|1st Lt. Arthur Lewis - US Army Air Force|
It was early morning on November 10, 1944. A B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber took off from Rougham Field just outside of Bury St. Edmonds, England. The plane climbed up to join 235 other bombers and 154 P-51 fighters all being deployed on a mission to disable the Luftwaffe airfield at Wiesbaden, Germany.
Positioned at the very front of the plane was a young First Lieutenant by the name of Arthur Lewis. As the plane approached its target, he peered through his Norden bombsight, lining up the cross-hairs on the airfield below and pulled the trigger to release his bomb payload. Just then, however, the plane was hit by flack immediately setting two of its four engines on fire and puncturing its Plexiglas nose. Some of the fragments of the clear plastic Plexiglas struck Lewis in the face blinding his left eye. The pilot immediately put the plane into a steep dive that succeeded in extinguishing the engine flames but which also left them at tree-top level, alone and separated from the rest of the squadron.
Running on just two engines, the crew attempted to get as far as they could back to England but realized that they would have to abort the mission somewhere over Belgium—hopefully behind friendly Allied lines. The pilot gave the order for the crew to “bail out” and one by one the men jumped out of the plane already at a dangerously low altitude. Lt. Lewis dropped out through the bomb bay and immediately pulled his ripcord deploying a white, silk parachute. Seconds later, he was on the ground, landing in the soft dirt of a farmer’s garden.
|Possible field near where Dad landed with his parachute.|
Note the remains of a former windmill.
For the past day here in Belgium, I have been reliving the events of this B-17 mission as I’ve attempted to relocate and explore the very places that my father experienced on that fateful day in November 1944. Thanks to some on-line World War II forums, I learned about the exact location where Edgar Prigmore and Jack Malahy, the pilot and co-pilot of that B-17 finally were able to crash land the plane in an open field. I’ve triangulated more or less where my Dad landed with his parachute and also discovered the house that belonged to Dr. Vander Schueren, a local village doctor who took care of my dad for a couple days helping to remove some of the pieces of Plexiglas from his left eye.
|Dr. Vander Shueren's former home in |
St Levins-Houten, Belgium
Although the plane was scrapped and never returned to service, all of the crew survived and were soon reunited to fly more missions with the 94th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force. My father completed 34 of 35 missions before the war finally ended. That led him to feel called to return to Europe as a missionary and finish out his “tour of duty.”
Standing alone alongside those quiet fields in rural Belgium, it was pretty amazing to think how much my own life has been impacted by the events of that fateful day. From my dad surviving a dangerous mission and parachute drop to my growing up as an MK in Portugal and inheriting his passion for missions, I am deeply touched by the way God orchestrates the events of history to shape our lives.
And I hope something similar will be said of me some day what is written on his tombstone at the Fort Snelling veterans’ cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota: He finished his final mission.