In the News

History Guy: Airman’s ring returned to his family, 77 years after his death

Topeka Capital-Journal | Tim Hrenchir

Seventy-seven years after Sgt. Carol Eugene Domer of Nemaha County was killed in World War II, a ring he wore — found in the wreckage of the bomber in which he died — was recently returned to his nephew, former Topeka veterinarian R.R. “Bob” Domer III.

Carol Domer was from Centralia, 68 miles north-northwest of Topeka.

The 22-year-old Domer, a tail gunner, volunteered to go on a nocturnal bombing run targeting a Japanese airfield in a B-24 called the “Crosair” after its regular tail gunner had an impacted wisdom tooth, said Dennis Domer — the nephew of Carol Domer, son of his brother, R.R. Domer II and brother of R.R. Domer III — in a recent essay he provided The Capital-Journal.

The Crosair carried 10 crew members and one observer as it dropped bombs early Jan. 1, 1943, at Rabaul on the Japanese-held island of New Britain, then started back toward its base in Australia.

“Two of the plane’s four engines suddenly died and eventually the governors of the other two engines failed when the rest of their fuel burned up,” Dennis Domer said.

Its pilots ditched the plane near Kawa Island in the Solomon Sea, off the coast of New Guinea. Carol Domer died after being trapped in the sinking bomber.

Nine of the other occupants survived. Another got out but later died from injuries he suffered upon impact, said a report written in 2002 by Earnest Ray Rhodes, the Crosair’s radio operator.

Carol Domer was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. His body was never recovered.

In 2002, surviving members of the Crosair’s crew went to New Guinea and hired a diver, who found it in about 90 feet of water, Dennis Domer said. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and his staff subsequently worked tirelessly to try to arrange for the U.S. government to have divers search the site, he said.

Divers conducted that search in 2016, recovering only the sole of a shoe, the clip of a fountain pen and a gold ring, Dennis Domer said. None of those could initially be connected to Carol Domer.

“But in late 2019 everything changed when friends of the family asked if we might have a photo of Carol wearing his ring,” Dennis Domer said.

“We found a photo that our dad took in August 1942 of Carol holding my brother Bobby (R.R. Domer III) just before he shipped out for the South Pacific, never to return,” Dennis Domer said. “The ring was plain to see on the third finger of his right hand.”

The U.S. Army determined, on the basis of that photo, that the ring definitely belonged to Carol Domer, Dennis Domer said. R.R. Domer III received it in the mail last March.

At Moran’s request, a U.S. flag was flown to honor Carol Domer on Feb. 28, 2020, the 100th anniversary of his birth, over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Moran will present that flag and officially return Carol Domer’s ring to the family in September at the Veterans’ Memorial in Seneca, Dennis Domer said.

“Now, with the help of many people and a farewell photograph taken by chance in 1942, Uncle Carol’s story comes to a fitting close,” he said.