Bernard Collard (left) and Helmut Bruls show the remains of a P-47 aircraft that Charles Loring flew during World War II. The plane crashed over the farm of Bruls' grandparents in 1944. Credit: Courtesy of Cuppy Johndro

LIMESTONE, Maine — Remains of a plane flown by one of Maine’s Medal of Honor recipients will soon come home to the former Aroostook County Air Force base that bears his name.

Maj. Charles Loring, a Portland native and a fighter pilot with the U.S. Army Air Force,  was shot down by German forces in 1944 over Belgium. Loring was taken prisoner and later died in combat in the Korean War. The plane stayed hidden for almost 80 years.

Historians Helmut Bruls and Bernard Collard of Rocherath-Krinkelt, Belgium, located the crash site last June and began finding small remnants of the plane. They are now publicizing their discovery and will send some of the artifacts to Limestone, according to longtime Loring Air Museum volunteer Cuppy Johndro.

For Johndro, also a former base employee, it will be an exciting homecoming.


“This will bring everything full circle, to know that people will see a piece of something that Charles had,” Johndro said.

On Dec. 24, 1944, Loring was leading a mission over Belgium when his P-47 was struck by German forces. His plane crashed, and he spent six months as a prisoner of war. He was liberated on May 5, 1945, three days before World War II ended. 

He returned to combat in 1952 during the Korean War. While leading a flight patrol near the 38th parallel, he noted Chinese aircraft trained on American ground troops. Chinese forces damaged his plane, and Loring knew his time was limited. To save his comrades, he turned off his radio and dove into the barrage, eliminating the threat. His body was never found.

In 1954, Limestone Air Force Base was renamed Loring Air Force Base in his honor. That same year his widow, Elsie Loring, received his Medal of Honor from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

After extensive research, Bruls and Collard found the crash site. With metal detectors, they began unearthing tiny pieces of wreckage they identified as parts of the downed P-47 plane.

Bruls’ father, Joseph Bruls, was 11 years old when he saw the site of Loring’s plane crash near the family’s farm, Bruls and Collard wrote in their report about the discovery. Their account will be featured in an upcoming German history publication, according to Johndro.

Johndro shared the report with the Bangor Daily News. 

By summer 1945, the larger, main parts of the wreck had disappeared, having been dismantled and removed by scrap collectors to sell as war metal. But apparently the collectors tossed what they didn’t want into a nearby field, Bruls and Collard wrote.

Since last June, the men have unearthed more small remnants of the wrecked plane and pieced together their account of Loring’s flight.

Bruls and Collard were not immediately available for comment.

Johndro is still in talks with the men about what pieces of the plane might end up in Limestone. She has been in touch with Loring’s surviving family about unveiling the parts at Loring Memorial Park in Portland later this year.

Johndro is most pleased that Bruls and Collard found a piece containing Loring’s radio call sign.

“[Back then] they didn’t have call names like in ‘Top Gun.’ There was no ‘Call sign Maverick,'” Johndro said. “They used numbers. [Loring’s] was written in white underneath his radio.”

Loring’s call sign was 419864.

Even if the call sign does not end up at the Loring Air Museum, Johndro said she is grateful that the museum will have real pieces to add to its Charles Loring exhibit.

“This man gave his life to his country,” she said. “People will now see not only that he served but something he held in his hands.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Charles Loring’s widow.