Steponas DARIUS (1896-1933), aviator, born in Rubiske, county of Taurage, on Jan. 8, 1896. His name originally was Darasius. In 1917 he changed it in Darius while living in the United States. At first he lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, then in Chicago, Illinois, where he graduated from Harrison Technical High School and Lane Junior College. In 1917 he joined the United States Army as a volunteer and served as a telephone operator in field artillery regiment 149, a number of the famous 42 Rainbow Division. He took part in the second Battle of the Marne (July 15 to Aug. 7,1918) in the division, the first American combat division to arrive in France during World War I. Darius was one of fourteen in his regiment to be commended for bravery in action. In the summer of 1920 he left for Lithuania. He enlisted in the Lithuanian army as volunteer, graduated from military school (1921) and war-aviation courses (1923). In 1927 he was promoted to the rank of captain. In the same year to the USA and took part in civil aviation.
In 1932 Darius came to an agreement with Stasys Girenas (q.v.) to fly to Lithuania across the Atlantic. With their own money (3,200 dol.) they bought a six-seater Bellnka aeroplane (Model CH-300 Pacemaker, Ser. N 137), which they named Lituanica. With donations from American Lithuanians a new motor was fitted into the aeroplane. The aeroplane weighted 1,209 kg, with cargo 3,668 kg; it could fly at 200 km an hour. Lituanica left New York airport on July 15, 1933 at 6:24 a.m. without government authorisation for the projected flight, since it had not been satisfactorily prepared for. The pilots found their bearings by compass and kept a steady course. On the evening of July 16 they flew over Scotland. On the night of July 17 Lituanica reached West Prussia, 115 km north of Berlin, and crashed there in a forest near Soldin ( Pol. Mysliborz from 1945). The pilots had flown 6,441 km in 35 hrs. 15 min.; there were 650 km left to Kaunas, the temporary capital of Lithuania, which they had wanted to reach without a stop. The bodies were flown to Kaunas.
The reason for Lituanica's crash are still not clear. There also
were opinions that the aeroplane could have crashed of bad atmospheric conditions that night, or the aeroplane might have been shot down.
Darius and Girenas carried out a daring and hazardous flight. They flew on without modern navigational instruments but kept to their route accurately and according to the long distance flying record of that time were second in the world (after R. Boardman and J. Poland). In this way, even though they did not reach Lithuania, they became national heroes and an example to young people.
The bodies of the pilots were put into copper coffins in the mausoleum of the Kaunas cemetery. The fragments of Lituanica, flight articles and the pilots' personal belongings were put in the Kaunas War Museum in 1936 (the Historical Museum from 1944). During the German occupation (1943) the pilots' coffins were secretly walled up in the building of the faculty of Medicine for reasons of safety. They were found rather damaged after World War II and buried in 1964 at the Kaunas soldiers' cemetery in Aukstieji Sanciai. The Lithuanians of the United States have put up two monuments to the memory of Darius and Girenas, one in Brooklyn, New York and the other in Chicago, Illinois.
Tags: Aviation Transport