Seventy-five years ago—on January 25, 1944—Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Toney W. Gochnauer of Amarillo, Texas, disappeared. At the time twenty-four-years-old, he was co-pilot of a B24J Liberator bomber, which had departed from Kunming, China on a supply mission over the Himalayas to Chabau, India. The aircraft, with its crew of eight and four passengers, failed to arrive. On January 26, 1946, the lieutenant was declared, “Dead while Missing.” On May 13, 2019, his remains, which were found in wreckage near a rural village in eastern India, were identified, and he was declared, “Accounted For.”
Apparently, Lt. Gochnauer was originally a Flying Tiger fighter pilot, and would have seen his first combat mission against Japanese pilots in late December of 1941, flying out of Kunming, China. And apparently, he became a bomber pilot in July of 1942, when the Flying Tigers (1st American Volunteer Group) were disbanded and absorbed into the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force.
Was his plane lost because of the unpredictable weather? Was it shot down by Japanese fighter planes? Mechanical failure? From Kunming to Chabau the distance is more than 500 miles, and over some of the highest mountains in the world. In early 1944, when the plane failed to arrive, the combined forces of the American and Chinese units had not yet gained air supremacy in China over the Japanese. And where did the plane end up? “Due to inability to pinpoint a loss location, no search efforts were initiated.” (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency—DPAA, June 2019.)
More than 72,000 service members are still unaccounted for from World War II. Lt. Gochnauer’s name is listed on the “Walls of the Missing” at the Manila American Memorial in Taguig City, Philippines. “A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate that he has been accounted for.” (DPAA.)
Apparently, that’s it: “a rosette … next to his name.” Apparently, seventy-five years later, there is no one to claim the lieutenant’s remains. In the news accounts, there is no information about a wife, kids, girlfriend, or siblings. Presumably, what “remains” there are, will be put in a little box, archived somewhere in the vast recesses of the federal government’s storage facilities—and forgotten.
That’s one reason why I wrote my novel, Nadya: The Restoration of a Flying Tiger—so that my fictitious missing pilot, and missing pilots like him, would not be forgotten. My pilot, Capt. Howie Hill, was reported missing and presumed dead in in China in 1949, after flying for the Flying Tigers and then for the Nationalist Chinese Airforce, while based in Kunming, China. But he unexpectedly reappears alive in fictitious Mackenzie, Texas (actually Amarillo), in 1950, suffering from PTSD and alcoholism. He had been gone for ten years, and forgotten. When he finally comes home, it’s to drink himself to death. He had no hope and no reason to live—having lost his Chinese wife and children to Mao’s victorious Communist armies.
My story—a historical romance—tells how Capt. Hill is slowly able to find a reason to live and is slowly able to recover his sanity. It’s a love story. What saves him and brings him back to life is the love that he finds with Nadya, the nurse in Mackenzie’s public hospital who tends to him when he is brought into the emergency room after attempting suicide. She understands, because she is a Polish refugee from war-torn Europe.
The captain had mistakenly been reported missing and presumed dead, both by the United States Air Force and by the Nationalist Chinese Air Force. When he reappears, alive and no longer missing, he is resurrected by both air forces, reinstated for one day, honorably discharged—and is no longer dead and forgotten. Then, by allowing Nadya to love him and take care of him, Capt. Hill is restored. Thus, the title of my novel: Nadya: The Restoration of a Flying Tiger.
I hope that people reading my novel about Capt. Howie Hill and reading the news story about 2nd Lt. Toney W. Gochnauer will see the connection. The 72,000 missing service members from World War II are real people. (If I wrote my story well, Capt. Hill will become real to the reader.) They had hopes and dreams. They have never come home, but they should not be forgotten. They deserve more than a listing on a wall, or a rosette after their name if they are someday accounted for.