Moszek “Mike” Zanger was born 1920 in Grodzisk, Poland before immigrating to Bronx, New York with his mother, father, and sisters Alice and Goldie. Growing up, he was an athlete, enjoyed acting in plays, jazz music, and went to City College to study business.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Zanger joined the US Navy and underwent flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Afterward, he was assigned to the United States Marine Corps and sent overseas. As a fighter pilot with VMF-222 “The Flying Deuces”, Zanger flew combat missions in the South Pacific. His missions included fighter sweeps and strike missions over enemy territory.
On December 5, 1944, he suffered a mid-air collision and parachuted out of his damaged plane. He was declared missing in action (MIA) on a combat mission over Rabaul, New Britain Island. He was captured by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war (POW) until executed by his captors during June or July 1945.
His three nieces: Andrea Talbutt of Elmsford, New York, Susan Nishihira of Seattle, Washington, and Marcy Hanigan of North Hollywood, California knew little about their uncle, only that he had died during the war.
After their mother Goldie died in 2009, the sisters searched the internet for information about their uncle. They discovered the website Pacific Wrecks had a page detailing Zanger’s tragic demise researched by historian Henry Sakaida of Temple City, California. The sisters also made contact with Justin Taylan of Hyde Park, New York, who believed Zanger’s missing aircraft could be located.
During April 2012, the group traveled to Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, an island nation north of Australia. Together, they retraced Zanger’s final mission, life in captivity and located his crashed fighter plane. After conducting research at the National Archives, they were able to prove the wreckage found was indeed Zanger’s plane using manufacture numbers.