The Crash of the B-17 “Little Guy”
Sunday, November 26, 1944
By John Meurs
(reprinted with permission from the author)
Historically speaking, there is nothing special about this particular mission of the 8th USAAF. The Mighty Eighth had sent 1072 bombers into the air on a routine mission to Germany and 34 bombers, i.e. 34 crews, did not return to their bases in England. “Acceptable Losses”, as the military jargon goes, but for the 324 airmen involved it was perhaps the most important day in their lives: 136 of them were killed in action, 180 were taken prisoner and 8 were hidden by the Dutch Underground until their liberation by Canadian troops in April/May 1945.
It was, however, also a very important day in the life of a nine year old schoolboy living in a village called Apeldoorn in Nazi-occupied Holland, as one of these bombers crashed behind right behind his house. I happened to be that schoolboy.
That B-17, called “Little Guy”, of the 381st Bomb Group had approached Apeldoorn with only one engine functioning. The crew with the exception of the pilot bailed out over the village centre and were fired upon by German soldiers when they came floating down. One of them was killed and another, the tail-gunner Bob DeLange, was wounded. He later escaped from his German hospital with the assistance of the Dutch “underground” and was hidden by a family living on the same street as we did. The pilot, Kyle Smith of Albany, Ohio, remained behind the controls to avoid that the B-17, with two bombs still in the bomb bay, would come down on the village. He died in the crash.
We have quite few war-related monuments in and around my hometown Apeldoorn. A retired Brigadier General of the Royal Dutch Army co-authored a book about these monuments and after reading that book I sent him an e-mail saying that one monument was missing in Apeldoorn; one for the pilot of “Little Guy”.
We started to work on this project and on Monday November 26, 2007, exactly 63 years after the crash, the Mayor of Apeldoorn unveiled a simple monument in presence of a representative of the US Ambassador to the Court of The Hague, Captain Goldsmith ASN, the Military Attaché and 100-odd people of the village. A band from the Royal Dutch Air Force provided the music and a fighter of the Air Force flew over the crash site and the people assembled there. The Mayor made a very good speech (in English) and so did the representative of the US Ambassador. The Ambassador himself was on a trip outside the country and could not attend.
Quite a few people who, like me, had watched the bomber go down were also present and it was nice for me to exchange memories about what happened on that same date so long ago.
My primary school, located about half a mile from the crash site, has adopted the monument and a group of kids had learned the text of the American national anthem that they sang when the two flags (American and Dutch) were raised to their poles. For me it was an emotional moment as I was about their age when “Little Guy” came down. Two family members of Pilot Scott Smith also attended the ceremony.
The location of the monument is very important. Scott crashed “Little Guy” smack in the municipal outdoor swimming complex of Apeldoorn where each and every year thousands of young people come for a swim, a flirt and a bite: an excellent spot for a monument that tells them that their present freedom had been heavily paid for by guys like Scott Smith.