Opijnen - September 2004
Opijnen - September 2004
September 2004 Tulip Talk Article
By Nancy L. K.-T.
To returning AWCA members, what follows is a heart-warming update from my February 2004 Opijnen article, "A Special Honor". To new members, welcome to a story that has been a part of our Club since 1949. If this is one of your first issues of Tulip Talk, you'll want to visit www.awca.nl/history/opijnen.html to understand the bigger picture, but don't let that stop you from being touched by a piece of history that stems from July 30, 1943.
On that fateful day, the U.S. B-17 bomber, Man-O-War, was shot down over the small village of Opijnen, not far from the Waal River near the orchard-famous Betuwe region. Of the ten-man crew, only the pilot, Keene McCammon, and his copilot, John Bruce, survived. While they were held captive in the German stalags till the end of World War II in 1945, their eight fellow crewmen were buried in the Opijnen cemetery next to the Hervormd (Reformed) Church. Their graves are still tended with care and respect by the local villagers. Every May 4, the AWCA joins these wonderful people to honor the memories of the young men from the 91st Bomb Group who gave their lives so that we may live in peace and freedom.
During the May 4, 2000 Opijnen Memorial Service, Burgemeester (Mayor) Jansen spoke of his dream to forever keep alive the Man-O-War's heroic deeds by naming the streets in a new housing development for these airmen. That dream became reality on May 4, 2004 when he and John Bruce unveiled ten street signs in 't Zandpad (The Sand Path). Not only was 83 year old copilot Bruce in Opijnen, but so was his wife, Eunice, as well as daughter, Cheri, and two sons and wives, Gregory & Sheri, and Kelly & Betty Jo.
I had the honor and pleasure to organize the Bruce's April 30 - May 6 visit, and it's with great restraint that I compact an incredible week into far too few words. One of the high points came the first day when long-term AWCA member, Sally M.S., opened her historical (official Dutch monument) home to us, which included a grand tour and a cruise on the Vecht River in their 1899 sloop, with husband Edward at the helm. After dinner at my home, the Bruce's enjoyed poffertjes (special Dutch mini-pancakes) at the famous poffertjes kraam (booth) in Laren (April-September). These were such a hit, that the Bruce's returned several times!
Despite lots of sightseeing plans for the week, most were cut short when Eunice had to be hospitalized the next day. During the months of preparation, we knew that the trip would be a big challenge for Eunice given her diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney dialysis, and wheel chair requirements. She is one strong woman! And, even though she missed the only two things she really wanted to do-visit Keukenhof and take an Amsterdam rondvaart-she was with her family May 4.
The Bruces and I, along with other long-time Opijnen Memorial Service Coordinator, Lucy C., and AWCA (Past) President, Christa O-H., and husband, Stevin O., were the guests of Mayor Jansen and other community officials for a moving and memorable day that started at the castle that serves as City Hall for the eleven villages that comprise the Neerijnen municipality. Over coffee, tea and cake, we introduced ourselves and after opening remarks by Mayor Jansen, we were stilled by the words of John as he recalled July 30, 1943. It was emotional, as were the recollections of Mr. van Arkel, who witnessed the event as a young boy in Opijnen. Sadly, another very important witness, Hendrik de Kock, who also cared for the graves his entire life, passed away May 3, 2003. His special place is now filled by his 18 year old granddaughter, Anoeshka de Kock, who also spent the day with us, as did Douwe de Vries, who has helped organize the annual memorial service since 1964.
We then travelled the Man-O-War route by bus, visiting such places as: the field where the plane went down and a motor was found; the farm house where one of the crewmen crashed through the rietendak (thatched roof); the childhood home of Mr. van Arkel; and the narrow, stoney dike where John Bruce recalls his parachute dropped him. We all tried to imagine how this pastoral terrain must have looked 61 years ago.
Mayor Jansen then treated us to a seasonal white asparagus dinner, after which we made our way to the Hervormd Centrum that adjoins the church and cemetery. There we met members of the community and AWCA members, families and friends. After a "Meet & Greet" with the Bruce's, everyone walked in silence to the eight graves for our annual laying of flowers and raising and lowering the American flag. As happens all over the Netherlands on May 4, we observed two minutes of silence at 8:00 pm.
From the church, we made our way to 't Zandpad, where project developer, Lithos Bouw BV, had set up a big tent to protect us from wind and rain. Several people spoke, none with more feeling and eloquence than Mayor Jansen and John Bruce. We enjoyed the lovely voices of Opijnen choir, Crescendo, who sang Dutch and American songs. Of course, the most dramatic moment was the tugging on the American flags to reveal the street signs.
In case you missed Opijnen this year, please reserve May 4, 2005, because it too will be a unique memorial service. A special plaque will be unveiled on McCammonplein explaining why the streets in 't Zandpad have such unexpected names. Not only do the Bruce children plan to join us again, but pilot Keene McCammon's widow, Bonney Jean, and only child, Keene, along with his wife and daughter, hope to share this incredible occasion.