Uncovering a history mystery

UC and JC residents dig up info to help memorial in United Kingdom

Earlier this year, Pat Baldwin of Norfolk, England submitted a Letter to the Editor of The Hudson Reporter in an attempt to trace a survivor from the crash of a B24 Liberator bomber during World War II that she was investigating for the B24 Memorial Association.
Eight men lost their lives as a result of the B24 plane crash at North Tuddenham (near Baldwin’s residence) on April 21, 1944. Neither of the two survivors ever flew in combat again. After recovering from their injuries, they worked as ground crew until returning to the United States in May 1945.


A ‘waist gunner’ on the aircraft, Sgt. Brzostowski was living in Hudson County when he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) on Nov. 12, 1942

Baldwin was in search of one of those survivors, Sgt. John J. Brzostowski. But all she knew about him was that he was from Hudson County – so she sent her request out across the “pond.”
Though it was a long shot, local history buffs quickly took notice, and within just a few weeks residents from Union City and Jersey City responded with the fruits of their research.
They not only traced Sgt. Brzostowski’s whereabouts after the crash, but were also able to obtain contact information for his living relatives.

Ready to research

Members from the Hudson County Genealogy Society (HCGS) took on their new “pet project” eagerly and set to work finding out as much as they could about Sgt. Brzostowski.
They found his birth certificate (which showed he was born in Jersey City on Sept. 18, 1922) and baptismal certificate, as well as census, enlistment, and property information.
And, with the help of Cynthia Harris from the New Jersey Room at Jersey City Public Library, they were able to obtain a copy of his obituary from 1979 and discover Sgt. Brzostowski’s living relatives in Texas, Canada, and England – complete with contact information.
Those who participated in the project said they enjoyed the research and were happy to be able to help Baldwin with a portion of her project she had been researching for a long time to no avail.
“This turned out great for her and [the memorial association],” said Kathie Pontus, a board member of the HCGS. “But I really think it’s just as great for The Reporter and the Hudson County Genealogy Society, both of whom are responsible for the great outcome.”
Yet it seems part of the mystery may continue. Pontus said from their research they feel it is likely that Brzostowski may have other unknown relatives living in Jersey City and Bayonne.

One of two survivors

A “waist gunner” on the aircraft, Sgt. Brzostowski was living in Hudson County when he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) on Nov. 12, 1942.
According to researchers, the bomber was returning from a mission aborted because of weather conditions and apparently iced up and was in danger of crashing. Eyewitnesses recall seeing an undamaged parachute descending from the plane, which historians have ascertained must have been the one used by Sgt. Brzostowski. The only other survivor of the crash recalled that his own parachute was damaged by a piece of flying metal.
Local people did not realize that either man who used a parachute had survived and, until recently, believed that all ten crew members had been killed, which researchers believe indicates that Sgt. Brzostowski may have been severely injured.
Descendants of the other survivor, Sgt. Gerald Knettel, have said that he remembers he and Sgt. Brzostowski “were directly above and below one another, and were sitting in their seats one minute and the next were falling from the plane below it.” The plane then blew up.

Who was John J. Brzostowski?

As the result of extensive research by volunteers from the Hudson County Genealogy Society and the New Jersey Room at the Jersey City Public Library, Baldwin was able to piece together information about Sgt. Brzostowski’s life after the plane crash.
The son of Polish immigrants, Sgt. Brzostowski had an older brother and sister and also a younger brother.
He was single at the time of the crash and continued to serve in the USAAF, although when he left the service is not known.
Sgt. Brzostowski lived in Lyndhurst until 1979 when he moved to Odessa, Texas, where his younger brother lived.
Sgt. Brzostowski passed away just a few months later from a suspected heart attack. He was survived by his wife, Rose, whom he had married in 1973, two daughters, a son, and two grandchildren.
In his obituary, he is described as retired member of the USAAF, and a member of the VFW Post No. 4372 and American Legion Post No. 430.

‘A real success story’

Baldwin called the research that followed her Letter to the Editor “a real success story” that was the result of “a lot of hard work and research.”
“Kathie, Dee [Berry], and Cynthia Harris have worked so hard to help me,” said Baldwin. “They deserve a big ‘thank you.’”
Now that the information she was looking for has been uncovered, Baldwin said she is attempting to contact the children of Sgt. Brzostowski with hopes of finding out if their father passed down any memories about the crash.
Since crashes of combat aircraft were so common during the war, they were rarely recognized or memorialized at the time. The B24 Memorial Association is dedicated to giving belated recognition to those who lost their lives. For more information about the work of the B24 Memorial Association, visit www.b24.net.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at ldiaz@hudsonreporter.com.

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