1st Lt. Maurice V. Esters was a pilot with the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. On June 26, 1944, the squadron was returning to Ramitelli Air Base after completing a bomber escort mission in Hungary when the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt he was flying experienced mechanical problems causing him to break formation over the Adriatic Sea.
"We were about 10 minutes from shore and he started dropping back. I throttled all the way back, but still ran past him. I turned around to see him drop his nose, then pull up and roll over and drop away," wrote Lt. Charles A. Dunne in an after action report.
Esters radioed "mayday" before parachuting from his plane.
Capt. Luther H. Smith, Jr. said in an interview for the Ft. Des Moines Museum and Education Center, "Maurice Esters was a very athletic man, and we circled him after he landed in the Adriatic Sea that day. He was on his raft and waved to us that he was all right moments before a huge wave swept him under. We never saw him again."
Esters' name is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial in Italy. He was officially declared dead on June 27, 1945.
Excerpted and edited from the St. Luois Post-Dispatch