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The most unusual flight — and one of the most tragic — was attempted by two Chicago residents who wanted to fly nonstop to their homeland, Lithuania. Unlike Italy's Francisco De Pinedo (below), who in September would try to take off in a plane that was overloaded with fuel, Stephen Darius and Stanley T. Girenas had a successful, though scary, takeoff and managed to cross the Atlantic and fly into German air space.

In many ways theirs was an impressive accomplishment, one that thrilled Lithuanians, who also were shocked and saddened when Darius and Girenas ran out of fuel and crashed about 400 miles short of their goal.

New York Evening Post, July 15
Unauthorized pilots take off
for Lithuania

Two veterans of the United States Army in the World War took off at dawn from Floyd Bennett Airport and headed their heavy laden monoplane, Lithuanica, over a 4,900-mile course across the Atlantic Ocean to their native Lithuania without parachutes, radio, passports or government clearance papers.

In addition to the risks of the flight, the plucky fliers face fines for the unauthorized flight, loss of their licenses, and penalties for flight without permission over foreign countries.

Taking advantage of the interest in the take-off an hour earlier of Wiley Post across the ocean, the two pilots warmed their engine for what they declared to be a loading test flight and got away by this ruse on the adventure they had been planning since May 7.

Their trim Bellanca monoplane, powered with a Wright Whirlwind engine of 365 horse power, staggered under the heavy load of fuel and barely managed to lift into the air at the extreme end of the mile-long runway.

Their intentions unknown to airport officials, Captain Stephen Darius, 36, at the controls, and Stanley Thomas Girenas, 37, his companion, were sped on their way with the well wishes of friends, including Paul Zadeikis, Consul General here of Lithuania.

As officials watched the dangerous takeoff with trepidation, fearing the plane would fail to clear the ground before the end of the runway, they saw the plane nose due east over the Atlantic with less than 200 feet of altitude before it disappeared into the low-hanging mists.

Certain death appeared to threaten the men who risked severe penalties for making the unauthorized flight.

Swaying and bumping under the load of full gasoline tanks and extra cans of lubricating oil and fuel, the plane missed destruction several times as it gathered speed over the ground. To those who watched, it seemed that the landing gear surely would fall under the strain.

At length, when the wheels grazed the last inch of the runway, the plane bounced into the air at 6:24 Eastern Daylight Saving Time. Had it failed at this moment, it was the opinion of the experts it would inevitably have crashed and burned.

Major J. Nelson Kelly, field manager, said he had no idea the fliers would attempt to takeoff in view of the government’s refusal to grant a license. He also said the two aviators had failed to sign the airport register.

Aeronautics officials of the Department of Commerce in Washington, according to the Associated Press, today explained that Captain Darius and Girenas had applied two months ago to arrange for papers for their flight.

“As far as their equipment was concerned, it was satisfactory,” said Department of Commerce officials, who also approved the competency of the fliers.

The difficulty arose in the matter of making arrangements to fly over Iceland, Ireland, England, Denmark, Germany and other countries in the projected course.

To obtain the permission of those governments to fly over their territory would require at least sixty days by mail, and the fliers told Department of Commerce officials they would not be able to spend approximately $100 to obtain the permits by cable.

The two pilots are believed to have obtained permits to land in Lithuania. If they reach that country, they will be all right, but if they are forced down in some other country they will be subject to disciplinary action.

A crowd of several hundred persons at the field to see Wiley Post’s take-off less than an hour earlier had lingered and witnessed the start of the second venture in the perils of flight over the ocean.

In addition to 770 gallons of gasoline, weighing more than 5,000 pounds, Darius and Girenas carried little in the big orange and silver-coated monoplane.

Their provisions included a quart of black coffee, two bottles of malted milk tablets, a gallon of drinking water, a roasted chicken, a dozen apples and a dozen oranges. Before these are consumed, they hope to complete a non-stop flight of practically 5,000 miles. If successful, this will come close to the non-stop record.

Captain Darius, born in Tuarege, Lithuania, was brought to the United States when ten. His mother, Mrs. Augustine Degutis, is living in Chicago.

He was tutored in Lithuania, then attended grade school in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and West Pullman Junior High School in Chicago and Harrison Tech and Lane Junior College there.

He enlisted in the First Illinois Field Artillery, later federalized as the 149th Field Artillery, April 12, 1917, six days before the United States declared war. He received a regimental citation for “habitual bravery under fire” and was wounded in the chest by a fragment of high explosive at the Second Battle of the Marne.

For this wound he has received veterans’ compensation and further education at the University of Chicago.

Entering the air corps of Lithuania in 1921, he rose to the rank of captain.

Returning to the United States, he opened in 1928 an aviation school at South Bend, Indiana.

The Lithuanica is the plane he flew during 1929, 1930 and 1931 for a Chicago newspaper. Aided by subscriptions from many Lithuanian-Americans, he bought and rechristened it recently.

Girenas is an orphan whose home is in Chicago. He was born in Upina, Lithuania, came to the United States when seven and went to work in Chicago when he finished grammar school. He is a war veteran and operated an aviation school in Chicago until 1931.

Syracuse Journal, July 17
Darius and Girenas Killed in Crash
SOLDIN BRANDENBURG PROVINCE, Germany (INS) — Capt. Stephen Darius and Stanley T. Girenas, native Lithuanian residents of Chicago, who set out from New York Saturday morning to fly non-stop to Kaunas, Lithuania, were found dead in a woods near here today with their wrecked plane.

The pair had spanned the ocean successfully, despite the bad weather into which they had headed, but came to grief a few hours from their goal at a spot approximately 4,000 miles from Floyd Bennett Field, their starting point.

Lack of fuel was the likely reason for the crash. It appeared their fuel tanks were empty and that they had been aiming at a forced landing in a wide meadow only 200 yards beyond the thick woods into which they crashed.

 

The early 1930s had to be one of the strangest periods in modern history. Consider this story, for example. Two native Lithuanians, whose families had fled to the United States, attempt to visit their birthland as symbols of Lithuanian pride. They fall short of their goal and land near a village that in 1933 is part of Germany, a country that, within a few years, will overrun neighboring Poland and then occupy Lithuania.

Poland and Lithuania have much in common, but they are more enemies than friends, though both will soon have reason to hate Adolf Hitler's Germany, which in 1933 was making other nations walk on eggshells, hoping somehow to maintain a peace that, in Europe, was growing more and more fragile.

And in July, 1933, the bodies of Stephen Darius and Stanley Girenas, American residents who loved their native Lithuania, were tended by Nazis who honor the fliers by draping them with a huge swastika-adorned flag and guarding them with six brown-shirted storm troopers.

Today this gesture by Hitler's followers seems a cruel and shameful insult to two patriots whose reckless courage momentarily lifted Lithuanian spirits. Two years later Chicago's Lithuanian-American community would raise money for another flight, this one taken by Felix Waitkus in a plane that was given the name Lithuanica II.

Waitkus encountered terrible weather, which put a strain on his plane's fuel supply and on his ability to continue flying. He made it as far as County Mayo, Ireland. He survived the landing without injury, though the plane was badly damaged. He completed his trip to Kaunas, Lithuania, by ship and train and was given a hero's welcome as the sixth pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Lithuania would fall to the Nazis, then be invaded by Russia and later become part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, before achieving independence several years later. And Soldin, close to the wooded area where pilots Darius and Girenas crashed and died, would become part of Poland, with a new name — Mysliborz.

The Morning Herald, Gloversville and Johnston, N.Y., July 18
Pilots To Be Given State Funeral
SOLDIN, Pomerania, Germany (AP) — Covered by a huge Nazi flag and simple garden flowers, the bodies of Stephen Darius and Stanley Girenas, Lithuanian-American fliers who were killed early today in the crash of their airplane Lithuanica near here, reclined tonight in the chapel of Soldin cemetery with an honor guard of six brown-shirted storm troopers.

The two fliers, who were attempting a non-stop journey from New York to Kaunas, Lithuania, were found dead in the wreckage of their ship which crashed into a group of trees at Kuhdamm, eight miles from this ancient town.

After successfully crossing the ocean and being in the air probably about 38 hours, Darius and Girenas met disaster when they were only 400 miles from their goal.

At the scene of the disaster such parts of the wreckage as had not been carried away by souvenir-hunting peasants were gathered in one heap over which storm troops and gray-uniformed men from a voluntary labor camp nearby stood watch.

Tomorrow four Lithuanian officers will arrive from Kaunas and under their supervision the bodies will be taken to Berlin and thence by airplane to Lithuania.

All indications point to the theory that the pilots mistook the green treetops for a meadow when their gasoline gave out and crashed at high speed, tearing the plane to splinters.

Darius was buried under the wreckage, while Girenas apparently was flung from the ship when it struck the tree since he was found some distance away with his head thrust deeply into the ground.

Newspapers reported today that at midnight a plane flashing a searchlight flew over the labor camp near here whose occupants first regarded it as “an enemy scouting plane.” This was tonight believed to be the Lithuanica seeking a landing spot.

The airplane which bore Darius and Girenas struck the small wood with tremendous force, mowing down a dozen fir trees and smashing itself to splinters. The motor was snapped off and hurled ten feet away from the lighter parts of the craft.

The gas tank was empty, indicating that the American-Lithuanian fliers were seeking to descend when the disaster occurred. Police roped off the area to keep back the throng of people who rushed by automobile and cycle to view the wreck.

Two boxes of cakes, a few lemons, a can of milk and some tobacco from the supplies of the ill-fated pair lay strewn amid the fragments of their ship.

An inventory of their goods was made by three rural police and a state attorney serving as a commission. Among other objects they took charge of a clock, which though wrested from its place by the shock of the fall was still running. The clock showed local time.

The log kept by Darius and Girenas disclosed they followed a remarkably straight course, keeping virtually the same latitude throughout the long flight.

New York Sun, July 20
KAUNAS, Lithuania (AP) — Forty thousand sorrowing persons attended the state funeral today of Stephen Darius and Stanley Girenas, the Lithuanian-American airmen who crashed Monday only 400 miles from Kaunas in a flight from New York.

Walking at the head of the funeral procession were the wife, child, sister and father-in-law of Darius and the brother of Girenas.

Members of the government and of the diplomatic corps were present at the funeral service. The belongings of the airmen and the remnants of their plane, the Lithuanica, are to be exhibited to the public later.

 
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