Painting Solves Mystery of World War II's Pilot's Disappearance

Herman Spoede never returned from a flight 68 years ago.

August 01, 2011, 10:28 AM

Aug. 1, 2011— -- Lt. John Ramsay was an intelligence officer with a love of painting during World War II. He was sketching a Corsair plane about to take off from the Solomon Islands when Herman Spoede climbed into the cockpit.

"I'll give this to you when you come back," Ramsay told Spoede, whose name he didn't know.

The young pilot never returned.

Nearly 70 years later, thanks to the curiosity of two generations of Ramsays and the web site of a military researcher, Herman Spoede's family finally received the painting the artist had promised.

John Ramsay Jr. got in touch with David Spoede, the lost pilot's nephew, nearly a year ago to tell him about the water color painting.

"It was a billion in one shot," David Spoede told "If this was a novel, most readers would go, 'no way!'"

Herman Spoede was a member of the Hellhawks Squadron when he made his last flight on July 3, 1943.

Painting Helps Solve World War II Mystery

According to military records posted on Dan McAnarney's web site,visibility was zero that day, and it's believed Spoede's radio could transmit but not receive messages.

McAnarney, who met with the two families, said when a leader called for the two planes that were supposed to be following to make a left turn home, one plane did. The other was lost forever. An entry in the unit's diary reads: "Herman Spoede, lost in thunderhead."

His family always held out hope he'd return and never knew the full story, until Saturday.

This past weekend, David Spoede coordinated a meeting with the Ramsays, who traveled from their home in North Carolina to Texas last Saturday. He kept the reason for the gathering a surprise from his 85-year-old father Bob Spoede, Herman's younger brother.

"Words fail to describe it," said David Spoede of the moment his father saw the painting, called "Thunderhead." "My dad was really blown away."

The elder Spoede, who is a veteran and a retired history teacher, loves to talk and is not one for big shows of emotion, his son said. But Saturday he was stunned.

"I was very appreciative and when I found out more about the efforts to find me, I am just so moved," Bob Spoede told

He was 16 when his brother vanished, but he remembers him well.

"He was such a daredevil. He loved to fly," Spoede said.

Bob Spoede enlisted after his brother's disappearance, and always continued to think about him.

"The missing got worse as the time went on," he said. " I wondered what he'd be like and the conversations we would have had."

For Kerr Ramsay, the artist's grandson, it was an opportunity to not only fulfill his grandfather's wish, but also learn more of the individual stories of aging veterans.

"There are all of these 'unsecret secrets' one generation knows that don't get passed along," Ramsay said. "I learned a lot about my grandfather and Herman Spoede through this project."

It's a sentiment the Spoedes find comforting.

"I've thought a lot about my uncle through the years and what his last words were," David Spoede said. "I wish I could communicate to him that he wasn't forgotten."

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