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Finding the father she never knew

Scappoose woman traces her father's history all the way to his World War II crash site


This year might be the first Father’s Day that Marilynn Rustand Lieurance can celebrate in peace.

Lieurance, who now lives in Scappoose, was born a few months after her father was killed in a bomber plane in World War II. Her mother remarried shortly after his death and rarely spoke about him after that, Lieurance recalls. SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Marilynn Rustand Lieurance shows pieces of her father's plane she recovered in Germany. Her father was killed in a plane crash during WWII before Lieurance was born.

She grew up distant from her mother and stepfather, raised alongside her brother and step siblings. It wasn’t until her mother died in the 1970s that she started to piece together the chronology of her father’s short life and gain insight and closure in her own.

“I was never privy to anything,” she says of her childhood. “Only thing I knew about my dad was his name, and that he was killed in the war and that’s it.”

Her father, Hanford J. Rustand, or “Rusty” to his military buddies, was four years out of high school when he became a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force 91st Bomb Group.

He was a newlywed with a 6-month-old son and a daughter on the way when the B-17 he was in was struck by enemy fire during a mission in Merseburg, Germany.

After her mother’s death roughly 30 years later, Lieurance says she came across a trunk in her mother’s attic. That’s when her journey began.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARILYNN RUSTAND LIEURANCE - A wedding photo depicts a Hanford 'Rusty' Rustand in his Air Force uniform.Inside, she found photos, letters, her father’s military dog tags and telegrams addressed to her mother and paternal grandmother, confirming Rusty had been killed in action.

The trunk unveiled years of unknown history, and sent Lieurance out on a decades-long research endeavor into her father’s military service.

In many ways, Lieurance said she wanted to “take his memory out of silence.”

“I just think it’s just awful that men — my father was surely not the only one — so many are just up in an attic in a dark trunk in silence,” she mused. “Wow, they should be up front and in our minds every day.”

She got in touch with the World War II Research and Preservation Group and, from there, was able to connect with bomber groups, some with members who flew the B-17 warbirds that have since become iconic images of American war history.

Connecting to a father she never knew

In 2000, Lieurance got a break when she met a pin-up calendar collector named Don Keller while working at an antique mall in Salem. She inquired about the man’s hobby of collecting World War II-era pin-up art and found that he’d taken stock of documenting World War II aircraft.

“I had the serial number of dad’s plane and gave it to Don, and within a few days he called with the name of dad’s B-17 aircraft ‘PARD,’” Lieurance wrote in a short memoir of searching through her father’s past. “A few days later, I found what was then the only known picture of PARD, it choked me up,” she wrote. “The first few pieces of a puzzle were coming together.”

The same year, Keller notified her that a B-17 dubbed the ‘Nine-O-Nine’ was scheduled to fly in to Salem. Lieurance went, wearing her father’s dog tags around her neck.

She recalled arriving at the McNary Air Field in Salem, where she convinced a pilot to let her sit in the cockpit of the bomber, despite a strict policy against it.

A life-changing trip

Years later, in 2015, Lieurance flew to her father’s grave site in Luxembourg, a small country outside Germany that Americans liberated during the war.

A member of the American War Orphans Network, she was asked to present flowers at the American Military Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg. Through her association with AWON and other preservation groups, over the years she connected with a retired colonel from the German Air Force, whose father opposed her father during combat missions.

Last month, after years of connecting on and off with war history groups, and continuing to piece together information about her father, Lieurance got an email that changed her life.

It was from Patrick Murphy, a man she’d met through the war history preservation group, who told her he’d actually visited the crash site in Germany and found pieces of the plane in a wetland now used as a public agriculture site.

When the email came through, Lieurance was on her way out the door for a road trip with her husband to Reno, Nevada. She quickly changed her plans.

“I hopped on a plane and went to Luxembourg,” she said. “He met me at the hotel the next morning and we drove to Germany.”

She waded through a cornfield with Murphy. Not long before Lieurance’s journey to her father’s crash site, Murphy told her he’d tracked down residents in Germany who witnessed the crash as children. She met a man who recalled seeing the crash as a 6-year-old boy. He recounted seeing a pilot’s body next to the plane after it fell. The man had blood all over his face. The image had been burned into the boy’s memory and still haunted him, he told Lieurance.

“I wanted to know what happened to my dad,” she said.

“We went to the crash site and did some surface hunting. I found a couple of pieces [of the plane] and I was thrilled.”

Lieurance came home with shards of acrylic glass, a metal clasp and a few other pieces she’s certain came off the bomber plane as it crashed after being struck by enemy fire.

“When I was there standing in the field, it was like a silent movie going on in my head,” she said. “I know what everything looked like. I know what the sky looked like.”

She now keeps the remnants of her father’s plane in a glass keepsake box. It’s taken nearly 70 years for Lieurance to find the connection to her father she’d longed for her whole

life.

“It kind of came full circle for me,” she said. “It’s just been an amazing journey for me and has brought me closure.”