John Mier – Sharing the History of our Fallen Veterans
Inspired by his uncle, Roman “Ray” Mierzejewski, a fighter pilot who died in WWII, John Mier ’84 (Indiana State) is honoring fallen veterans by researching their stories and making them available to family, friends, veterans, and history buffs online.
Uncovering the story of his uncle, a brave 19 year-old fighter pilot
John’s grandmother had a portrait of his Uncle Ray in uniform, and John wanted to know more about him. His curiosity about his uncle’s death began during conversations with his grandmother.
The family knew only that his uncle was a US Army Air Force pilot who flew a mission in 1943 and according to the military, he “failed to return, no reason known.”
John said, “I just felt a connection to my Uncle Ray and I wanted to know what happened to him.” His uncle’s official military records were lost in a fire, which was not uncommon when most military records were still kept on paper. So, John spent some 15 years researching other sources like local newspapers, VFWs, libraries, and websites.
He learned that Ray left high school in 1942 and joined the US Army Air Corp. He became one of the youngest fighter pilots in the USAAF at 19 years old, and was assigned to the 317th Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Group, flying P-40 Warhawks out of North Africa.
John dug deeper, leaving an inquiry about his uncle on a site about the WWII Italian Air Force. By chance, he got a response. He received an email from an Italian man who said that his father witnessed the air battle that claimed his uncle’s life.
Delighted to find a first hand source, Mier and his wife traveled to Italy in 2002 to meet the man and hear his recollection, which was later confirmed by an Italian Air force pilot’s report.
On June 28, 1943, John’s Uncle Ray was flying over Sardinia protecting B-26 bombers of the 17th Bomber Group. He found himself tangled in a dogfight with an Italian ace.
Both pilots got shots off at the other, but when Ray tried to break off to re-engage with his group, the Italian pursued and got off a long range burst. Ray’s plane burst into flames and he was too low to bail out.
The Italians recovered his body and an Italian Air Force Chaplin gave Ray a Catholic funeral with military honors. During their visit to Sardinia in 2002, John and his wife visited his uncle’s grave.
Inspired to help others learn their family history
During his research about his uncle, John learned about an organization known as Story Behind the Stars whose goal is to record the history of all service members lost during WWII.
Their organization recruits volunteers to research and record the stories of veterans so they will never be forgotten. The project goal is to tell the stories of over 420,000 of our fallen WWII veterans.
John has researched and written over 100 stories for the website, mostly about his uncle’s unit, the 325th Fighter Group, who were also known as the Checkertails, a moniker given to the unit by the infamous “Axis Sally.”
The unit earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for actions over Sardinia for engaging a superior force of enemy aircraft and destroying more than half of them.
Pilam and after
Mier was initially drawn to Pilam because he had a co-worker who was a brother. He said, “when I went to Indiana, he had already prepped the brothers. I was practically a shoe-in.” He added, “the beer was cold and the music was good.”
John was a theater major in college and spent 35 years as a conductor for Amtrak. He said thanks to his theater degree, “passengers always appreciated my scenic announcements and annunciation.”
John is retired and living in Belleville, Illinois. He continues to research and post stories about veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice.