Former WW II Adversaries Meet as Friends
October 31, 2007
SCHWEINFURT, Germany - When asked how high he was flying that day, Charles Hebert has a simple answer.
"We weren't high enough. They just kept hitting us," Hebert said.
"That day" was October 14, 1943, and "they" were the German anti-aircraft defenders - many of them schoolboys - who battled in Schweinfurt on what has come to be known as Black Thursday.
Six members of the 8th U.S. Air Force who flew bombing missions over Schweinfurt on Black Thursday returned to Schweinfurt for the fourth time in nine years for a reunion with the very men who tried to shoot them out of the sky.
"Who would have thought that, more than 60 years later, the thing that they hated the most would be their best friends," said George Bruckert, who traveled with the group this year and is writing about them.
Sixty U.S. planes carrying 600 crewmembers were lost Oct. 14, compounding further devastating airplane and crew losses throughout Germany during "Black Week," as it is called. Planes were failing to return at a rate of 71 percent, according to Bruckert.
The American crews dreaded the "flak helpers," as the air defenders were called, more than anything else, said Bruckert, who has asked the veterans what they feared the most about battling over Germany.
"They couldn't shoot at them. And they just didn't know where the next one was coming from," he said.
The Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association met here in 2004, 2001 and 1998, at which time they co-dedicated a memorial in a wartime bunker.
As in the past, the group held a memorial service at the bunker, in addition to a reception at the city hall (a traditional Schweinfurter Schlachtschussel), and a wreath-laying ceremony at the Dagger Memorial on Conn Barracks.
"You represent the future and remind us of the past," said Lt. Col. Tony Haager, U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt commander, as he addressed the veterans and their families at a luncheon. "And we appreciate that."
"You guys are showing that the American Air Force and the Deutsche Flakhelfer come together in friendship. This friendship has really helped my job," Haager said. "Because I consider us part of the Schweinfurt community."