PORTAGE, Mich. (AP) — The family of a veteran who crash-landed a plane in Lake Michigan is finally getting some closure.
Lt. John Lendo was the last person to pilot the U.S. Navy Douglas “Dauntless” Dive Bomber SBD-2P before he was forced to make an emergency landing on Lake Michigan Feb. 18, 1944, during a training mission. The WWII pilot survived the crash, but died later that year in combat while serving in the Philippines. His body wasn’t recovered.
The Dauntless was retrieved in 2009 when it was pulled from the lake. It has been getting restored at the Air Zoo in Portage since 2016. The work is expected to be finished next year.
Arthur Lendo, the pilot’s nephew, told the Kalamazoo Gazette on Thursday that the restoration gives him a chance to honor his uncle. He donated more than $100,000 to the Air Zoo to fund the plane’s restoration. Although he never met his uncle, honoring his military service and helping to educate today’s youth is important to him.
As he stood beside the plane, he expressed that the airplane is an important connection to his lost loved one.
“Part of the story here is closure for the family,” Lendo said Thursday.
Arthur Lendo’s father never spoke of his brother’s death because it was too painful. The pilot never had a funeral and was never buried, though his name is engraved alongside his parents’ on their tombstone.
“I’m approaching 75 years old,” Arthur Lendo said. “I’ve had 75 years of prosperity, opportunity and freedom. That’s what this is all about.”
After restoration is completed, the aircraft will “go home” to the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in Hawaii, Air Zoo CEO and President Troy Thrash said in a release from the museum.
“The story of this SBD and its last pilot, John Lendo, is told every day at the Air Zoo,” Thrash said. “Thus far, nearly 1,000 students and public visitors have contributed to the restoration.”
Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, http://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo