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 PacificWrecks.com, 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