In honor of veteran’s everywhere, this story comes to life on WPBF.com:
In mid-August my husband and I embarked on a special trip to France. This sentimental journey began with a seed of gratitude for a small town outside Paris where Rich’s father, Alfred H. Richter, 1st Lt. Navigator from the 487th Bomb Group, was shot down and later rescued by the French Underground during WWII. You might call our trip a purpose driven vacation. Our purpose was simple, we wanted to thank the people who had rescued Rich’s father and saved the lives of many other airman.
The town where the B52 plane was shot down is called Nogent le Rotrou. This story and our trip is a tribute to the bravery of our soldiers and our French Allies. If it weren’t for our Allies and the farmers in Nogent, many soldiers and their families wouldn’t have survived and the course of future generations and history would have been changed forever.
*This Backgrounder is summarized from the 487th Bomb Group Associations web site.
When Adolph Hitler began his conquest of Europe in 1939, he began to turn that continent into “Festung Europa”…Fortress Europe. The lone hold-out against the Third Reich was the island nation of Great Britain. In the summer of 1940, the Royal Air Force defeated the Luftwaffe in “The Battle of Britain” and Britain survived to become the launching point for the Allied war against the Nazis. Until sufficient forces could be built up to attack Fortress Europe’s walls, the Allies took to the war on wings, for Hitler had built a fortress without a roof.
Early in 1942, the American 8th Air Force began arriving in England to help the British with strategic bombing of Nazi manufacturing, transportation and military targets. The RAF bombed by night, the 8th by day. Thus began one of the greatest conflicts of human history…the air war over Europe.
The Eighth Air Force faced a formidable opponent – the Luftwaffe, with outstanding equipment and training, and more importantly, they were battle-tested. By the end of the war, the air battles that involved thousands of bombers and fighters, claimed over 26,000 American lives. This accounted for 10% of all American deaths during the war. 18,000 airmen were wounded and over 28,000 were shot down and captured.*
The most incredible part about our story is contained in some black and white footage that reveals the bravery of our allies and what they risked to save so many of our soldiers’ lives. Rich’s Dad was presumed dead or missing from May 11, 1944 until August of that year, but he was actually being aided by the French Underground who filmed parts of his daring escape. The footage has been in Rich’s family for many years. One of our intentions was to provide a copy of the footage for the French archives. If you are interested in history and WWII you can view the footage titled, Operation Underground at https://youtu.be/rtevTCYruVQ .
Beyond sharing the footage, Rich’s main purpose was to thank the town’s people for rescuing his Dad, because if they hadn’t, he wouldn’t be here today. He also wanted to walk in footsteps of his father in some small way. He wrote to the Director of Cultural Affairs and he received a heartfelt response prior to our departure. In the letter, Christian Foreau the Director of Cultural Affairs, described the exact location where his father’s plane went down and explain how the farmer’s daughter would be happy to meet us and show us the spot.
We were off to France and the visit and meeting were amazing. We retraced the footsteps of his father’s walk through Paris and his daring escape right under the noses of Nazi Soldiers. We visited the town and the farm. We met Paulette, the daughter of the farmer, now 85 who was 15 when the plane carrying Rich’s dad and other airmen was shot down in her field. Through an interpreter we heard Paulette’s account of the events surrounding the crash. We walked to the field and stood upon the spot where the plane was still buried in the earth.
As we were getting ready to leave, the family took us outside and showed us a bucket of miscellaneous gears and twisted pieces and identified them as pieces of the plane. There were small metal pieces and electrical components and they let us select a precious memento of our visit. The trip was part of a special milestone celebration for both of us and the memories will last a lifetime.
Au revoir for now France!
Jodi Cross is a marketing consultant, travel blogger and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit crossnm.com.