B-26B Marauder #41-31909, Flat Rock, MI - 18 October, 1945
Example of a B-26B __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Crew: Pilot - Sgt. Maurice M. Bouhier, French Air Force Co-Pilot - Aspt. Anges B. Leca, French Air Force Bombardier/Navigator - Sgt. Jean R. Pietre, French Air Force Engineer/Gunner - Pvt. Francois Maniacci, French Air Force Armourer/Gunner – Cpl. Pierre Audonnet, French Air Force Radio/Gunner – Georges Voilemin, French Air Force
Jack Wyman was a fourth grader reciting a lesson in front of the class in the one room McKinsey School in Flat Rock, MI when a huge explosion rang out. The dozen or so students ran to the window as an airplane engine fell from the sky and landed in the back yard of the school. The students were released and young Jack ran as fast as he could across the field to the smoldering plane wreck on a nearby farm. Not far away, James Barry was pheasant hunting, he noticed the plane as it circled the area many times and he could hear the engines revving up and down. He heard a small explosion and looked up to see the plane, which had broken in two with pieces fluttering to the ground like feathers. Farmers closer to the crash were showered with rivets and other small pieces as they dropped to the ground. With the war going on and several air bases in the vicinity, the residents were accustomed to “little yellow” training planes landing in fields or answering a knock at the door to an English or French pilot asking to use the phone. But nobody had ever witnessed a large bomber fall from the sky.
Some time before 4 pm on that clear day, Sgt. Maurice Bouhier and the rest of his French Air Force crew took off in their B-26B Marauder from Selfridge Field in Mt. Clemens, MI. They were on a routine instrument navigation training mission. Not long into the flight something went wrong; what, we will never know. Witnesses on the ground felt something was wrong as they had never seen a plane circle as many times as this one did over an empty field. Perhaps Sgt. Bouhier and the rest of the crew sensed this as well.
The plane was so severely damaged that investigators were unable to determine the cause of the tragic accident that took the lives of the six French aviators. Investigation of the wreckage determined that there was no mid-air explosion and the likely source of the sound described by witnesses was that of the plane breaking apart as it succumbed to some kind of structural failure.
Over the course of the war, as many as 3,000 French bomber crew members were stationed at Selfridge. The French Air Force had B-26 units into 1947, after which they were phased out. After the war was won, all French units at Selfridge returned home by February of 1946. Sadly, these six men were not able to join their comrades in a free France.