1944 aviators remembered as community honors B-17 crew
April 28, 2009
FOULENG, Belgium - Members of the 309th Airlift Squadron based at ChiAfA..vres Air Base joined the city authorities of Silly and the local residents in a commemorative ceremony honoring the crewmembers of a B-17 that crashed at Fouleng, Silly, April 13, 1944.
"It was here, 65 years ago, that the 10 member crew of the Royal Flush crashed after being hit by anti-aircraft fire...anti-aircraft fire from the air base we now call home," said Lt. Col. Mark A. Gaubert, Commander 309th Airlift Squadron at the ceremony.
Indeed, the B-17 Royal Flush came back from a mission over Schweinfurt in Germany when it was hit by the anti-aircraft defense at ChiAfA..vres Air Base, then occupied by the Nazis.
Four of the crew members were able to bail out prior to the Royal Flush hitting the ground and exploding. Six aviators were killed in the explosion: Lt. James R. Lavin, pilot; Lt. Louis A. Bendon, co-pilot; Lt. Calvin L. Anthes, bombardier; Sgt. Raymond R. Marz, waist gunner; Sgt. James W. Malone, tail gunner and Sgt. Loyd G. Brady, ball turret gunner. They were originally buried at ChiAfA..vres then moved to the American Cemetery at Margraten, the Netherlands, their final resting place.
Ghislain Bonnet was 15 years old at the time and still remembers that sunny spring afternoon in 1944.
"I remember seeing one of the aviators who got injured when getting to the ground," he recalled. "The Belgian resistance fighters were first on the spot and three of the survivors evaded from capture thanks to their help. Unfortunately, they were not able to rescue this injured aviator as the Germans rapidly arrived on the scene.
"I also remember receiving a chocolate bar from this wounded aviator. I found out later that his name was Charlie Johnson and that he survived the war," he added.
In 2000, Charlie Johnson and Donna Schurman, the niece of the pilot who was killed in the accident, came back to the site and saw Bonnet and other local witnesses.
"Your concern and actions have made a difference in my life," Schurman wrote in a recent message. "I have tried to plant the seed of that love and concern of one people to another people to the hundreds of students who have been entrusted to me since I had the fortune of meeting all of you," she added.
The death of four of the Royal Flush crewmembers was not in vain. "We must pledge to remember the sacrifice of the Royal Flush crew and all those who gave so much for so many," Gaubert concluded in his speech. "We must also pledge to pass their legacy of freedom to future generations. Ensuring that freedom endures is the truest way to honor all who sacrificed to ensure freedom's future."