Walter Hassenpflug was larger than life to anyone involved in the Kassel Mission. He died in Germany on February 26, 2017. He will be sorely missed by his KMHS family. Many of us over the years have been fortunate enough to visit Walter in Germany, to see his extraordinary research, and to visit the Memorial, the construction of which he completely coordinated. There is great reason for this man's dedication to preserving the history behind this battle.
Walter himself was strongly affected by the Kassel Mission. At the age of 12, he witnessed the battle when he saw the lead 445th plane go down and crash in the woods near his home where the memorial is now located, and several men parachuting down. The next day, he found navigator Frank Bertram in the woods near his home and, with his companions, escorted him into town to turn him over to the authorities.
Two months later, both of Walter’s parents were killed in an air raid. Walter survived because his father threw himself on his son as the bombs came down.
It took a long time for Walter to get over the death of his parents, but he was a kid, and war was going on. In early April of the following year, Walter, fascinated by the friendliness of the U.S. soldiers who were coming into town, served as a translator for them as they made temporary camp nearby.
When he finished school, Walter took a job in the offices of the city of Bad Hersfeld, where he continued throughout his career in municipal administration.
In his off-time, Walter became known as a local historian. He also researched the war he had lived through, beginning with the battle that killed his parents, then the plane he had found on September 27. As he researched other crashes nearby, he began to understand the magnitude of the battle and discovered Luftwaffe pilots who had participated in the battle and interviewed him.
Walter found navigator Frank Bertram through writing the editor of the 8th Air Force News. Bertram flew over in 1986 to meet Walter. The next year, Bertram brought his pilot, Reg Miner. In both cases, Walter took the men to their landing places and walked their trek with them to the homes, jails and train stations where each was taken. He even introduced them to a Luftwaffe pilot who fought that battle.
When Kassel Mission pilot Bill Dewey contacted Hassenpflug in 1989 with the idea of building the memorial, Hassenpflug embraced and coordinated the project as well as a huge dedication ceremony that took place on 1 August 1990. On that day, Hassenpflug made a public pledge to hold a ceremony on that site annually so that everyone could remember that friendship can result between former enemies. He kept his word.
He also took two busloads of Kassel Mission veterans and families—both German and American—to all the crash sites. At each, those who remembered that day and were associated to that spot came forward—Luftwaffe pilots, 445th BG airmen, and German civilians who, like Hassenpflug, had witnessed or been involved on the ground. All of this is captured in the Dzenowagis DVD “Pride of the Nation.”
Over the quarter century since that day, many Americans have returned to the memorial and met Walter again and again. New families and veterans not on that initial trip have gone there as well. In every case, when he was asked, Walter invited them to meet him at the Memorial, took them to their associated landing/capture sites, listened to their stories, shared what he knew, and often dined with them.
Walter Hassenpflug dedicated three decades to researching the Kassel Mission. We owe him a great debt of gratitude.