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Shot Down: A B-17 Pilot's Survival Behind Enemy Lines

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 22, 2022 3:00 am

Shot Down: A B-17 Pilot's Survival Behind Enemy Lines

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 22, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Emerich Juettner tells us how he was an upstanding citizen... for most of his life. Here is the story of how the choice to choose three then-minor league hockey players to play the Hanson Brothers in "Slap Shot" starring Paul Newman was made. Steve Snyder tells us how his father, Howard, managed to return from Europe alive during WWII after he and his crew had been shot down over Belgium.

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Time Codes:

00:00 - The Best Worst Counterfeiter in American History

10:00 - The Story Behind One of the Most Iconic Sports Films, "Slap Shot"

23:00 - Shot Down: A B-17 Pilot's Survival Behind Enemy Lines

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This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show, from the arts to sports and from business to history and everything in between, including your stories.

Send them to They're some of our favorites. We love telling you quirky stories from our history here on this show, and this one comes to you from Bill Braik, a friend from New Hampshire. It's a story of the best, worst counterfeiter in American history. Emmerich Jutner, also known as Edward Mueller, who lived near Broadway and West 96th Street in Manhattan, eluded the counterfeiting laws from 1938 to 1948 longer than any other maker of the queer in American history. The first sixty-three years of Jutner's life were upright and respectable. Short, blue-eyed, white-haired, mustachioed, and blessed with a winning, if toothless, grin, Jutner had learned the rudiments of photo engraving in his native Austria. After emigrating to America at thirteen, he worked as a building superintendent while tinkering with numerous unsuccessful inventions. With his children grown, the newly widowed Jutner retired in 1937 to the Upper West Side, where he lived with his mongrel terrier. He worked as a junk man, picking up discarded appliances and old tires from vacant lots with a pushcart. But he wasn't making enough to live on and soon found himself nearing destitution. So, using his ancient engraving skills, he photographed a dollar bill and recorded the images on sensitized zinc plates, which he then etched in an acid bath.

With a little retouching and a small hand press, he was ready to make more money by, well, making more money. The U.S. Secret Service, which has chased counterfeiters since 1865, protecting presidents became part of their mission only in 1901, first noticed Jutner's activity when a phony one dollar silver certificate turned up at a cigar store on Broadway near 102nd Street. Even as the agency opened a new case file numbered 880, agents felt everything about the bill was unusual. No one in recent times had considered singles worth the trouble to counterfeit. More importantly, the bill was obviously laughably bad.

While U.S. currency was printed on 75% cotton and 25% linen stock with red and blue fibers of various lengths embedded in the paper, Jutner had used cheap bond paper from some corner store. The numbers were fuzzy. Many of the letters were misshaped or illegible. Washington's portrait was, as the Secret Service itself reported, poorly executed. Washington's right shoulder blends with the oval background. The left eye is represented by a black spot.

The right eye is almond-shaped. But the bogus singles kept turning up. Those that could be traced have been passed to the subway and elevated lines and newspaper vendors, bartenders, and other small businesses that handled hundreds, if not thousands, of one dollar bills daily. Jutner carefully passed his fakes only at busy times, such as rush hour on the subway.

A five cent fare paid with a phony dollar yielded a 95 cent profit. And as the Secret Service later learned, Jutner never spent a stake in the same store twice and passed only one or two bills a day. By December 1939, File 880 contained some 600 counterfeits.

The bills grew worse with time. While touching up the plates, Jutner misspelled the president's name as W-A-H-S-I-N-G-T-O-N. Washington. Nonetheless, he kept passing bogus singles throughout World War II despite successive Treasury publicity campaigns. Apparently, many of those who found themselves holding a Jutner counterfeit kept it as a souvenir instead of turning it over to the government. By 1947, the Secret Service held over 5,000 of Jutner's phony singles. Yet, despite what New Yorker writer S. Sinclair McKellway called a manhunt that exceeded in intensity and scope any other manhunt in the chronicles of counterfeiting.

Despite thousands of interviews and hundreds of thousands of fliers, the agency didn't have a clue to his identity. A few weeks before Christmas 1947, Jutner's apartment caught fire. New York's bravest, in extinguishing the blaze, piled the old man's junk in an alley where a sudden snowstorm buried it.

The homeless old man stayed in Queens with his daughter while his apartment was being repaired. On January 13, 1948, several neighborhood youths noticed some 30 strange-looking one-dollar bills lying about the alley. Unlike countless businessmen who had accepted Jutner's signals, the kids instantly realized the bills were bogus.

One of their parents took some to the West 100th Street station house, where detectives identified them as counterfeit. The Secret Service quickly identified the tenant, whose singed furnishings had been dumped in the alley, and arrested Jutner when he returned to his apartment a few days later. Jutner had succeeded because he passed no more bogus singles than necessary for his survival, only knocking off a few bills whenever he needed food or help paying his $25 monthly rent. Blandly admitting everything, Jutner was sentenced to a year and a day and fined $1.

He was released after four months to live with his daughter and her family. After McElwey profiled him in The New Yorker, 20th Century Fox filmed Mr. 880, with Edmund Gwen, renowned as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, in the title role. Jutner made more money from the film than he had as a counterfeiter.

And great job on that, Robbie. And thanks to Bill Bryk, our friend from New Hampshire, for delivering this story. And my goodness, one dollar at a time. Not twenties, not hundreds.

Dollar at a time. This man had, if anything, great discipline. And what a great story. We love telling, well, sort of funny stories. I mean, our whole team was laughing at this one.

It was quite amusing. Bill Bryk, thanks so much again, our friend from New Hampshire. And Emmerich Jutner's story, the best worst counterfeiter in American history, here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of seventeen dollars and seventy six cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories dot com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's our American stories dot com. Geico asks, how would you love a chance to save some money on insurance?

Of course you would. And when it comes to great rates on insurance, Geico can help. Like with insurance for your car, truck, motorcycle, boat and RV, even help with homeowners or renters coverage. Plus add an easy to use mobile app, available 24 hour roadside assistance and more. And Geico is an easy choice. Switch today and see all the ways you could save. It's easy.

Simply go to Geico dot com or contact your local agent today. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. Decades after it was released in 1977, the movie Slapshot holds up as one of the true classics of American sports film. Its comical depiction of a minor league hockey team resorting to violent play to gain popularity in a declining factory town still resonates with audiences around the world.

Much of the film's success has to do with Paul Newman's performance as an aging player coach. But the movie might never have achieved its iconic status without the bespeckled, brawling characters known as the Hanson brothers, played by former Johnston Jets players Steve and Jeff Carlson and David Hanson. Dave Hanson grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he eventually starred in football, baseball and hockey at Humboldt High School. He played for the University of Minnesota under legendary coach Herb Brooks.

And of course, that's hockey. Hanson then played for the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars in the National Hockey League. The following excerpts are from a video interview with Dave Hanson by Paul Guggenheimer. It was recorded in Pittsburgh and is provided courtesy of Primal Interviews with Paul Guggenheimer.

Let's go to Dave Hanson. What I tell people is the movie is based on more fact and fiction. It was based on a team that I was playing for in Johnstown, Pennsylvania called the Johnstown Jets in 1974-75.

And pretty much everything that goes on in the movie happened in one form or fashion. There was three brothers playing for us. There were big, tough, war-glasses named Jeff Jack and Steve Carlson. There was a fellow on the team that was called Dave Killer Hanson, i.e.

me. And then all the other characters on the team or on the other teams were either real characters of the game or a combination of characters of the game. So Nancy Dowd, who was the sister of one of the players on the team, came down and started following us around and wrote the script. Obviously they wrote in The Three Brothers and The Killer and a few other people.

And when they got around to making the film and casting for the film, they wanted to get actors like Nick Nolte, Peter Strauss, and a group of Hollywood actors to play these roles because you had Paul Newman, the number one actor at the time of Hollywood. Well these guys could not skate. No matter how they tried, they gave them lessons and took them out in hockey practices and hired private instructors. They just couldn't get them to skate well enough to make it look like a professional game. So Nancy basically said, why don't we go back and let these guys be themselves and see if that would work out.

And basically that's what happened. They came back to Johnstown. They'd be in Hollywood. George Roy Hill, the director, Nancy and a few others, and sat the Carlson brothers down and sat myself down and we read a few lines in the script and they shook their heads and yet they still took a shot at us and pretty well casted us. So it was going to be Jeff Jack and Steve Carlson were going to be the Hansen brothers.

Dave Killer Hansen was going to be Dave Killer Carlson but Jack ended up going to Edmonton Oilers to play when we got around to filming so they just plucked me out of the Carlson roll and threw me in as a Hansen brother and we were off and running or off and skating I should say. Okay guys, show us what you got. When we got first stuck in front of the camera and were told to act and were given lines, we really were bad. We were robotic and it took a couple times and you could see where George Roy Hill was getting frustrated. It finally got to the point where George said let's stop for a minute, take a breath and pull this aside. He said, okay boys, this doesn't seem to be working too well. He said, so let's try a different angle.

What would you do in this situation? You know, he'd set it up and we'd say, I don't know, we would just react. We would probably just do something else.

So let's give that a try. Next shot we did and we pulled it off. It kind of ad libbed some stuff and threw in the regular stuff and he just says, that's great, don't change it, that's the way we'll roll from now on. So it really boiled down to quite frankly that the actors were the one acting, the hockey players were ourselves, we're just being ourselves. We were 20, 21, 22 years old and had ordered the three of us and when they first came to us and they said, hey would you guys like to do a movie? We said, well how long is it going to take?

Well it's going to take two, three months, through your summer. We were used to taking the summers off, going back to Minnesota, playing softball all summer long, drinking beer and getting ready for training camp in the fall. So it's like, okay, well why not, let's give this a try. So we had no idea. For us it was just an opportunity to drink a lot of beer, have free food, get paid for doing something and you know, meet Paul Newman and hopefully meet some chicks and hopefully have some fun doing it. So we had no clue, even to the point where before the film came out, Universal Studios came back to us and offered us a seven year, seven movie contract deal. And we said, nah, we want to be hockey players, we don't want to be actors.

So there's an indication of how smart we were. I was having a pregame nap in my apartment and there's knocking going on in the door. And it wakes me up and there's knocking still going on. I go, what the, you know, so I open the door and I'm in my underwear in my dirty sweat socks and I just open the door and I go, what? And he looks up and he says, you Dave Hanson? I says, yeah.

And he says, I'm Paul Newman. And I says, yeah, well you are Paul. He says, yeah. He says, geez, did we wake you? And I says, well yeah, kind of. And he says, well, you know, and then he apologized. And I said, you know, I'm going, no, no problem. I says, what's up? He says, well, I got some, you know, art director with me and a couple of movie guys, set guys, and they want to come in and take a look at a hockey player's apartment.

We want to see what it looks like. Do you mind if we come in? And I says, Paul, I got no problem. As long as you let me go back to bed, you know, and just stay out of my bedroom, you can do whatever you want. So, and he said, before I went, he says, yeah, no, we'll be quiet.

We just want to look around and take some pictures and some Polaroids. And then he says, but hey, Dave, he says, you got any beer in the fridge? I says, yeah, what's up? He says, well, the race is on. He says, you know, I'd like to maybe crack a beer and sit down and watch the race with these guys. He says, nah, no problem. Drink as much as you want. TV's in there.

Go for it. So that was the first meeting of Paul, which was the start of a very good, long friendship. Everybody is just on their feet screaming, Gil, Gil, Gil, this is hockey! Basically what we were hearing more than anything was the reviews in the hockey community. You would hear, you know, the GMs of the teams or, you know, the commissioner of the league would say, you know, that movie's a disgrace. You know, it doesn't portray hockey. And then of course you'd hear the players saying, that's absolutely right on.

You know, it's the way it is, you know, obviously a little satirical about it, but that's, that's the way it is. And I'm telling you, Broome County is just visibly upset by this display. Come on down and get places for the home games. Bring the kids. We got entertainment for the whole family.

It was short-lived. It didn't bother us. In fact, we ended up, we would have more fun than anything because now we would go into, we'd go into arenas to play a hockey game. And I'll use Dallas as an example. I went into Dallas where they hated me and I always got booed, you know, in warmups and this and that. So typically I'm skating around in warmups one time and I'm hearing the booing.

And then finally I look up and there's an entire section of fans up there with the glasses and the fake nose and holding the Charlestown Chiefs Booster Club. And it was just hilarious. So everybody started having a good time with it.

I'd face off against, you know, against an opponent that we'd fight all the time. And he'd look at me and I look at him, he'd say, buy a soda after the game. So it was good stuff.

Buy a soda after the game. The one that I think of mostly is Siskel and Ebert on David Letterman's show. And I think the question was something like David to Siskel and Ebert. Is there ever a movie that you watched, critiqued, and then later on you kind of went back and realized you made a mistake on and they said, absolutely Slapshot. And he says, when we first saw Slapshot, you know, we gave it a thumbs down. Later on looked at it closely and realized, you know, what a great film that was. And now it's historically always in the top 10 of the best sports movies of all time. And thanks to Greg Hengler as always for finding this and doing the work he always does for us on the producing and editing front. And by the way, again, if you have not seen Slapshot, watch it with a family. I mean, it is just great family entertainment and you will laugh and then you'll just keep laughing.

You don't have to know hockey to love Slapshot. Dave Hanson's story, the story of one of America's great sports movies here on Our American Stories. And we return to Our American Stories. Up next, a story from Steve Snyder, author of a fantastic book, Jot Down, the true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17, Susan Ruth. Today, Steve shares with us a story of survival, determination and America's efforts to beat back Nazi Germany from the skies. Let's get into the story.

Here's Steve. Being a combat crewman in the 8th Air Force was the most hazardous, dangerous duty assignment in the United States military during World War II. 26,000 men were killed.

That's more than the entire Marine Corps fighting in the Pacific. And another 28,000 men became prisoners of war after their bombers were knocked out of the sky by either German fighters or anti-aircraft fire. And it was dangerous from the time they took off to the time they landed. Back then there was no air traffic control.

There was no radar. Usually the weather was socked in and it was all based on visual sights. So you couldn't see anything until you got above the cloud layer. So mid-air collisions were not uncommon on trying to form up. And then they had to face the elements. These planes weren't pressurized back then.

So above 10,000 feet, you'd have to go on oxygen or else you'd pass out in a couple minutes and could die. Plus it was so cold at the altitudes they were flying. It was minus 40 to 60 degrees below zero. So frostbite was a huge problem. Then when they got close to the target, they would run into anti-aircraft fire or flak.

Flak was the German abbreviation for the German word for aircraft defense cannon. And even when they made it back to England, they faced many dangers. Again, the weather could be lousy and overcast and socked in and they couldn't even find their bases. You could have planes that had crewmen that had been killed or seriously injured men who needed immediate medical attention. These bombers could be running out of gas. They could have suffered a lot of battle damage, engines out, landing gear that wouldn't come down. So it was especially bad in the early years of the war in 1942 and 1943, even though they implemented a mission limit of 25. In the spring of 43, it was statistically impossible to complete 25 missions in 1943. The average number of missions flown was only six before being shot down. And actually culminated in the fall of 1940 in what was referred to as Black Week. They lost 140 planes, that's almost 1,500 men, and four missions. The worst day was Black Thursday, the second Schweinfurt mission on October 14th. 291 B-17s were sent and 60 of them were sent, shot down.

And it wasn't until the P-47 Thunderbolts were added that these bomber formations finally had fighter planes that could escort them all the way to the target and back again. My dad, like most World War II veterans, he was a pretty humble guy about it. He didn't talk a lot about it. So I don't think most people, except for the immediate family and friends, members of his church, really knew that he was in the Eighth Air Force or he was a B-17 pilot or he was shot down. Well, my dad and I had a great relationship. He was a very loving father and dedicated father. He was a tough guy.

My two sisters and I, we always kind of compared him to John Wayne. He was that kind of guy. He was six foot three. He was a big guy. He was no-nonsense guy. He was a disciplinarian. You know, there was black or white.

There was no gray areas. He was a devout Christian, had very strong morals. But he didn't talk a lot about the war.

I knew the basics when I was growing up. I knew he was a B-17 pilot. He was stationed in Europe with the Eighth Air Force. His plane was named the Susan Ruth after my oldest sister, who was one year old at the time that he went overseas. And then he was shot down over Belgium and he was missing in action for seven months. But it wasn't until 1989 that my dad finally started talking a lot about the war. In 1989, in August, the Belgium American Foundation in Belgium erected a memorial to my dad and his crew. And my dad and the three other crew members that were still living at the time went over for the dedication. And there he was reunited with all these Belgium people that hid him during the war, revisited these places where he was hidden. And that brought it all back.

And after that, he started talking a lot about it. Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. The U.S., most of the people in the U.S. were against getting into a war that was brewing in Europe. They didn't want to get dragged into another conflict involving the European nations like they did in World War One.

So there was strong sentiment about staying out of the conflict after Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939. Back then, the U.S. was very provincial. There was no TV, things by radio. You didn't get much news about things that were happening in other parts of the world. So that was a huge shock when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. I mean, the general public had just no feeling or belief that that could happen. And the country was in total shock when it did happen. My mother at the time, she was really scared. My dad was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington at the time. And my mother decided to go up and visit him over Christmas that year after the bombing, because the future was very uncertain. And then that's when she got pregnant.

Nine months later, Susan Ruth was born. The only reason that he went into the Air Force is because he had a new bride, a baby on the way, and he didn't think he could support him very well on a private's pay in the army. So that's why he volunteered to join the Air Force where he could make more money, especially if he could make it through pilot training and become an officer. So that's the only reason he really went into the Air Force rather than just staying in the army.

But it was a good decision. And pilot training was really rough. Forty percent of the cadets that entered pilot training washed out.

It was rigorous. During primary training, he was really unhappy. Just being a newlywed and away from his bride and away from his little baby daughter, he was really lonely. He didn't care about training, really, or the war.

All he could think about is being away from my mother. But gradually, that passed, and then it kind of became exciting, flying airplanes and getting ready to gear up to fight in the war. So it became an adventure. When they were assigned overseas to the European Theater of Operations, my dad and his crew, after Dalhart, Texas, they went to Scott Field in Illinois where they were given a brand new B-17 to fly over to England. B-17 had a 10-man crew of four officers, the first pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and bombardier. But there were only three of the crew were married at the time. But then my dad was the only crew member to have a child. And so the crew came together, the four officers and the six enlisted men. That would be a good name for the plane after the pilot's little daughter.

So that's how it became the Susan Ruth. And you've been listening to Steve Snyder tell the story of the 8th Air Force in which his father served. 26,000 men were killed in the 8th Air Force, more than all of the U.S. Marines killed in the Pacific.

This was hazardous duty. When we come back, more of Steve Snyder telling the story of his dad and more. Shot down is his book. We continue with it here on Our American Story. And we return to Our American Stories and our story with Steve Snyder, author of Shot Down.

Let's pick up where we last left off. Was a mission on February 8th of 1944, Frankfurt, Germany. The night before the crew, my dad, the co-pilot, navigator and bombardier spent the night at the Falcon Pub and they really tied one on. They said they had hangovers the next morning, but getting up to 10,000 feet and going on that pure oxygen sobered him right up. But it was a beautiful day to fly.

My dad said it was a clear blue sky. Visibility was great. And they went through their bomb run and they dropped their bombs successfully. But during the bomb run, their Bombay doors were hit by flak and they couldn't get them back up. As a result, they caused a drag on the plane. They lost airspeed and they fell behind the bomber formation, heading back to the bases in England. And they were singled out by two German Focke-Wulf 190 fighters. Like lions or wolves coming down on prey, they swooped in and attacked the Susan Ruth. All of a sudden, everything just blows up.

Oxygen tanks in the cockpit catch fire. My dad actually was knocked out for a brief period of time, came to. He's frightened. He looks over at George Ike, his co-pilot. He's in shock. He's motionless. He's frozen.

He's so scared. The six enlisted men were all behind the Bombay, so he doesn't know what's going on there. So he has the other guys bail out being the commander of the crew. He's the last one to bail out of the plane. And they have to remember that none of these guys had bailed out of a plane before.

But my dad's coming down and he could make out objects on the ground, trees and buildings. So he pulls his ripcord and he comes down into some trees and his parachute got hung up on some branches and he's dangling 20 feet off the ground and couldn't get down. But fortunately for him, a couple of young Belgian men, Henri Franken and Raymond Dervan, came to his rescue before the Germans got there. They saw his plight, went back to the farmhouse, got a ladder and a rope and helped him down a tree. This occurred early afternoon, so they told him to stay put and hide till nighttime, because they thought it was too dangerous to try to move him in daylight with German patrols combing the area. That night, they came back and got him, took him to the Dervan farmhouse. He had some minor shrapnel wounds in his left leg.

The woman of the house, Raymond's mother, treated his wounds and he only stayed there one night, because again, they thought it was too dangerous for him to stay there any longer than that with those German patrols still in the area. So the second night, a Belgian customs officer, Paul Tilcan, came on a tandem bicycle to take my dad to a safer location. The Belgian people who hid my dad and other members of his crew, and he didn't down Dervan for that matter, were unbelievably brave people. They risked not only their lives, but the lives of their family and friends. Because of the Belgian secret police that Gestapo found out about it, they'd be arrested, tortured and either sent to a concentration camp or shot.

They were unbelievably strong people. From there, he was moved from place to place to place. How long he stayed in any given location depended on how brave the people were to live there and how dangerous the Belgian underground thought it was for him to stay there.

He might spend one night, he might spend six weeks. Finally, my dad got tired of hiding. But word came that the Allies had landed at Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, and he decided to get back in the fight and he decided to join the French resistance. He felt there were US men out there dying, fighting and dying to win the war. And he felt it was his duty to get back into the fight. His Belgian helpers tried to talk him out of it because it was so dangerous. I mean, he could be killed fighting against the Germans, or if the Germans captured him, he would have been shot on the spot as a terrorist.

But he said, well, that, you know, fine, if you won't help me, I'll just go by myself. So, but one of another one of his helpers, Amy Kools, escorted him. They rode bicycles over the Belgian border into France to hook up with a unit of the French resistance. The French resistance was called the Maquis. And they were made up of small independent ragtag guerrilla groups all across France. Their job was to, their mission was to harass the Germans.

They would sabotage railroad lines, disrupt communications, assassinate German officers, attack convoys. The Maquis group my dad joined with was led by a French lieutenant who had escaped from a German prisoner of war camp. And they stayed in a farmhouse in Waller-Zonfonja, France, just across the border. Seven months after being shot down, word came that there were US troops in the nearby village of Trelawne, France. So on September 2, 1944, my dad walked into town in the town square, walked up to an army major. Actually, it was an element of Patton's third army, identified himself. They interrogated him to make sure he was who he said he was. And then he caught a ride on a convoy taking German prisoners to Paris and then hopped on a transport from Paris back to England and went back to his base where he sent a telegram to my mother, Western Union telegram, saying, fit as a fiddle, honey.

Bank the money because he had all that back pay coming. Well, five of the crew made it home. Five of them did not. Two of the crew were killed in the plane. Three of the crew, Joe Musial, Wace Gunner, Richard Daniels, Bombardier, and Roy Holbert, a flight engineer, were picked up immediately after they bailed out.

Richard Daniels and Joe Musial had extremely serious injuries. They all three became prisoners of war, but Joe Musial and Richard Daniels were repatriated back to the U.S. before the war ended because of the seriousness of their wounds. One other crewman, the tail gunner, Bill Schlenker, he was also hidden and missing in action for seven months and invaded capture.

But unlike my dad, who was moved from place to place to place and then end up joining the French resistance, Bill Schlenker stayed with one place the entire time. The other three members of the crew, George Ike, the co-pilot, Robert Benninger, the navigator, and John Pendrock, another Wace Gunner, they evaded capture for a couple months and they were hiding in a makeshift hut in the woods just outside of Chemin. And a Belgium collaborator ratted them out to the Germans.

They took them into the Chemin schoolhouse, which is still there today, interrogated them, and drove them back out in the woods and murdered all eight of them. So there's tragedy and triumph in the story involving the Belgian people of the underground and members of my dad's crew and other eight Air Force B-17 crews. Of all the people that are involved in the shot down story, the only person who's still alive is Hans Berger, the Luftwaffe pilot that shot down my dad's plane.

That was a thrill finding Hans, I can tell you. During my research, my wife Glenda said, well, why don't you try to find the German pilot that shot him down? And I'm thinking, oh, she's naive. She has no idea what she's talking about.

It's a ridiculous idea. But like a good husband, I did what she told me to do and I found Hans Berger. And the man, Michael Mombik is his name in Belgium, who had contacted me was a Luftwaffe historian and had written a number of books about the Luftwaffe and knew Hans.

And he asked Hans if I could contact him to talk to him, which Hans said, OK. But unfortunately, my dad died in 2007. So no, my dad never met him. World War II was the defining moment in my dad's life. And at one point in time, Hans' path and my dad's path crossed. And so Hans is a part of my dad's life, a part of his part of his story. And in 1988, the Belgium American Foundation built a memorial in the village of Monsieur Amber Shees and asked him if he would come to the dedication ceremonies for this memorial. And my dad and my mom were talking about it and goes, you know, I don't know.

I don't even know this guy. Just get a letter from out of the blue. And they were debating whether or not going or not. Then Paul Delahaye sent him a second letter. And in this one, it had the program for the event, which listed my dad as the keynote speaker.

So my dad says to my mother, I guess, well, I guess we got to go now. I probably wouldn't have written the book if it wasn't for two Belgium gentlemen, Dr. Paul Delahaye and Jacques Lalonde. During the war, they were young boys and greatly affected by it. They saw firsthand atrocities committed by the Nazis against their family and their friends. And later in life, they became local historians. And they interviewed all these Belgian people and members of the Belgium underground about events that took place involving my dad and his crew. And they documented their testimony. And they gave me unbelievably detailed information about events that took place involving my dad and his crew that would have been lost forever without their dedicated research. So I owe them a huge debt.

And we owe him a huge debt as well. A special thanks to Monty Montgomery and to Jim Watkins for putting this story together. And also for Steve Snyder for writing this book about his father. The book is shot down the true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth. The story of Steve Snyder's dad, a love story between father and son, between troops and pilots and aviators. In the end, the love story of our American GIs, many of them paying the ultimate price to defend freedom against the Nazi menace. This story here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-17 03:33:23 / 2023-02-17 03:47:40 / 14

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