Opijnen - May 2002
Opijnen - May 2002
May 2002 Tulip Talk Article
By Nancy L. K.-T.
Anyone who has been an AWCA member in May-any May since 1949-knows our special tradition. Historically, it occurred on U.S. Memorial Day and now May 4, when Dutch people observe two minutes of silence at 8:00 p.m. to honor those who sacrificed their lives in warring times so that we may live in peace and freedom. Together, with the villagers of Opijnen, we lay flowers at the graves of eight American airmen buried in the churchyard cemetery.
U.S. Air Force B-17 "Man-O-War"-the 91st Bomb Group's oldest plane-was shot down over Opijnen, near the Waal River on July 30, 1943 after a successful bombing raid on the Messerschmidt aircraft plant in Kassel, Germany. Enroute back to their base in Bassingbourn, England, it was the first, and last, combat mission for the crew of pilot 2Lt Keene C. McCammon and copilot 2Lt John P. Bruce. In a group of 27 aircraft, "Man-O-War" and "Yankee Dandy" were hit by enemy fire over Holland and failed to return. It is the story of "Man-O-War" that is linked to the AWCA.
While two "Man-O-War" gunners were killed instantly, the other eight were able to parachute out. Only the nightmare wasn't over. The infamous German yellow-nose 190's based at Schiphol circled the dangling men and peppered them with machine gun fire. Five died as they descended, and one who had only a riddled parachute, succumbed when he crashed through a village roof and struck a beam. The villagers of Opijnen, including eyewitnesses alive today, risked their lives to bury our fellow Americans and care for their graves. Fifty-nine years later, they are still caring for them.
Wondrously, pilot McCammon landed in the river and copilot Bruce in nearby Varik. Both had survived with minor injuries. However, they were betrayed by Nazi sympathizers and reunited by German soldiers the following day, underway to an isolation cell in Amsterdam. After four or five days, they were sent by train to POW camps in Germany. If you recall the film, "The Great Escape", you can begin to imagine what their next two years were like. McCammon and Bruce were in the same POW camp where this true story occurred. Today, John Bruce uses "stalag3" as his e-mail address in deference to his "Stalag Luft III" prison address from 1943-45. The AWCA has had sporadic contact with McCammon and Bruce after we began in 1949 to actively support the people of Opijnen in caring for the eight gravesites. Mr. McCammon, Mr. Bruce and their wives, even attended the special 40th anniversary Opijnen Memorial Service in 1983. Much of the contact in those years was via our late, and still missed, member, Lyn Ritchie. For the past several years, Lucy Correll has been active on behalf of the AWCA with the people of Opijnen. When member Janet Sked moved in 1999 from Amsterdam to St. Paul, MN, she discovered that the McCammon's lived in the next zip code, so she started up a friendship with them. Along with attending the May services for several years, I've been snail-mailing with the McCammon's the past two years, while e-mailing with the Bruce's.
A high point for me in all of this was the opportunity to meet John and Eunice Bruce in Orlando last July. I had made photo albums of the May 4, 2001 memorial service for the McCammon's and Bruce's. It is truly an honor to have met Mr. Bruce and I was privileged and touched to have personally heard him relate his incredible story.