B-17

On March 3rd I received a surprise e-mail from AuthorHouse forwarding this message:

Sir,

I would try to contact Your author Candy Kyler Brown, who published a book ‘What I never told You’ some time ago. The story goes on her father who was shot down as bomber crew member over Belgium in WW2. I think I can help her with a picture of his shot down aircraft.

Can You bring me in touch with Mrs Brown or eventually send this mail further ?

Kindest regards from Belgium

Jean Dillen

Naturally, I wrote immediately inquiring on this possibility and I quickly received a response stating that Mr. Dillen is interested in the wartime events in his region of Antwerp.  He has published 7 books/booklets on the subject.  Four are photobooks in the ‘Then & Now’ style in which he compares old wartime pictures with recently taken ones and most of them are taken in well known places in his area.  His source of the photos is mainly albums from German soldiers who had the most opportunities to take pictures.  He had a set taken by a man who was based in Herentals and sent me a picture of a crashed B-17 that was included in the set.  The plane was thought to belong to the 401st  Bomb Group, 614th Bomb Squadron, containing what looked like the letters IW-P on its side.  Jean contacted a web site devoted to this Group and to his surprise no ‘P’ was lost.  The webmaster pointed him to the fact that the code for the 92nd Bomb Group could apply as a squadron of the 92nd; the 326th would contain the letters ‘JW-P’ and the letter ‘J’ could be out of the picture.  He came upon the story of my Dad’s aircraft coming down in Koersel.  (My friend from The Netherlands, Piet Brouwer, printed a review of my book in his Study Group Newsletter.  Piet is another person who so kindly helped me in my mission to write my Father’s story and I had sent him my book as a token of my appreciation.)   Koersel is maybe 50 kilometers away from Herentals where the German soldier was based and Jean thought that maybe the soldier was put on guard there before the aircraft was removed.

My father was assigned to the 407th Bomb Squadron of the 92nd Bomb Group.  Their identifying letters on the aircraft would be PY-P.  This would make you think that this B-17 then could not possibly be the bomber that my father flew in on that fateful day; however, for some reason on February 4, 1944, my father’s crew flew their last mission in a B-17 from the 326th Bomb Squadron, explaining the JW-P.

Another interesting fact is that a witness, Jaak Ramakers, who reached the downed plane before the Germans arrived, gives the following description….”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.”  This is also a key statement as the plane in the photo is upside down. 

All these facts point to the likelihood of this photo being the B-17 that was manned by the Cook crew on that fateful day! 

JW-P February 4, 1944 

I wrote to Jaak Ramakers very anxious to obtain his reaction to this photo and on Friday, April 15, 2011, I received a response via an email from his grandson, Koen.  I might add the fact that Koen, proficient in the English language, has thoughtfully helped me keep in touch with Jaak by translating our letters.  I’m most grateful to him for enabling me to carry on this special friendship that began a few years ago and I plan to add the story of how our acquaintance came about; the story is worth its own page and will be added in the near future. 

This is the response from Koen for his Grandfather, Jaak:

Dear Candy,

We have received your letter in the best way of health from us all, and with so much pleasure. I had to read the letter like ten times before I totally understood this incredible story of your photo. It is unbelievable how this occurred with the help of so many people. It is indeed the crew bomber of your father, Candy! You can see this broken hole underneath the tail of the aircraft, that is where I got into the plane. There I saw a strap of bullets and I quickly went looking for souvenirs. But me and my father were not the first ones to arrive at the scene. The crew bomber did not crash but came down from the direction right on the photo, and landed crooked in a circle-bow and then hit the ground with the right wing. The aircraft then overturned but as far as I can remember the aircraft was not upside down*. It is a pity that we couldn’t have this conversation when your father was still alive… I would have liked to ask him many questions about how the last seconds were, who was there, how it was, etc…

Candy, I think you will also have to read this letter a couple of times but that is how it is rooted in my memories. I am so glad and thankful for this picture and for the help of Koen so we can remain friends and keep in touch.

With warm regards, 

Jaak

Koen added this explanation: *”As Jaak was telling he couldn’t quite remember that the aircraft was upside down but he did tell that it had landed against this ‘hedge’ and in front of the aircraft (not on the photo) was a spacious meadow. Also the trees are recognizable to the fauna in these regions and leads one to suspect that it is really a picture taken in Koersel. The wreck is not thát much damaged (not totally shattered) so that also corresponds with what he told before that it landed more flat and did not totally crash. How amazing it is that you received this photo and that the letters on the side are well readable. And if you look at it like this your father and his crew were very lucky to have survived this crash! The hole in the aircraft at the left also corresponds with the stories Jaak told before and how he got his souvenirs.”