Marker Monday: Lost Airmen of World War II


Nebraska 12, Naper, Boyd County, Nebraska

View this marker’s location: 42.958869, -99.08987

Marker Text

On August 3, 1944, a C-47 transport carrying twenty-eight men of the U.S. Army Air Forces crashed in a ravine six miles southwest of Naper during a severe storm. There were no survivors. It was the largest single military air disaster in Nebraska history. The plane was in flight from the Bruning, Nebraska, Army Air Field to Pierre, South Dakota, where the men would complete gunnery training before going overseas. A monument in nearby Knollcrest Cemetery honors their sacrifice.


More Information

The largest plane crash to occur in Nebraska during World War II took place on August 3, 1944, when a C-47A “Skytrain” transport plane crashed near Naper, Nebraska in Boyd County, killing 4 crew members and 24 passengers. The plane left Bruning Army Airfield at 7:07 PM, carrying 24 P-47 pilots who had just graduated from the 262nd Fighter Pilot Training School at Bruning Army Air Field.

The pilots aboard this plane, among the most experienced trainees who were soon to be stationed overseas, were on their way to the Pierre Army Air Field in South Dakota, where they were supposed to train for thirty more days at the aerial gunnery range located there. At around 8:25, the plane crossed over the Keya Paha River and approached a thunderstorm. The plane seemed to enter the storm cloud and, after a large flash of lightning, the plane’s engines stopped. Shortly thereafter, the plane was seen falling from the sky in a sharp dive. At some point, it flipped upside down shortly before crashing into a hill, instantly killing all inside.

The exact cause of the crash was never discovered. Eyewitness accounts suggest that the crash was caused by a lightning strike, but no markings on the plane confirmed this. One investigator thought that strong winds in the area may have destroyed the plane. Blame for the crash was similarly hard to place. One report attributed the crash solely to pilot error, but another report noted that the weather station, which had predicted clear skies, and material failure of the plane also contributed to the crash. A wing tip broke off from the plane and was found separate from the rest of the crash, leading some to believe plane damage was a cause.

Since the crash was so big, the military took precautions in hopes of preventing another similar incident. New rules were created about C-47s flying into certain kinds of weather. Among the dead was a pair of twin brothers from Del Rey and Fresno, California, one of whom left behind an infant daughter, along with two native Nebraskans. Three of the dead had previously survived crashes in Nebraska. A memorial cross currently marks the location of the crash. A cross was first placed on the site in 1946 but was replaced in 2001. A memorial service marking the 60th anniversary of the crash was held in 2004 and was attended by relatives of the deceased.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

The Huskers wore blue jerseys for Memorial Stadium’s first game

The Huskers wore blue jerseys for Memorial Stadium’s first game

Recent Archeological Work at Ft. Atkinson

Recent Archeological Work at Ft. Atkinson

Willie Nelson FarmAid Concert

Willie Nelson FarmAid Concert

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.
Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.