by Kathleen Kaska
You liberated us and saved us from starvation. We are forever grateful because you lost many thousands of your courageous soldiers doing so.
Elwood (Woody) Blondfield is holding a silk map issued to pilots during WWII. Folded into small parcels, the maps were carried in the aviators’ escape kits.
On May 1, 1945, US Army Air Force pilot Woody Blondfield and his crew climbed aboard their B-17 Bomber, the Heaven Sent. The bomb bays were loaded and the plane readied for takeoff. Just eleven days earlier, Blondfield and the crew had flown what they thought was their last mission.
The official surrender of Germany to Allied Forces was six days away. The fighting in Europe was winding down. Although the Nazis were retreating from Holland, they still occupied a portion of the country. Knowing defeat was imminent, they attempted one last-ditch effort to bring the country to her knees. Farmlands had flooded that winter, destroying much-needed crops. Canals had frozen, making it impossible for relief efforts to reach Holland. As the German army retreated, they destroyed Holland’s bridges and railroads. The Dutch population was starving.
The Air Force hurriedly refitted the guts of Blondfield’s B-17 bomber and loaded its platform with tons of K-rations. Receiving word that relief was on the way, the Dutch strung fishing nets between telephone polls to catch the cargo as it was discharged. On that fateful May day, as Blondfield flew over Rotterdam for the first food-drop, he noticed a young man standing on a rooftop. Blondfield thought nothing of it, assuming he was there to help pilots locate their discharge targets. Then a few weeks later he received a letter delivered by a Spit Fire pilot who had been in Rotterdam during the relief effort. It was from the young man on the rooftop. He had copied Blondfield’s tail numbers and had written to thank the American.
Sixty-eight years later, Réanne Hemingway-Douglass and her husband Don Douglass told Blondfield’s story to John Slagboom, the newly-elected commodore of their local yacht club. Coincidence of coincidences, Slagbloom was that young man. He was eager to contact the American he’d written to all those years ago. Blondfield was then living in Apple Valley, California. Réanne provided his e-mail address and a meeting was arranged. Three days before their meeting, Woody Blondfield passed away. Upon hearing the news, John Slagboom wrote his hero a second letter, which Réanne and Don published in their recently released book, The Shelburne Escape Line: Secret Rescues of Allied Aviators by the French Underground, the British Royal Navy, and London’s MI-9.
April 18, 2013
To read more stories about heroic pilots who survived after being shot down over German-occupied France in WWII and about the French Underground who rescued them, pick up a copy of The Shelburne Escape Line.