B-17 Memorial Park Is Reminder of Crew That Died in Tragic Crash in 1944

Kkeaton CC BY-SA 4.0
Kkeaton CC BY-SA 4.0

On March 12, 1943, nine crew members of a B-17 Flying Fortress flew over Grant County, Arkansas, on their way to Florida from Kansas. It was supposed to be an easy flight before they shipped off to England to join in the Allied bombing runs on Nazi Germany.

Approximately 26,000 US airmen were killed in the skies over Europe, but this crew never got there. After the crash, Grant County residents reported having heard the engine of the B-17 sputtering as the plane flew low before nosediving into a grove of trees at about 3:30pm. All nine of the crew were killed in the crash.

Radio operator, Peter Ivanovich wrapped a dogtag, a rosary and a miniature deck of playing cards in a red handkerchief and threw it from the plane just before the crash. The items were recovered by a resident and mailed to the man’s mother in Arizona.

When the Army Air Force investigated the crash they said that it was caused by severe thunderstorms and by pilot error. County American Legion members researched the crash themselves and found evidence that the plane was not in good repair and that it was not fir to be airborne on that day.

Memorial Wall of the Nine Airmen who died March 12, 1943. Kkeaton CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1944, a stone monument was erected and engraved with the names of the crew members of that tragic flight. At the bottom of the memorial was a line from a British poem written during World War I. “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we shall remember them.”

During the years after the crash, pieces of debris were recovered using metal detectors. The pieces were turned over to the Grant County Museum. By 1984, though, the crash had mostly been forgotten.

In 1984, a young man named Jerry Glen Jackson found the monument. He made it his Eagle Scout project to research and tell the story of the crash. He worked with the Grant County Museum to do the research.

Jackson succeeded in earning his Eagle Scout honors but was killed in an accident on the road the following month.

Now the crash site six miles north of Sheridan, Arkansas, is the site of the B-17 Memorial Park which was dedicated in 2015. It was built and is maintained by the local American Legion along with volunteers.

The park consists of panels which pay tribute to the service members from Grant County who were killed in action from World War I through the Vietnam War. A separate marker commemorates the soldiers who were killed in the Civil War Battle of Jenkins Ridge which took place near the park’s location.

The main feature of the park is the full-sized model of a Boeing No. 42-29532 – the same model of plane which crashed there in 1943. Prisoners from the Grant County jail helped to build the wood and steel construction memorial which includes thousands of rivets. The model contains mannequins representing the crew members.

All nine members of the crew came from different states. The names of the crew members and the flags of the states they represented are on a granite wall behind the model.

The young Eagle Scout who worked to make sure these airmen were not forgotten has his own marker on the back of the stone memorial he found back in 1984. The plaque includes Jackson’s goal in making the crash the centerpiece of his Eagle Scout project: “To help those families know that their loved ones have not been forgotten.”

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The park is open daily and is free of charge to visit.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE