OPED: Heroes paid for and preserved our freedom
A 1940 graduate of York Catholic high school, Joseph A. Concino Jr. was one of four from his class that were Killed in Action (KIA) during WWII. The others were Roman Helfrich, John Orendorff, and Kenneth Staab.
Joseph A. Concino Jr. was a law student at Temple University when he decided to enlist in January, 1943. He could have remained exempt because his three older brothers, John (North Africa), Frank (Australia & Philippines), and Ernie (stateside), were already serving. He wrote to his brother Frank Concino saying everyone was enlisting, and he wanted to serve as well. After basic training in the Army Air Corp, he went for radio/gunner training in Florida. Upon completion, he volunteered for combat duty with the 401st bomb group, 615th squadron.
On February 16, 1945, TSGT Joseph A. Concino Jr. was operating as the radio man/aerial gunner on a B-17 named the “Badland Bat II” in the 401st bomb group. The pilot was Capt. Steven Lozinski, who requested extra duties so he could accumulate enough missions, and go home to see his newborn son. It was Joe’s 19th mission in combat, as he volunteered to fly this extra mission separate from his regular crew. The pilot of his regular crew was Lt. Michael Kochel, a Fordham graduate, and one of the “blocks of granite” on their football team. The target was Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Their mission was to neutralize the marshaling yards supplying much needed materials for the German war machine.
Around 1400hrs German time, just before bombs were released, the Badland Bat took a direct hit under the cockpit from 88mm cannon fire. Three other planes were also damaged from flack, but the Bat was destroyed. I spoke to an eye witness by phone, Captain Paul Campbell from North Dakota, who had completed 45 missions by wars end. Of the twelve crews that flew from the United States to England with Captain Campbell in 1943, only three survived the war.
He described the flack that day as moderate but extremely accurate. Captain Campbell described the event, 65 years later, the sight still vivid in his mind. “There was an explosion from the oxygen tanks, the plane broke in half, and the wings separated from the body surrounded by fire”. Eight of the crew members perished. The bombardier, Harold Hughes, was blown out of the plane, he regained consciousness, and opened his chute. He was a POW until the war ended in May, 1945. During his questioning from the German military, dog tags and other personal property were presented to him from those KIA on the B17.
After the Gelsenkirchen mission, the Army declared Joseph A. Concino Jr. MIA. In December of 1945, enough documentation was available for his KIA status.
In April of 1947, the Army was reviewing combat areas, seeking remains of United States servicemen KIA. By speaking to the caretaker of the Gelsenkirchen public cemetery, they discovered a mass grave. Above the site was a wooden sign. Written in German, in pencil, was “11 American flyers”. The Army proceeded to exhume the remains of those buried at that location, and discovered seven of the eight men from the Badland Bat, identified through dental records. Some of the servicemen’s remains were still dressed in the warming vests needed for high altitude flights. The flight crew was then sent to a military cemetery in Belgium.
In 1950, my grandfather requested his youngest son be returned to the states, for a funeral and final resting place. Joseph A. Concino Jr. had previously earned the Air Medal, and a Purple Heart. After his death, his parents should have received several other medals, but did not. It is documented from the National Records Center that he was due to receive a Purple Heart, European Campaign Medal with one Bronze star, and a Victory medal. All next of kin were deceased when I received this information, and the Army will not process this request for Joe’s living relatives.
All of us can never forget those who paid for, and preserved our freedom. May God rest the souls of the men and women who died in military service for our United States.
Joseph A. Concino II, York