|Two Searches Converge: Schopp Germany and 1LT
Jump to Father's Day 2011 in NYC. 1LT Meli's
daughter Vincenza "Vinnie" Meli Teriaca looks
over mementos of her father's crash, and out of
curiosity googles his name. Her two brothers are
now deceased, and her mother lives in Florida.
She remembers her dad even though she was
only two years old at the time of the crash, and
has always felt a connection to him. Against all
odds, there is Uwe's message. Contact! She is
overwhelmed to learn the residents of Schopp
have not forgotten her father's sacrifice.
There's more research to come, but already the people of Schopp are planning a big welcome
to Vinnie and her family this fall. The US Air Force on Ramstein is involved (special thanks
to TSgt Chris Wolfe), and the German press and television have picked up the story. And
needless to say, the family of 1LT Meli are still digesting the strange circumstances that linked
their "Sam" and Schopp, both in 1956 and in 2011. There's more news to come in the future.
1LT Meli, in the center at left,
always wanted to fly. He was a
graduate of Valley Forge Military
Academy and an ROTC grad of
Michigan State University. Arriving
in Germany in June 1956, his 86th
Fighter Interceptor Wing was flying
out of Landstuhl Air Base before its
consolidation with Ramstein. He and
his wife Delores and children Angelo
(3), Vincenza (2) and Frank (7
months) lived in military housing and
had invited the unmarried pilots to
Thanksgiving dinner that next week.
The crash occurred when 1LT Meli and another pilot were heading home as standby for a flyby at
Rhein Main. On the way back from Bad Kreuznach, the approach time was moved up 15 minutes
and the lead pilot adjusted his path accordingly. When he tried to contact 1LT Meli there was no
response. The German newspaper report postulates he became lost in the thick cloud cover.
On 25 April 2011, some older residents of
Schopp Germany contacted WWII airplane
recovery leader Uwe Benkel with a question:
what happened to the family of the pilot who
crashed at the edge of their village over 50
years ago? The 27 year old pilot, 1LT
Salvatore Meli, appeared to stay with his
failing Sabrejet F-86D instead of ejecting
during the crash on 14 November 1956.
Witnesses said he tried to pull his plane away
from the village, with the crash resulting in
only minor injuries to the occupants of two
houses. Ramstein Air Base had no family
information on the crash, and even more
discouraging was that "Meli" is a common
Italian name. The search for the pilot's family
went nowhere. But being a hopeful reseacher,
Uwe posted an info request on an Internet
discussion board, just in case...
The plane came in from the north and crashed on the road only a few houses from the south
end of the village. Reports say the pilot was trying to "curve away from the village" as the
plane came down. The google satellite view (link below with the cursor on the burned houses)
suggests he may have been heading for the fields SW of town. Debris flew up to 300 meters,
and the heat of the explosion scorched and burned houses on the main street. Amazingly, no
one was killed. Two women and a toddler suffered minor burns and shock.
Fiftyfive years later, the houses in Schopp are long
repaired but the older people remember that
November day. 1LT Meli was buried in Detroit
where he grew up, and his family established a
pediatric benefit fund in his name at St Johns
Hospital. Vinnie says by now her father, so boyish
in the photos, would be a greatgrandfather to a 5
year old girl!
More photos and information are available on these links:
Thanks to Uwe Benkel and his "Working Group for the Missing" for their dedication to
reseaching and recovering German, US, and British plane crashes in this area. Check out
their website, and contact the group if you are interested in being involved in stories such as
this one. Thanks also to TSgt Chris Wolfe for sharing both his passion for history and his
knowledge of Air Force procedures with us.
More Then and Now Photos Here