Harvard, Neb. honors WWII plane crash victims

By: Bill Schammert

On Memorial Day, we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. However, that sacrifice isn’t always overseas or during conflict, sometimes it can happen in our own backyards.

In August of 1943, such a tragedy happened in Harvard, Neb. Monday, that tragedy was remembered.

According to author Jerry Penry, who wrote a book about fatal crashes in Nebraska during World War II, eight B-17 bombers were flying in formation on a training mission when one plane made a wrong move. It collided with another plane, sending both straight to the ground and killing everyone on board. The debris caused another plane to crash land, killing one more.

Korean War veteran, LaVerne Yost, was 16 at the time.

“They were talking about this big flash in the sky and I didn’t know what it was about,” he said. “Then we found out three planes had crashed, one east of town and two to the north.” 

According to Yost, the plane that crash landed did so with a belly-landing in his cousin’s cornfield, but not before 14 men lost their lives.

This Memorial Day, dozens showed up to downtown Harvard to unveil a plaque remembering those fallen soldiers. 

“It’s my hope that the younger generation will pause to read the words on this sign,” Penry said in a ceremony. “And never forget the men who gave it all while training in Harvard.”

Yost echoed those sentiments.

“Freedom is a wonderful thing, and it needs to be advertised, let us know how we earned it,” he said. 

According to Penry’s book, tragic accidents like this one happened all over Nebraska during the 1940’s. In total, 241 men and two women lost their lives as a result of about 60 plane crashes over the skies of the Cornhusker State. 

For more information on this piece of World War II history, or to purchase Penry’s book, click here.