Man finds brother's WWII bracelet on website
There wasn't a day that passed when a young Archie Payer didn't send a letter to his older brother, a World War II serviceman stationed thousands of miles from their McAdoo home.
Stephen A. Payer was 19 when he died, shot down in a B-17 bomber as it flew outside of Berlin, Germany.
The Payers never received complete details about what happened to Stephen, who enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force after graduating from McAdoo High School in 1943.
But because they were so close, Archie never stopped wanting to find out more.
He recently stumbled across a website with a photo of an identification bracelet Stephen used to wear. It was found beneath the plane's buried wreckage - and Archie said it sheds new light onto what happened.
"We knew that he was shot down somewhere over Berlin," said Archie, who was 12 when his brother died. "We never knew the name of the airplane."
Archie learned the plane was nicknamed "Chiquita" for its painting of a South Pacific girl dressed in a grass skirt. The plane broke apart above Prenden, Germany, on Dec. 5, 1944, and Stephen was one of nine crewmen to lose his life.
Stephen, a radio operator, was first reported missing and later reported killed in action.
Archie said the plane had just completed a mission when it was hit by enemy fire. He learned his brother was using the radio at the time.
The bracelet was found by German farmers Rene and Frank Millert, Archie said.
"Their hobby is going out to look for military crash sites," Archie said. "They heard of a crash that took place right near their farm. They decided to get their metal detectors and go into the field."
The two uncovered the silver bracelet under the plane's tail section, and posted its photo on an Internet forum for the 305th Bombing Squadron.
"I almost passed out," Archie recalled of seeing the bracelet.
He contacted the farmers and learned they had also found Stephen's dog tag. The Millerts shipped the items to Archie, who now lives in Wenonah, N.J.
Archie and his wife, the former Noreen Ihnat of West Hazleton, already visited Stephen's grave in Belgium. Now, Archie is planning another trip to Europe to meet the Millerts and visit the crash site.
He's hoping to write a book about Stephen, who flew missions across Europe from his station in Chesterton, England.
Even though Archie was only 12 when Stephen died, he remembers how he always included him in outings with his high school friends.
Stephen was thoughtful, too, and before returning overseas from an October 1944 leave, he ordered an orchid corsage for Christmas Eve delivery.
"I remember my mother receiving a bouquet 'To the Greatest Mother in the World' the same night," Archie said.
There was a comical side, too, one that was responsible for Archie's nickname.
Stephen once told his little brother that he was the son of "Archie," a McAdoo miner known for his love of whiskey. At 5 years old, he asked his mother, the late Anna Matsko Payer, if it was true. Mrs. Payer related the story to her husband, who said, "From now on we'll have to call him Archie."
And they did. Edward Louis Payer became known as "Archie" to his classmates, friends, co-workers and anyone looking up his name in the telephone book.
"At age 78, it's a name I will always cherish," he said.
Stephen, he said, was also loving, caring and sharing.
"He 'had a smile of warmth emanating charm endowed by God to do no harm.' That is a quote I used in a poem I once composed," he said. "It is Steve."