German village remembers Lawrence airman, flight crew
Lawrence native Lionel Bourassa and five other American airmen died nearly seven decades ago when German anti-aircraft gunners shot their plane down over a forest near Munich.
But people in the village of Vaterstetten don’t want to forget about Tech. Sgt. Bourassa or the rest of the 10-man crew of the Yellow G — the B-24 Liberator — that was part of a mission to bomb the BMW factory in Munich on July 19, 1944.
It was five years ago that a historical group in the village dedicated a permanent war memorial at the crash site to the crew. The names of the six who were killed and the four who survived were engraved on the shiny aluminum monument.
Next month, the village will honor the Americans with a special program observing the 70th anniversary of the Yellow G’s last flight.
“This is not just a general remembrance of the crew, but a specific event designed to present specific information on the men from this crew, so those in attendance can learn more about the individuals,” said Jerry Whiting, an author and a historian from Walnut Creek, Calif. who has written several books about the fighting aircraft of World War II.
“Things like where they were from, what they looked like and family information,” said Whiting, who plans to fly to Germany next week to participate in the program.
Whiting’s book, “Don’t Let the Blue Star Turn Gold,” focuses on the airmen in the 485th Bomber Group who were shot down over occupied Europe. It includes a chapter on the bombing raid that ended in the village now known as Vaterstetten.
“In Sgt. Bourassa’s case, I intend to tell the audience about his sister, Claire Nicosia, the gratification it brought her a few years ago when she learned that Lionel and his crew had a monument built in their honor, and the happiness she felt to receive a small piece of his airplane from Germany,” Whiting said in a recent interview.
“I will also tell them about his life in Lawrence, his graduation from high school in 1938 and his job as a linotypist before the war. I want them to know that he was a quiet young man, with strong, passionate beliefs in God and his country, as he expressed in his letters home,” Whiting said.
“It’s a great honor for me to be able to present this information on the 10 men who were shot down that fateful day. They were from eight different states and truly represent the best of what our country had and has to offer,” he said.
Bourassa was one of two crew members from Massachusetts. Two were from Nebraska. The others came from Michigan, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, New York and Wisconsin.
A 1938 graduate of Lawrence High School, Bourassa was the son of Marie and Louis Bourassa of 59 Brookfield St., Lawrence. He graduated from Wentworth Institute in Boston in 1940. Before enlisting in the Air Force, he worked as a linotypist at The Newburyport News.
Bourassa was reported missing less than two weeks after he had been awarded the Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster for participation in 34 combat missions and for outstanding achievement in combat,
“A veteran of 37 missions, he entered the Air Force in August, 1942, and has flown over such prized and heavily-defended targets as Munich, Vienna and Ploesti oil field,” The Lawrence Evening Tribune reported in a Dec. 21, 1944 story.
Whiting said his presentation will include military photos of Bourassa and other crew members flashed across a big screen behind him as he shares his personal research about the men, their roles in the bombing mission and their families.
“Then, I will talk about the survivors who came home after the war and what they did with their lives,” he said. A professional translator will convert Whiting’s presentation into German so residents of the village can understand it.
All four of the survivors have died. But as part of his research, Whiting has interviewed relatives of several members of the flight crew. Recently, he tracked down the daughter of Clement Hurley, one of the airmen on the plane who was killed. She and several of her family members plan to accompany Whiting.
“The mayor of Vaterstetten, Georg Reitsberger — who commissioned the monument — is having the family as special guests at the Maypole celebration on May 1st,” Whiting said.
“On May 2, we will start in the afternoon by going to the crash site and to the monument. I’m not sure if there will be an official ceremony at the monument, but it wouldn’t surprise me, because they’ve asked me to say a few words there,” he said.
Whiting is friends of husband and wife artists Heike Rose and Bernd W. Schmidt-Pfeil, who created the eight-foot-tall monument to the crew of the Yellow G, which was one of 36 planes from the 485th Bomber Group that began the mission that fateful day in July of 1944.
“We are not sure if all people in the village see these Americans as heroes, because a lot of people lost relatives in World War II,” Rose and Schmidt-Pfeil said in an e-mail to The Eagle-Tribune four years ago.
“But the airmen are really heroes because they helped to liberate Germany from the Nazi regime,” they wrote.
So, it was the wish of the people of Vaterstetten to build a permanent memorial at the crash site of Yellow G, which had its left wing torn off by a burst of flak from German anti-aircraft gunners shortly before noon on July 19, 1944.
Now the village residents want to get to know more about the American flight crew who they’ve been honoring.
“We were bombing them that day, so I’m sure they want to know a little more about the mission,” Whiting said.
“I think it will be well received because of the monument they already built. But, I’m sure there are some Germans questioning why they are doing this. I’m curious who is going to come to this event, whether it’s going to be people who are interested in history or interested in the monument or just have nothing else to do. I’m hoping some of the witnesses will be there too.
“They told me to be prepared for a lot of questions because people will likely have a lot of questions, which leads me to believe, this won’t be the last one they have,” he said.