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    WWII B-17 crew member returns to crash site

    SILLY, WHT, BELGIUM

    04.13.2014

    Story by Keith Houin 

    U.S. Army Garrison Benelux

    SILLY, Belgium - “You’re not getting any flak; you’re not getting any fighters. You’re just hurrying back home, that’s all it amounts too,” Troy Hollar said while at Chièvres Air Base, the very base whose flak batteries brought down his B-17 on April 13, 1944.

    Seventy years later, the World War II technical sergeant and top turret gunner is back at the site where the Belgian resistance helped him and fellow Royal Flush crew members escape the Nazis. Hollar was recognized at a commemoration for his aircrew and later was made an honorary citizen of the town of Silly where he safely parachuted to after his plane was hit.

    April 13 was just like any other mission day for a member of the 384th Bomb Group, he said.

    “You get up at 4 a.m., breakfast at 5, go to the gun shack, wipe your gun dry, put it together, get your parachute, go to briefing at 6 and go to your plane,” he said.

    But that day it wasn’t just another mission for the crew of the Royal Flush.

    At the briefing, Hollar found out the targets were ball bearing plants in Schweinfurt, Germany. The parts were critical to German tanks and aircraft. “That was one of the hardest targets to get,” he said.

    Additionally, they were flying a different aircraft that day as the Royal Flush was in for repairs, it was a newer model and that small difference would come into play later in the day.

    “In loading my gun, I hit the wrong switch that I didn’t know was there and about 20 rounds of ammo piled up on top of the gun. It had to be put back one round at a time. We were almost to France by the time I got that right,” he said.

    When they got close to the target “fighters hit us hard. Sometimes fighters would attack three abreast. Sometimes from the rear they would attack rolling while firing to confuse the gunners. There was no damage to our group though,” he said.

    "When we turned in to make the bomb run, you could see the flak all over the city. A solid wall of flak just like a heavy cloud. And you wonder how you can fly an airplane through all that and still come out the other side, but when we got in it wasn’t quite that bad – wasn’t near that bad. As we were coming out, I looked back and watched the wing behind us come out of the flak. It was like they would just pop out of it like from heavy clouds.”

    The trip back was calm.

    “You’re not getting any flak; you’re not getting any fighters. You’re just hurrying back home, that’s all it amounts too. When the navigator called over the intercom that it was 10 minutes to the channel, very shortly after that (the Germans at Chièvres Air Base) started firing at us with four guns. They had us zeroed in right away. We always flew what is known as the number four position, which is the center of the formation,” Hollar said. “Two flak burst in front and back, one on our right wing tip and one on the left."

    There was nothing he could do but watch, he said.

    “It was like that for a few burst then one hit the tip of our left wing. It knocked us way up over on our right wing. That scared me because I thought it might fall into a tailspin and I would have a real hard time getting out,” he said.

    The pilot got the plane level but their wing was on fire and they were in a flat spin, Hollar said.

    Hollar went to the bomb bay doors to parachute out, but the release cable for the doors wasn’t there. The new model had some changes. Fortunately one of the other crew members knew about them and Hollar was able to jump.

    “The pilot was still at the controls with the wing on fire. I just put my hands out, one to keep my head from hitting the bomb bay doors and the other held over the rip cord so it wouldn’t catch anything.”

    The trip was 20,000 feet to the ground.

    “After the rush of the air after you leave the plane, everything is dead calm, there’s no sensation of movement or falling or nothing. You could have gone to sleep if you had enough time,” he said.

    Only four of the crew members were able to parachute and escape the explosion and ensuing crash.

    Antonio de La Serna, 11 years old at the time, witnessed the crash.

    “We were playing at the chateau when we saw the plane coming in. I still remember the sound as the plane was heading down,” he said. “Then there was the explosion. A few seconds later we saw two parachutes coming down. We didn’t see the others, but heard about them later.”

    After the jump, “I thought they were shooting at me, but found out it was just my ears popping,” Hollar said.

    Then he started looking for the best direction to go to quickly get into hiding. Being farm country there wasn’t many choices. He saw a larger tree and thought he could get past it, but with no surface wind his chute got caught on it, Hollar said.

    “I climbed down to the last limb and then just hugged the trunk and slid down the next 20 feet or so. I decided which way I could go and when I got on the ground, I just started to cross the pasture to those other trees and I heard people calling and I looked back and these two civilians were frantically calling and waving for me to hurry back,” he said.

    “I rushed back and they started walking real fast toward the house. The (German soldiers) reached my landing site and started firing at us and we got a little more speed out of our running,” he said.

    “We run around the house and there’s a big hay stack there with a hole in it at the bottom. I jumped into that and they stuffed it closed,” Hollar said.

    His head was only about 6 inches under the straw and he could hear the German soldiers talking to the Belgians. Turns out they were asking where the American went, he said. “I could hear them shouting at the people as they left.”

    After a couple of hours the Belgians brought him some warm milk and a sandwich, but he only ate half the sandwich and put the other half in his pocket.

    “I didn’t know when I would get anything else,” he said.

    Later that night he was whisked across pastures to another house where a big supper was waiting for him, he said. After about a month in Fouleng, Silly, they moved him to Brussels, where he spent five months in hiding with numerous Belgian families. He was provided a fake passport with the name Camille Juanau, and on his work card he was listed as an editor.

    “We didn’t stay with the same family for long. A couple of weeks. Maybe three weeks and they moved us along. They didn’t want word to get out there was a stranger in the neighborhood. If you wanted to see outside you stood in the middle of the room. You didn’t get near the window. We moved fairly often from one house to another," he said.

    However Hollar and Tech. Sgt. Edward Price did spend two months with the Brichart family.

    Hollar and Price spent their time playing cards and board games or listening to the radio, he said. “Occasionally we would get to go out.”

    On Sept. 3, 1944, British troops liberated Brussels and soon Hollar would start his trip back to the U.S. Army.

    “They loaded several of us into the back of a truck and brought us to Paris where we were interrogated for four days,” he said.

    After Paris, they were flown to London for more interrogations. Finally, after days of paper work, he was heading back to the U.S. He landed at Presque Isle, Maine, where they received travel papers and missing uniform items, and then it was off to New York where they put him and other Soldiers in a hotel. They were driven to La Guardia Field for interrogations daily. Shortly afterward, he was given leave paperwork and went home for 45 days.

    Hollar doesn’t remember the resistance members much but has fond memories of the members of the families he lived with, he said. “They were real nice and kind and did just about anything for my well-being.”

    His return is emotional. Not that he actually says it, but his eyes tell the story.

    “The Europeans seem to place more emphasis on remembering and honoring history than we do back home. They seem more grateful,” he said. “I guess it is because they felt the horrors and lived through the bombings and it was more personal.”

    Hollar enlisted in the regular Army on Nov. 19, 1941, and was discharged Nov. 1, 1945. He served for the entire U.S. involvement in the war.

    Editor’s note: This story is part of the Trenches to Foxholes information and education campaign of the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux and American Forces Network Benelux. Trenches to Foxholes will cover the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI and the Liberation of Benelux in WWII with print, television radio, podcast and blogs. For more coverage go to http://www.usagbenelux.eur.army.mil/trenchestofoxholes/trenchestofoxholes.htm.

    You can also subscribe to the e-publication, the "Gazette," by sending a request to usarmy.benelux.imcom-europe.list.pao@mail .mil.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 04.13.2014
    Date Posted: 04.16.2014 13:09
    Story ID: 126265
    Location: SILLY, WHT, BE 
    Hometown: CHARLOTTE, NC, US
    Hometown: LAFAYETTE, IA, US
    Hometown: NEW ORLEANS, LA, US

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    Downloads: 0

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