RüSSELSHEIM, Germany — Sgt. Thomas Williams had a nightmare so horrible it woke up his entire household.
Unfortunately, that dream materialized for the young airman and his fellow B-24 crewmembers on Aug. 26, 1944, when their flight into Germany went terribly wrong.
For the eight B-24 fliers, it would be their first and last mission together.
“He woke the whole house up with a nightmare, dreaming that he was being beaten to death by German civilians,” said Eugene (Sidney) Brown, the last living survivor of the massacre. “When [the attack] began to happen, [the nightmare] just unfolded right before his eyes.”
Brown said he heard about the nightmare months after the incident from Williams’ fiancée.
Williams, the crew’s radio operator, along with Norman J. Rogers Jr., pilot; John Sekul, co-pilot; William Dumont, belly gunner; Elmer Austin, machine-gunner; and Haigus Tufenkjian, bombardier and navigator, were beaten to death by a mob as the airmen were marched through Rüsselsheim by German soldiers.
The town was damaged repeatedly during the war and had suffered another bombing by the Royal Air Force the night before the airmen were attacked. The townspeople, thinking the American crew were British fliers, yelled insults at the crew. The confrontation later escalated to violence and the eventual deaths of six of the men.
Brown, the crew’s tail-gunner, and Sgt. William Adams survived and managed to sneak out of the cart they were piled in with their dead comrades.
The 79-year-old Brown and his wife, Dorothy, were present Thursday at the unveiling of a memorial honoring the airmen. The memorial sits at the site where the airmen were killed.
“When I got over here, I thought everyone was very sincere in their apologies and rightfully so,” said Brown, who first visited Rüsselsheim in 2001. “I think the memorial is great … to honor them. I think it’s appropriate, but it does bring back some pretty harsh memories.”
Roughly 200 people gathered in Thursday’s rain to witness the monument’s unveiling.
Robert Masters, an American who has lived in Rüsselsheim for 30 years and is a designer at the local Opel plant, said he learned more in this past week from local newspaper articles than he ever knew before.
“I heard about [the attack] even before I came here,” said Masters, who admired the memorial with his family late Thursday. “[People] didn’t elaborate much about it; I only heard bits and pieces.”
When he first heard of plans to construct the monument, Master said he was a little apprehensive about how the local citizens would react. Some of the relatives of the people who were tried and later hanged still live in Rüsselsheim.
But, now, Masters said, he is glad to see the memorial and the lines of communication it has opened among residents — young and old.
The memorial’s dedication comes during a year of evolution for German-American relations — for the first time, a German official was present at the 60th D-Day invasion anniversary in June, and President Bush’s announcement that the majority of U.S. troops will be leaving Germany permanently after 60 years.
Augusto Nigro, author of “Wolfsangel,” a narrative on the slayings of the airmen and the eventual trial of those involved, said the memorial couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Several townspeople welcomed the opportunity to unburden themselves of something they had kept secret,” for so many years, Nigro said.