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Mystery solved after 50 years

Relative visits crash site of American pilot

Tags: World War II

MIDLUM, the Netherlands - US Air Force lieutenant George Choate never returned from a WWII mission to Germany where his squadron attacked enemy positions at Nienburg. On the way back to England, the Thunderbolts planned to attack German positions around the Dutch town of Elburg. Choate was presumed downed when he ran into fire from German artillery. However locally, there was no report of an Allied plane crash that day, October 24, 1944.

For nearly 50 years relatives of Choate wondered what might have happened to him. Likely, the mystery would have remained were it not for a Maastricht woman, Mia Roorda, who adopted Choate's grave at the American War cemetery at nearby Margraten.

Relieved to know

Not satisfied with merely adopting the grave (looking after its upkeep, laying flowers and participating in remembrances), she also traced Choate's military record, discovering irregularities in the cemetery's documents. The long-time assumption that the crash site was near Elburg proved false, as Roorda located it near Harlingen where German batteries had shot Choate down. The information reached Choate's family which sent his sister Mary Kay Johnston from Santa Rosa, California, on a tearful pilgrimage to the Frisian crash site. There, she stated that the family was relieved to finally know for certain what had happened to George. Johnson never got to see Roorda. The woman who pieced Choate's history together had died earlier.

However, retired farmer Karsjen Tamminga, whose farm is the crash site, was able to tell Johnson exactly what had happened that fateful day, nearly fifty years ago.