American military, which they then transported and placed on a platform of the forest train that traveled on the route between Cugir Station and the Aries area.
From the train station after being taken down from the train, the soldiers’ bodies were taken and buried separately in the cemetery from Cânepi, the place where the priest of that time officiated a religious service. One of those who participated in the action, Gheorghe Sân (84 years old), claims that the bodies were scattered everywhere, which made it very difficult to identify them.
About two years after the accident, members of the US Embassy in Bucharest intervened with the Romanian authorities, requesting the exhumation of soldiers from the Cugir cemetery. The coffins with the remains of the 12 Americans were transported to the aerodrome in Balomir, which operated during the war, after which they were taken by plane to Brasov to be reburied along with other American soldiers who died in Romania.
Shirts made of parachute cloth
The causes of the catastrophe are not yet elucidated. The writer Alexandru Craiovan claims in his book “People, animals, and places on the Sebeş Valley” that the plane, a B 24 Liberator, was hit in the back by the Romanian anti-aircraft gun during a bombing raid over Sibiu or Brasov, which led to the damage of the aircraft and its collapse in the Cugir Mountains, to where it managed to fly.
It remains an enigma why the soldiers on the plane did not parachute, given that everyone had a parachute on for such situations. The plane remained on the mountain because the local authorities were not interested in taking over the wreck and transporting it elsewhere.
People dismantled, piece by piece, larger or smaller parts of the plane’s body, looking especially for parts made of aluminum. Afterward, they made household items such as basins, combs, baskets, and circles for grape squeezing presses, knife handles, or trays. Many young people from Cugir wore shirts made of parachute cloth in the bomber “, Aurel Voicu also mentioned.