2nd Lt. Alvin “Cal” Beethe was a hotshot World War II fighter pilot flying his 15th combat mission Nov. 26, 1944, when his P-38 Lightning spun into a dive he couldn’t pull out of.
The plane plunged into the ground at high speed near Morschenich, Germany. The 23-year-old from Elk Creek, Nebraska, had no hope of survival. Postwar recovery teams found no trace of his remains when they excavated the site.
“My dad took the telegram up to his mom and dad,” recalled Eilene Beethe Thiesfeld of Lincoln, a cousin who was close to Beethe growing up. “His family was just devastated when they found out the news.”
More than 70 years have passed, but some of Cal Beethe’s remains have now been recovered from the crash site and identified through DNA analysis, according to the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. They will be buried, with military honors, June 8 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Beethe was the oldest of four children in his family who grew up on a farm near Elk Creek, just south of Tecumseh. Thiesfeld said she and he were part of a close-knit group of 14 cousins. Cal was 10 years her senior.
“He had a wonderful personality, very friendly,” Thiesfeld said. “He was very well liked.”
Beethe graduated from Elk Creek High School in 1938. He attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for a time but quit to work at a Boeing production plant in Seattle. After a year, he transferred to the Martin Bomber Plant at Offutt Air Force Base.
He joined the Army Air Corps in March 1942. Pilot training took him to several bases on the West Coast before he was sent to the 393rd Fighter Squadron, 367th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force in England in August 1944.
“Whatever air base he left, he always left with the best record,” Thiesfeld said.
Beethe crashed on a bombing run against German forces near the city of Duren.
The family learned few details until a flying mate of Beethe’s visited after the war. He had been on the same bombing run and saw Beethe’s airplane go down.
“They gave him this war-weary plane, and he couldn’t pull it out of the power dive,” Thiesfeld said.
The family held a memorial service in January 1946.
Sixty-two years later, a group of private citizens in Germany located the crash site and notified the Defense Department. On the second of two visits to the site, in June 2013, a military excavation team recovered some remains.
“Right now, what they have, you could hold in the palm of your hand,” Thiesfeld said.
Still, scientists from the POW/MIA agency — which has an identification lab at Offutt in the same building where Beethe worked 75 years ago — and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Delaware were able to match DNA to two of Beethe’s relatives.
Thiesfeld learned of the match last December. Sadly, she said, none of Beethe’s three younger siblings lived to hear the news.
Still, she was overjoyed. She said a group of family members will attend the ceremony at Arlington.
“To me,” she said, “it’s just nothing but a miracle.”
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