Seven heroes buried decades after WWII crash

The crew of The Happy Legend went missing in 1942.
Published: .
Updated: .

Kevin Rader/Eyewitness News

It may seem hard to believe, but a Marion man is thankful he was able to attend a funeral last week that he has been waiting on for 67 years. The story of a brother's keeper stretches from Indiana to New Guinea and finally to Arlington National Cemetery.

"Arlington is a beautiful place. It's amazing," said Phil Maggart.

Arlington National Cemetery is a place of honor, valor and remembrance, where the sound of the drumbeat echoes through the silence of our American history. Side by side, it is where life can give way to legend for the known and unknown.

"There's my brother there. That's Charlie," said Maggart at the cemetery.

It was the unknown that has bothered Maggart since 1942.

"Western Union knocked on the door, handed it to my mother and left. That was it," Maggart recalled.

The telegraph told the Maggarts that "The Happy Legend," a B-25 bomber, did not return from a routine attack in New Guinea during World War II. Seven long years passed before the family would get word that the seven-man crew including their son, First Lieutenant Charles Maggart, were missing in action.

"We never really knew what happened. Tore everybody up, my father just gave up. He got rid of the business and quit. He was devastated," Phil Maggart said.

To Phil, eleven years his junior, his brother was larger than life.

"That was my hero. He was my hero," he said.

So eventually, when his parents' efforts proved fruitless, the mantle would be passed to young Phillip. If anyone was going to find Charles, it would have to be him.

"I am the last Maggart. If I don't find him, nobody else will," Maggart said.

That passion, which consumed a lifetime, led to nine volumes of material and, ultimately, to the crash site.

"This is an aerial view of the crash area," Maggart said.

He found out the Department of the Defense made 14 trips in all to the recovery site.

"I wanted to know what they found," he said.

What they found was enough to bring Charles home.

When the search began, it was Phillip's hope to bring Charles back home to Indiana. But now, he has come to the realization that heroes, at least his hero, belongs in Arlington.

"I am fine with this now. He is buried with his crew," Maggart said.

So the families of bomber's crew descended on Washington D.C., the city of heroes, to bury seven more.

"I was five weeks old when the airplane went down," said Michael Schryer, whose father died in the crash.

"I had almost given up hope of finding anything," said Jan Crawford, the sister of a victim.

"We are all happy now. Happy it's over with. It's a happy occasion," Maggart said.

One day, one funeral, one casket. The crew of The Happy Legend is finally coming home.

"Single backgrounds, modest families and gave their lives," Maggart said.

"They fought together as brothers in arms," an inscription at the WWII Memorial reads. "They died together and now they sleep side-by-side. To them we have a solemn obligation."

"I think my mother and father are looking down on this and they're proud," Maggart said.

After 67 years, Maggart knows all about solemn obligations. So from now on, when he sits down to watch those movies at his home in Marion, there is no unknown. Now, he knows how this story ends.

Another member of the flight crew was also a Hoosier. Lieutenant Wilson Pinkstaff, of South Bend, was buried with his crew mates at Arlington.