Seventy-eight years after Marcy Seckman’s brother was shot out of the sky and presumed dead in World War II, the U.S. Military recovered and identified the remains of her brother, First Lieutenant Carl Davis Nesbitt.
Click to watch the Today Show's coverage of this story on May 26, 2023.
1st Lt Nesbitt went missing on May 29, 1944, during a bombing raid over Leipzig, Germany. Though the U.S. Army Air Force could not recover his body, he was presumed dead by first-hand accounts and was memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Hombourg, Belgium.
Several years ago, the federal government reached out to Marcy, now a Chapel Pointe resident, to obtain a DNA sample since she was 1st Lt Nesbitt’s closest living relative. In 2022, the government contacted Marcy’s son, Greg Seckman, to give him the good news: DNA testing revealed that 1st Lt Nesbitt’s remains had been found!
For a family who accepted their hero’s fate many years ago but never had proof of his death, this news brings a comforting peace, a renewed sense of legacy, and immense pride for the lost soldier.
On January 11, 2023, Marcy and her son, Greg; daughter, Barb Fidler; and son-in-law, Bob Fidler, met at Chapel Pointe with representatives from the U.S. Army Casualty Office in Ft. Knox, Ky., and the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., to begin the process of properly memorializing 1st Lt Nesbitt.
Marcy was 14 when her brother headed to war, but sharing memories of him still brings a twinkle to her eye. Because he was much older, he sometimes babysat Marcy. “He used to go to this bar. There was no alcohol, and they would dance. He took me along, and that’s where he taught me to dance,” she said.
As a First Lieutenant, Nesbitt’s responsibilities soon grew to piloting a B-17 aircraft nicknamed the Dutch Cleaner/Yankee Doodle Dandy with a crew of 10.
On May 29, 1944, the Air Force launched the largest attack seen until that point in the war. The raid targeted Germany’s aircraft manufacturing plants and a refinery. 1st Lt Nesbitt’s 390th Bombardment Group was assigned to strike an aircraft factory in Leipzig, Germany.
The sky was clear, and 1st Lt Nesbitt could see 20 miles in every direction. Just before beginning the bombing run, 15 German fighter aircraft attacked from behind and above. At 12:14 p.m., enemy fire tore through the left wing of the Dutch Cleaner and started a fire. The B-17 fell out of formation, but 1st Lt Nesbitt maintained control of the aircraft.
The badly-damaged aircraft became more difficult to control with every passing second. A fire spread, and the crew dropped its ammunition to prevent a mid-air explosion. 1st Lt Nesbitt gave the order to evacuate. The plane lurched onto its back. With 1st Lt Nesbitt strapped in his seat, he fought for control to give his crew time to escape. Seven men evacuated, with six successfully parachuting to the ground.
Witnesses saw the aircraft coming in over the village of Horst, Germany, flying low and on fire. The Dutch Cleaner crashed into a crop field, burrowing deep into the ground. No one still in the plane survived. All six of the crew who successfully parachuted were captured, placed on a bus, and entered into the Prisoner of War camp system. They later returned home to the United States.
One year after the crash, the War Department issued a finding of death for 1st Lt Nesbitt on May 30, 1945.
Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC), U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, embarked on a global effort to identify and return fallen servicemen for honored burial in U.S. cemeteries. In 1946, 1948, and 1949 American teams went searching for the remains of 1st Lt Nesbitt, to no avail.
By this point, diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union had crumbled, and access into the Soviet-dominated East Germany closed. With the Cold War underway, the U.S. military declared 1st Lt Nesbitt “non-recoverable” on April 21, 1953.
In the case of 1st Lt Nesbitt, the adage to “never leave a man behind” spanned decades.
In July 2012, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC, Hawaii) finally found the Dutch Cleaner’s crash site and added the location to a list of sites to excavate. With the property owner’s permission, a contractor excavated the crash site in the summer of 2019.
After scientific analysis, the U.S. Military officially declared in November 2019 that they had found Marcy’s beloved brother. First Lieutenant Carl Davis Nesbitt was buried with full military honors on May 15, 2023, at Ft. Indiantown Gap. His nephew and Presbyterian minister, Greg Seckman, officiated the service for the family.
Pictured in the Individual Photograph:
First Lieutenant Carl Davis Nesbitt in uniform
Pictured in the Group Photograph:
Front: Marcy Seckman holding a photograph of her older brother, 1st Lt Carl Nesbitt. Back (left-right) William “Shorty” Cox, Identifications, U.S. Army Casualty Office; Bob Fidler; Barb Fidler; Greg Seckman; and Major Daniel “Tyler” Brooks, U.S. Army War College.
Many thanks to the Europe Mediterranean Directorate Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for documenting 1st Lt Nesbitt’s heroism and the search for his remains. The account written here comes from their report.
Blog updated May 26, 2023, to include a link to NBC's coverage.