By Brandon Beach, USAG Stuttgart Public AffairsOctober 10, 2008
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
- Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
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 Stuttgart. One plane crashed in a field close to the village of Edelweiler. Another spiraled into the woods near GrAfAPmbach. Sixty six American Airmen and Soldiers died in the crash.
"It was the worst aviation disaster in Europe since the end of the Second World War," said Dr. James McNaughton, U.S. European Command historian.
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. It happened in front of their eyes," said Thomas Sannert, deputy mayor of Edelweiler. "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 on the place where the one plane came down.
Steel parts are still embedded in the ground, and during heavy rains, noted Bross, oil has a tendency to seep up to the surface leaving a purplish damp residue.
For decades after the accident, local farmers would take relatives of the fallen to the crash site. To this day, said Gudrun Kaper, a U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart host nation liaison, many residents still stay in touch with grandchildren of the deceased by mail.
"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, which later was set aside by village officials as a memorial.
"They [residents] have always treated it like a cemetery," said Kaper.
Several years ago, a large stone was placed near the tree. And last year, a steel plate was added to the stone - etched were the names of the 66 fallen.
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 had spiraled into the forest.
"We can now properly honor the fallen from the second aircraft that went down in these woods," said Col. Richard M. Pastore, USAG Stuttgart commander, who helped unveil the memorial alongside Peter Seithel, GrAfAPmbach's mayor, during a remembrance ceremony.
For many of the eyewitnesses still living in Edelweiler and GrAfAPmbach, Aug. 11, 1955 will never be forgotten.
They have been entrusted with a piece of history.
What they have done with it is kept it alive.
"These Soldiers who died here died on German soil to preserve the peace," said McNaughton, during his remarks as part of 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 - 53 years later.