By Brandon Beach
Special to American Forces Press Service

STUTTGART, Germany - An eyewitness never forgets. So was the case on Aug. 11, 1955.

On that day, two C-199 Flying Boxcar planes collided in midair 45 miles south of here. One crashed in a field close to the village of Edelweiler. The other spiraled into the woods near Grömbach. Sixty-six American Airmen and Soldiers died.

"It was the worst aviation disaster in Europe since the end of the Second World War," James McNaughton, U.S. European Command historian, said.

No one survived. What did survive, though, was the memory that many residents still hold today.

"A lot of people here are connected to this tragedy," Edelweiler Deputy Mayor Thomas Sannert said. "It happened in front of their eyes. The accident is part of our town's local history."

Karl Bross, a farmer from Edelweiler, was 36 years old when the two planes collided 4,000 feet above his fields. Since that ill-fated day, he has not farmed the place on his land where one of the planes came down. Steel parts still are embedded in the ground, and during heavy rains, oil seeps up to the surface, leaving a purplish, damp residue, he said.

For decades after the accident, local farmers would take relatives of the fallen to the crash site. To this day, many residents still stay in touch with grandchildren of the fallen soldiers and airmen by mail, said Gudrun Kaper, a U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart host nation liaison.

"There has always been a feeling of closeness since the accident," she said.

In 1993, Karl Ziegler, a local forest ranger, planted an oak tree near the crash site. Village officials later set it aside as a memorial. "They have always treated it like a cemetery," Kaper said.

Several years ago, a large stone was placed near the tree. And last year, a steel plate was added to the stone, etched with the names of the 66 fallen Americans.

In each case, Germans and Americans gathered to honor the dead by name in a religious ceremony marked by reflection and prayer.

This year - 53 years after the crash - the unfinished work continues. A stone similar to the one just outside Edelweiler was placed at the site where the second plane spiraled into the forest.

"We can now properly honor the fallen from the second aircraft that went down in these woods," said Army Col. Richard M. Pastore, USAG Stuttgart commander, who helped to unveil the memorial alongside Grömbach Mayor Peter Seithel during a remembrance ceremony.

Many of the eyewitnesses still living in Edelweiler and Grömbach believe they have been entrusted with a piece of history, and they have kept it alive.

"These soldiers who died here died on German soil to preserve the peace," McNaughton said during the ceremony. "Today, we have a great task remaining ahead of us: to continue to preserve that peace."

The one-hour ceremony concluded with the playing of "Taps" as people bowed their heads in silence.