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Descendant of missing WWII airman searching for him in France

LAYTON – Nearly 74 years ago, an Army pilot, Lt. George “Frankie” Wilson from Utah died in northern France. He was shot down by German forces in World War II.

His remains never made it home.

Wilson’s survivors and descendants hardly spoke about Wilson, until now. One of them will be in France this weekend in hopes of “Finding George.”

On July 8, 1944, Lt. Wilson flew his B-17 with nine men aboard in formation with 23 other “Flying Fortresses” just outside of Normandy, France.

“He was divorced and he left a 2-year-old son,” said Wilson’s great-niece, Sonni Bornemier of Layton. “My great-grandma, I believe, raised him.

“I can’t imagine growing up and not knowing where the body of my father is.”

Bornemeier, and most of her family, had known little else about him.

“The basics were, he was a pilot in World War II, and he was my grandmother’s brother, missing in action,” she said.

Back then, Sonni’s grandmother received a telegram saying just that.

“I have letters from my grandmother to other family members saying her brother is missing, please pray,” she said.

And when Sonni asked about her great-uncle George, nicknamed Frankie, at family gatherings, she got silence.

“I didn’t know if it was because I hurt my grandma’s feelings, or if I just offended people,” she said. “But there’s no information to give me, so they would just shut down.”

However, on Memorial Day, while watching military documentaries, Sonni and her husband, Eric, resolved to end the mystery.

“So, we just opened up the laptop and just started typing in it. We started with his name, and then just used the Google machine,” Eric said, chuckling.

They found websites like 398th.org, named for the bombing group in which Lt. Wilson flew three times in four months over France.

“That’s where I found what I call the ‘Holy Grail’ of documents, and that’s called the Missing Air Crew Report,” Eric said.

It had the flight formation and the flight path. He showed it to KSL.

“They fly in a triangle, and he was the third plane just to the left of the spear,” Eric said.

“They left England, and then flew to the coast, and then, at 7:12 a.m., they made their left-hand turn to go to the bombing sites.”

The Missing Air Crew Report also showed their targets in France: Germany’s guided cruise missiles.

“They were preparing these V-1s and they would launch them on ramps and then send them over to London,” Eric said. “They were a huge threat.”

In the report, the crew recalled how Lt. Wilson took flak from the Germans and crashed just minutes before the crew could attack.

“The pilot had kept control of the plane enough for all of the crew to bail out safely, except for the pilot,” Eric showed. “Frankie was too injured to leave the plane, and so he went down with the plane.”

The highly-detailed report also had serial numbers for the plane, its engines and its weapons that could have turned up in French pawn shops.

“If I find something, find an engine, find wreckage, find one of these 50-caliber guns, which would be amazing, ‘Where did you find this?’ would be my next question,” Eric chuckled.

Maybe all of this will lead Eric to “Uncle Frankie’s” missing remains in northern France, where he will search this Sunday, 74 years to the day the pilot disappeared.

“If the French villagers were able to get ahold of them, they would have secured and buried them, maybe in the back of a church,” Eric hypothesized.

“But if the Germans were there, they probably would have buried them next to the plane.”

One of Wilson’s crewmen got back to England. The Germans imprisoned the other eight, but the war ended ten months later, and they were freed.

Now, the Bornemeiers want to bring the last man home.

“Leave no man behind,” Eric said. “It fulfills that mission.”

“I would just really like to have an ending,” Sonni said. “I want an ending.”

The Bornemeiers have a Facebook page called “Finding George,” full of photographs and evidence they have collected.

That’s where Eric has had conversations with people in France who are willing to help him there this weekend.