On September 27, 1944, my crew of nine guys crawled out of bed about 3 in the morning and headed for the flight line. By daylight we were fed, briefed and dressed in clothes to keep us warm during our bombing mission over Germany. By eleven or so that morning we were in the vicinity of Kassel, but our group had lost its fighter cover and were under an aerial attack by a couple of hundred German fighter planes. A couple of our bombers made it back to England but most of us, almost thirty B-24 Liberator Bombers, went down in flames in an area from Eisenach to Nenderhausen. Almost three hundred young men were flying those ships. One hundred and eighteen died that morning. Dozens of others were wounded and suffered those wounds for a lifetime. Most of us who lived wound up as Kriegefangenens in German Prison Camps.
In a dense forest near Friedlos, at the site our lead ship went down, there is a small Memorial Park, created by Germans and Americans. Flowers grace the few acres and three large boulders bear bronze plaques. One tells the story of the battle, another lists the 19 Luftwaffe pilots who died that day. The third lists the names of our 445 Bomb Group young men who gave their lives in that air battle. Four of them were crew members of mine. I am posting their names shown on that bronze plaque. Fields was my radioman, Cowgill my navigator, Scala my bombardier, Byrd my waist gunner. All were my friends.
A few years ago I got to return to that little spot in the Forest. Four of my boys went with me and we found a profound peace there amid the giant trees that had replaced the violence of that day long ago. This year, the seventy fifth anniversary of The Kassel Mission, another group of us are going back to the forest. Not me, I have gotten to the age where I excuse myself from such an endeavor, but I wish I were. This time there are many in the group who are third generation descendants of those young guys whose names are on those plaques. They will be there to honor their grandpa’s sacrifice. And they will surely feel the sorrow and the pride when the bugler plays “Taps” and those plaintiff notes sound through that quiet place. Then the bugler will add “Ich Hatte Einen Kammerade”, the German version of “Taps”, to honor those Luftwaffe fighter pilots who gave their lives that day. It will be a remarkable day memorializing remarkable young men. It would be an honor to be there.