Albert Zuidema, B-17 pilot who survived being shot down during WWII, dies at 98

A photo of Albert S. Zuidema during World War II. Zuidema survived the shooting down of his B-17 during his 38th mission.


By BART BARNES | The Washington Post | Published: August 1, 2017

Albert S. Zuidema, a World War II bomber pilot who survived the shooting down of his aircraft and the amputation of his left leg while in German custody, died July 3 in a hospital in a Falls Church, Virginia. He was 98.

The cause was respiratory failure and pneumonia, said a son, Peter Zuidema.

Zuidema was the pilot of a B-17 Army Air Forces aircraft that had its right wing shot off by a German fighter plane over Steyr, Austria, in April 1944. With the exception of the flight engineer, all of the crew members survived the crash.

Zuidema lost consciousness and was either pulled from the wreckage of the plane by civilians or thrown clear of the plane before it crashed.

He was relieved when German soldiers arrived to take him prisoner, his son said, because the area had been heavily bombed and there had been reports of farmers bayoneting Allied airmen with pitchforks.

He was taken to a German hospital, which was subsequently bombed, causing an infection of his already-injured left leg, his son said. Without anesthesia, the leg was amputated above the knee, and he was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp, where he remained until Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Back in the United States, he underwent further leg surgery and was fitted with a prosthetic leg. In 1946 he accepted a job with what then was the Veterans Administration. He served in Springfield, Massachusetts, Boston and Columbus, Ohio, before being posted to the Washington area in 1965.

Albert Sidney Zuidema was born in Sutton, Massachusetts, on Sept. 18, 1918, and was the son of immigrant dairy farmers from the Netherlands. As an Army Air Forces pilot during World War II he was stationed in North Africa and then in Italy. He was on his 38th mission when he was shot down.

Zuidema retired from the VA in 1976 as a senior manager of the Washington division of prosthetics and sensory aids.

His wife of 55 years, Marian Meehan Zuidema, died in 1998. Survivors include four children, Patricia Wilburn of Reston, Virginia, Peter Zuidema of Arlington, Virginia, Pamela Zuidema of Pittsburgh and Paul Zuidema of Houston; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

In retirement he did carpentry and brick work around his home in Springfield, Virginia, where he designed and built a covered veranda. He was an energetic sportsman who, before old age curtailed his movements, could hike a full 18 holes of a round of golf, his son said.

Many of his competitors did not know he had a prosthetic left leg.

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