For almost 70 years, Bobby Montague knew little about how his brother died during World War II.
Bobby Montague and his brother Wilson Montague were close while growing up in a Raleigh family with 14 children. Bobby, the youngest, was heartbroken when Wilson left to join the U.S. Army Air Forces in the 1940s, but Wilson wrote letters home every day.
One day, though, there was no letter waiting for Bobby Montague in the mailbox.
The family was notified that Wilson’s plane had been shot down while flying over Germany on March 1, 1945, about two months before the war in Europe ended. They wrote letters to the U.S. government, asking for more information about what happened. But no one seemed to have answers.
Bobby Montague, now 82, always wondered about his brother’s final days, but he gave up long ago on trying to find out. He joined the military in 1958, got married and raised a family in Raleigh, and eventually became the vice president of Carolina Power & Light, now Duke Energy.
But a decade ago, Peter Weimer was just getting started on his investigation more than 4,300 miles away in Reicholzheim, Germany.
Weimer’s father saw Wilson Montague’s plane crash to the ground and was curious about the young American pilot who died.
Weimer, 53, began researching the accident in his spare time in 2007, combing through government records, collecting eyewitness accounts and publishing articles in German newspapers. Once he figured out the pilot was Wilson Montague, he started to look for relatives.
At first I thought it was a scam. It was surreal.
One of the witnesses he talked to was Lothar Pitz, who grew up in Germany and now lives in Raleigh. Pitz was a child when he saw the plane crash, and he told Weimer he and his friends hid under an embankment and watched smoke from the wreckage balloon into the sky.
Pitz found a distant cousin of Wilson Montague in Granville County and from there got Bobby Montague’s phone number in Raleigh.
Bobby Montague got a call from Pitz in 2015. Was he related to a young pilot whose plane was shot down in Germany during the war?
“At first I thought it was a scam,” Montague said, tears flooding his eyes. “It was surreal.”
Pitz, who now has Alzheimer’s disease, connected Bobby Montague and Weimer, who started corresponding. Later in 2015, Bobby Montague visited Germany to meet Weimer and learn more about his brother’s death.
Wilson Montague died while trying to return to a U.S. Army Air Forces base in Huntingdon, England, Weimer said. The pilot lost contact with the base and flew in the wrong direction.
“I never expected that this would happen,” Weimer said. “The first time we met … it was very emotional for them and for me too. I never expected to one day meet the brother of this pilot who crashed.”
The pair visited the grassy field where the plane went down. Weimer had erected a memorial featuring a black-and-white photo of Wilson Montague and information about his life.
In May, Weimer visited Bobby Montague and his family in Raleigh. They visited many of the places the Montague siblings spent time growing up.
Their meeting has brought a sense of closure to the lives of both men. For Weimer, his years-long research project had come to an end. For Montague, he finally knew what happened to his brother.
“I never thought I’d know,” Montague said.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; firstname.lastname@example.org