A Bermudian has made an emotional trip to the exact spot where his brother was killed in the Second World War.
Francis Vallis, together with his son, Paul, flew to France last month to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
They then travelled to the small town of Munster in Holland to visit the field where Mr Vallis’ step-brother, Eddie Brennan, and his crew were shot down on their way back from a bombing raid in Germany.
Technical Sergeant Brennan was one of five airmen who died when their B26 Marauder aircraft came under heavy attack from German fighters on February 21, 1945.
This June, Mr Vallis and his son visited the crash site for the first time and were welcomed by the town’s dignitaries and their visit was reported in the national newspapers.
They even met Lidey Klein who, as a young girl, had witnessed the fatal crash, as well as the farmer that now owned the field.
Mr Vallis Senior said: “Over the years I have conditioned myself to accept what happened to my brother.
“But it is quite something to say I have now been to where he died. I felt quite emotional to stand at the spot where his plane crashed.
“The fact that Paul and I have gone there is a big thing to me. The way we were treated and what we saw while we were there surpassed anything I had hoped for from this trip.”
The 85-year-old added: “I was very interested in going to the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, but it was Paul who organized the trip to the town where Eddie died.
“To get the opportunity to speak with a lady who saw my brother’s plane go down was quite incredible.
“And to see that the farmer who owned the land where the plane crashed had put up a plaque in memory of the dead airman was also very humbling.”
Sgt Brennan initially joined the Royal Air Force at the start of World War II and flew in Lancaster Bombers, but he later transferred to the US Air Force in 1944, He was part of the 394th Bomb group and the 385 Squadron of the 9th Bomber Command.
The unit was known as the Bridge Busters and played a major part in the Allied forces during the invasion of France.
On February 21, 1945, Sgt Brennan and his crew, along with nine other aircraft, set off from Cambrai-Niergnies airfield to bomb railroad bridges in Vlotho in Germany.
His plane was on its way home when it was shot down by German fighter ME109s.
Three of the eight-strong crew managed to escape before the plane hit the ground but five died, including Sgt Brennan.
Mr Vallis Senior told the Bermuda Sun: “I was 15 when Eddie died.
“I remember my father being extremely emotional at the time. He had taken the phone call saying that Eddie was missing in action. I came home from school one day and he was cutting the grass.
“It was a Thursday afternoon and I just remember my dad calling out ‘My son, my son’.
“My mother was broken up by what happened.
“I think she had been more realistic that this could happen but none of us were ready for the news when it came.” While training to join the Bridge Busters in the US, Sgt Brennan would often return to visit family and friends in Bermuda. He eventually travelled back to France in 1944 to rejoin the war.
Mr Vallis Snr added: “Eddie was a very good brother. I looked up to him when I was growing up.
“He was a very enterprising kind of guy and a good athlete, too.
“I still have very vivid memories of him leaving Bermuda at the start of the war. The whole family went down to St George’s to see him off as he joined one of the convoys of freighters across to the UK.
“He would often write to his mum while he was away — he was an extremely devoted son.”
Sgt Brennan was just 22 when he died.
But during his distinguished military career he was awarded his RAF wings, a Bermuda shoulder patch and a Silver medal, awarded to Americans who served with British Forces.
He was also honoured with the Air Medal and Purple Heart for his service. Today Sgt Brennan is buried along with four of his fellow crew at the Zachery Taylor Memorial Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
There is also an exhibit and tribute to Sgt Brennan at the Bermuda Historical Society Museum on Queen Street in Hamilton.
Heart-breaking letter from co-pilot to dead colleague’s mom
Technical Sergeant Eddie Brennan, bottom left in the picture with his collegues, was one of five men to die when their B26 Marauder was shot down over Holland on February 21, 1945.
The other men to be killed were: Pilot Robert Coleman, Bombardier Harold Blossman, Engineer/Gunner Norman Black and Tail Gunner Paul McFarland.
The plane’s Co-pilot, Edward Adamowicz, who survived the crash, wrote to Norman Black’s mother some five months later to tell her of the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.
This is an excerpt from his letter: “I’ve been trying to write you this letter for the last couple of days now, but have found it to be the hardest thing I’ve as yet tried in my life.
“I’ve never had to send tidings of such a heart-breaking nature before and find it very difficult indeed.”
The letter continues: “We were lead ship in the high flight of this mission, which was deep into northern Germany.
“We were on our way out when we ran into some intense, heavy flak in the Munster area.
“As a result of the evasive action taken, our flight was unable to keep up with the rest of the group formation.
“The flak ceased suddenly and the next thing I knew was that tracer was streaming past us and German fighters were swarming around us.
“They caught us unexpectedly due to medium cloud formations at our altitude and set all three of the ships in our flight on fire.
“Just as Bob Coleman, our pilot, gave the signal to bail out, the ship dropped off into a violent spin.
“The only reason I managed to get out was because I was co-pilot and in a position to be able to pull myself through the nose-wheel hatch into the nose wheel nacelle.
“After being thrown around within the nacelle I was finally thrown clear of the plane.
“I hit the ground about fifty yards away from what was left of the plane, which was just scattered burning wreckage and exploding ammunition.
“At first I thought I was the only one to get out but I suddenly heard Flight Officer Barnoskie calling.
“He was lying about 25 yards away, and then Carl Gilgen, our turret gunner, also came running up.
“It was Gilgen who later told me that Norman was killed instantly by a shell fired by one of the attacking planes.
“Paul McFarland and Edward Brennan were also hit by shell fire before the plane fell into a spin.
“The rest of the boys didn’t stand a chance of getting out and went down with the ship.”