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.
The final chapter (Chapter 15) of The Shelburne Escape Line was written by Don Douglass and describes the experiences of his longtime friend and mentor Woody Blondfield, who served with the US Army Air Forces in WWII as a B-17 pilot. Woody’s plane was shot up twice during his 25 bombing missions over Nazi Germany but, in both cases, he was able to fly the crippled aircraft to emergency fields behind Allied lines in Belgium. In May 1945, a few days before V-E Day, Woody and his crew volunteered for a humanitarian mission to drop food supplies to starving citizens in Holland. One of the beneficiaries of this mission was John Slagboom, a Dutch friend of the Douglasses in Anacortes, who had been a teenager during the war. When Don and Réanne told Woody’s story to John Slagboom early last year, John realized that the plane that had dropped tons of K-Rations over his town had probably been Woody’s. John made contact with Woody by email and the two set a date to meet at Woody’s home in California. Tragically, on April 18, 2013, three days before their meeting, Woody died unexpectedly of a heart attack. John subsequently penned a letter, which was read at Woody’s memorial service:
April 18 2013
Good Morning Woody,
Today is the day we were going to meet each other, at 1000 hours. That was the plan. Well, Woody, the last time we met was in Holland on April 15, 1945. You were flying over our heads at treetop level in a B17—the biggest airplane—with open doors and unloading, on the fly, tons of food only a starving boy can imagine. That was the best bombing we had ever seen.
Our part of Holland was still occupied and there was nothing to eat. (I ate my neighbors' cat, but don't tell anybody.) You saved many lives that day—that winter was known as Hunger Winter. We found out that you volunteered for that mission. THANKS, WOODY. That food drop made you my Hero forever.
Can I tell you how you changed my life, Woody? During the German occupation (my age 12 to 17), our first school was taken over by the German troops. The second school was too close to the Allied bombing raids and was shut down. All that was fine with me (I didn't like schooling anyway). Families were torn apart and each on his own. After the war, my passion was flying. (That's where you came in.)
I had no money, but I had a plan . . . Go to the USA. That was my plan. Sign up as a sailor in the Merchant Marine. And walk off the boat in America. Well, that boat went to South America instead, and I walked off in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But eleven years later, in 1958, I migrated to the USA. Woody, the story is more complex, but simply, you are my inspiration that helped make it happen.
So long, Woody. I will see you upstairs.