The Ghost of Polaris Academy

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Apr 9, 2005
Colorado, USA
This was popular folklore were I used to live. I think Syscom might of posted photos of the old War Eagle Field which was about 4 miles from my old home airport, Fox Field. I've actually met people who claimed to have seen this guy!

Respecting a legend
Britons, locals plan flyover to honor RAF cadet killed in 1942
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Sunday, January 28, 2007.
Valley Press Staff Writer

Cadet Maier Ben Himelstaub is more than a ghost story.
The British Royal Air Force pilot-in-training, whose gruesome 1942 death at War Eagle Air Field in Lancaster inspired legends of haunting by the "Ghost of Mira Loma," was a real young man far from home.

His passing during training for World War II was a tragedy worthy of respect, said organizers of a memorial in Himelstaub's honor.

"In Europe, the fallen Americans' grave sites are revered, honored, very well cared-for," said Lani Glasscock , one of the organizers. "We want to reciprocate that respect."

Toward that end, Glasscock, a Hillview Middle School history teacher, helped plan a Feb. 16 ceremony to remember the fallen pilot 65 years after his death. Glasscock collaborated with her mother, Barbara Little, who manages the Lancaster Cemetery where Himelstaub is buried, and with local history enthusiast Bob Alvis to arrange the event.

The ceremony will feature World War II aircraft flying the missing man formation, a new headstone for Himelstaub's grave, and flowers laid by some of Glasscock's students.

The organizers believe the Antelope Valley owes something to the memory of a serviceman who died and was buried here.

"He became a citizen of Lancaster. There was no road home for him," Alvis said.

The service will stand in contrast to a tradition of a Halloween "Haunted Jail" event at the Mira Loma Detention Center - which occupies the site of the airfield where Himelstaub was killed - that recounts spooky stories about Himelstaub's spirit wandering empty halls and old buildings.

"We were using a tragic story that should have been more honored than exploited," Alvis said. "For those of us who are steeped in history, it kind of wears on us. He's a lost soul but he's really part of our community."

Himelstaub, a Polish Jew, fled Europe to escape the Nazi invasion, according to Norma Gurba, curator of the Lancaster Museum/Art Gallery.

Himelstaub's mother and brother suffered in the Warsaw ghetto and two concentration camps. After being liberated in 1945 from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (where Anne Frank died), they emigrated to Tel Aviv, Israel. Brother Israel Himelstaub changed his name to Israel Shahak , and became a professor and prominent political activist in Israel, Gurba wrote.

The details of Maier Ben Himelstaub's escape from Poland are unknown, but he made his way from Warsaw to Britain and joined the war effort by enlisting in the Royal Air Force as a mechanic.

(His first name has several English spellings, from "Mayer" to "Meyer." Maier is Gurba's choice of spelling drawn from historical research.)

Himelstaub was shipped across the Atlantic to learn how to fly. Before America joined the war, British pilots often got their wings through "unofficial" training at War Eagle Field in Lancaster, Alvis said.

The cadets were schooled at the Polaris Academy, flying trainer aircraft. When the 200 graduates returned to England, they were assigned to fighter or bomber squadrons, according to their abilities.

Himelstaub was one of about 300 trainees who never graduated, and the only one who died.

On Feb. 13, 1942, the young cadet walked into a spinning aircraft propeller and died of massive head trauma.

The original news story, in the South AV Press, was recovered by Gurba.

It described in grim detail the damage to Himelstaub's body, including the location of body parts scattered by the propeller. The story included the report of a witness who saw the cadet step out in front of the plane, with his head down against the wind.

"Then the unfortunate man suddenly looked up as the noise of the approaching plane came to him, ducked and threw up his arm in an apparent futile attempt to protect his face, and was struck by the whirling propeller before he could side-step from the plane's path," the article said.

There was no way to send his body home, so Himelstaub was buried at Lancaster Cemetery. Since there were no rabbis to be found, a pastor from St. Paul's Episcopal Church read the service. A Jewish funeral ceremony was performed for him in 2002.

Himelstaub's casket was draped with the Union Jack and his flying helmet and goggles placed inside. Band members from Antelope Valley High School played in the procession.

His headstone reads simply, "For King and Country," and bears a Star of David for his Jewish heritage. After the war, his mother was told that he was shot down in the Pacific.

According to local legend, a blond apparition, outfitted in full flight gear, was spotted wandering the halls and hangars of the field after Himelstaub died. Thus rose the legend of the Ghost of Mira Loma.

War Eagle Field eventually was converted into a prison, becoming Mira Loma Detention Center, where foreign nationals face deportation hearings.

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies working at Mira Loma have reported seeing a ghost in unused portions of the facility where the airfield once stood. For a few years, jail personnel ran a "Haunted Jail" Halloween event at Mira Loma based on the reputed haunting.

By contrast, the Tuesday, Feb. 16 tribute - tentatively scheduled for 2:30 p.m. - will be filled with pomp and military honor. A new headstone bought by the British Commonwealth War Graves Commission will be unveiled.

About 20 eighth-grade students from organizer Glasscock's Advancement Via Individual Determination program class at Hillview Middle School will lay flowers, chosen to match the colors in the Union Jack, on the grave.

All British citizens and military personnel have been invited to participate in the memorial, as well as local politicians and officials from Edwards Air Force Base. Gerald Mayer of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is scheduled to speak.

For details about the Himelstaub memorial, call Little at the Lancaster Cemetery District office at (661) 942-6110 .
Thanks - here's some other stuff about Polaris and the surrounding area.

Polaris Flight Academy

Abandoned Little-Known Airfields: California: Northern Palmdale area

Flight Training


RAF pilot's life, death honored
Ceremony conducted on 65th anniversary of passing
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Saturday, February 17, 2007.
Valley Press Staff Writer

LANCASTER - A low rumble invaded the sunlit calm of Lancaster Cemetery on Friday as a pastor read the poem "Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth" *- an apt metaphor of flight and death - over the grave of Royal Air Force Cadet Meyer Bernard Himelstaub.
A Stearman biplane and a World War II-era AT6 trainer made one pass over the cemetery, then swung around to fly the "missing man formation," a traditional memorial pattern to honor a dead pilot. As the planes approached from the north, the AT6 veered off to the west, crossed the sun and disappeared.

Friday's ceremony marked the 65th anniversary of the death of Himelstaub, a Pole who fled his homeland after the 1939 Nazi invasion, enlisted in the English military and was sent to America to learn to fly.

At Lancaster's War Eagle Field, the flight cadet walked into a spinning aircraft propeller and died of massive head trauma on Feb. 13, 1942. He was one of about 300 trainees who never graduated, and the only one who died at War Eagle Field.

About 150 people gathered for Friday's ceremony that honored Himelstaub, whose story became legend and spawned ghost stories at the airfield and the Mira Loma detention center that stands on that site.

About 200 young men graduated from War Eagle, which provided "unofficial" training for British pilots before America entered World War II. The pilots returned to England and were assigned to fighter or bomber squadrons, according to their abilities. Few survived the war.

Local organizers arranged Friday's ceremony in order to pay tribute to a young man who died far from home - a man who deserves more than a spooky story.

Bob Alvis , a veteran and local history buff who helped organize the ceremony, told the crowd that the men who learned at War Eagle Field and all those who fought in World War II laid the groundwork for the aerospace accomplishments that define the Antelope Valley.

"Instead of facing the unknown (like Valley test pilots), they each faced a determined young man from another country - determined to take his life," Alvis said. "If those pilots had failed, those records that have been set in the skies above the Antelope Valley might have been set in another land - over the land of Germany or in the skies of Japan."

Helping Alvis organize and run the event were Barbara Little, the cemetery manager, and her daughter Lani Glasscock . Glasscock's eighth-grade history class at Hillview Middle School in west Palmdale did much of the footwork that made the ceremony possible and presented historical information during it.

"He had no family here to mourn him, so the Antelope Valley adopted him as one of our own," student Shauntelle Ramirez said of Himelstaub.

She described his suffering in the Warsaw ghetto because he was a Jew and his escape to join the war effort.

"Himelstaub was a determined man. He escaped Hitler's attempt to enslave the Polish people and the Nazi 'solution' for Jews in Europe," Ramirez said. "He is an example for all of us."

Among the audience sat men who served in the Royal Air Force during World War II as well as RAF officers currently serving in the Valley.

Ken Wright was an RAF navigator during the war, then went on to work in rocketry.

"It's deeply touching to see so many young people here honoring the past," Wright said.

Don Guerrant , pastor of Christ Our Savior United Methodist Church, read the famous poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

"As I read, pretend that this is him, saying these words to us," Guerrant said.

Rabbi David Hoffman of Beth Knesset Bamidbar in Lancaster also joined in the ceremony and sang a memorial prayer for Himelstaub.

"Congratulations to all of you for making sure that the saga of Meyer Bernard Himelstaub ended respectfully on just the right note," the rabbi said.

A very generous thing for the local people to do. Its a pity it hasn't been reported over here or presumably in Poland, the land of his birth.

He was a brave man and died amongst friends, if not relatives.
My father was a witness to the accident at the Polaris Flight Academy. In his diary, dated Friday February 13th, he wrote as follows:
Friday February 13th, 1942 - First Fatality
"One of number 4 course walked into an AT's prop today and was killed instantly. It was a horrible mess."
On that same day my father solo'd. It was the 13th Feb, his plane was #13, and his harness began with the number 13.
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