Lake Berryessa B-25 crash
previous posts with background info
Son learns details about Air Force dad’s fatal 1954 crash
full story courtesy of Vacaville Reporter
PUBLISHED: October 29, 2019 at 7:48 pm | UPDATED: October 30, 2019 at 3:46 pm
Bruce Gustafson never really knew his dad.
When he was just 1 1/2 years old, his father, Air Force First Lt. Robert Wayne Gustafson, participated in a B-25 training mission that ended in a fatal crash near Lake Berryessa.
On Tuesday, the Southern California man, now 66, made a special trip to the Center for Freedom and Flight in Vacaville, his hands caressing remnants of the elder Gustafson’s downed plane as he learned more details of the tragic flight.
“It’s just good to know the other side of it,” he said, touching a hydraulic cylinder, slice of a cowl flap, a broken nose wheel, various metal data plates and other memorabilia.
On Aug. 25, 1954, Robert Gustafson, who served in World War II and Korea, was a navigator aboard a B-25 with seven others. Fog hit during the flight and they got turned around. As they neared a remote area near Lake Berryessa, the plane crashed, decimating much of the aircraft. There were no survivors.
Because of the location, the wreckage was left behind even as the remains of the flight crew were removed.
Following his father’s death, Bruce, who was born at Travis Air Force Base, his two older sisters and his mom would leave their home at Mather Air Force Base. He was raised in Arizona and later returned to California.
His mom never spoke of his dad, he said, because it was too painful. As well, she was busy raising three children alone.
“Dad’s buried at Ft. Snelling,” he said. “All I knew up to that point was a little white (grave) stone.”
At age 11, his curiosity was piqued and he did some library research on the crash, but didn’t turn up much. That would be the case through his fact-finding efforts through the years.
Eventually, he would find bits of memorabilia and a trunk with his father’s belongings. He later found a medic who had responded to the crash, but who didn’t want to talk.
One day, his daughter found an article online and connected with its author. Bruce, too would connect and correspond with him and, on Tuesday, met the man — Dave Trojan, aviation archaeologist — at the Center for Freedom and Flight. It was momentous.
On the 64th anniversary of the ill-fated flight, Trojan and others visited the crash site, paid their respects, gathered some remnants and erected a temporary memorial.
A teary Bruce said he was ecstatic to learn so much more about the event, as it helped him to heal and feel closer to his father.
The man wasn’t supposed to fly that day, he shared, as he had learned that his dad had just wanted to make some extra money to buy the family a couch. He normally flew B-17s or B-29s, but went ahead with the B-25.
His father’s death defined him, he said, left a big hole in his life.
Finding the truth, it seems, is healing him.
“It’s very humbling,” he said.
Everything he has is because of his dad, he said, as military benefits paid for his education and helped him launch a successful career. He’s been married for 24 years and has two children.
“I’m very lucky,” he said. “I’m blessed.”
He has visited the wreckage site and hopes to do so again.
Dave Trojan also plans a repeat trip. This time, to put up a permanent memorial for all who died there.