Descendants of World War II pilot sought
By Pat Sunderland
Published Wednesday, October 14, 2015 10:15 pm
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Heidi Lenzini/Released In February, more than 45 volunteers converged on a property in Osteen, Fla., to help assess, evaluate and document artifacts from a World War II Navy aircraft discovered on a local property. Orange flag
After almost a year of searching for information about a World War II plane crash site discovered in Osteen, Fla., Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, D.C., has concluded the crash site is consistent with the wreck of an SBD-5 Dauntless bomber assigned to the Deland Naval Air Station in Florida. The pilot has been identified as Ensign William T. Bellmire of Delta. His aircraft crashed on Feb. 1, 1944, six miles south of the DeLand Naval Air Station during a training mission.
Pieces of that aircraft were recently recovered by a team from the DeLand (Florida) Naval Air Station Museum. Along with the pieces of the aircraft, the team recovered two belt buckles, part of a gold chain and an ID plate from the aircraft. The museum is now looking for a descendant who will accept the personal artifacts so family may have these mementos of Ensign Bellmire.
Jim Wetzel, director of the Delta Museum, reports Ensign Bellmire is buried in the Delta City Cemetery next to his parents, Clarence and Shirley (Roady) Bellmire. He was 25, an only child and unmarried at the time of his death. According to museum researchers, the Bellmires were living in California at the time of the crash. Bellmire's body was returned home and buried with military honors. No known relatives have been located, but the search continues.
The search began when Osteen, Fla., resident Rodney Thomas started to find parts of a vintage aircraft on his property. He set out to find out what type of plane had crashed, when it crashed and most important to him, the name of the pilot. For three years he collected hundreds of pieces of the wreckage. Some pieces were small, some were a bit larger, but it was clear by the size of the crash field and the amount of debris that was being recovered, a catastrophic event had taken place. When he finally found an identification plate confirming a WWII SBD-5 aircraft, the direction of the mystery started to take a turn. Rodney contacted The DeLand Naval Air Station Museum and learned that DeLand was the only Naval Air Station during WWII that trained potential pilots to fly SBD-5 aircraft. The members of DNASM, an all-volunteer organization, were honored to join him in the search. They were assisted in a grid search of the crash site by partners from The United States Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, D.C., the Central Florida Metal Detecting Club, the K-9 Search and Rescue Team of Orange City, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, West Volusia Historical Society and other volunteers, including WWII DNAS Line Chief Ken Torbett of Palm Coast.
The search generated a great deal of public interest, and the story was covered by a a number of news affiliates and publications. Heidi Lenzini, public affairs officer and George Schwarz, Ph.D., archaeologist, responded to the site from Washington, D.C. They confirmed that six SBD-5 aircraft took off from the DeLand Naval Air Base in 1943- 1944 in the direction of the site. They were never heard from again and are still classified as missing. They continue to conduct an extensive investigation of DeLand WWII flight records, which are located in various archive facilities throughout the U.S.
"Normally a site investigation like this one will provide a grieving family with some sense of closure," Schwarz said, "but in this case, with the body of the pilot recovered and returned to the family, the investigation is really being driven by the people we worked with in Osteen who are very interested in honoring the life and service of an American sailor who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country. I was proud to join them in that effort."
The DeLand Naval Air Station Museum is an all-volunteer not-for-profit organization dedicated to commemorating the men and women who have served in America's armed conflicts.
Thousands of pilots trained for war at DeLand Naval Air Station, which the Navy operated from 1942-1946. The site was returned to the city of DeLand after the war, and is still in operation today with one 4,300-foot-long runway and a longer one that is 6,000 feet.
If you have any information about Ensign Bellmire, please contact the museum at 386-738-4149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The museum's website is www.delandnavalairmuseum.org.