MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
Heritage often links people, cultures, and personal histories together in uncommon ways. For U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Molinelli, a 35th Maintenance Group maintenance operations center senior controller, his assignment to Misawa in 2016 not only represented a change in his future but also provided a link to his family's past.
“When I was a little kid, my grandma would always tell me stories about her brother, Ernest Balasick,” said Molinelli. “That was when I first learned his aircraft was shot down during World War II.”
The two shared many similarities, which helped form a connection for Molinelli and created a desire to trace down Balasick's legacy here in Japan.
“Grandma would tell me stories of Ernie building airplanes out of balsa wood and tissue paper in the 1920s,” Molinelli recalled. “When I was that age, I was doing the same thing.”
As Molinelli grew older, his desire to work and live around aircraft started bearing fruit.
“I became interested in the Air Force by going to air shows,” said Molinelli. “When I was in high school, I joined the Civil Air Patrol. As a cadet, I flew airplanes and earned flight hours with a certified flight instructor.”
A decade later, Molinelli is now a stone's throw from where his granduncle passed away, which has provided him the opportunity to discover his family's legacy first-hand. Last year, he traveled to Mount Yahazuyama in Kita-Kyushu to the crash site of Balasick's B-29 Superfortress. He was accompanied by a team of locals, including the priest who buried his ancestor.
“The most challenging part of the whole trip was the language barrier,” said Molinelli. “I coordinated with B-29 researcher, Isao Arai. He spoke English very well, but I still sought a translator to help me speak with locals.”
Even with the communication hardships, Molinelli and his team made multiple artifact discoveries from the wreckage and gained more knowledge on what happened almost a quarter-century ago.
“It was amazing having all of these people together,” said Molinelli. “Me, being a relative of a crew member, among a relative of the priest who buried their bodies, it really sent a message of reconciliation.”
Molinelli transformed his childhood lore into his adulthood reality, putting life into his grandma’s stories.