Bucks airman killed in ’46 crash to be laid to rest at last
by Joseph A. Gambardello, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER, Posted: December 24, 2012
On Nov. 1, 1946, a B-17 Flying Fortress on a flight from Naples to an airfield outside London slammed into the Mont Blanc mountain range with such force that the wreckage and remains of its eight airmen were scattered over a wide area on both sides of the Italian-French border.
Eight months later, the mountain known as the Aiguilles des Glaciers started to give up the wreckage and dead in a process that continued for more than three decades.
The body parts were interred at Arlington National Cemetery under a tombstone bearing the names of all those lost.
Now, thanks to DNA testing, some of the remains have been identified as those of Staff Sgt. Zoltan Joseph Dobovich, originally of Riegelsville, Bucks County.
They were returned Monday to Dobovich's family in a ceremony at Philadelphia International Airport after a flight from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Honolulu.
Veterans belonging to the Patriots Guard and Warriors Watch provided a motorcycle escort for the hearse on the trip to the funeral home in Mount Holly.
A military funeral is set for Thursday at the Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Cemetery in North Hanover Township, Burlington County, and Gov. Christie has ordered the U.S. and New Jersey flags to fly at half staff at state facilities in Dobovich's honor.
Carlton Dobovich, the airman's nephew, who was born after Sgt. Dobovich died, said the family was grateful that his remains had been identified.
"It really feels good knowing he's been identified and we'll have him close so we can visit him," he said.
Carlton's father, Anthony, a World War II veteran who died in 2006, is buried in the same cemetery.
His father and uncle were very close as boys, and Anthony Dobovich would be "delirious" if he were alive to learn his brother's remains finally had been identified, Carlton Dobovich said.
Zoltan Dobovich was the youngest of five children, the nephew said. Their parents were Hungarian immigrant farmers, and their father died when Zoltan was a young boy.
Zoltan Dobovich was 18 when he joined the Army in Allentown on Dec. 7, 1943, the second anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
After serving in the infantry, he joined the Army Air Corps as a radioman during the war.
It was in that position that he boarded the postwar flight from Naples to the Bovingdon airfield northwest of London. Also on board were Cols. Ford L. Fair, chief of staff of the European Air Transport Service, and Hudson H. Upham, assistant chief of staff for traffic for the service, who was listed as the pilot on the flight manifest.
The purpose of the predawn flight remains unknown, and Carlton Dobovich said his efforts to get an answer have been unsuccessful.
After the plane failed to arrive at Bovingdon, it was reported missing.
An air search for the missing plane was called off after 18 days, according to the European-based Committee for the Commemoration of the Crew of the B-17 of the Aiguilles des Glaciers.
An inquiry established that the plane was about 90 miles off course when it hit the mountain for reasons unknown.
In July 1947, a French army alpine unit chanced upon the crash site. It recovered documents and the remains were interred that October at Arlington.
Between 1972 and 1988, as the glacier atop the mountain retreated, additional wreckage and remains were recovered on the Italian side of the border.
DNA testing recently established that some of the remains belonged to the 21-year-old Dobovich.
Carlton Dobovich said the match was made from Barbara Rice, a cousin in Georgia whom they had not known existed.
In an e-mail, Francis Raout, a young soldier in the French unit that found the wreckage in 1947, said he was grateful to have "rendered service" to the nation "whose sons liberated France."
"I would never have thought that in 2012 I could offer my sincere condolences to the family of Zoltan Dobovich," he said.
Also killed in the crash were Maj. Lawrence L. Cobb, the copilot; Lt. Alfred D. Ramirez, the navigator; Master Sgt. John E. Gilbert, flight engineer; Technical Sgt. William S. Cassell, assistant radio operator; and Staff Sgt. William A. Hilton, assistant engineer.
Carlton Dobovich said he had been informed that the remains of only four airmen have been identified.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, which is in charge of identifying military remains, did not respond Monday to a request for additional information.
Besides his nephew, Dobovich's survivors who are still alive include his niece Rosalie Baker and nephew Joseph Dobovich.
A visitation is set for 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Perinchief Chapels, 438 High St., Mount Holly. A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. at the funeral home. Interment with military honors will follow at the Doyle cemetery.