Remains of WWII Pilot Found in France

When a French farmer dug an irrigation ditch in this quiet corner of northern France last week, he stumbled upon pieces of metal which brought back the terror that gripped this part of Europe during World War II.

As if digging through history, the farmer uncovered the remains of Lt. William Patton's Mustang P-51 plane. French authorities said the pilot had been identified by his military badge, although checks were still being carried out.

The discovery is helping to tell the story of Patton's last moments, as his plane crashed in Longueville, France, near the Belgian border more than 50 years ago.

Along with his plane, French authorities found his uniform, his life vest, his military tie, his aviation scarf, riddled with bullet holes.

His silk parachute, made in Lexington, Kentucky, and on display at a local police station, was discovered unopened, a sign that he had gone down too fast to bail out. Lt. Patton's engine was also bullet-marked.

Historians say late in WW II, Mustang pilots sometimes went on missions on their own. The Mustang was the workhorse of the U.S. military, enabling the Allies to gain air superiority over the Germans.

The young Americans who flew them were considered brave, and daring, and glamorous _ and Lt. Patton was one of them.

Did the Town Hide the Incident?

The reason why people in the town of Longueville never reported the accident remains a mystery.

According to a newspaper article, dated Jan. 17, 1945, an airplane crash was reported two days earlier but the incident was never mentioned again.

Town authorities believe that not knowing whether the wreckage was American or German, townspeople probably simply covered up the accident.

Lt. Patton was a victim of both Luftwaffe bullets and French civilian fatigue.

But today this community paid tribute as the discovery was displayed at a local police station.

"He's someone who died for us so we could be free," said one French policeman. "We are very moved by this."

So who was Lt. Patton? Where is his family now? American officials will now investigate. Even his bones, not on display, will be examined for clues.

His remains and belongings will be sent home.

For now what remains of his torn uniform, his plane, his parachute, have told us at least some of his story and reminded us of the thousands of Americans who were lost or buried somewhere throughout the battlefield of Europe and will never return home.