AL Post 103 Bellerose 5th Bomb Squadron Memorial

AL Post 103 Bellerose 5th Bombardment Squadron Memorial:
NY State Little Neck-Douglaston American Legion Post 103
42-28 235th St
Little Neck, NY 11363

This memorial monument is dedicated to the 11 Army Airmen, whose skill, courage and sacrifice, saved innumerable lives here on 17 June 1940.  The story of these brave airmen’s action on this day provides a permanent public teaching moment for all to never forget the NY region's long and rich military history and contribution, sometimes fatal, to our nation’s defense that continues today. 

In the early Monday morning hours of 17 June 1940, a flight of four Army Air Corps B-18A bombers of the 5th Bombardment Squadron lifted off from Mitchel Army Airfield in Hempstead NY on a routine but ill-fated training mission.  In 1940, although the nation was not officially at war but realizing the dangers abroad, we were in a declared state of national emergency.  Our long underfunded, undermanned military services were only then beginning to expand, equip and prepare for the coming conflict.  One of the most important at the time was the Army Air Corps.  While men such as the crews taking to the skies that day were training and girding for the approaching fight, most Americans only recently recovering from the long depression, were inward looking and knew little and cared less of the dangers brewing across the oceans.  Among them were likely many of the populace of Bellerose Queens and the surrounding area, awakening, working and traveling that early morning, a scant 4 ½ miles west of the airfield, unsuspecting of the tragedy to come. 

Two of the four bombers in this flight, nor their crews would return to Mitchel Field that day.  On board were 11 men from across the nation, all volunteers with at least nine states represented.  Reflecting the range of background between them was Irish immigrant Staff Sergeant Martin Costello; son of a Polish immigrant Corporal “Teddy” Kraszewski; son of a Pennsylvania coal miner Staff Sergeant Claude Shelbaer; and in contrast, a direct descendant of 1620 Mayflower Pilgrim John Alden 2nd Lieutenant Paul Lambert.  Among the six officers on board the two aircraft, five were volunteer Reservists called to serve as war clouds gathered on the horizon.  They were led by the experience and skill of their veteran squadron commander, 1st Lt Paul Burlingame Jr., a West Point class of 1934 graduate.  Known as “Junie” to his classmates, he had been a star football player at the academy, and scheduled to help coach the team that summer of 1940.  Among the five enlisted men, two were veteran airmen - the aforementioned Staff Sergeants Costello and Shelbaer, both with ten years of service.  Like their Reserve officer counterparts, the other three enlisted had recently volunteered during the Army’s expansion in the late 1930’s. 

Much like Queens today, there were likely many immigrants and children of immigrants in the Bellerose community below them.  One Bellerose family in particular, Otto and Emily Kraft, both immigrants from post-World War I Germany, would suffer a tragic loss.  The increased drone of military aircraft overhead during this time was likely familiar to them, as it was to most in the NY area.  The intensified military training and exercises that characterized this period of national emergency presented obvious dangers to the civilian population. 

Practicing aerial combat maneuvers, 1st Lieutenant Burlingame, gave an order for two of the bombers to change position in their formation.  Newspapers of the day carried varying and often conflicting, sometimes inaccurate information and witness accounts.  Suddenly amid the roar of revving engines, 1st Lieutenant Burlingame’s bomber and 2nd Lieutenant Richard Bylander’s appeared to briefly collide, lock wings, and amid the deafening noise of tearing metal, smoke and fire poured from the two ships as they separated for a few moments and then began their fatal plunge to the unwary Bellerose community below them.  All 11 airmen were killed in the crashes.  

In spite of the obvious, highly probable, lethal consequence to the hundreds of civilians beneath them, only one, the aforementioned Emily Kraft sadly died the next day of burns suffered from flaming aviation fuel sprayed from the wreckage.  There were no other civilians killed or injured.  In terms of the number of military casualties, this fatal incident was then, and continues to be today, the single largest number in the NY metropolitan area’s long military history. 

In spite of the severity of the collision damage, both pilots managed to steer their stricken aircraft into the Bellerose streets, avoiding direct hits to the homes, hospital and schools below them – 1st Lieutenant Burlingame’s ship on 87th Avenue., and 2nd Lieutenant Bylander’s on 239th Street.  It was not simply happenstance or good luck.  The American Legion researched and investigated newspaper and other reporting and photos of the period, and did a thorough on-ground site survey and historical review of the damage to the numerous civilian structures in the area.  The conclusion was that these aircraft crews had enough control, however slight, to deliberately and successfully attempt crash landing their aircraft into the two aforesaid streets in a conscious and intentional effort to avoid civilian casualties.  In particular, newspaper reporting of the day made this quite clear: 

The NY Times quoted NY City Mayor LaGuardia, a veteran World War I Army Air Service pilot who served in Italy. "This is one of the inevitable accidents of training.” the Mayor said as he surveyed the debris. It seemed to him that even in the death throes of their final moments alive, the two doomed pilots kept their wits about them and gallantly tried to control their stricken craft to avoid crashing directly into houses. LaGuardia, himself an aviator in the world war, studied the destruction and pointed to the clearly marked pathway. “That fellow tried to land. See where he skidded along the road. He did not want to hit those houses.” The Mayor remarked. (NYT, June 18 1940) 

The NY Daily News, quoted Mitchel Field officials. “The men in the center of the plane were believed to have died instantly, but the pilots and co-pilots, forward of the initial blast “probably remained conscious for a short time, struggling to land the planes in the streets.” Officials at Mitchel Field strongly suggested “that the two pilots spent their last moments swinging the crashes away from Bellerose homes.” (NYDN, June 18 1940) 

The NY Herald Tribune quoted Mitchel Field officials. “Had the ships plowed into the two blocks of houses instead of falling into the streets, officials agreed that the wreckage and loss of life might have been considerable.” (NYHT, June 18 1940) 

The NY Times reported the American Colony Civic Association of Bellerose commending the pilots for their life saving efforts, “….they adopted resolutions at a special meeting yesterday, praising the pilots of the two planes for their self-sacrifice in landing the planes in such a manner as to avoid striking any houses.” (NYT, June 19 1940) Neither plane crashed directly into homes. Many of the airmen lived in similar communities outside the boundaries of Mitchel Field and were probably aware of the schools, hospitals, and concentrated homes below their training courses. At the very least they were aware of the inherent dangers their profession imposed upon themselves and the multitudes above which they flew. Both pilots evidently remained at the controls until the last second, fighting to steer their disabled craft away from the houses below to avoid civilian casualties. 

For several hours, Doctors in Queens County Hospital waged a hopeless fight, exhausting every procedure to save Mrs. Emily Kraft’s life. She succumbed to her burns at 3:40 AM the following day, June 18. Emily, a German immigrant, had sadly only moved into the neighborhood three weeks prior. She left behind her husband Otto and two young girls, Helen (12) and Ruth (10).

The eleven forgotten aviators who perished in the crash were.

 B-18A Plane 9B-45: Burlingame serial # 37-583

1st Lieut. Paul Burlingame, Jr. of Louisville, Kentucky:

2nd Lieut. James Frederick Dow of Houlton, Maine:

2nd Lieut. Hugh Palmer Bedient of Falconer, New York:

Staff Sgt. Martin J. Costello of New Bedford, Massachusetts:

Corp. Thaddius Ted P. Kraszewski of Southampton, New York:

Private Clinton O. Rhodes of Clinton, New Jersey:

B-18A Plane 9B-43: Bylander Serial # 37-576

2nd Lieut. Richard M. Bylander of Little Rock, Arkansas:

2nd Lieut. Paul Moffett Lambert of Lakewood, New York; (Newton Highlands, Mass)

2nd Lieut. James Herbert Hail of Lawrence, Kansas:

Staff Sgt. Claude A. Shelbaer of Hempstead, New York:

Corp. Frank X. Deeley of Daytona Beach, Florida:

In January of 2018, American Legion Post 103 spearheaded by Jim Buccellato, began working on a project to erect a more suitable memorial to the 11 airmen and 1 civilian killed in the accident which will include their names along with an appropriate inscription. Their effort was somewhat hampered by the pandemic, but they have raised $17,000 to date for the estimated cost of the memorial (fabrication and installation) of $42,000. The new monument will include the original small plaque placed at the location in the 1940s by the local community. I encourage you to consider donating to this worthwhile project intended to honor and remember the 11 brave men who sacrificed their lives so that others may live, and to remember the one civilian casualty also killed in the crash.  AL Post 103 also continue to campaign the government to award the 11 crewmembers the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Check donations may be mailed  directly to the Post:

Bellerose 5th Bombardment Squadron Memorial:
NY State Little Neck-Douglaston American Legion Post 103
42-28 235th St
Little Neck, NY 11363

Please write 5th BS memorial in the check memo.





Donations (5)

  • Maria Pisano
    • $30 
    • 10 mos
  • Mike Burkes
    • $30 
    • 2 yrs
  • Paul Martin
    • $30 (Offline)
    • 2 yrs
  • Dennis Minogue
    • $25 
    • 2 yrs
  • Joseph Cope
    • $50 
    • 2 yrs

Organizer and beneficiary

Paul Martin
Yorktown, NY
Richard Weinberg

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