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LAYTON — Second Lieutenant George Wilson crashed in his B-17 somewhere over France, during World War II. Very little was known about the whereabouts of him or the wreckage, until family members started looking.
For decades, pictures, letters, and an old Army Air Force uniform was about all family members had to remember George “Frankie” Wilson.
Sonni Bornemeier only heard very little in stories, while she was growing up, of the man who was her grandmother’s brother.
“It was, ‘Grandma had a brother (who) died in World War II,'” Bornemeier said. “(He) was a pilot, didn’t even know the type of plane, and crashed, but was able to keep the crew in the air long enough that they all survived, except for him.”
Aside from that, Bornemeier said her family didn’t say much about Uncle George. That all changed recently.
On Memorial Day 2018, Sonni, and her husband, Erik Bornemeier, decided to start looking for answers. The first came in a declassified document detailing Wilson’s crash.
“This was a really good starting point for our research,” Erik said. “It gave us the crew. It gave us the destination. It gave us the objective and the area.”
An Air National Guard reservist who also serves as the commander of Davis County’s Search and Rescue team, Erik said while crew accounts were somewhat spotty, as most of them spent time as prisoners of war, they learned much more about Wilson’s bravery.
The B-17 crew of nine were on their third mission. A tenth crew member, the tail-gunner, was sick and didn’t come along. They were heading to bomb German-occupied sites in northern France.
“About two minutes from bomb drop, they encountered a ton of flak,” Erik said, explaining that Wilson as the pilot, was injured. “Everybody was able to bail out because Frankie kept the plane up, and he did circles to get everybody out, and then just went down with the plane.”
The story, along with some maps of their mission, gave Erik Bornemeier a starting point for his search.
He used the information to pinpoint a likely town where the plane went down: Monchy Cayeux.
Through a search online, he was able to get the help of a reporter there who put him in touch with townspeople who had more information. Bornemeier said some were grateful for Wilson’s efforts in keeping the plane from crashing into the town, instead crashing into a nearby farmer’s field.
During his first trip to the area in July 2018, Bornemeier said several townspeople helped him look for the crash site, including one who had a metal detector. Within that first day, they found the wreckage.
“Within this first look, I got propeller blades. I got plexiglass. I got 50 (caliber) bullets,” Bornemeier said. “I’ve got all the things that say, ‘B-17,’ or could be found on a B-17.”
Townspeople also helped him find a living witness to the crash.
A year later, Erik’s findings have since been validated by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA – the U.S. government agency tasked with finding those who went missing during wartime.
“What started out as just a fact-finding information about our loved one has turned into more of a recovery now, or a possible recovery,” Bornemeier said.
Sonni Bornemeier said the result has made a major impact on her family.
“It’s overwhelming and emotional, and it’s actually brought the family together again,” Sonni said. “Everyone that was closest to him, it feels like they’re wanting this (story) told, too.”
Erik Bornemeier still has yet to find the remains of 2nd Lt. George “Frankie” Wilson, but said he has some good leads that he intends to follow up on during a trip this November.
“I feel like I’ve completed the mission already, but it’s the last chapter that we’re on,” Bornemeier said.
He said the DPAA will send its own recovery mission within about two years, but he’d like to see a local excavation crew, made up of volunteers and companies, willing to donate the time and money.
“This is a Utah story, and I would love for it to be a Utah effort to be able to go back and bring Frankie home,” Bornemeier said. “He’s a true hero.”