LANE ROGER T O-818888 1 LT FOD
A HERO'S HOMECOMING SHOT DOWN OVER GERMANY IN 1944, ROGER LANE
WAS `MISSING' UNTIL LAST YEAR. THANKS TO DEDICATED SLEUTHING, HIS
REMAINS WILL BE LAID TO REST IN YARMOUTH.
Abby Zimet Staff Writer October 15, 1995 - Portland Press Herald
It was on Christmas Eve in 1944 that 1st Lt. Roger True Lane - flier, sweetheart, only son
- fell from the sky and vanished from sight, though not from memory.
A young airman from Maine, Lane flew a gleaming P-47 Thunderbolt he had named
Scrumptious Bette, for his girl back home. He was on a bombing mission from Belgium to
Germany when he was shot down by a German fighter pilot. Soon after, Roger Lane was
declared missing in action. He was 22 years old. Almost 12 years later, his grieving,
aging father, Beecher Lane, wrote to the Army. As he had before, he begged them to tell
him about his son's death.
``I am 78 years old and in very poor health,'' he wrote. ``I am all alone now. I lost my only
son, and it killed his mother and nearly killed me. . . . I have tried so hard to learn how
and where my dear son Roger met his death. I feel sure your department can get the
information I have tried so hard to obtain.''
Beecher Lane died four years later, having learned nothing more of Roger's death. He
was buried beneath a headstone that bore his name, along with the names of his dead
wife and his lost son.
Now, 52 years later, Roger Lane is about to come home.
Last year, Lane's remains were found in western Germany. Soon, once the U.S. Army
has done its work, Lane will be returned here and buried at last in the leafy cemetery
where his parents lie.
Lane's homecoming is a story about the enduring bonds of love, and grief, and memory.
It is a tale of an improbable mix of people, a family of strangers - Army morticians,
amateur sleuths, diligent seekers of scraps of the past - who came together to do right
by the dead.
It is often a dazzling detective story. But it remains, at heart, a love story.
Its lead detective is Linda Abrams, a 55-year-old veteran, grandmother and amateur
genealogist from Massachusetts. Abrams called close to 200 people, from a New
Hampshire cop to an Idaho librarian to Scrumptious Bette herself, to find what she
needed - Roger Lane's next-of-kin, who alone could authorize his return to Maine.
Abrams did it, she says, for the 78,000 Americans ``who never came home'' from World
War II and are still termed missing in action.
And she did it for Beecher, ``the old man holding onto that hope.''
``It was his only son,'' she says. ``His wife is gone, he's an old man, he's all alone, sitting
in Maine, not knowing. . . . I had to bring Roger home for him.''
Roger Lane was a slight, handsome, gentle boy who loved to dance. His mother, Laura,
Beecher's second wife, died when Roger was 6. Beecher later remarried, and the family
moved from Yarmouth to Portland, where they ran a grocery store.
Roger graduated from Deering High School in 1940. His yearbook photo reads, ``In
limitless energy, Roger is unexcelled.''
He went to work as a bookkeeper and stenographer for Armour Foods. After enlisting, he
joined the 36th Fighter Group, which flew P-47s on dangerous, low-altitude ground
Lane's mission on Dec. 24, 1944, was his 34th. The Germans had penetrated deep into
Belgium, and Allied troops were being mauled in the Battle of the Bulge. The 36th had
been grounded for a week by fog that soaked their tents and frosted the nearby
Ardennes Forest. But Dec. 24 dawned bright and clear: a good day to fly.
Setting out from Le Culot in the silver, bubble-canopied Scrumptious Bette, Lane was
flying third in a 12-plane formation when he encountered six Luftwaffe fighters. He
His story resumed 50 years later, in June 1993, in a cow pasture near Prum, Germany.
Two young Germans, Manfred Klein and Peter Drespa, were looking for World War II
remnants when their metal detector clattered.
They dug and unearthed a machine gun, a scrap of parachute. Then, Klein told Air and
Space magazine, ``I find the bones. From the leg, the ribs, the pieces of the back, the
Drespa described finding what had been ``the enemy'' and realizing, ``There was a man
in that hole who was doing his job.''
For reasons that are not clear, almost a year passed before the U.S. Army Mortuary
Service in Germany sent a crew to the site. They shipped the bones and teeth they
found to an Army lab in Hawaii. They took down the machine gun serial numbers, then
called James Kitchens III.
A civilian archivist at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., Kitchen's slow, careful,
Southern-gentleman's speech is sprinkled with ``ma'ams.'' In his archives are the Missing
Air Crew Reports on every wartime loss.
The Army deliberately numbered every piece of metal, he says, to identify wreckage
despite ``the great destroyer of evidence'' - not crashes, but rust. Armed with the serial
numbers on six Browning machine guns, he found within minutes report No. 11442. It
described the last sighting of Roger Lane.
`A dead man down there'
An 8-year-old boy named Peter Krump, hungry and foraging, was the first at the crash
site. Fifty years later, Krump told Air and Space he dug into the hole and started to pull
out a belt: ``I saw that my fingers were all bloody, and I ran away. For I knew now there
was a dead man down there.''
When Krump returned three days later, the crater had collapsed. The wet earth had
buried Roger Lane and Scrumptious Bette.
By ``fortuitous circumstance,'' Kitchens says, Lane's story dovetails with some personal
research he has done. He can name the German who ``in all probability'' shot Lane
down - Carl Resch, a Luftwaffe squadron leader.
He is struck by the irony of Lane's death on the eve of Christmas, a ``day of peace
(when) men's lives were being lost, as usual, despite the calendar.'' And he is moved by
the image of Beecher, waiting for news of his son.
``There is almost always a poignancy to these stories,'' he notes, and his voice breaks.
Linda Abrams, too, often cries over Roger and Beecher. She has tracked all of the
Army's next-of-kin cases since she answered an Army ad seeking help finding someone.
In six years she has solved 250 cases. Lane's was the hardest, and the only one she
almost quit; Beecher's letters drove her on.
Abrams' specialty is New England, where roots are usually easy to trace. She figured it
would take ``a couple of phone calls'' to find Roger Lane's next of kin and get permission
to bring him home.
In the end she had worked every evening and weekend for months, ``pressing people for
information they swore they didn't have.''
She had repeatedly ``spread out this stuff all over my bed, asking who haven't I called,
what haven't I done?'' She had gone to a Texas reunion of the 36th, where a plaque was
laid for Lane, ``who for 50 years remained with his plane, awaiting his homecoming.''
She started out, armed only with Beecher's name, calling Lanes in Maine. She found
``pages of people.'' Most were very friendly. None was related to Beecher.
More digging. She found that Beecher had three brothers, and three wives: Ethel, who
left him and took their two daughters with her; Laura, who had Roger; and Ruth, who
raised him, and died grieving for him in 1946.
Then a lead: from Yarmouth's Historical Society she got the name of the funeral home
that handled Beecher's death in 1960. From them she found the lawyer who settled his
estate. From her she found Beecher's then-next-of-kin: his daughters, Ruth and Marian,
by his first wife.
More digging. Librarians and history buffs, high school records and town reports. She
tracked Ruth to Sun City, Ariz., where she'd left no trace.
She abandoned Ruth and went after Marian. She found Marian's married name, and
learned she'd had a daughter. She found one of Marian's ex-husbands.
By then, Roger Lane had ``begun to represent all those young guys who were so brave,
who went off to fight a real enemy and didn't come back.'' Almost 80,000 of them, she
notes, left behind loved ones who never learned their fate.
``These incredible people who have gone on with their lives, married, had kids, told the
kids about the uncle they lost in the war,'' says Abrams. ``And they've never, never,
never forgotten - and they've never stopped wondering.''
She summons up Beecher, too, wondering, waiting, grieving for the boy he had hoped
would help him with his store, and his old age.
``I owed it to Beecher to bring Roger home,'' she says, weeping. ``He should not be
anywhere but with his father.''
Queens restaurant owner
Abrams began her search in February. In May, she found Nancy Farbstein, a
62-year-old restaurant owner in Queens, N.Y. Farbstein is the only child of Roger's
half-sister, Marian, the daughter of Beecher and his first wife. She is Roger's half-niece -
and his only surviving next-of-kin.
Farbstein remembers Beecher Lane, her grandfather, as ``a tough old bird'' who smoked
cigars. She remembers her Uncle Roger as small but handsome, with the same pointy
``dog teeth'' as her mother. Farbstein and Roger shared May birthdays. He was 10 years
older than she; Farbstein was 12 when he died.
That Christmas Eve, Marian woke up at midnight, says Farbstein: ``She said, `I know
something awful has happened - Roger's dead.' She got up and made fudge and let me
open a present that night, which was a no-no. She was crying.''
Under Army policy, remains can be sent home only if next-of-kin request it. Otherwise,
they are sent to a military cemetery.
Roger Lane's remains will be sent home once the Army completes their identification - a
formality that is expected soon. Farbstein plans to attend Roger's homecoming. So does
Abrams found Bette from a 1944 news clipping. She had it faxed to her three times
before she could make out, magnifying glass in hand, the name of Bette Nelson of
More digging - despite claims by Lane's fellow fliers that he could never have been in
Idaho because East Coast fliers trained on the East Coast. Lane, it turned out, trained at
a base in Pocatello.
Abrams says that when she found Bette, ``I said, `I found you! I found you!' It was very
fresh in her mind, and we both cried.''
Scrumptious Bette is now Bette Young of Santa Rosa, Calif. She was 16 when she met
Roger, who was ``just a nice warm person, gentle, a great dancer.''
They met bowling. Their first date was a bike ride. For six months, they dated and
danced. Then he went off to the war: ``We were in love, but nothing was said. He wrote a
letter on the train, saying how he felt.''
She wrote him several times a week, sometimes sending fruit or pastry she had
pressure-canned for him. When word came of his loss, she mourned for a year.
Beecher wrote to her once, saying that Roger's stepmother was taking it hard. He
``sounded like Roger, nice.'' She wrote back. Then her parents divorced, and she and
her mother moved. At 19 she married the Idaho boy she has now been married to for
almost 50 years. They had four children.
Soft-spoken and thoughtful, Young cries as she remembers Roger, ``like a wound that
heals, and then it's opened.'' Her one regret is for Beecher, ``not realizing how lonely he
was, because I could have been a comfort to him, more so than I was.''
Today she is 68, two years older than Beecher was when Roger was shot down. She lost
a son in Vietnam, and cries again at the thought of Beecher ``not being able to put that
child to rest.''
In Riverside Cemetery, red leaves drift onto the headstone Beecher inscribed so long
ago with his son's name. One side of the stone bears the names of Beecher and Laura;
they are blackened by time. On the other side, Roger's side, the words are inexplicably
fresh, the stone polished.
She will be here, says Young, when Roger Lane is at last laid to rest.
``All of this is really for Beecher, that he died without seeing Roger home,'' she says.
``Beecher's gone. Somebody should be there.''
HOMETOWN BURIES LONG-LOST PILOT YARMOUTH'S ROGER TRUE LANE,
WHOSE PLANE CRASHED IN 1944 IN GERMANY, IS FINALLY LAID TO REST.
Abby Zimet Staff Writer, January 5, 1997 - Portland Press Herald
In the end, he was welcomed home by family, old friends, caring strangers and haunting
sounds - a muted drum roll, a mournful bugle playing taps, a final, mighty thundering of
On Saturday, 1st Lt. Roger True Lane was laid to rest next to his mother and father in a
hushed cemetery that glistened with ice. More than 52 years after dropping from sight,
Roger Lane had at last come home. A young flier from Maine, Lane was shot down
somewhere over Germany on Christmas Eve in 1944. He was flying a P-47 Thunderbolt
he had named Scrumptious Bette, for his girl back home. He was 22.
For almost 20 years afterward, his father, Beecher, fought in vain to learn ``how and
where my dear son Roger met his death,'' as he wrote to the Army. When Beecher died
at the age of 82, he was buried at the same headstone he had prepared, years before,
for his lost and only son.
Roger remained lost until June 1993, when his remains were found by chance in a cow
pasture in Germany. On Saturday, more than 100 people came to see him buried in
Riverside Cemetery with full military honors.
Lane's homecoming was a tribute to the diligence - and, finally, love - of a 56-year-old
grandmother and genealogist who tracks next of kin for the Army. Linda Abrams labored
for months, calling almost 200 people to find Lane's only surviving relative, who alone
could authorize his return to Maine.
Abrams felt bound to bring Lane home, she says, on behalf of many - the almost 80,000
Americans who never came home from World War II, the scores of Mainers who helped in
the search because ``this was one of their own they lost,'' and Beecher Lane, ``all alone,
sitting in Maine, not knowing. . . .
``In my mind, the story always begins, `There was an old man in Maine, thinking about his
son, and what could have been,' '' Abrams says. ``Somehow I knew Roger had to come
back to Maine, and to Beecher.''
Finding the way home
Roger Lane was a slight, gentle, only son who loved to dance. His mother, Laura, died
when he was 6. His father later remarried, and the family moved from Yarmouth to
Portland, where they ran a grocery store. Roger graduated from Deering High School in
Roger worked as a bookkeeper before enlisting in the Army. He joined the 36th Fighter
Group, flying low-altitude ground support in Europe.
On Dec. 24, 1944, with Allied troops mired in the Battle of the Bulge, Lane set out from
Le Culot, Belgium, in his silver Thunderbolt. He had named it for his 16-year-old
girlfriend, Bette Nelson of Pocatello, Idaho.
Somewhere over western Germany, Lane met up with six Luftwaffe fighters. His plane
dropped from view.
Almost 50 years later, in June 1993, two young Germans were scouring a field near
Prum, Germany, when their metal detector rattled. They unearthed a machine gun, a
scrap of parachute and, finally, the bones of a man.
The bones were eventually identified as the remains of Roger Lane. But he could not be
returned home without authorization by a family member.
Enter Linda Abrams, who has tracked all of the Army's nearly 300 next-of-kin cases in the
last six years. Lane's case, she says, was the hardest.
She decided to quit after weeks of fruitless phone calls. But she could not get Beecher
out of her mind: ``I had allowed myself to picture the waiting father. It wouldn't let go
For months, Abrams pursued leads and hit dead ends. She combed through phone
books, town reports, high-school records. She looked for Beecher's three brothers, his
three wives, his daughter's ex-husbands.
And she tracked down Scrumptious Bette, now Bette Young of Santa Rosa, Calif. Young
was 68, two years older than Beecher when his son was lost. Years before, Young had
lost a son in Vietnam. Now she cried anew for Roger, and for Beecher ``not being able to
put that child to rest.''
Abrams had begun in February. In May, she found Nancy Farbstein, a 62-year-old
restaurant owner in Queens, N.Y. The only child of Roger's half-sister, Marian, she is
Roger's half-niece - and his only surviving relative.
With Roger, says Abrams, ``I crossed the line.'' For the first time in 300 cases, she told a
relative where she felt the deceased should be buried.
For months, Mainers - from librarians and town clerks to people named Lane - had
helped Abrams, suggesting sources and sending genealogical charts and photocopying
pages from local phone books. Because of them and their keenly felt sense of kinship to
Lane, she told Farbstein, he should come home.
Lane's homecoming was delayed for months when Army forensic experts decided to
revisit the crash site. They found more bones, and a medallion Lane had worn.
They completed their work in November. At the request of Farbstein, Abrams arranged
the funeral. It would be with full military honors because Lane was killed in action. There
would be a flyover in a so-called missing man formation - a ``V'' with one plane missing -
because Lane was a pilot.
A day long overdue
Lane's remains arrived at Portland International Jetport on New Year's Day. On Saturday,
under gray skies, Lane reached his final resting place. One side of the gravestone bore
the names of Beecher and Laura; the other, Roger's.
Veteran pallbearers carried the flag-draped casket to the grave. They were flanked by a
color guard of AMVET, VFW and American Legion members.
Army Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Penfold began the service by celebrating ``a day that is long
overdue, that should have come 52 years ago.'' He called on those present to
``remember the sacrifice of one who gave his life for freedom.''
Penfold recalled the father, sweetheart, friends and fellow ``citizen-soldiers'' Lane left
behind. Stressing ``the nation always brings its fallen sons home,'' he noted that
Yarmouth had seen other boys come home from the war, but not Lane.
``Now, he has come home,'' he said. ``On behalf of a grateful nation . . . and a family that
hardly knew you, we say, welcome home.''
As people stood in somber silence, many weeping, three shots rang out from an honor
guard. A bugler played a plaintive taps as people saluted or stood with hands on hearts.
To the melancholy sound of a drum roll, honor guard members began slowly removing
the flag from the casket, and laboriously folding it.
Midway through their task, four jets suddenly appeared, roaring over the grave site, very
low and explosively loud. The ``V'' they formed abruptly split as one plane veered off
from the rest, swerved right, and was gone.
``That would be him,'' noted Stan Milton of Yarmouth.
Once the flag was folded into a triangle, it was presented to Farbstein. She held it
tearfully in her lap.
Lines of veterans filed by the casket. Each in turn stopped to salute.
High school memories
Near the casket, some of Lane's former classmates from Deering High's class of 1940
stood reminiscing. Sometimes laughing, sometimes mournful, their faces lined by time
Roger never had, they shared fond memories: how Roger loved model airplanes, how
they used to go to the airport with him to watch the planes, the times they went bowling,
the time they went to Howard Johnson's on Forest Avenue and stacked glasses in a
pyramid. It crashed. They ran.
Waldon Huston recalled the day Beecher Lane asked them to deliver fertilizer samples
from his store. He and Roger and two other boys spent the day driving around town in
Huston's 1930 Pontiac sedan, giving out fertilizer. He had a date that night, he said
laughing, which was very short. His car, he added, stank for a week.
Don Emmons, another classmate, said that while he and the others also served in the
war, they were there to remember Roger in earlier, happier times.
``He was a high school friend,'' he said, ``who's finally come home.''
Donald Ross of Old Town was in a different squadron but the same 36th Fighter Group
as Lane during the war. He, too, felt a sense of closure for ``one of our own.''
``Now, we know where he is,'' he said, ``and he has a place to rest.''