Stories From Main Street: Mamaroneck Man Searches For Remains Of World War II Hero In Long Island Sound
MAMARONECK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A man from Westchester County is on a mission to recover the remains of a man he never met.
When the weather is clear, chances are that you will find Bob Contreras from Mamaroneck crisscrossing the Long Island Sound near Rye, N.Y. and Greenwich, Conn. He said he’s been boating there for years.
One of his boats even has the likeness of his father on it.
“Put a mural and a dedication to my father [standing in front of a plane] on the back… never knowing the story… what it all meant,” Contreras told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.
But Contreras did some sleuthing and learned his dad, Walter Contreras, was a mechanic for a plane and knew a pilot, Major Owen Allred.
Allred was a decorated ace and member of the Burma Banshees — the 80th Fighter Group.
Call it fate. Call it coincidence. Major Allred, along with Cpl. Ralph Poplett, crashed in the Long Island Sound while on a training flight on Aug. 23, 1947.
“I just almost fainted. My jaw fell off. I couldn’t believe that the guy passed right where I always boat,” Bob Contreras said. “[Allred] is the godfather of precision bombing. I have articles from 1940 to ’44 when he was in his prime, his hey day.”
The Army never found the plane. Contreras told CBS 2’s Lou Young he didn’t know about how Allred died until after his own father passed in 1985. He said he believes now that he’s meant to find the wreck — to honor both men. He said he has vowed to finish the mission — 65 years later.
After more than six decades in salt water, the plane may be difficult to spot even with his sensitive equipment.
Contreras told Young has has pieces of a similar aircraft for the equipment to look at — like pieces of airframe which he’ll put in the water to see how they look to the equipment. He also has two landing gear assemblies and hundreds of pounds of metal, which may give him his best chance at success.
“I’m doing everything myself. It’s a one-man show. I’ve gotten side scan sonar, [magnetometers], ROVs [remote operated vehicles] to go in and check whatever’s on the bottom that I think might be it,” Contreras said.
“It’s going to look like growth. It’s going to look like a rock. It’s not going to look like a plane,” Contreras told Young.
Now, he said he could use some divers. The water is 30 to 50 feet deep, the bottom thick with mud and muck. He told Young he could also use some some college students willing to re-check his research.
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Allred’s younger brother, Allen, who is from California said he is eternally grateful.
“It’s fantastic. It is unbelievable that he has taken [it upon himself] to do that,” Allen said. “We get hope. All my brothers and sisters are all excited about this. If he does get a hold of it, I want to be there. I’m going to try and be there.”
For Bob, this is deeply personal. He said he has invested countless hours and untold sums of his own money to find Allred.
“I firmly believe he kept my father alive [in the war] and that’s about it,” Contreras said.
He said he wants to make sure there is a proper burial at Arlington National Cemetery and he won’t rest until that happens.
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