By T/Sgt. James Lee Hutchinson
This story shows that many Germans regretted the war and Hitler’s politics that caused the ruin of their beautiful Germany. This Nazi officer’s kindness and sympathy indeed illustrates the way many German citizens re-acted when they realized the policy of genocide against Jews and World War II were gigantic mistakes by their leaders. I use only sections of this German officer’s story, space limits the use of all material.
The B-24 Liberator was a powerful symbol of US industrial might, with more than 18,000 produced by the war’s end. Flown in all theaters and entering the fray before America did through Lend-Lease with Great Britain, Liberators flew faster, higher and farther than the older B-17, thanks to greater fuel capacity and an innovative low-drag wing design.
Dear Madam and Sir,
I do not wish to open sorrows that may have already healed, but I must carry out a pledge I made to your son in July of 1944. I was an officer in the German Air Force, stationed near Vienna at Deutch-Wagram. We had been bombed often by allied planes and many buildings and private homes were destroyed. Our anti-aircraft and fighter defense was fairly strong and Allied bombers faced difficult odds. One night the weather was very clear a group of Allied bombers flew over our community. at first they flew towards Budapest, then they changed direction and dropped their bombs on the oil-factories and a locomotive factory in Vienna. I saw that they were American B-24 Liberators and they flew directly over me as they left the area. Two Allied fighters shot down one of ours The German fighter exploded and crashed and a Liberator bomber was being attacked by one of our German fighters..
I quote his letter to finish the story:
“Suddenly there was something white approaching me at a distance of about 150 metres. Approaching I discovered a parachute and next to it a man, an officer, lying on the ground. I immediately hastened to him and placed him on his back. At that moment he was moaning, that meant, that he was still alive, but his interior injuries must be rather severe. Trying to raise him, he is moaning again. His arms and legs hang down motionless. I stretch him on the parachute, being convinced that there is no help anymore. Suddenly he opens his eyes and utters the following words, speaking very slowly: “Please, after war, tell my parents—in my ring there is my name.” Shortly afterwards he was dead. You may be convinced that it was rather difficult for me to take this ring, but I felt obliged to fulfill my duty as a comrade. I took the ring and kept it well. Already at that time I knew how the war would end.
Your son was buried on the cemetery of Deutsch-Wagram, I myself have procured the coffin but was prevented from taking part in his funeral. The same afternoon I had to go to a village in the neighbourhood. There a German fighter had been shot down by two American fighters. He was the same who had brought down the machine of your son. He himself had suffered no injuries at all, even though his machine had been totally damaged. At a short distance from the ground he had shot down one of the fighters which exploded into pieces. The pilot was dead at once. When he wanted to climb higher the other American flyer damaged his controls and he precipitated to the ground at a speed of about 600kws, and he himself, although it seems unbelievable was nearly unhurt. I don’t know what has become of him. He was an Oberfeldwebel. Moreover, I don’t know anything about the fate of the two soldiers who parachuted together with your son.
In writing this I am experiencing the whole accident all over again. As so often thought again enters my head how huge the crime is to make humanity fight each other in rage of senseless destruction. I am not to be comforted and at the same time happy that this senseless war, caused by criminal leaders, has finally come to an end.
I know that I cannot be of any comfort to you but I hope to take away from you the uncertainty. Your son has done his duty, and I honor him with deep respect. He has obeyed his order and had to sacrifice his life.
I have been dismissed from the military service and am charged with the organization of the transport system within the rural district of Marburg/Lahn. As my work brings me into daily contact with officers of the Military Government I have now decided to give you the ring together with this letter. I had the opportunity to give this matter over with Lt. McGrath who will pass the ring on to you. I have given him the ring of your son. He will surely be able to reach you. I would be very glad to hear from you and am at your disposition at all times.
Life is by no means easy for us, and we have to prove that there are still honest people in Germany. Permit me to transmit to you in this way the last greeting of your son
Yours very truly, /s/ Adolf Reuter
The Rest of the Story--- “An Act of Kindness”
Arlington National Stories of Fallen Heroes
My latest book “B-17s, Fighters and Flak,” ended with a story titled “WW II Act of Human Kindness.” I was very pleased to receive this information about the pilot who died. A group called Stories Behind the Stars, is dedicated to writing stories of the fallen heroes in all National Cemeteries in the USA and Europe or Asia.
Message from Laura Lanford of storiesbehindthestars.org
We saw your story in the Bedford Times Mail. This information is now on file for the pilot in your story:
“Lt. John Weller Smith (in army records as J. Weller Smith and Jack Weller Smith), was born on April 16, 1919. While a sophomore at Duke,University, Jack was “nominated to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was part of the class of 1943; commissioned as a second lieutenant. By December 21, 1943, Jack was a pilot and stationed at Pueblo Army Air Base in Colorado. February 3, 1944, he was with the U.S. Army Air Corps deployed to Southern Italy as part of the 760th Bombardment Squadron in January 1944. This was a B-24 Liberator Bomber Group, engaged in long range strategic bombing missions in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia.
June 26, 1944 1st. Lt. Smith was flying lead ship from Spinazzola Airfield (Italy). The target was oil refineries in Florisdorf (Vienna), Austria. It was his 29th mission. On board the bomber “Honey Chile'' were ten crewmen. The number three engine was hit over the target and to be “feathered” The plane left formation some distance after the target when attempting to “un-feather” and start the damaged engine. The tail gunner reported the ship was disintegrating and seven members of the crew were able to bail out. (Lt. Charles E. Whatley, Lt. William S. Holland, S/Sgt Stanley J. Knotowicz, Lt. Billie B. Blocker, T/Sgt. Joseph D. Prosser, S/Sgt. Claude L. Nauer and T/Sgt. Jack L. Swafford were captured and prisoners of war.) Three airmen went down with the plane. In addition to Jack, Staff Sergeants Frederick J. Haas and Richard A. Geist lost their lives.
Military records include a two page letter from a German Luftwaffe officer, Adolf Reuter, who witnessed the crash and was with Jack during his final moments. The letter is dated June 11, 1945 and was conveyed through the occupying government. According to the letter, Jack’s final words were “Please, after war, tell my parents–in my ring there is my name.” Herr Reuter fulfilled his “duty as a comrade” and kept the West Point ring to return it. 1st Lt. Jack was awarded the Air Medal for “meritorious achievement in aerial flight while participating in sustained operational activities against the enemy Jack was killed in action on June 26. and was buried in the cemetery of Deutsch-Wagramr. Military records indicate internment was at Bockfliess Niederdonau Cemetery. On July 24, 1950, Jack was interred at Arlington National Memorial Cemetery. ----- .!”