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Cudmore: Army plane crashed in Amsterdam in World War II

Cudmore: Army plane crashed in Amsterdam in World War II

A twin-engine American Army transport crashed in a rural section of Amsterdam’s South Side during World War II shortly after the airplane’s four-man crew parachuted to safety in the city’s Fifth Ward.  No one on the ground was injured. 

The plane was a U.S. Army Cessna UC-78, according to the websites of the Aviation Safety Network and Aviation Archaeology.

The aircraft was described as a bomber in 1943 newspaper accounts but reader Tony Solomon found the plane was mainly used for training and military transportation.

Fireman Frank Mazur, standing outside the Central Fire Station then at West Main and Pearl streets, heard an airplane engine sputtering and saw the tail light descending rapidly toward the South Side about 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1943.

The aircraft went down either in the vicinity of Route 5S or today’s New York State Thruway.  Emergency crews scrambled to the crash.  The Army and state police guarded the wreckage during the night, keeping crowds of spectators away.

The pilot, Capt. John F. Pope, was the last to exit the plane at about 500 feet.  Pope was found wandering on DeWitt Street.  He and his parachute apparently had landed on the roof of popular Fifth Ward Alderman Angelo Sardonia’s house or on the porch of Charles Frohlich.

The other three crew members parachuted safely near the Fifth Ward School on Perkins Street. The aircraft’s exit door through which they escaped was found on Eagle Street in the city's East End.

Capt. Pope of Montgomery, Alabama and Lt. Charles Thompson of Schenectady, another member of the crew, were decorated combat veterans from the North Africa campaign.

The Recorder reported of Capt. Pope, "He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal, with several oak leaf clusters, but it remained for Amsterdam to hold the distinction of being the first place over which he bailed out of a plane."

Thompson had been in a plane shot down behind German lines in Africa, but he and his men found their way back to Allied territory. 

The two other soldiers in the Amsterdam crash were Sgt. Joseph Bragdon of York Village, Maine and Sgt. Albert Finarelli of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Capt. Pope lost his old hat in the parachute jump into Amsterdam, a hat that had been with him in Britain, Gibraltar and North Africa in 108 combat missions.  Fifth Ward School second-grader Peter Marcucio, celebrating his 7th birthday, and his friend Robert Selbert found the hat and were rewarded with junior sets of pilot's wings later that month.

In a letter to Marcucio, Pope wrote, “As you know, the hat wasn't very good, but it carries a lot of memories with it that make it priceless to me.”

The flight had originated at the relatively new Rome Air Depot, created in November 1942, and was on its way to Schenectady County’s airport in Glenville. The Rome airfield became Griffiss Air Force Base after the war.

The crew from the Amsterdam crash was lucky to survive. Laura Hillenbrand, in her book “Unbroken,” wrote of World War II, “Some 15,000 airmen died in accidental crashes stateside.”

The cause of the Amsterdam crash is listed on the Aviation Archaeology site as “bail out, engine failure.”

Amsterdam city historian Robert von Hasseln said the UC-78 (originally C-78) was developed from the Cessna five-passenger transport Model T-50, first produced in 1939. “UC” stood for “utility cargo.”

More information on the crash can be found in the late Robert Going’s book on Amsterdam in World War II, “Where Do We Find Such Men?”  Al Mancini of Amsterdam suggested this story.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].

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