German community honors US bomber crew shot down in WWII

The bomber group in flight around the time of the mission to Munich, Germany, in 1944. The "Yellow G" is in the bottom row, third plane from the left.



VATERSTETTEN, Germany — It has been nearly 70 years since a B-24 Liberator with the 485th Bomb Group was shot down near this small community in the midst of World War II.

On Friday, the people of Vaterstetten gathered to rededicate a memorial to the crewmembers of that bomber, the “Yellow G.”

The “Yellow G” was shot down on July 19, 1944, during a bombing run over Munich. If not for the tireless work of a core group of Vaterstetten citizens, the story of the aircraft and its crewmembers may have been lost to time, forgotten in the shuffle of hundreds of thousands of such stories that sprung up from the Second World War.

Of the 10 Americans aboard the plane, six were killed in the crash. The remaining four were taken prisoner, but survived the war. The last of those four, Staff Sgt. Al O’Brien, passed away in 2007 – two years before the completion of the memorial bearing his name.

Georg Reitsberger, the mayor of Vaterstetten, is a member of the town’s historical society. He felt that building a monument to the American crew was an important step in keeping peace at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Understandably, not everybody in Vaterstetten felt the same way.

“They were very surprised about it,” Reitsberger said. “But then they thought it was a really, really good idea. It’s very unusual, I know that, because a lot of people lost their relatives in the bombing of Munich.

“It’s unusual to build a memorial for former enemies, but it’s so important to remember that we have had 70 years of peace. These things have to be remembered.”

Reitsberger spoke at the memorial for the American and German soldiers and citizens who died during the war. Maj. Jeffery Marler, a U.S. Air Force search-and-rescue pilot at Ramstein Air Base represented the U.S. military during the small ceremony.

And though the crewmembers of the “Yellow G” have passed into history, some of their family members, including Frances Doherty, daughter of 1st Lt. Clemens Hurley, made the trip from the United States to attend the ceremony.

While there, Doherty met with several eye witnesses to the crash, spoke to town historians and visited the site of the crash. It was an emotional trip, but one that helped give her some answers she’d been looking for her entire life, she said.

“It feels weird being here, where my dad died,” Doherty said. “I never, ever thought I would set foot in Germany. This has been a real eye-opener for me.”

Doherty had reservations about going to the ceremony, but was persuaded to attend by Jerry Whiting, an author who has spent a considerable amount of time researching the 485th Bomber Group. Whiting was instrumental in ensuring Doherty and her family were there and said he hopes the trip helped her realize that her father will never be forgotten.

“My father was in the same bombing group,” he said. “There is never closure when dealing with things of this nature, but we can help to provide answers.”


This unddated photo shows 2nd Lt. Lester Knab with wife Ruth shortly before he was killed when his plane was shot down near Vaterstetten, Germany, during World War II.

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