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T/Sgt Edward Kanick
Flight Engineer

A War Story Comes Home

Lansford man learns how his Uncle made the supreme sacrifice

After his daughter Christina heard the unfamiliar voice of an elderly man on tire other end of the telephone line, Ed Kanick might have thought it was just another caller looking for the services of the Lansford restaurateur. Little did he know that Pat Mastromatteo, a resident of Manheim, Pa., only wanted to convey a war story he longed to tell.

That was only a few short weeks ago, when Mastromatteo, a member of the Air Force's 39th Bomb Group in World War II, called to tell Ed the story he was just as anxious to hear.

The two had never met, although Mastromatteo and Ed's uncle and namesake, the late Tech Sgt. Edward Kanick, a Lansford native killed in the war, were comrades until  their  P-30 "Skyscrapper" bomber went down in the Pacific on June 1, 1945.

Eleven men were aboard the plane during the unit's 14th mission, their target being Osaka, Japan. Ten survived, with Kanick being the only casualty.

Mastromatteo, who with his group members still communicate 53 years later with each other via what they call "a round-robin mailing," set out to tell the story of how their flight engineer made the supreme sacrifice.

He explained, "I knew Ed was from the Coal Regions, and my wife is from Oneida, just south of Hazleton.  Every time I would come up here, I often wondered where Ed lived, and so, after Easter, I decided to pursue his family."

Mastromatteo, carrying a small head shot of his late comrade in his wallet, visited several regional newspapers, including the TIMES News' Tamaqua office and papers in Pottsville, Berwick,  Hazleton  and Wilkes-Barre. It was during a stop in Pottsville, when he stopped at a stationery store to buy a scratch pad, that the clerk invited him to look up the Kanick name in the telephone directory, eventually finding the nephew's residence in Lansford.  "I asked if I could stop by his house because I wanted to tell the story, Mastromatteo said.  "I always thought the relatives ought to know as much as they could about Ed's death."

The dreadful event, Mastromatteo recalled, happened after the unit left Northfield, Guam, and had just hit landfall. "We developed trouble with the No. 1 engine and had to feather it  (stop the propeller) but our Captain decided since we came this far, we weren't turning back." 

Mastromatteo furthered that just as the plane went over its target, flak hit the No.4 engine, causing it to catch fire. He said a third engine ''ran away, out of control" causing its propeller to make over 3,200 revolutions per minute," adding, "It spliced us in half."

A  39th  Bomb  Group chronicle of the incident noted the bomber was left in "perilous condition with accumulated damage now amounting to the loss of two engines, a flak hit in the third, damage to the flight controls and a hole in the fuselage."

Mastromatteo recalled that despite the plane "shaking like the dickens," Capt. Bill Orr and the pilot, Lt. Monte Frodsham, still managed to bring it under control. "But we were losing altitude and eventually would have crashed," he said. "The Captain decided we would bail out."

At that time, the plane's navigator spotted an small island in the ocean which Orr decided would be their hopeful destination.  He ordered all of the men out of the plane and then remained with it until he guided it away from the vicinity so that it would not possibly hit any of the survivors in the water when it crashed.

Mastromatteo said, "In a matter of minutes, the plane exploded in mid-air."

The Manheim man said since Kanick couldn't swim, the game plan was for him to "hang on the back of the co-pilot (Frodsham)."  When the two landed in the water, the co-pilot planned to assist  him to safety. Unfortunately, it never happened."

Mastromatteo said the airmen  had  parachutes strapped to their chests and a rafting device on their backs, which enabled them to survive in the water for about four hours.  Eventually, a B-17 plane dropped a Higgins life boat in the water, which the 10 survivors were able to get to until they were rescued by submarines. The unit reorganized and completed 23 missions before the war had ended.

Devout and sincere
Mastromatteo said of Kanick, who died at the age of 23, "He was one of the finest men  I have ever known. He was very devout and sincere. If anybody should've gone, it should have been the 10 of us instead of Ed.

The Lansford airman was decorated by the U.S. with the Air Medal and One Cluster, the Purple Heart, Good Conduct and Asiatic-Pacific  Theatre  medals, which his nephew plans to obtain and preserve in his uncle's memory.

The late Frank Kanick, brother of the military hero, named his first son after his brother.

"I searched for the story of my uncle's death and people either didn't know much about it or didn't want to talk about it," Ed said. "Then, 53 years later, someone completely unknown to me comes to my house and tells me the whole story. I can't believe I finally heard the true story 50-some years after the fact, but I'm grateful to Pat."

He added, "This country should be grateful to those who have had gone to war for us. These were 18- and 19-year-olds who had the pressure of the world on their backs. Most of us, when we were that age, were playing baseball and other games."

Ed has since received numerous photographs and documents about the 39th Bomb Group from Mastromatteo, including a photograph of his late uncle.  A search of family relics since he learned the entire story of his uncle's death also resulted in his discovery of a letter to his late grandfather, Joseph Kanick Sr., written by Capt. Orr five weeks after the tragedy in the Pacific. 

Edward Kanick (nephew) & Pat Mastrromatteo

Ed Kanick (l) shows Pat Mastromatteo (r), his uncle's former W.W.II fellow crew member, where the dead Lansford Sergeant's name is listed on the town's honor roll.

   In that letter, Orr said:

   "This note I feel it is my duty to write and I, must assure you a harder task I have never before undertaken.

  "I was your son, T/Sgt. Edward Kanick's airplane commander and pilot since the crew was formed at Salina, Kan., last October. I want you to know, from a person whose association with your son both as his commanding officer and friend during training and these past few months of combat, that there wasn't a man in the outfit held in higher regard.  His devotion to duty and unanswering loyalty  to the cause he believed in led him to early death.  Until the very end, he did his job with the same degree of perfection that made him the best flight engineer I have ever seen.

   At a time like this words are futile things and I know there is little I can do to ease your sense of loss.   However, in the words of someone more adept at expressing the correct thought let me quote  “We all must die some time, but we all can't die for something.” 

   “Let us all pray that the victory we gain through the price we paid by men like Edward Kanick will be the end of war and the dawning of of an ever lasting peace.”

And thanks to guys like Pat Mastromatteo, stories like Ed Kanick continue to be told.

This article was written by Bill O`Guerk of the Lehighton, Pennsylvania TIMES NEWS Staff. The article is dated 07/16/98
Source: Lehighton Pennsylvania Times News Article provided by Bob Weiler, LG
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