This Memorial Day, we were fortunate to visit a monument in faraway France, honoring the seven American crew members who died (and two who survived) when their B-17 bomber crashed in a nearby field in France in World War II.
We had visited the monument 13 years ago while the Afghanistan War was still raging and were deeply affected by how the French people honored those who had come to their help during the war in Europe.
After our visit in 2010, I wrote, in part:
In 1998, the people of Persac and of the Vienne region erected a simple but touching monument on the side of a narrow, winding road in memory and in honor of those American heroes. Etched on a white-stone, cylindrical column are the names, ranks and duty titles of the young Americans who died and of those who survived that morning 66 years ago. A pot with fresh flowers stands in front of the memorial.
It was once again an honor to, on this Memorial Day, visit this monument and to see that “a pot with fresh flowers” still stands in front of the memorial.
We added ours to those.
Here are excerpts from that post honoring these heroes and all those who fight and die, especially the youth of those who make the ultimate sacrifice.
…as fate and history would have it, 66 years ago, very early on the morning of July 4, 1944, 26 B-17G “Flying Fortresses” from the U.S. 381st Bomber Group, took off from an air base north of London. One of their targets: a strategic bridge over the Loire River close to Tours in German-occupied France.
A few minutes before the bombing run, something went awfully wrong aboard “Touch The Button Nell II,” a B-17 belonging to the 535th Bomber Squadron.
At about 25,000 feet, Nell II lost one of its engines. In quick succession the B-17 lost two more engines and started losing altitude very rapidly. Despite heroic efforts by its crew, Nell II crashed in a field between L’Isle Jourdain and the even smaller town of Persac.
Two of the nine crew members survived by parachuting out of the crippled B-17—one at approximately 3,000 feet and another, miraculously, at a few hundred feet of altitude. They were both rescued by the French Resistance.
Three other crew members met tragic deaths while parachuting from the doomed aircraft. The other four, including the pilot and co-pilot, died in the aircraft as it crashed in the fields of Vienne, France.
It was singularly emotive to be able to honor our heroes so close to where they fell, yet so far away from home.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.