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Opijnen honours crew of WWII US Air Force bomber with monument
Sole survivor at unveiling
Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill
OPIJNEN - This Betuwe community on the banks of the Waal River has joined numerous other towns and villages in the Netherlands with a monument honouring Allied men and women who took up arms against the brutal Nazi-regime which overran much of Europe in the early years of WWII. Opijnen specifically remembers the eight-member crew of a USAAF B-17 bomber who perished when their plane crashed nearby on July 30, 1943. The ‘Man-O-War’ co-pilot 2nd Lt. John P. Bruce, who had survived the crash together with pilot Keene C. McCammon, attended the unveiling of the B-17 monument together with McCammon’s widow and U.S. Consul General Michele Bond.
Designed by Joris Baudoin, the monument symbolizes the tail of a B-17 bomber protruding from the ground, while the surface around the monument itself is paved to mimic the shadow of an airplane. Bruce spoke at the ceremony to thank the people of Opijnen for their care and remembrance of his eight crewmates, all buried at the local cemetery.
The location of the monument also memorializes the B-17 crew. It is erected on the square named after its pilot McCammon. The names of the other crewmembers already have been attached to streets in the town’s neighbourhood.
The Man-O-War of the 91st Bomb Group, part of the Eighth Army Air Force, was flying its 28th mission from its base in England when German aircraft shot it down. Two men already were killed in the plane, eight bailed out with only two surviving the strafing by a German plane. Bruce and McCammon landed safely but soon were captured. Killed were navigator Robert U. Duggan, bombardier Daniel V. Ohman, radioman Douglas V. Blackwood, engineer Americo Cianfichi, and gunners Mike A. Perrotta, Harold R. Sparks, George R. Krueger and Hermon D. Poling.
Many people in and near Opijnen witnessed the shooting of the plane, the strafing of the parachuted crewmembers and the crash of the bomber. The townspeople carried the bodies of the dead airmen to the cemetery and kept them in a small building until the Germans granted permission for burial. The graves at the time were marked with simple wooden crosses inscribed only with the men's names.
At the end of the war, the remains of American servicemen buried on foreign soil were removed to designated military cemeteries. However, the citizens of Opijnen requested that the graves of the eight airmen be left to their care in their own village cemetery. The eight graves are now marked with white marble headstones and are cared for by both the adults and children of the village.
A plaque in the churchyard reads: “In Gratitude To the People of Opijnen for Honoring Eight American B-17 Crewmen Killed in Action Here During World War II. They Rest in this Churchyard.” The plaque was donated by the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam and the Betty McDonald Foundation.