Veteran sets out to find family

Freedom New Mexico: Alisa Boswell “Finding Billy” is the novel which documents Diana Thompson Dale’s search for her uncle and the uncovering of his remains.

Alisa Boswell

While on a trip across the world, Clovis resident John Wangler went to find his second cousin’s World War II grave and found out he wasn’t the only one inspired by U.S. Army veteran Billy Wisner’s story.

The Wangler family is not a stranger to the military. Wangler himself served 23 years in the Air Force, retiring from Cannon Air Force Base in 1998 and remaining in Clovis after his retirement. His father served in World War II and his grandfather served in World War I.

But the story of Wisner’s death has had a large impact on the family and others around the world.

Wisner, Wangler’s second cousin, served as a pilot during World War II. Wisner’s plane went down over the Dolomites mountains in Italy. Wisner’s remains were not found until almost 60 years after his death.

The reason for the discovery was Wisner’s niece’s book, “Finding Billy: An Internet Odyssey,” in which Diana Thompson Dale chronicles her research and how it led to the finding of her uncle’s remains. The book was published in Oct. 2003.

Dale spent her childhood hearing her grandmother tell stories about Wisner and seeing his medals hanging on the wall and watching her grandmother grieve over the loss of her son.

Continually seeing her grandmother’s grief over the mystery of Wisner inspired Dale to begin an Internet search in which she posted messages on veteran websites, looking for anyone associated with details and circumstances surrounding her uncle’s death and military career.

Wangler said when he was a child, he used to hear his parents speak of the tragedy. After reading Dale’s book, Wangler and his wife researched the discovery of Wisner’s remains and discovered there was a memorial built in honor of Wisner and Dale near the crash site of Wisner’s plane.

In the summer of 2009, Wangler and his wife left their home in Clovis to make a trip to Switzerland to visit their son and while there traveled to Italy to visit the memorial.

“As soon as we walked into our hotel, my wife immediately went up to the desk clerk and started explaining what we were looking for,” said Wangler. “Little did she know she was talking to the son of one of the few eye witnesses to Billy’s crash.”

Wangler said the hotel owner, Konrad Feldrand, witnessed Wisner’s plane crashing in 1944 when he was 5 years old. He and his son drove the Wanglers up the mountain to see the crash site.

Wangler said seeing the site and the memorial first hand was incredible and one he will not forget.

“For me, it relates back to the sense of selflessness and national duty,” said Wangler. “I wonder if a national emergency happened today, would there be that big a move to volunteer? I think so.”