63 Kentuckians were shot down over Austria and Hungary during World War II

Special to the Herald-LeaderNovember 11, 2012 

Some 63 Kentuckians were shot down over Austria and Hungary during World War II, according to a database compiled by University of Graz historians Georg Hoffmann and Nicole-Melanie Goll as part of their War Crimes Committed Against U.S. Airmen research project.

While 40 of the Kentuckians survived the war to return home, 23 were killed in action, including three who were murdered in war crimes cases, Hoffmann said.

The body of one of the men listed as killed in action is still missing.

Those listed among the murdered include Robert L. Stricker of Newport, a bombardier, who Hoffmann said was "murdered very brutally after a kind of manhunt through the woods south of Vienna" after his plane crashed Feb. 13, 1945. Five of his crew members also were murdered.

The other two murdered Kentuckians were bombardier Clarence O. Roettger of Southgate, whose plane crashed Aug. 23, 1944, and Hubert R. Burnette of Jackson, whose plane crashed March 1, 1945.

One of the most publicized of the war crimes cases involved the crew of Kentucky pilot James M. Crockett of Louisville, whose B-24 crashed over Graz on March 4, 1944. Three Crockett crew members were brutally executed by an SS officer at the same location, and their bodies were left out by a highway. A fourth crew member also was executed. Today a memorial stone marks the spot where the three were murdered.

"All of the perpetrators in the Burnette, Stricker and Crockett crew cases not only met each other at the Graz SS Barracks (April 10, 1945), but they also knew each other," Hoffmann said.

The perpetrators had left the barracks by the time Kentuckians Stanley Todd of Richmond and Louis Ross Gugel of Fort Thomas had arrived. "That might have saved their lives," Hoffmann said.

Gugel was a military photographer, and not a regular member of any crew. After the war, Gugel graduated from Georgetown College and later became a matador in Mexico.

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