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Secret mission in EC is topic of upcoming 'Project Zebra'

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M.G. Crisci

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Cindy Beamon
Albemarle Life Editor

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A novel, and possibly a movie, about Project Zebra, a secret mission in Elizabeth City during World War II, is in the making.

California-based author M.G. Crisci, who has written two previous books about Russian-American adventures, was in Elizabeth City last month to research Project Zebra for his next historical novel.

Project Zebra refers to top secret training of Soviet pilots by a U.S.-backed operation to supply WWII allies with ships, tanks, planes, and arms for use in fighting the Germans. Its existence was disclosed about two decades ago when questions arose about the crash of a PBN-1 Catalina amphibious aircraft into the Pasquotank River on Jan. 11, 1945.

A mystery still exists about the mission. An international delegation visited Elizabeth City in April to resolve questions about where the bodies of three crewman from that crash were taken.

Crisci said he heard about Project Zebra after writing a historical novel about a woman fighter pilot from Russia in "Call Sign, White Lily."

In a telephone interview, Crisci said Russians liked the book and he was invited to the embassy in Washington D.C. where he met Gregory Gargarin, a Navy lieutenant and Russian descendant, who helped oversee Project Zebra.

Crisci, an author of nine books, said "Project Zebra" continues the story of his main character in "Call Sign, White Lily," but in reality, she was not involved in Project Zebra.

Crisci is a retired New York advertising consultant who specialized in consumer motivation and behavior. In a recent telephone interview, Crisci said he visited Russia in search of a topic for the novel he always wanted to write. There he met a curator from a museum who told him about the world's first female fighter pilot who flew over 200 missions and shot down German airplanes during World War II. "Call Sign, White Lily" became a top seller on Amazon for its genre and drew attention in Russia, where he was invited to speak, Crisci said.

Now "Project Zebra" is about 9 months away from completion, Crisci said. He is also collaborating with Russian producer/director Vladimir Alenikov in making a movie that combines events from "Call Sign, White Lily" and "Project Zebra." The $55 million project is at the beginning stages of seeking financing, he said. A promotional video can be viewed at ace44movie.com.

"Elizabeth City is central to both projects," Crisci said in a recent letter.

He said his new book should be a fun read.

"Project Zebra is designed to be more of an assiduously-detailed and enormously entertaining work of historical fiction, rather than a historical recreation," he said. "I want people to understand the human side of the war, a time when America and Russia stood side-by-side," he said.

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