Unraveling a mystery through history

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:59 am

Steve Wagner spent much of his childhood paging through reference books on World War II aircraft and visiting the Canadian War Plane Heritage Museum near his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

With a pilot for a father, he has held a lifelong interest in World War II aircraft.

Wagner, lead architect at Anderson Ashton Design/Build in New Berlin, gained even more momentum with his interest in 2009 after learning about Andy Rausch, uncle of Wagner’s mother-in-law, Dianne Smetana. Rausch was a waist gunner in World War II. Rausch died in a plane crash in the Philippines while preparing for a reconnaissance and strike mission, but Smetana knew nothing about how her uncle had died. No one in her family knew anything about his death – only that he had disappeared.

Wagner set out to unravel the mystery.

“It was a really eye-opening experience for me, and I just took it upon myself to say the family deserves to know more than the fact that he disappeared,” Wagner said.

Through incident reports detailing what happened to Rausch’s plane, copies of troop movement documents from the Air Force Historical Research Agency and personal letters written by Rausch, himself, Wagner developed a clearer sense of his final days and death. Rausch died just eight months before the war ended.

“It was really interesting to be able to piece together moments leading up to someone losing their life in the war and really getting a really good snapshot of what happened,” Wagner said.

Wagner’s research culminated in a 26-minute documentary titled “SSGT Andrew J. Rausch” focused on Rausch’s life within the context of the war. In creating the documentary, Wagner compiled photos, old footage of movie reels, voiceovers of Rausch’s letters and input from one of Rausch’s high school classmates. He presented the documentary to Rausch’s family in summer of 2010.

“It was a really neat rabbit hole to jump down,” he said.

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