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US Air Force

World War II Airman Returns to Belgium and Memories.

 
 World War II Airman
 Returns to Belgium and Memories.
 
On January 5, 1945, during the final stage of World War II, a B-17 bomber plane caught artillery flak over Germany and was forced to land in an open field on the outskirts of a tiny village in Belgium called Remagne.  Among the crew on the plane was a young U.S. Army Air Corps sergeant, Charles D. Terry.
 
On June 1, 1983, 38 years later, C.D. Terry, now in civilian clothing, along with his wife Jean and close friends Gene and Lizzi Langenkamp, returned to Remagne to what was planned as nothing more than a nostalgic visit to the crash site.  It turned out to be what Terry describes as an “overwhelming experience”. 
 
Terry a resident of Palestine tells his story with emotion and pride – and after hearing it, it is easy to understand why. 
 
Terry’s story begins at Snetterton Heath Air Force Base in Norfolk, England, where he stationed from 1943 to 1945 with the 96th Bomb Group of the Eight Air Force.  Terry was radio operator and gunner of a B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber.  Terry, former radio op. for Lt. Lyle had survived a terrible crash when he returned from his 18th mission.  In that July 1944 crash, three men had been killed and another seriously wounded.  Today Terry was on his 30th and last mission to Heilbronn, Germany when his bomber was hit and pilot Carl Hamilton had to leave formation. 

Terry tells what happened aboard his 338th Fortress 42-97158:

 
“We dropped our bombs and headed for friendly territory but kept loosing power and altitude all the time.  The Battle of the Bulge was developing below us.  Lt. Hamilton ordered all loose equipment overboard and decided to land in an open field covered with about a foot of snow.  He gave us the option to jump or ride out the crash.  We elected to stay with him.  No one was hurt.  The only problem was that we had apparently landed between the front lines.  We didn’t know whether we were in enemy territory or not.  Soldiers loomed on the horizon as Hamilton’s men abandoned the plane.  After a few tense moments, we realized we were ALL Americans.  The soldiers told us they had liberated this area only a few hours ago.” 
 This B-17 crashed outside of Remagne (Jan 13, 45)
 
The crew was led to a farmhouse in Remagne (15 miles from Bastogne) where they stayed for 10 days.  After that, they were evacuated to Reims, France, in an open truck and then flown back to England. 
 
Terry was discharged that fall – on September 11, 1945.  He had 30 missions under his belt and two crashes. 
 
As the years passed, Terry had a “growing wish” to revisit the crash sites and placed that had been such an important part of his younger life.  He got back to see the crash site in England, but his desire to visit Belgium was going to be a more difficult task, due to remoteness and the expected language and communication problem.
 
“I really wanted to get back to Remagne to see if there was anyone there who remembered the crash,” Terry said.  “So we started making plans in late 1982”.
 
Lizzi Langenkamp suggested writing letters to the commissioner of police of the area, the mayor and the nearest newspaper.  Terry said the letters briefly described the crash and asked if anyone remembered it.  Terry soon received five letters from Remagne.
 
“All the letters we received were informative and warm and welcomed us to visit the area,” Terry said.
 
On June 1, the Terrys and the Langenkamps arrived in Remagne.  The visit turned out to be one they will never forget.  “We found a very remote and rural crossroads community with about 25 farm houses surrounded by open fields and beautiful countryside,” Terry said.
 
The group arrived at the Café du Centre, where they were to meet a Mr. Van Biesen, one of the persons who had responded to the letter.
 
“The proprietress of the café came toward us with a big smile on her face,” Langenkamp said.
 
“She knew we were not local folks, but she obviously knew that Remagne was to be visited by C. .D Terry.  When she found out which one of us was C. D., her smile broadened and she warmly clasped his hand.”
 
Terry said that Mr. Van Biesen and a few other villagers arrived at the café and “over several cups of coffee, told us of their recollections of those days in 1945”.
 
Mrs Langenkamp, who speaks French, acted as interpreter for the group, but, Terry said, communication in rural villages in Belgium is “somewhat slow because their French is heavily colloquial… and loaded with idioms”.
 
The communication problem was eased when a Mr. Seret, the Garde Champetre En Chef (equivalent to a county sheriff) arrived with an Irish girl who had been in the area for two years studying French.
 
“Miss Caitrona’s (the Irish girl) capability as an interpreter proved invaluable in the following days," Terry said.
 
The group of Americans was told to meet back at the café the following morning – and what a morning (and two days for the matter) it would be.  “When we arrived at the café the next morning, it was decorated with United States and Belgium flags”, Terry said.
 
Also waiting at he café were Baron de Fierlant (who was representing the senator of the National Assembly), Omer Dermience (owner of the field in which the bomber had crashed), two representatives of a weekly pictorial magazine published in Brussels and other local villagers.  Champagne toasts were made to Terry and the United States, followed by a guided tour of Remagne, ending at the crash site.  “When we returned to the café, the Baron read a long and moving proclamation to the sacrifice, heroism, strength and dedication of the World War II military men who liberated their country,” Terry said. 
 
Langenkamp said, “Most of the proclamation was directed toward C.D. and stated how wonderful it was that he had returned and how welcome we were.  Tears came to my eyes, and I had not even been in the crash.”  
 
Terry said the treatment he was receiving caused him to jokingly tell the villagers, “I’m just a sergeant, not a general”. 
 
The joke caused a round of laughter and applause from the locals.  A highlight of the trip that Terry said was most emotional was an airplane ride over the side of the crash. 
 
“I looked down and saw that the villagers had spread a U.S. flag and a Belgium flag across the side.  Between the flags, Mr. Van Biesen was waving a banner.  It was a very touching and emotional moment”.
 
Terry was honored with a dance that night and was toasted by the mayor of Bastogne the next day.  The group was scheduled to leave the next day but stayed for one last dinner at the home of Mr. Seret.  “It was hard to say goodbye to those wonderful people,” Terry said.  “I felt I had known them for 40 years”.  
 
Terry said gifts (including more than 50 hats with the 96th Bomb Group insignia on them) and letters have been sent to the people of Remagne, “but nothing can really explain the deep warmth and friendship that they showed to us.”
 
T/Sgt Charles D. TERRY

338th Squadron

96th Bomb Group

8th Air Force