Fifth Air Force present for memorial service commemorating 75th anniversary of the Bakers Creek Crash

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  • By Fifth Air Force Public Affairs
  • Fifth Air Force
Recently the community of Bakers Creek, Australia, came together to commemorate and remember the 40 American service members who died in a B-17 Flying Fortress crash there 75 years ago.

Present for the event was the Director of Operations and Plans, 5th Air Force, Col. Juris Jansons, who represented the command at the June 3, 2018 memorial service on behalf of Lt. Gen Martinez, 5th Air Force commander.

Jansons remarked that he was grateful, humbled, and honored to help mark the 75th anniversary of the crash of B-17 tail number 40-2072 assigned to his parent organization, 5th Air Force.

“The crash on June 14 took the lives of forty Americans and changed the lives of their families and friends forever,” said Jansons.

He explained before that day, American Airmen traveled to the other side of the world to join the front lines in a global conflict, traveling to places like Australia.

It was in Australia that a battered organization would be reconstituted into the 5th Air Force and partner with the Royal Australian Air Force Command.

“American Airmen found themselves fighting side-by-side with Australians,” Jansons said, adding, “In a very real sense, the Americans and Australians walked or flew through the valleys of death together. They shared the wartime hardships and built bonds that only comrades in arms can understand.”

Jansons noted, “When Americans were given a respite from the front lines, they found themselves here, in Mackay—welcomed, diverted, and healed by their Australian hosts. This was a time before long-distance phone calls, Skype or Facetime, so being welcomed here was being home.”

It was on that date, June 14, 1943, the fate of 40 Americans onboard 40-2072 returning to the front lines from Mackay were sealed.

“The sad news flowed back to the states where mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters learned of their loss,” said Jansons.

He added that the effect of the crash also had an effect in Mackay, saying, “Mackay went into mourning too. The artful editorial in the Daily Mercury, penned by an author who was unable to write specifics because of operational security, reflected on ‘the gallant sons’ who had gone forth ‘to defend their homeland’ and lamented that these young men ’were adopted into the homes and hearts of our people, leaving an aching void by their passing.’”

The bonds that grew out of that conflict continued to grow, leading the people of Mackay to build a memorial commemorating the 40 who died in that crash and over the last 26 years, they have held an annual memorial service to remember those Americans and their sacrifice.

“This monument became a gathering place for the Americans and Australians,” said Jansons. “It has become a tangible manifestation of the letters and communiques from Australia to the US that helped fill in the censored holes for families of 40-2072, bringing information and closure.”

Reflecting on the shared comradeship of 5th Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force Command, Jansons stated it “has deepened my reverence for the Australian military members with whom I have served. At every grave challenge around this globe, I have found them standing side-by-side with us.

“But even more than that, I stand here amazed at the multiple generations in front of me, who have not forgotten their adopted American sons. I am humbled at how you were there before, during, and ever after June 14, 1943. And I know at my very core, that we will be standing together in front of all future challenges.”