Name on WWII Bomber Reveals Story of Love and War

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A World War II wreck retrieved from the bottom of an Italian lake has revealed a forgotten story of love during wartime.

The wreck, a B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber, which crashed in Lake Bolsena 70 years ago, was recovered last year from a depth of 300 feet and identified thanks to a young American's love for a certain "Ileen Lois."

Divers from the Research Center of the Scuba School of Lake Bolsena and the Fire Department of Viterbo identified several pieces of the plane scattered on the bottom of the lake, including the Sperry ball turret -- a spherical capsule that protected the gunner at belly of the bomber.

Photos: WWII Wreck Reveals Wartime Romance

German subs were parked just a few miles from U.S. beaches, hunting merchant ships during World War II.
A side-scan sonar image of U-550. Credit: GK

The recovered turret, which has been put on display at a local museum last month, featured some intriguing hand-painted words: "Ileen Lois."

"The words were still visible after 70 years underwater on the right and left side of the turret. They allowed us to identify the plane, reconstruct its history and the fate of its crew," Mario Di Sorte, a historian who researched the plane's long-standing mystery, told Discovery News.

With the help of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and its supporters, Di Sorte discovered the words referred to Lois Eileen, the young wife of gunner Sgt. Ralph Truesdale. He was one of the 10-man crew aboard the four-engine aircraft B-17 USAF, serial no. 4124364.

Photos: WWII U.S. Pilots Downed Outside of Rome

"Having his wife's name written on the sides of the turret was a gesture of love which made him feel closer to her during the war missions," Di Sorte said.

Writing a lover's name on the plane wasn't just Truesdale's idea. When it came to name their plane, the entire crew agreed to call it "Ethel," after the girlfriend of right waist gunner Anthony Brodniak.

The B-17 aircraft belonged to the 429th Squadron of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), which was operating from Amendola, near Foggia in Puglia. "Ethel" flew for the last time on Jan. 15, 1944.

The B-17's final flight was part of a mission which involved the use of 38 B-17 Flying Fortresses divided into two waves. The primary target was the railroad bridge in the town of Certaldo, south of Florence. The alternate target were marshaling yards at Poggibonsi, near Siena.

Once near Perugia, the group encountered heavy fire from German anti-aircraft. Seven B-17s in the first wave and 18 in the second suffered serious damage. Only for the "Ethel" crew was the mission a total failure. The B-17 was hit by anti-aircraft fire, damaging its two engines. It released six bombs to lighten its load on the shores of Lake Trasimeno.

"The bomber was out of control, so all 10 crewmen were forced to bail out," Di Sorte said.

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