The 10 Lost Lives Of the Black Cat
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Howard Goodner plunged out of the Black Cat, the last American bomber shot down over Germany in World War II, early on the morning of April 21, 1945. The B-24 Liberator was hit at 22,000 feet and broke into pieces.
Goodner, just 21, had no parachute. He came down in a free fall alongside bombs and oxygen tanks, spinning toward the Bavarian village of Scharmassing.
He landed in a field outside town, his body striking the earth so hard that it left a crater nearly six inches deep.
Maria Wittig, then 19, saw him there. He was athletic looking, fair-skinned, handsome. Long fingers.
"I can see him before me," she told an interviewer, a half century later, so clear was her memory. Shown a picture of the entire crew, she picked out Goodner immediately. "That's him," she said, her voice breaking.
The story of Goodner, the Black Cat and Maria Wittig is 60 years old. Other wars have come and gone, but the story has never really died, living on in the small shadows of the greatest generation.
Yesterday at a ceremony in Vienna, the Black Cat was immortalized on a U.S. postage stamp, that diminutive marker of historical American moments large and small.
Part of a series of 10 commemorative aviation stamps, this one shows the Black Cat still intact, still in flight, over the pastoral fields where it would crash. Nothing on the stamp denotes the plane's tragic end.
Today, when more than 60 million of the stamps go on sale at post offices across the nation, customers might assume the aircraft pictured on it is a generic model of a plane that has long since faded from use.
Only a few know its story of heartbreak, and how it has continued to reverberate in the lives of a few for so long.
Two of the 12 crewmen on board survived. The other 10 died upon impact, none having lived to be 30.
Their families were informed of their loss on May 8, V-E Day, when the rest of the nation rejoiced.