Jaak Ramakers – B-17 Crash – February 4, 1944

(Posted: February 24, 2012)

It is with a heavy heart that I’ve learned that my friend, Jaak Ramakers has passed away on May 20, 2016:

 Following is a brief history of how I came to meet this generous and kind gentleman.  My heartfelt sympathy is extended to his loved ones.  He will be sadly missed.  The story of our meeting………..

Richard Heyligen is one of my Belgian friends who I met in 2006 when my Mother and I were pursuing the Belgium portion of my Father’s WWII experience.  Richard Heyligen’s brother Jules  hid with my Father’s tailgunner, Thomas Mikulka , in a field until dark and then took him to his home where he spent the night.  It was Mikulka’s  first night as an evader and the beginning of his journey back to England with the help of the Comete Escape Line.   If you read my book you would learn about this 2006 visit.

On July 26, 2008, Richard sent me an e-mail telling me that he  “met a person, a farmer, Jaak Ramakers, living in the neighborhood of the crash.  He saw the plane coming down.  He was at once in the plane before the Germans.  He was looking for a pistol or weapons.  He found something like a chronometer.  You can see it on the picture.  When you turn it up, it is still working.  That’s all that he took because the Germans arrived.  The Germans took the plane away but they left one wing.  In this wing Jaak took little wheels and made pulleys of it.  See the picture.  He took also metal of the wings to make curry-combs to curry the horses and the cows.  But these ones are used.   So he said to me when you come back, he will give you that souvenir.  It is a pity that I had not met him before your visit.  Maybe you can write to him to convince him that we can send to you by post office, or if you know somebody who is coming to Belgium who can bring it to you.”

I didn’t waste any time in writing to Mr. Ramakers.  It was exciting to learn about another witness, a person who lived close to the crash site and could give me more details of that fateful day.  On July 27, 2008, I wrote that “It was a great surprise to receive news recently from Richard Heyligen who I met when I visited Belgium in September, 2006.  It was a most memorable stay meeting many wonderful people to include Richard and his family. It was an incredible experience traveling to several areas so significant to my father’s route on February 4, 1944, when the B-17 that he flew in as ball turret gunner was shot down on a mission to Frankfurt, Germany.

I find it fascinating to hear that you entered the crashed bomber before the Germans arrived at the scene.  I do wish that I could have met you when my Mother and I were in Belgium, our visit made possible as a result of the efforts of Raimond (now deceased), Guy and Willy Wendelen.  I am so interested to hear your memories of the day my Father’s plane crashed in your neighborhood and wonder if you would mind writing them to me.  Every piece of information that I can collect from those who were there is so valuable to building my father’s story.

Richard mentioned the mementoes that you have from my father’s plane and I am delighted that you were able to obtain them.  I would treasure and be most appreciative to receive any of these souvenirs that you are willing to part with.  It is most noble of you to make the offer. 

I have spent the last four years since his death retracing Dad’s journey and would be happy to share any information that I have with you if you so desire.

I wanted to write to you right away so you would know how interested I am in anything that you are willing to contribute to my mission to write my Father’s story.  I am grateful that Richard met you and notified me.  If you are indeed willing to pass on any souvenir of my father’s aircraft to me, I will do whatever I need to do to obtain it.  It may take some time to arrange but if it must involve a return trip to Belgium that is what I will do.  I would love to meet you and to see those fine people that contributed so much to my previous visit again.”

And then I received this response in an e-mail  from Jaak through his grandson, Koen:

“Dear Mrs Brown,

I was very delighted with the letter you sent to inform me that you would appreciate the souvenirs I’ve got from your father’s plane. I’ve kept these souvenirs for many years and now I’ve reached the age of 83 I’m glad that you will be able to enjoy them for the rest of your life.

While writing this letter I can still visualize the plane crashing down, slanting in a circle. I think the right-wing hit the ground first and then the plane flipped over. I got there immediately and I could see the scrap (the debris of the plane),  I entered the plane and saw a machinegun and also some 1m bullets. This brings me to a question…(that I hope you can answer) Was the plane hit by anti-aircraft guns or did German fighter aircrafts brought it down?

In those days, a souvenir of our liberators was sacred. And so, after the Germans cleared the scrap, they still left some pieces of the plane and I took a piece of the wing home and made pulleys of it. I also used it to make some currycombs (used for grooming horses) but those are worn-out. 

Remember that the family Heyligen suffered agonies by helping the pilots. This remembers me to something in the journal from last week, a women from 93 years old, who helped 28 pilots escape during WW II was caught at the end of the war and still sent all the way to Germany to a concentration camp. Last week, she passed away.

I’m looking forward how and when I can hand over these souvenirs? 

With kind regards from Belgium,

Jaak Ramakers

P.S. My name is Koen Ramakers, I’m one of the eleven grandchildren of ‘Petere'(that’s how we call Jaak J ). I’ve tried my very best in translating this letter. (I apologise for possible mistakes)”

Sent the following email 9/1/08

Dear Mr. Ramaakers (Koen/Jaak),

I am so pleased to receive your response and enjoy so much reading your memories of my Father’s plane.  I can almost visualize you myself reading your recollections.  It is noble of you to think of me and I am not sure yet if I am going to be able to plan a trip.  I do not know anyone who will be traveling to Belgium.  I will, of course, let you know when I have figured out something.  What I would really like to do but I just don’t know if it can happen is go to England next May for the reunion of the 40th Combat Wing of the 8th Air Force of which my father’s 92nd Bomb Group is a member and then at that time also visit Belgium.  That would be the ideal plan to me and that is what I would like to try to accomplish.  You will be the first to know.

As for your question about the downing of my father’s plane.  The number 2 engine was hit by anti-aircraft fire and the bomber was forced to leave the security of the formation.  Pilot Cook dropped the plane to cloud cover and they became a “sitting duck”.  They were then picked up by the German fighter planes.  In my father’s “missing aircraft report” the anti-aircraft guns were given credit for shooting them down.  Before today is over I will send you some information that I have concerning this.   Guy Wendelen gave me a report that you will find interesting I’m sure and I will send that along with pages from the missing air crew report that are pertinent.

I am so glad that Richard met you and now that I have.  My mother and I had such a wonderful and memorable visit in Belgium in September, 2006.  It was a feeling that I cannot describe being where my father was and seeing the same people that he saw over 60 years ago.  There were 2 witnesses who saw my father come down in his parachute in a garden.  And to think that you also may have seen the parachutes descending from the wounded bomber.  Richard remembered seeing them and it was so interesting to also hear his recollections of the day.  It must have been something for you to enter that plane.  You also must have had to get out quickly before the Germans came.  Did you watch them take the plane away?  I know those times were very dangerous for everyone.  Two of my father’s crew members were helped to freedom by the Resistance.  Jules Heyligen hid the tail gunner, Thomas Mikulka, in the field until dark and then took him to his house to stay overnight beginning his route in the escape line.  There were so many heroes who put their lives on the line. Many we will never know of.  It is hard to imagine what the 93 year old woman you spoke of endured in helping the Allied Airman.

Thank you again for writing to me.  You write beautifully and I admire that.  I can only speak and write in English.

As I mentioned, I will send you some information concerning my father and his crew.  I just have to get it together.   

My goal is to write my father’s story.  He never talked about it so it has to be based on the information that I have gathered from others.  I’ve retraced his entire route and now I have the overwhelming task of putting things together in his memory.  It is taking time because it is important to get it just right for him.”

I also mailed documents from my Father’s Missing Air Crew Report when I sent the email.

I had hoped that one day I could again travel to Belgium to meet Jaak Ramakers but it did not seem very promising.  It meant a great deal to me that he desired to relinquish the treasured “souvenirs” that he had collected from inside the B-17 to me.  I had hope, but it didn’t seem likely, that it would be possible for me to travel to Belgium a second time.

But then it occurred that my friend (and editor), Jim Morrin, had discovered that there is a monument commemorating his Father’s crew in Duffel, Belgium.  Jim’s Father, John Morrin, was the pilot on the B-17 “Pluto’s Avenger,” which crashed in Duffel on February 22, 1944.  Jim was so touched by this kind remembrance that he wanted to personally thank the responsible parties.  He planned to present them with a plaque and he worked diligently on a speech that he would deliver at the presentation in Dutch.    See:  www.303rdbg.com/360morrin.html

Jim and wife Deb planned to travel to Belgium in September of 2010 and extended the invitation to me to travel along.   It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.  Not only would I be able to meet Jaak Ramakers but I also planned to meet Marcel VanLierde, whose family had hidden my Father’s pilot and top turret gunner for 5 weeks.  I also wrote to all of my Belgian friends and invited them to attend the ceremony if they could possibly be available to meet again.  My book was very close to being published and I was hoping that I could take the books with me to present to my friends.  As it ended up, I mailed them to Jim’s friend, Wim, so that they would be there when we arrived.

I have to say how honored that I was to attend the ceremony  in memory of Jim’s Father, John Morrin’s crew and to witness how smoothly Jim read his speech, that could be understood by all in attendance (except me but I had already read the English version.)  It was an impressive performance and I was proud to be there to participate in a most moving event.

It was such an exciting day for me!  Guy and Willy Wendelen; Richard Heyligen; Marcel VanLierde; Robby Van den Wyngaert; Jaak and Marie Ramakers, their son, and grandson, Koen; Edouard Renierre and Victor Schutters were all there and it could not have been better to be able to personally present my books to my friends.  After the ceremony, Guy and Richard once again guided me along with Edouard and Victor to the significant areas of my Father’s past that I had traveled to in 2006.  It topped off a superb day; another day that I will never forget thanks to my Belgian friends!!

duffel7

Marie and Jaak Ramakers in Duffel, Belgium, on September 19, 2010

victor-belgium-6-jaak-2

Jaak Ramakers showing me the pulleys made from the wheels from the wing of my Father’s B-17

jaak-marie-ramakers-60th

Jaak and Marie Ramakers – 60th Anniversary!

Just loved this picture!  What a lovely couple!

2 responses to “Jaak Ramakers – B-17 Crash – February 4, 1944”

  1. Great post I have been reading all your posts and they are really great keep up the good work.

  2. This is great, thanks a lot!

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