The people of Avord, France, dedicated a memorial May 8 honoring the crew of a U.S. B-17 Flying Fortress shot down during World War II.
The B-17, nicknamed the Georgia Rebel II, crashed at about 12:00 p.m. April 28, 1944, on a mission to bomb a Nazi German-occupied airfield, Avord Air Base, France.
“For some of us it is very important to remember these young guys,” said Frederic Henoff, event organizer. “Like me, when I go for the first time in the U.S., I don’t know this big country and these young guys are from the middle of the U.S., some poor farmers’ sons and they came for the first time over the ocean in another country and they were killed for us – for freedom – it’s very important.”
Seven of the crew members were killed during the raid and the three who survived became prisoners of war. Family members from three of the crew members attended the ceremony, including 2nd Lt. and navigator Arthur Guertin’s sister, Marie Lukacs-Buchannan, and her daughter, Ann Lukacs.
“It is so humbling and we are so grateful for the French to actually be doing this ceremony,” said Lukacs. “I mean, it means a lot that after 70 years they would even still remember and care enough to honor the seven of them that were killed in the plane.”
During the war, Guertin’s family received notification that he was missing in action shortly after the mission, in May 1944. The family was notified by telegram that he was confirmed as killed in action on New Year’s Eve that year.
Lukacs said her mother, who is now 92, took the news especially hard because the two were extremely close siblings.
“He was the brother that always looked out for her and, you know, they had this special bond.”
The news also came as a shock because the family had dealt with a similar situation during the war, which had a much different outcome.
“I think the thing that was deceiving for the family was that he had been MIA (missing in action) once before when he was in Sweden,” said Lukacs. “He had just been reunited with his squadron after being in Sweden for eight months and a month later this mission happened.”
The dedication ceremony included a church service, wreath-laying ceremonies, an exhibition on the 1944 bombardments, and dinner. The local community, French air force, and U.S. Air Force had representatives in attendance.
“I was extremely honored to represent the United States Air Force to the family and to see the emotional impact it had on them to have a U.S. representative,” said Col. Robert Huston, U.S. Air Force representative at the event. “It made it that much more special and reminded me just how much of an honor it is to represent our country and our Air Force when I get a chance.”
Henoff expressed the importance of this ceremony and memorial for him and the Avord community.
“When you see the white crosses in the American cemetery, I have tears in my eyes,” said Henoff. “When you look at the birth date, it’s just young men. It’s very important for us to remember these guys, not only for me, for many, many people in France.”
The crew of the Georgia Rebel II consisted of:
- 1st Lt. Harold F. Henslin, pilot – killed in action
- Maj. Osce V. Jones, co-pilot – survived, POW
- 2nd Lt. Arthur L. Guertin, navigator – killed in action
- 1st Lt. Eugene Arning, bombardier – killed in action
- Tech. Sgt. Jo. R. Karr, engineer – killed in action
- Tech. Sgt. J. W. Padgett, radio operator – survived, POW
- Staff Sgt. George B. McLaughlin, ball turret gunner – killed in action
- Staff Sgt. Clarence T. Williams, right waist gunner – killed in action
- Sgt. William B. Blackmon, Jr., left waist gunner – survived, POW
- Staff Sgt. Edward H. Sell, tail gunner – killed in action