Updated Nov. 9 at 2:15 p.m.
This article inaccurately stated the burial location. The correct location is Memorial Park Cemetery, 5750 49th St. N., St. Petersburg.
When Gulfport resident Jack Corey was a child, his uncle Gilbert Myers enlisted in the military. Myers joined the military in 1940, and left for Camp Blanding on Dec. 2, 1941, five days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. On July 10, 1943, his plane was shot down during the Allied invasion of Sicily. His remains were never recovered, and he was declared missing in action. 80 years later, his remains have been identified, and are on their way back to Gulfport for a funeral.
Gilbert Myers’ Story
Myers was born on Feb. 10, 1916 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent his young life working in steel mills, and by 1927 he was the oldest of six siblings, including his brother Paul, with whom he was very close. In 1929, America was plunged into economic depression, and the Myers’ couldn’t escape. After his father lost his job, and his family lost their houses, Gilbert was forced to drop out of high school to look for a job.
In 1936, the family split up. Gilbert’s parents moved to Gulfport, with their three youngest children. He soon joined them, and got a job as a truck driver for Smith Service Co., headquartered on the intersection of 3rd Avenue South and 22nd Street South. After a few years of working, he enlisted and left the area for basic training.
It’s Action That Counts
Much of the Corey’s knowledge about Gilbert comes from the letters he wrote to his family and friends throughout his service. In Feb. 1942, Myers wrote a letter that spoke about the national reaction to Pearl Harbor.
“Looks like most people are awakening to the fact that we are in war. It takes a bomb to wake them up, though,” wrote Myers. “A lot them are doing quite a bit, but it’s not enough. Many of them are doing a lot of talking and hell, it’s action that counts.”
Following basic training, he passed the tests to enroll in flight cadet school. The night before he left for preflight training, he wrote another letter about his future with the military.
“Have a long road to travel and hope I don’t have to rest,” wrote Myers. “Don’t worry, Hitler will someday know I’m up there, even if I have to leave a calling card. I might not come back, but there’s going to be hell raised till then.”
He did his training all around the south, in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. Finally, he graduated as an officer on Jan. 14, 1943.
For the next three months, Gilbert flew training missions around the south. One of these flights allowed him to fly over his parents house, flashing his lights a few times to let them know he was there. He continually was asked to train other pilots, but all he wanted was to go and fight.
On April 14, 1943, he left South Carolina, and was sent to North Africa. Well, not directly.
“I can say now that I flew to South America and across the Atlantic to Africa,” Myers wrote in a letter to his parents. “I’ve lost Eulie (his plane) and have another one now. I sure would appreciate a good bed to sleep in and a bowl of your chili right now, plus a cold glass of beer. All the Frenchmen drink wine with their meals, but I quit that. It’s ugly stuff.”
He said that, since he left America, he’d flown more than 40,000 miles. Myers served as a co-pilot on a B-25 Mitchell bomber, and wrote about his combat experiences, in his last letter to his brother Paul, dated June 29, 1943.
“It’s queer at first, and gives you a sickening hollow feeling when the flack bursts all around you and bullets spraying [sic] in every direction, a plane falling in flames over there and another blowing up in mid-air,” wrote Myers. “At first it’s hard to realize that someone is actually trying to kill you. The first mission I had, we dropped our bombs before we were shot at and I actually pitied the poor fellows who might be killed or wounded by them.”
Fall From Grace
With Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime crumbling, Allied leadership planned an invasion of Italy, beginning on July 10, 1943. By the time the invasion began, only two of the 19 major Axis airfields in Sicily were fully operational.
At 7:19 a.m. on July 10, Second Lieutenant Gilbert Myers and the crew of B-25 #42-64522 took off from Koudiat, Tunisia to participate in bombing runs. During these runs, ground artillery fire hit the bomber, and it began to fall. Airmen in the other bombers saw one crew member bail out, but couldn’t identify who it was. The bomber crashed about 1.5 miles northwest of the Sciacca airfield. It exploded when it hit the ground.
After his disappearance, Myers was listed as missing in action, and after a year, he was designated as killed in action. The American Graves Registration Service was able to find that Italian citizens had recovered the body of Flight Officer George D. Collins, the pilot of Myers’ bomber.
Now, 80 years later, Myers’ remains were found and identified. In 2021 and 2022, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) partnered with the Cranfield University Recovery and Identification of Conflict Team to continue excavation of the crash site in Sciacca. They were able to recover wreckage, as well as human remains. The remains went to DPAA labs for analysis.
Gilbert Myers Comes Home
The DPAA used various DNA techniques to identify Myers’ remains, and in August of 2023, his identity was confirmed.
Gilbert is memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, and on the Memorial for Those Who Made The Supreme Sacrifice In World War II, in Williams Park, St. Petersburg.
The United States Department of Defense states that there is nearly 81,000 soldiers still unaccounted for from past conflicts, with most of them being from World War II. While it is highly unlikely that all of these soldiers will be identified, Jack Corey was able to find his uncle.
“We’re so grateful for the efforts of the DPAA,” said Corey. “He gets to be honored back here at home because of them.”
At long last, Myers will get a proper funeral, on Nov. 10, at Memorial Park Cemetery, 5750 49th St. N., St. Petersburg. He is to be buried in the closest grave to his late brother, Paul.