A lesson in history, salvation from Lake Michigan

Author Taras Lyssenko poses before a World War II-era warbird.

BERRIEN SPRINGS — Mystery, adventure, government machinations, and above everything else a lot of history, can be found in Taras Lyssenko’s new book, “The Great Navy Birds of Lake Michigan.” The book’s subtitle is “The True Story of the Privateers of Lake Michigan and the Aircraft They Rescued.”

Lyssenko’s just-released book chronicles the three decades his company, A and T Recovery, has spent finding and recovering World War II-era planes, primarily from Lake Michigan. Several of the recovered planes can be found in museums around the country including at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, as well as at Midway and O’Hare International Airports in Chicago.

Area residents will get the chance to learn more about the book and Lyssenko’s three decades of salvage efforts and explorations, at a talk the Cassopolis entrepreneur and consultant is giving Sept. 8 at the History Center at Courthouse Square in Berrien Springs. The talk will start at 2:30 p.m. at the 1839 Courthouse. It is free and open to the public.

“The book is not a telling of local history or the detailed study of the aircraft,” Lyssenko said this week. “It is a micro study of American humanities. The theme centers around an objective to rescue, restore and present once lost World War II U.S. Navy aircraft to the American and visiting world public.”

He said his goal in writing the book has been to chronicle what happened in his company’s quest to find once-lost World War II aircraft in the waters of Lake Michigan, then bring them back to the public. He also wants to encourage others to follow their dreams and “don’t just be alive, but live.”

A and T Recovery is comprised of Lyssenko, his friend Allan Olson, plus others who all grew up in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. “The aircraft of Lake Michigan are just a part of our life long quest to explore everything,” he said. “Since they (the planes) were right in our backyard, they and the lake were logical items for us to seek out and explore.”

In addition to chronicling three decades of historical discovery and sometimes frustrating dealings with state and federal governments, Lyssenko also sees it as a testament to what can be achieved when people come together and work for a common goal.

“The book explains the entrepreneurship, the technological advancements, the federal and government relations, the public relations and the human interactions required to achieve great success,” he said. “It is the story of the triumph of many people working together as a unified force in order to overcome any and every obstacle presented along the way.”

As he relates in the introduction to the book, there are times when people tell stories that are truly unbelievable, but that are nevertheless also true. He describes his book as an anthology of such stories, complete with “protagonists, villains and outright antagonists,” including a number of government bureaucrats who have sought to thwart their efforts at times.

The book ends with the “rest of the story” of their recovery of the SBD-1 Dauntless. Lyssenko was able to find and contact surviving family members of the pilot who died when his plane crashed in Lake Michigan in November 1942. He writes of being able to bring closure to them and to show “that the life of one person who died cold and alone had meaning.”

In addition to the planes they’ve recovered from Lake Michigan, their work has also led to what he calls their “most surprising discovery” of the location of an 8,000 year old “Early Holocene Forest” in Lake Michigan about 15 miles off the Chicago shoreline. That discovery came about as they searched for the wreckage of a SBD-5 Dauntless plane.

Copies of Lyssenko’s book will be available for sale at his Sept. 8 talk and are also available on Amazon. The 160-page book published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press contains many photographs of historic planes and documents as well as their company’s salvage, recovery and restoration efforts.