Skip to comments.Vice chief honors World War II Airmen, heroes
Posted on 04/30/2008 5:38:27 PM PDT by SandRat
4/30/2008 - SAVANNAH, Ga. (AFPN) -- The Air Force vice chief of staff paid tribute to members of the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society April 26 during the society's 44th annual reunion near Savannah, Ga.
The AFEES primarily comprises Air Force World War II veterans who were forced down behind enemy lines and avoided or escaped captivity to return to allied territory. The society also includes members of the French, Dutch, Belgian and other resistance networks who harbored allied aircrews and guided them to safety.
"I cannot thank you enough for your noble service, your selfless sacrifice and for passing the torch of liberty to generations of Americans and freedom-loving people around the world," said Gen. Duncan J. McNabb to the group of Airmen.
The reunion included a banquet and memorial service at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum here.
"Tonight, I am in the presence of some of the greatest heroes the world has ever known, crewmen who took to the skies daily to defeat an implacable foe despite the great odds of being shot down, and resistance helpers who risked their lives so that these brave aviators, and thousands like them, might live," the general said.
Eleven former resistance members attended the reunion, including Denise Lenain, who was reunited for the first time with 1st Lt. James E. Armstrong, co-pilot of the B-17 Yankee Raider. Lieutenant Armstrong was shot down Sept. 6, 1943, making it to safety after 4 1/2 months evading capture in France. Ms. Lenain twice assisted Lieutenant Armstrong during his trek to freedom including a failed attempt to cross the Pyrenees Mountains into neutral Spain and his subsequent journey to a port where a French fishing vessel delivered him safely to England.
General McNabb complimented the resistance members' extreme bravery.
"I cannot thank the resistance helpers enough," he said. "If you were caught, you faced unimaginable torture and certain execution, and yet repeatedly you risked your lives for these Airmen."
The resistance helpers from Europe maintain they would not be free if the Americans had not come, noted Mrs. Yvonne Daley-Brusselmans, who, along with her mother Anne, helped 130 Airmen evade capture.
"Every bomber we saw was a symbol of freedom and a beacon of hope, and we knew that the aircrews were fighting for us at the risk of their own lives," she said.
In all, more than 56,000 Airmen were downed over the skies of Europe. The 8th Air Force, the largest aerial striking force in the war, sustained more than 26,000 fatalities, roughly one-tenth of the Americans killed in World War II.
General McNabb closed his address by noting that members of the society embodied the high ideals found in the Airman's Creed and had given the Air Force its "tradition of honor and legacy of valor." He added that today's Airmen have acted on this legacy and have answered the nation's call during a war that, like World War II, threatens the liberty of America and its allies around the world.
"Today's Airmen represent the new Greatest Generation," said General McNabb. "And every day, like you all did during World War II, they fight valiantly on the front lines of freedom giving selflessly of themselves to defeat tyranny and preserve the liberties we so greatly cherish."
728th squadron, 452nd heavy bombardment group
Crash landed his B17 near Ghent, Belgium on November 4, 1944, evaded capture and escaped back to England with all of his crew intact after a wild dash through Belgium and France to reach a waiting C-47 aircraft dispatched to rescue the crew.
The weather had closed in and the rescue pilot was unable to take off in instrument conditions, so the pilot of the downed B17 now had to take the controls and fly the, totally new to him, C47 back to England.
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