Seal Beach, Calif. 21. February 1994 50 Years to the day…….
”We’ll never forget” !!!
Pete and Brother Toni van Loon
The last few fleeting minutes of Fletchers’ Flying Fortress, “Fletcher’s’ Castoria’
Eyewitnesses by my brother and me, living just a little way (appx. 2 ½ miles) south of the crash-landing spot in Holland on the 21st of February in 1944.
We stood in nippy wintry weather with light, hazy, and mixed overcast, atop a high load of baled oat hay. Ready to manhandle the bales onto the loft of our cow barn, we heard the distant but distinct heavy drone of many bombers, something that, by then, we had grown accustomed to at this phase of the war. The flack was pounding away on them. However, we never failed to look up and watch the activities, as those were our friends and Allies up there and we were just as interested in the successes of their missions as they were. They were our only hope of ever smashing the Nazi war machine at its source. (We had already endured four years of brutal occupation by the Nazis.) These bombers were at the usual “five miles up” to-and-from altitude, coming back from bombing raids on Hitler’s Heimat and no let-up of flack until they were out of sight and out of range over the North Sea. They were passing from east to west, about 10 to 12 miles to the North of us. Then, while the drone of the formation was waning, we heard the sound of a single straggler, well behind the main group and much closer. We spied him, a B-17 at a very low altitude of about 300 feet and only about 7 miles distance, maintaining also a westerly heading. This meant he would fly straight into the heavy flack guns of the U-boat base at the coastal city of Ijmuiden, plus just before that, around the steel mills of Hoogovens. We feared for the outcome, which couldn’t be good.
But just before the bomber reached that point, it started a slow, lumbering turn south until it was heading perfectly in our direction. It seemed to just kind of hang there, only coming nearer, going ever lower and growing bigger, for some twenty or more seconds. m en suddenly…BANG!…BANG!…BANG! All hell burst loose less than fifty feet right above our heads. We were standing amidst flying shrapnel and streaks of thick, black smoke from the flack bursts that were fired from straight behind the bomber, from a gun position near the steel mill. In an unprepared jump, we both bolted off the load to seek shelter under it, but before we hit the ground, a second salvo arrived. The plane in the meantime was banking again slowly to our right, the flack projectiles bursting some 200 feet to the right of us and even lower because the plane was steadily gliding ever lower with both outboard engines out. A third and last salvo was fired so low that the projectiles, after missing the bomber again, hit the ground first at such a shallow angle that they deflected upward before exploding at the end of their reach, which was exactly above the home of our sister a half mile away to the right of us, and where they blew a good number of tiles off the roof. By then the bomber was sinking out of our sight behind distant trees and farms, barely clearing a dyke and a Nazi concrete bunker, to hit the ground some 10 or 12 seconds later, belly-flopping and chewing up the frosty pastureland with the two inboard engines still going, about a third of a mile past the bunker and finally skidding to a stop over a ditch.
We could only determine that spot by the smoke that rose from the bomber after the crew immediately got busy trying to destroy their ship by setting it on fire. It was not until the next day that we had our first chance to go there and see how it had ended, but the Germans kept us away from the bomber. None of our friends in that neighborhood seemed to know exactly how many of the crew were actually captured by the Germans. Hiding any downed Allied airmen was immediately punished, on the spot, with a bullet. Consequently nobody said much and it remained a mystery to us for a long time. Only a lady friend of mine right there, whose farmhouse the bomber had missed by a mere few feet, had secretly been able to take a snapshot of the sad remains of the crashed B-17 right after some members of the crew had been taken away. I obtained a copy of the snapshot a week later and have kept it ever since. And, also ever since, we have wondered what had happened to those courageous men who, telling by the number of bombs painted on the nose-section of the bomber, had risked their lives again and again for our eventual freedom.
Ten years ago, my brother-in-law from Canyon Lake, California related this incident to a retired airman, who suggested that, if my picture revealed identifiable marking of the bomber, we might be able to obtain some answers from the Department of Defense. So we inquired and got part of an answer, but no names or addresses of any possible surviving crewmembers. That was not “company policy”!
Then last October we went with the Travel Club of Canyon Lake to the Hot-Air Balloon Festival at Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we met a bunch of retired airmen of the 99th Bombing group. We asked them if they knew anybody of the 100th Bombing Group of whose group this crashed B-17 had been part of. “Why, sure” was their answer. “We know a lot of the fellows.” And after they learned of our quest about the fate of the crewmen they promised “We’ll get them in contact with you, O.K.?”.
In the following few weeks, many of our questions got an answer, and the Nazis, BEST OF ALL was: They had all survived the war and, after the defeat of the Nazis, had made it HOME! Now that we know this, we feel much relieved and very happy. Therefore, we want to express as yet, our sincere gratitude to each and every one of them and their fellow airmen who led above and along with the many other gallant servicemen, the total war-effort to the final VICTORY.
P.S. (If) this account may seam to differ in (Comprised in the early 1980-s) that the Bomber had first been some miles out over the North-Sea, before turning and crash-landing at Spaarndam, To our knowledge that is just a theory. That assumption may be attributed to the fact that it indeed had just been flying – about 30 Miles) over water by crossing the Zuider-Zee, immediately before my brother Tony and I caught sight of the B-l7.