German-Speaking Airman Aids in Recovery of WWII Bomber Crew

2 months ago

Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Character, 39, is a member of a 25-person team from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency that's searching for a B-24H Liberator bomber that crashed in a field in northern Germany in 1945. 

Besides helping the team retrieve the remains of the 10-airman crew and identify their personal effects, Character's other important job is translator for the team. 

Character grew up in Wurzburg, German. His dad was a soldier, stationed at nearby Leighton Barracks. Character's mom is German. 

"Fortunately, my mom taught me to speak fluent German," he said, adding that his wife is also German and is teaching the language to their three children. 

Character said he wanted to join the military like his dad, but his father steered him to the Air Force. 

The year 2008 is significant for Character because that's the year he enlisted in the Air Force, and that's also the same year that Leighton Barracks was turned over to German authorities. 

This isn't Character's first recovery and translation mission for the agency. He also was in another part of Germany, Austria and northern Italy. 

Speaking German was useful in Italy because over 62% of Italians use it as their first language in the autonomous province of Bolzano in northern Italy, he said. 

Character has translated for the team on numerous occasions, speaking to the local town mayor, police, landowner and even residents who witnessed the crash when they were children. 

"Germans are friendly people, but when you speak German, they're a little more open," he said.  

Another useful skill is helping the team navigate the menu when they're dining out in town. 

When Character isn't on a recovery mission, he's a military training leader at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California, where his family is now staying. 

He's also trained as an aircraft maintainer, a job that involves performing flight safety and function checks. 

After he retires from the Air Force, Character said he plans to finish his degree in Occupational Safety and Health, a job he said relates to things that aircraft maintainers do. 

"Working on recovery missions is an honorable thing to do. It's amazing that almost 80 years after the war that we still go out and look for remains of missing service members," he said. 

The agency, which is part of the Defense Department, searches in 45 countries for missing service members from World War II and later conflicts, including the Korean War, Vietnam War and Desert Storm. Some 81,000 are still missing. 

Once remains are recovered and the agency's laboratory determines the person's identity through DNA analysis and other means, that person's family is notified, and arrangements are made for a military funeral.

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