Salerno 1943 researchers Daniele Gioiello, Luigi Fortunato, Italo Cappetta, and Aniello Sansone in the field
After 71 years, the remains of American airman Dewey L. Gossett may yet come home to a proper burial.
Researchers from the Italian research association known as Salerno 1943, in collaboration with the Protezione Civile (civil defence) of the city of Acerno, Italy, have identified remains that may be those of an American aviator whose A-36 bomber crashed on Mount Accellica on September 27th, 1943.
The steep slope of Mount Accellica, into which Dewey’s plane crashed in 1943
Initially, the Salerno 1943 volunteers had been contacted by Joshua Frank, an agent in Italy of the U.S. Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). Joshua requested they do everything possible to locate Dewey’s remains in order that they might be returned to his family in the United States. For some time Dewey’s family had been in communication with the DPMO about this search. Salerno 1943 researchers promptly began looking for the plane’s point of impact. At first they were unable to find evidence. First civilians on the scene, probably in the spring of 1944, might have encountered only aircraft wreckage. The body of the pilot likely would have been torn apart by wild animals. This made the search for Dewey’s remains more complicated.
Luigi Fortunato, president of Salerno 1943, explains, “It was not possible with metal detectors at our disposal to find the bones. When we have found human remains, as was the case with the four soldiers (two German and two British) that we found around the battlefield of Operation Avalanche, discovery had been possible due to the fact that the soldiers were carrying metal objects like ammunition, accoutrements, etc.”
According to a Salerno 1943 statement sent to me by representative Matteo Pierro, “Volunteers continued to explore the area of the crash, watching for any metal object. Their focus was the area where previously we had found metal elements of the parachute and of a flight uniform. Then, near a metal buckle support for the parachute harness, there appeared small bone fragments and what appeared to be part of a human jaw.
“We interrupted the research and informed military authorities.”
Parachute buckles and flight uniform elements found at the site of the crash
The statement continues, “I wish to express our appreciation for the gracious help provided by the carabinieri in the person of Lieutenant Colonel Pasquale De Luca, Captain Giuseppe Costa and chief marshal Pasqualino Fisichella, who promptly initiated the proceedings of the case.
“We also informed Joshua Frank of the find. He has been in contact with Dewey’s great niece, thanks to whom it will be possible to start a DNA comparison. We are not doctors, but it seems to us the bones might be human. If the DNA investigation confirms that they are, they surely belong to Dewey because his crash occurred in a nearly inaccessible area.
“I especially want to thank our friends who helped during this challenging research: Aniello Sansone, Italo Cappetta, Pietro Di Martino, Daniele Gioiello, Pierpaolo Irpino, Valerio Lai, Rosalino Margagnoni, Matteo Pierro and Matteo Ragone.
“Volunteers of Salerno 1943 hope this discovery will finally allow Dewey’s family members to properly bury and honor their loved one.
“We also hope that U.S. authorities will continue their support for investigations of other Allied crash sites in Italy, in order to facilitate recovery of any existing remains of other ill-fated airman.”
Dewey Gossett shortly after his enlistment
Dewey L. Gossett
Dewey Gossett, was born on February 28, 1920 in Arcadia, South Carolina to William and Sarah Hughes Gossett. At the outbreak of World War II, Dewey enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and was assigned to the 86th Fighter Group, which fought in Italy.
On September 11, 1943 he participated in the Sicilian campaign attack near Troina. Sometimes called the Apache or Invader, the A-36 plane Dewey piloted was a dive-bombing, ground-attack version of the P-51 Mustang, but it was far more vulnerable. The tail of his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire, but Dewey managed to return to base. A photo documenting the battle damage was released to the press, accompanied by the caption: “Take it and come back safely.”
The A-36 Apache dive bomber
Dewey’s plane with damage to the tail caused by enemy air defenses
Dewey was not so lucky on September 27, 1943. His squadron had taken off from the airport that the Americans had built at the mouth of the river Sele immediately following invasion. The task of the day was to provide tactical support to U.S. forces who were pursuing the retreating Germans to the north along the roads of Irpinia. Near Acerno, the squadron leader realized they were perilously close to the cliffs of Mount Accellica, which were partially hidden by low clouds. He ordered his men to gain altitude. When they were past the clouds, he realized they had lost sight of Dewey. For some time they flew over the area, but they could not sight his aircraft. In the meantime, the rain began to fall heavily, preventing continuation of the search.
Matteo sent me contact information for Dewey’s great niece, Nora Messick. He said she would welcome hearing from me. I wrote and she responded several days later.
“Please accept my apologies for not replying sooner,” she wrote. “We are still trying to process the news and are anxiously awaiting confirmation that the remains are Dewey’s. We have waited so long for answers as to what happened to him—71 years ago this past September. You see, his parents had received a letter years ago from someone in Italy claiming to have information on Dewey’s whereabouts, claiming to have his dog tags and wanting money in exchange for the information.”
“His parents contacted someone with the military, who told them it was a scam and to leave it alone. All things considered, I still believe the remains are his and am praying we get a positive match. If I didn’t know about the letter I would say without doubt they are his. But because I do, I’d like to get the results back so we can have closure.
“I am so grateful for the Salerno group for finding his crash site and the remains. DPMO had told us at the last family brief that they had gotten within 12 miles of the crash site but had to turn back because of an avalanche of sorts. They said they planned to return this past June or July, but we never heard anything.
“We would be honored for you to tell Dewey’s story on your website. Dewey never married or had children. He joined the Army right out of high school. His sister Janie was my grandmother and she spoke of Dewey all the time. She kept his memory alive for all of us and I’ve been searching for answers for years. I had hoped to get closure for her before she passed, but that was not to be the case. Unfortunately, his parents, brothers, and sisters have passed.
“I grew up with Dewey’s picture in my room and now it hangs in my den above his citation of honor. Though I never met him, I love him all the same. Everyone was proud of Dewey. I’ve been told he was the first in the family to graduate from high school. The family lived in the mill village and most of them worked in the mill. I have several pictures of Dewey and some documents that were in his footlocker when it was returned to us as well as letters he wrote home. Most of them are V-mail.”
“This picture was made the day they presented my great grandparents with Dewey’s medals.” Nora explained. “The lady receiving them is my great grandmother, Sallie Hughes Gossett. The lady next to her looking at the camera is my grandmother Janie. The two little girls at the bottom of the picture are my mother and her sister. My mother is the youngest of the two pictured. The man to the left is my great grandfather, William E. Gossett.”
About Salerno 1943
Salerno 1943 was founded in 2007 in Salerno, Italy by a group of friends who are enthusiasts of local history.
The statutory objectives of the group are the collection, cataloging, conservation, restoration, and—above all—sharing of World War II military and civil material discovered in the Campania region.
As a non-profit, non-political, non-partisan organization, the group rejects war as a means of settling disputes between nations.
Far from having a desire to glorify the war, the association hopes to impress upon new generations an realization that war brings death and pain. They wish others to deeply consider the anxiety felt by mothers, wives, children, parents, and brothers and sisters in parting with their loved ones bound for war, and the agony suffered by all those who have learned that a loved one would never return.
It is the group’s hope that reconstruction of these stories will help to perpetuate the memory of those whose lives were cut short by war and inform younger generations of their tragic sacrifices so that such events will not be repeated.
To bring these stories to light, the Association has published a book, Salerno 1943. Gli aviatori, le storie, i ritrovamenti dell’operazione Avalanche, published by D’Amico Editore, 2013. Currently you can visit two free exhibitions held by the association at the State Archives and the Library of the Province of Salerno.
To date the volunteers of the association have identified the remains of five soldiers who lost their lives during the Second World War, and they have discovered the crash sites of 30 aircrafts which fell in Campania and neighboring regions.
For more information about the group:
Salerno 1943 on Facebook
This U.S. DPMO medal was awarded to members of Salerno 1943 for their service