(FOX 2) - It was 75 years ago when the B-17 Bomber 'Strictly GI' was shot down over the village of Speyerdorf.
Thousands of miles away, the plane carried a very Michigan connection - its bombardier grew up in Detroit.
Of the nine-person crew, five died in the crash after it was it by German anti-aircraft fire. While the mission may be seen as a failure, a follow-up search into the crash is not.
A group in Germany that dedicates its time and resources to discovering these sites has identified the spot where the 'Strictly GI' crashed. Their bombardier aboard the aircraft was 2nd Lt Richard F. Klein, of Detroit.
"We do not want the names of the airmen, and this historical and tragic site to be forgotten," wrote Erik Wieman of Projekte Luftkrieg in an email. "They paid the highest price for their country and for our freedom."
Before the 'Strictly GI' crashed in the woods near the village, it was on a mission to bomb the city of Ludwigshafen, a German city that sat along the Rhein River. The mission was scheduled for Sept. 9, 1944. While the missing crew report from United States War Department lists the status of all nine crewmembers as MIA at the time of the crash, later reports revealed four of the crewmembers survived the crash.
Second Lt. Klein, whose last known address was 6698 Majestic Place, Detroit Michigan, would survive the crash. Now that a successful discovery has been made of the crash site, Wieman's group has another mission to follow: find Klein's family.
"We are looking for descendants of the crew, we are looking for the family of L.T. Klein," Wieman said. "We want to inform them about our find and our plans to plant a memorial stone at the crash site after the excavation has completed."
While decades of time have passed since the crashes, many groups that specialize in these searches are running out of time to identify them all. As witnesses get old and die, so does the valuable information they possess that helps Projekte LuftKrieg with their work.
"In a few years, it will be much more difficult to find these sites because there will be no more eye witnesses left," Wieman said. "So we try to find as many sites as possible, before they are forever forgotten."
In the case of 'Strictly GI,' it was a forestral worker that had worked in the wooded area after the war that guided researchers to the crash site. Over 80 years old, he still remembered seeing the wreckage in the forest.
"However, the area has changed and the site has been planted with new trees right after the way," Wieman said. "Our search was successful in the end."
So far, the group has found both "smaller and bigger plane parts, exploded ammunition," but they are still at the beginning of the excavation. And with that excavation comes the task of finding all crewmember's families.
"Our goal is to find all nine families before the memorial stone will be erected at the site," said Wieman.
The group has already found relatives of one crewmembers, the ball-turret gunner who died in the crash. Perhaps Klein's family will be next. If you are or know of anyone who might be related Klein, contact Erik Wieman at firstname.lastname@example.org.