Plane Mishap Involving Lt. Nelson Is Not Forgotten

Paul Densmore pictured with his late wife, Marian, at a July 2012 dedication ceremony for Levine Nelson, a U.S. Army Air Force B-24 bomber pilot and Blockville native. Submitted photos

Editor’s note: Paul Densmore is a 1965 graduate of Panama Central School and has published two novels based on his experiences in Chautauqua County. He is a contributing writer of the Panama Writer’s Conference.

A tragedy occurred in Blockville on July 15, 1944, and the tragedy has entered into the folklore of both towns of Harmony and North Harmony.

Levine Nelson, a U.S. Army Air Force B-24 bomber pilot and Blockville native, crashed in a pasture near the intersection of Spooner and Butts roads in Blockville. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that Lt. Nelson had preplanned his flyover as a final goodbye to his wife, pregnant at the time and family.

They witnessed the mishap.

Sadly, the retelling of the event has often been with a conflicted tone. It is the community’s own war story, when the machines of the European war came to the rural community. But, was the tragedy of Lt. Nelson’s own making?

I grew up during the 1950s and 60s and my home was an easy bike ride from the crash site. My brother and I, and other friends walked the site and found small electrical connectors that were out of place in a pasture. This brought Lt. Nelson closer to reality.

Later in life, after graduating from college, I had to say goodbye to my family and fiancee and leave for combat in the Vietnam War. I was a combat engineer. Leaving under such circumstances stretches your soul and I understood Lt. Nelson better.

Many, many years later I realized generations had passed and the Blockville tragedy was known by fewer and fewer. This prompted me to research the circumstances of the mishap.

Lt. Nelson’s military records show he had 30 hours of training in the B-24, an acknowledged difficult plane to fly. The plane had a thin wing which gave it the long range needed to bomb Berlin from England. However, the thin wing also made it difficult to fly. Some pilots called the plane the “Agony Wagon.” The urgency to win the war demanded pilots be given minimum training on a difficult plane to fly. Lt. Nelson had pushed his luck too far.

Regardless of the circumstances, I felt Lt. Nelson and his crew deserved a more permanent memorial than that verbally handed down from generation to generation. In 2012, I initiated a project with both the Harmony and North Harmony Historical Societies to place a memorial placard near the crash site. The Harmony Historical Society has a historical park very close to where the plane fell and this site was chosen for the memorial.

On July 15, 2012, approximately 100 members of the community gathered for the dedication of the bronze placard, visible from Open Meadows Road. The Harmony Historical Society provided all the logistics and publicity for the event. By great good fortune Lt. Nelson’s widow, Marion J. Barone, was able to attend the event. I spoke to her, giving my condolences and sympathy. I thanked her for both Lt. Nelson’s and her sacrifice for our nation. Taps were sounded and a rifle salute fired. Welcome home Lt. Nelson. We will not forget.