Category: News

AP – 3 NYC-born sisters to discuss WWII island journey

Associated Press
April 17, 2013, 3:02 a.m. ET

NEW YORK — Three Bronx-born sisters are returning to the borough to discuss their journey to a remote South Pacific island where their uncle was imprisoned by the Japanese and killed at the end of World War II.

Andrea Talbutt of Rockland County, Susan Nishihira of Seattle and Marcy Hanigan of Los Angeles will be speaking Wednesday night at the Huntington Free Library about last year’s trip to the island where their uncle spent the last months of his life as a POW.

Marine fighter pilot Moszek “Mike” Zanger of the Bronx bailed out of his damaged plane in December 1944, was taken prisoner and killed by his captors in 1945. The sisters visited the jungle crash site and identified wreckage with the help of Justin Taylan of Hyde Park, founder of the Pacific Wrecks website.


NBC Southern California – WWII Pilot’s Death Captivates Family

NBC Southern California
WWII Pilot’s Death Captivates Family

Marcy Hannigan traveled to the jungles of Rabaul in New Guinea to find out what truly happened to her uncle, Lt. Mike Zanger. A pilot during WWII, he collided with another plane in mid-air and became a prisoner of war, dying at the hands of the Japanese military. The mystery of his fate brought together historian Henry Sakada and Zanger’s family. Ana Garcia reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 25, 2012.

Los Angeles Times – World War II hobbyist solves a family’s decades- old mystery

World War II hobbyist solves a family’s decades-old mystery
by Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times May 29, 2012

The fate of Los Angeles pilot Lt. Moszek Murray Zanger had been unknown to his three nieces until Henry Sakaida, who studies WWII air combat incidents, stepped in. 

After 31 years, military historian and researcher Henry Sakaida has finally closed his most perplexing wartime investigation.

Sakaida is a retired Temple City nursery owner whose hobby is studying World War II air combat incidents and then tracking down dogfight participants in hope of turning old enemies into friends.

He’s back home after taking three sisters, including one from North Hollywood, to a remote South Pacific island jungle where their uncle disappeared in late 1944 after bailing out of his Marine Corps Corsair fighter.

The fate of Los Angeles pilot Lt. Moszek Murray Zanger had been unknown to nieces Marcy Hanigan, Andrea Talbutt and Susan Nishihira until Sakaida stepped in.

It was 1981 when Sakaida first learned from Australian military records that several Japanese prisoners of war had seen a downed American pilot in captivity in March 1945. In the reports, the Japanese airmen remembered his name as “Zanga.”

Sakaida researched Marine fighter squadron records from the National Archives and discovered the captured pilot’s actual name was Zanger. The documents indicated he had collided with his wingman’s plane while patrolling over Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

Zanger parachuted out of his Corsair as it spiraled 4,000 feet down and slammed into the jungle. His wingman managed to limp back to base in his damaged plane.

The Japanese reported that Zanger had been shot and killed


shortly after his capture when he grabbed a sword and attacked two guards while trying to escape.

But Sakaida learned that a forensic study of Zanger’s remains when they were recovered by the U.S. showed he had been beaten, not shot.

Further research showed that the downed pilot had tried to flee the island in an inflatable dinghy and was captured by a Japanese Navy patrol boat. He was kept chained inside a hut, malnourished, for about six months before being killed and buried near an airstrip, according to Sakaida.

Hoping to include the Zanger incident in his book “Siege of Rabaul,” Sakaida in 1997 discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request that the flier was later reinterred somewhere in Los Angeles.

Sakaida began calling local cemeteries. One memorial park operator said the name Zanger might be Jewish and suggested that Sakaida call the Home of Peace Cemetery in East Los Angeles. Zanger’s grave was there.

Soon visiting the cemetery, Sakaida left a Post-It note on Zanger’s grave marker in hope of contacting surviving family members. He heard nothing, however.

It turned out that Zanger’s mother had remarried, changed her name and died in 1976. His father had died in 1982, but the death certificate mistakenly listed his last name as “Sanger.”

So the circumstances of their uncle’s disappearance had been a mystery to his three nieces. Their mother had spared them the sad details of her brother’s death and eventual burial in Los Angeles. When she died in 2009 at age 92, her daughters decided to piece together their family’s Polish- immigrant history on their own.

The trio was flabbergasted when Talbutt typed the name of the man they knew as “Uncle Mike” into an Internet search engine. They discovered on that Sakaida had researched Zanger’s disappearance.

They contacted him through the nursery, where as a boy Sakaida honed his interest in aerial dogfights by building model warplanes and then crashing and burning them in the back of the family-run business.

“Instead of me tracking them down, they tracked me down,” said Sakaida, now 60. “I turned over a thick folder I’d collected about him and told them that we all should someday go to Rabaul.”

Last month, they did.

Pacificwrecks’ Justin Taylan found the coordinates of the Corsair’s crash site and helped plan the expedition. Familiar with Pacific Islanders and the local etiquette in Papua New Guinea, he suggested the group arrive with items to give to villagers.

“We brought a whole bunch of Frisbees, little toys and candies for the kids,” said Sakaida. “And we asked permission to enter peoples’ property to search. An earlier governmental group hadn’t, and people didn’t like that.”

Taylan, Sakaida and Ray Nishihira, husband of Susan, scouted out the crash site first as the women stayed behind. Engulfed by the steamy jungle, part of the plane was visible in a crater filled with rainwater. As swarms of mosquitoes dive-bombed the trio, they decided to retreat until things dried out a bit.

Three days later, they returned to the site with the three sisters. The group was stunned by what they saw.

“Villagers from the settlement of Vudal had cleared a lot of space to work, they had opened up the whole area and put flowers around,” Sakaida said. “There were 20 or 30 adults and 40 schoolkids there to help us. Everybody was pitching in.”

The locals scrubbed mud off pieces of metal pulled out of the crater and looked for serial numbers or the symbol of the manufacturer of Zanger’s Corsair.

AP – Elmsford woman, sisters head to Pacific to honor life of WWII uncle

Elmsford woman, sisters head to Pacific to honor life of WWII uncle
Apr. 8, 2012 by CHRIS CAROLA, The Associated Press

Grace Jean Hofmann didn’t talk much about her only brother, killed at the end of World War II while a prisoner of the Japanese. Growing up in post-war New York City, her three daughters mostly knew “Uncle Mike” as the handsome uniformed man in the photos decorating the family’s Bronx apartment.

The sisters didn’t even know where he was buried. After their mother died in 2009, they started searching the Internet for any information on Moszek “Mike” Zanger. They soon learned more than their mother ever knew about his final months, thanks to the dogged work of a pair of World War II buffs.

This week, Andrea Talbutt of Elmsford, Susan Nishihira of Washington state, and Marcy Hanigan of California will travel to the jungle-covered island of New Britain, where they’ll visit the wreckage of what is believed to have been Zanger’s fighter plane. They’ll also visit the former airfield where he was imprisoned and killed by his Japanese captors just weeks before the war ended.

For the sisters, now all in their 60s, the trip will be a poignant milestone in their Jewish Polish family’s journey that began when the Zangers immigrated to America soon after Uncle Mike’s birth in 1920.

“This has gone to my very heart and soul,” Talbutt, a 69-year-old retired high school teacher, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from her home.

“I think it’s going to be a real catharsis for all of us, a completion,” said Hanigan, who works in retail in Los Angeles.

From Los Angeles, the pair will stop in Australia, then head to Papua New Guinea to meet Susan and her husband, Ray Nishihira, of Kirkland, Wash. Then it’s to Rabaul, on New Britain. Once there, they’ll drive to within a few hundred yards of the crash site before finishing the trek on foot.

Also making the trip is Henry Sakaida, a writer of World War II books from Temple City, Calif., and Justin Taylan, who’ll serve as guide. Taylan is founder of, a 17-year-old online database of wartime aircraft crash sites, missing servicemen and air battle details from the Pacific Theater.

It will be the 60-year-old Sakaida’s first trip to the region he has written about in nine books on Japan’s air forces in World War II. This will be Taylan’s 12th journey to New Britain since 2000 to document the island’s hundreds of known aircraft wreck sites

from the war.

“History is very much alive there,” said Taylan, 34, of Hyde Park, N.Y. The sisters say the trip is a way to link their mother and her brother one final time. “I don’t think she ever got over his death, and we just didn’t ask about him,” Hanigan said.

Zanger was an infant when his parents moved the family to New York. He enlisted in the Navy in July 1943 and later transferred to the Marine Corps to be a pilot. After flight training in Southern California, he was assigned to a Marine fighter squadron. In December 1944, he bailed out of his Corsair fighter plane after colliding with another U.S. fighter over Rabaul.

All Hofmann knew about her 25-year-old brother’s fate was what the Marine Corps told their parents: Zanger was killed by the Japanese while trying to escape in the summer of 1945. After Japan surrendered in September 1945, Zanger’s body was uncovered near Rabaul’s Tobera Airfield. It would be six more years before it was returned to the United States.

Hofmann apparently believed her brother was buried somewhere in the Pacific. She had married during the war and remained in the Bronx, raising three daughters whose only connection to their “movie-star handsome” uncle came from photos, his large collection of jazz records, and the leather flight helmet, boots and jacket he left behind.

Shortly after Hofmann died in October 2009, her daughters found Taylan’s website, which included information on Zanger provided by Sakaida.

Taylan put them in touch with Sakaida, who had stumbled across the Zanger name decades ago while interviewing a Japanese pilot who had seen the American POW at Rabaul. Sakaida spent 10 years on the trail of Zanger’s story, compiling stacks of military records and attempting to find his grave and next of kin.

Then he told them some stunning news: Zanger appeared to have been beaten to death by his captors — and he was buried in a Jewish cemetery in East Los Angeles, just a few miles from where his sister spent the last years of her life. A week after their mother’s death, Talbutt and Hanigan visited Zanger’s grave, the revelations supplied by Sakaida swirling their emotions.

“That was like the mantra when we were growing up: Uncle Mike was killed while trying to escape,” Hanigan said. “Now we know it isn’t true.”

“Finally, after all of these years,” said Hanigan, “we can salute him and love him and send him on his way.”