CHICAGO — Ted Szalinski never forgot the announcement he heard in 1944 while he was a student at Lane Tech: A bomber plane bought with money raised by the students had been shot down somewhere in Europe.
"We knew that the plane had been lost, but that was all I ever heard about it for 30 years or so," Szalinski said.
For decades, Szalinski, who is now 89, searched for answers about the plane, which had been named "Lane Tech of Chicago."
Recently, through the help of fellow Lane Tech alumnus Tom Kane and a 66-year-old World War II researcher in Netherlands, Szalinski finally has his answers.
"I think I have closure about it as far as I can see, thanks to a lot of people, including our fellow in Holland," Szalinski said.
The plane was bought after thousands of Lane Tech students — all boys at the time — raised $300,000 over a six-month period that ended in March 1943, according to a 1983 Tribune story. The plane was the only World War II bomber that had been paid for by high school students in America, the Tribune said.
Szalinski had seen the plane at Chicago Municipal Airport — which would become Midway — on Oct. 17, 1943, as a 15-year-old Lane Tech student. Szalinski, who is now retired, would become an art teacher at his alma mater and started researching the plane's history in the 1970s.
"I started asking questions, and people would tell me to keep asking somebody else," Szalinski said. "Nobody seemed to have the answers."
The whereabouts of the "Lane Tech of Chicago" plane were discovered by Teunis Schuurman, aka PATS, a Dutchman and volunteer World War II researcher who has spent 10 hours a day over the last 11 years documenting what happened to Australian, Canadian, American, British and other warplanes that crashed in a 50-by-50-mile area around his hometown of Vollenhove in the Netherlands.
"The war is long over, and he's still working on it," Szalinski said.
Frequently plane names were changed by pilots during wartime, and "Lane Tech" was ultimately dubbed "Wacky Woody." While Schuurman doesn't know when the plane's name was changed, he was able to confirm the "Wacky Woody" was the same plane as "Lane Tech" after matching its serial number "B-17G - #42-39856."
That was the missing piece in Szalinski's efforts to find it. Despite writing hundreds of letters to government agencies, including the Pentagon, over the years, Szalinski never had the plane's serial number.
Schuurman told DNAinfo that Wacky Woody and its crew of 10 crashed on April 8, 1944, after it was shot down by Nazis near the Dutch town of Emmeloord. Five of the crew members escaped or "evaded" after the crash, while five others were taken as prisoners of war. All 10 survived and eventually returned to the United States.
Schuurman, who has documented what happened to 316 planes during World War II, also has gathered information about Wacky Woody's crewmen and newspaper articles about the plane.
"I feel like I am doing a public service, and today I'm at 4,001 days in this volunteer research," said Schuurman, who has written more than 3,120 pages on the topic.
In the last year, Schuurman had been in touch with both Kane and Szalinski. The two Lane Tech alums met up at Kane's home as recently as two weeks ago.
"All of this has been very exciting," said the 72-year-old Kane, a 1963 Lane Tech graduate. "All of the research that has been done on this is mind-boggling."
Kane only found out about the plane last year after receiving a Lane Tech alumni newsletter that mentioned Szalinski's decadeslong efforts to track down the plane. He compiled a giant binder of articles, research and other information — which noted that the Wacky Woody flew eight total missions, including in Norway, Germany and the Netherlands, before it was shot down — that he recently gave to Szalinski.
"Ted thinks I did the greatest thing," Kane said.
Kane said the next step is to honor the plane and its crew in Lane Tech's hallways with a plaque or some type of other hallmark. He'd also like to know more from Lane Tech graduates on how they were able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy the plane.
"I find it extremely fascinating, and there needs to be some type of recognition in the school's hallways," Kane said.
Szalinski said the plane's place in Chicago and Lane Tech history is "a very honorable story."
"The 'Lane Tech of Chicago' aka 'Wacky Woody' was a good representation for the spirit of Lane Tech, which is to be fearless and bold," Szalinski said.