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World War II airman returns home to Illinois after 80 years

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois – Eighty years ago American service members were engrossed in a great conflict pitting the United States and its Allies against Nazi-controlled Germany and the Axis powers.

On August 1, 1943, a smalltown southern Illinoisian, 32-year-old Tech. Sgt. Harold Kretzer, was fighting in the skies over Ploiești, Romania, to starve the Nazi war machine of the fuel it needed to continue to terrorize the world.

The “Wing Dinger” B-24 Liberator, would not return to the Allied airfields near Benghazi, Libya, that day.  Kretzer was declared missing in action. The U.S. Army Air Forces Airman was assigned to the 66th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 44th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 8th Air Force. He was one of 225 Airmen lost along with 51 B-24 Liberators during Operation Tidal Wave. Kretzer was among those whose remains could not be identified and he was buried as an “unknown” first in Romania and then after the war ended he was transferred to an American cemetery in Belgium.  

On June 2, Kretzer of Odin, Illinois, will be MIA no longer. At 1 p.m. at Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, he will be interred among his brethren from many different wars and conflicts. Tech. Sgt. Kretzer will be home.

“We appreciate the effort of the U.S. Department of Defense to bring Uncle Harold home after 80 years and its continued effort to identify and bring others home no matter how much time has passed. We are also grateful to the many veterans organizations who tirelessly advocate for those who have served in this nation’s wars,” said Glenda Thomas, the grandniece of T/Sgt. Kretzer.

Thomas said eight decades have dimmed personal memories of her uncle. His mother, Mae Kretzer, was living in Harvey, Illinois, in Cook County when Harold’s bomber crashed. She has long since passed and there are very few around now who knew him. But the family has taken pride in knowing one of their own served our country honorably and gave his life to preserve our freedoms against tyranny.

The Kretzer family has decided to keep his memorial services private, but his burial services at Camp Butler will be open to the public. According to the U.S. military’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Kretzer was officially accounted for on Aug. 23, 2022.

“DPAA remains dedicated to our mission to the more than 81,000 service members still unaccounted for and we continue to strive to bring answers to families of the missing through our work,” said Ashley Wright, a spokesperson for DPAA. “We cannot say thank you enough to the family of Tech. Sgt. Harold Kretzer for their family’s sacrifice to our nation’s freedom.”

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Kretzer’s remains could not be identified following the war. The remains that could not be identified were buried as Unknowns in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan in Romania.

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC), the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, disinterred all American remains from the Bolovan Cemetery for identification. The AGRC was unable to identify more than 80 unknowns from Bolovan Cemetery, and those remains were permanently interred at Ardennes American Cemetery and Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, both in Belgium.

In 2017, DPAA began exhuming unknowns believed to be associated with unaccounted-for airmen from Operation Tidal Wave losses. These remains were sent to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for examination and identification.

To identify Kretzer’s remains, scientists from DPAA used anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome DNA (Y-STR) analysis – DNA from Kretzer’s mother’s side of the family and father’s side of the family – to confirm his identity.
Kretzer’s name is recorded on the Wall of the Missing at Cambridge American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Cambridge, United Kingdom, along with others still missing from World War II. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

At 32, Kretzer was five years older than the average World War II servicemember. As a World War II technical sergeant, he was a senior noncommissioned officer equal in rank to today’s Army sergeant first class or Air Force master sergeant. While Kretzer was serving overseas, his hometown of Odin was the third largest community in Marion County with the 1940 census showing 1,847 people. Today Odin has approximately 920 residents. By comparison, Operation Tidal Wave included 177 B-24 Liberators, carrying 1,725 American souls from airfields in Libya.

Kretzer was the Wing Dinger’s gunner-engineer in the B-24 Liberator’s crew of eight during Operation Tidal Wave. The operation was designed as the first large scale, low altitude attack by U.S. heavy bombers. Flying only 100 to 300 feet above the ground, the objective was to destroy Ploiești oil refineries. Romania produced 60 percent of Nazi Germany’s crude oil supplies and an estimated 27 to 35 percent of its refined or synthetic oil. The most important refineries were those surrounding Ploiesti in southeast Romania near Bucharest.

The bombing was successful, but costly. The Germans defending the refineries were ready and waiting for the American bombers.

Barrage balloons tethered with metal cables hovered over Ploiesti to impede the flight of the American bombers and tear into their aluminum sides. The Germans opened smoke pots in the surrounding fields and set oil tanks around the refineries aflame, sending up dense clouds of black smoke to blind the pilots. They placed anti-aircraft guns along the railroad tracks, among the oil tanks, and in the fields outside of town. As the Liberators approached Ploiești, German ground defenses unleashed an intense hail of 37mm anti-aircraft and machine gun fire at the low-flying aircraft.

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The last moments of Tech. Sgt. Kretzer’s life were violent and chaotic but his actions and willingness to serve – and the actions of millions of others like him – led to the defeat of a dangerous dictatorship bent on world domination. For his actions, Kretzer was awarded Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Air Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three Bronze Service Stars, World War II Victory Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, U.S. Army Air Force Flight Engineer Wings Badge, and Honorable Service Lapel Button – World War II. 

DPAA has now identified more than half of the 80 unknowns associated with Operation Tidal Wave.

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School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

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Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.

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The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

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Jess Barker, The Lodge Brothers, and The New Prairie Drifters are set to take the stage at Benld City Park on Thursday, July 4 as part of the Americana Festival.

The music festival intends to celebrate the birthday and spirit of America with thriving local culture of music, food, and art. It is scheduled to begin at 12 noon and end at 6 pm.

Food will be available for purchase from The Barracks American Table, a new Gillespie restaurant, and skincare products will be available from Nature’s Bliss, a Benld gift shop.

The park is located at 305 North Main Street in Benld. Admission is free.

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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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