Dutch Gratitude - Seventy Years and Counting

His story.....
as told by his children.

(Above Photos Courtesy of the CRASH Air War and Resistance Museum '40-'45, The Netherlands)
Please visit www.redballexpress.nl for more information about the annual reenactment of this event.

It is estimated that over 4,000 crippled Allied airplanes crashed somewhere in The Netherlands during World War II while attempting to return to their bases in England with over 1,500 still unaccounted for. One of those ill-fated planes was my dad's B-17, "No Balls at All", which in 2010 caught the attention of a Dutch woman, Janny Herfst, a volunteer at the CRASH Air War and Resistance Museum '40-'45 in Aalsmeerderbrug, The Netherlands. In a chapter entitled "Friendship" from an English translation of her recently published book entitled, Lt. Arthur Wilson Starratt, Bombardier of the B-17 Flying Fortress "No Balls at All", Ms. Herfst writes:

Acting upon the advice from the website to send Art an email, Ms. Herfst did just that. This was the beginning of a special friendship that soon developed between the two of them through their ongoing correspondence until my dad's death in April 2012. By that time, Ms. Herfst had learned a great deal about the "No Balls" and its crew, particularly its bombardier, Art Starratt. She knew his wartime story by heart, and, with his blessings, had developed a wonderful lecture about it which she now presents to various museums and organizations in her area. After Dad's death, the friendship that she and he had shared soon spilled over to my two sisters and me, and in April 2013, to coincide with the anniversary of his passing, Janny and her husband flew to Texas to meet us face to face and to pay their respects to Dad.

In retrospect, now knowing the tenacity of the Dutch to "Never Forget", I should not have been surprised when Janny announced shortly after returning home that she wanted to translate Dad's WWII website into Dutch in book format for her fellow countrymen, and to include pictures of some additional items from his archives, as well as, from those at the CRASH Museum. She also hoped to capture in words her journey of friendship over the past three years with the Starratt Family. She said she had no expectations of actually making a profit from the book - it was just something she wanted to do, and so she did.

Over the course of the next several months, Janny translated Dad's WWII website into Dutch, gathered additional information and specifications on B-17s, wrote her manuscript, worked with her editors to perfect it, found a publisher to print it, and even found time to work with me on an English version for us to have in addition to the hardcopy in Dutch. Then toward the end of 2013, Janny informed us that she had met with Mr. Randy Berry, the Consul General of the United States of America to The Netherlands, who, on hearing of Dad's WWII story, had agreed to write the Foreword for her book, and to personally attend her book presentation which was to be held at the CRASH Museum on February 24, 2014, the 70th anniversary of the "No Balls" crash landing on February 24, 1944. In addition, Janny told us that Mr. Berry would like very much to meet my sisters and me personally at the U.S. Consulate in Amsterdam. I don't know the specifics of what Janny said in her meeting at our Consulate that December day, but it sure must have gone over in a big way.

On February 19, 2014, with the invitations and agenda for the book presentation in the mail, it was our turn to visit our dear friends in The Netherlands, to experience their country, and in our allotted nine days to accomplish our mission objectives: (1) to meet with our U.S. Consul General to The Netherlands; (2) to stand at the crash site of Dad's B-17 "No Balls at All"; (3) to attend the presentation of Janny's book containing his WWII stories; and (4) to revisit the sites we had visited with him in 2002, including his former prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag Luft 1, on the outskirts of Barth, Germany. To our absolute delight and deepest thanks, our hosts made sure that all our mission objectives were met!

OBJECTIVE 1: Meet with our U.S. Consul General to The Netherlands

On Friday, February 21, 2014, we took the trolley into Amsterdam to the Museum Square where we walked the short distance across the Square to our U.S. Consulate for our 11:00 a.m. meeting. After going through security, a Marine ushered us upstairs to a very large office where we were introduced to Mr. Randy Berry, the U.S. Consul General to The Netherlands. The meeting immediately took on a casual tone as Mr. Berry chatted with us about many topics: the States, The Netherlands, Janny's book and his Foreword there in, the many sacrifices made during WWII, the resilience of the Dutch people during that War and since, and even the history behind the room we were in which during the War had been a Gestapo headquarters where a large picture of Hitler had hung on the wall to our right, the nail hole still visible from where we sat. Then Janny showed Mr. Berry a copy of her book which he was very impressed with and truly happy to be a part of. Before leaving, Mr. Berry gave each of us a pin with the U.S. and Dutch flags overlapping, the same pin that he wore on his coat lapel that morning.

Back outside, we took stock of the fact that, thanks to Janny and her new book, we had just been privileged to a unique opportunity to meet informally with a high ranking member of our Department of State in a foreign country, something we would have never considered possible on our own. And, although this was only our second day in her country, she and her husband Frits, had seen to it that we had already accomplished the first of our mission objectives. In addition, Janny wrote a wonderful article about our visit that day in the March issue of CONTRAILS, the monthly magazine of the CRASH Museum.

The Consulate General of the United States for The Netherlands

OBJECTIVE 2: Stand at the Crash Site of Dad's B-17 "No Balls at All"

The next day, February 22, 2014, started early with a visit to the impressive and very active CRASH Air War and Resistance Museum '40-'45 in Aalsmeerderbrug which is run totally by volunteers like Janny. As we stepped inside, we were profoundly moved to see the very familiar German photos of Dad and the "No Balls" on permanent display at the front desk as you walk in. Also on display were copies of Dad's first e-mail with Janny in 2010 and his obituary in 2012. What an honor this gesture was for him and for us. We were also amazed by the number of volunteers who had given up their Saturday morning to come to the Museum in order to greet us, the daughters of one of the liberators of their country during WWII.

While we were there, our host showed us an altimeter from a B-17 that crash landed near Vijfhuizen, most likely "No Balls at All" / 42-3136. What a surreal moment to be looking at an instrument our dad would have definitely used on February 24, 1944 in preparation for the bomb run over Schweinfurt, Germany.

Later that afternoon, my sisters and I completed an elusive family goal that, due to insufficient information, had heretofore been unattainable. Through the extensive research of Janny and her fellow volunteers at the CRASH Museum - research substantiated by eye-witnesses, one of whom had lived within four-hundred yards of the event - the crash site of Dad's downed B-17 near the town of Vijfhuizen had been verifiably located and documented.

And so it was that we found ourselves being driven by our Dutch hosts to the crash site of the "No Balls at All". To our surprise, we were greeted by a group of reporters and by a Mr. Rijn Clay, the eye witness whose childhood home had once stood where a large stone bench now resides. The recent addition of this public bench marked the completion of a project started in 2012 by the combined efforts of several volunteer and municipal organizations in the area. Their goal of honoring the exemplary flying skills of Walter B. LeClerc, pilot of the "No Balls", had been partially accomplished with the dedication of the nearby bike path that now bears his name. With this highly successful project coming to completion, we were perhaps among the first to witness the results of their many months of coordinated efforts for ourselves.

Digressing briefly back to the year 2012...
Below is an excerpt from an e-mail my dad sent to Janny regarding the 2012 dedication of the LeClerc bike path.

Now back to the present...
With introductions and statements to the Press over, we donned boots (compliments of our hosts who had thought of everything), and walked down the long muddy strip of land that parallel the ditch that the "No Balls" had careened into seven decades earlier and on to the crash site, itself, just beyond the high-voltage electrical tower.

Once there, the experience of standing on that spot looking down at the very ditch where Dad had crawled out of his B-17, and at the same muddy field beyond that he had crossed with his captors toward his unknown fate was surreal, to say the least. Needless to say, Dad was very much in our thoughts as we reflected on this moment and on this place. Lots of pictures were taken by us and by the Press. Reporter Paul van der Kooij surprised all of us with a full page newspaper article, including color photos, of the event in the February 24, 2014 issue of the Haarlem's Dagblad newspaper in order to coincide with the seventieth anniversary of the crash landing of the "No Balls". It had been an amazing day - one made perfect if only Dad had still been living to share it with us. Short of that, in honor of his memory, our second mission objective had now been accomplished.

OBJECTIVE 3: Attend Janny's Book Presentation

On Monday, February 24, 2014, we made our way back to the CRASH Museum for the presentation of Janny's book entitled Lt. Arthur Wilson Starratt, Bombardier of the B-17 Flying Fortress "No Balls at All". Once again, we were amazed by the number of dedicated volunteers who had turned out for the occasion, and who were now hard at work seeing to it that every detail was being met...right down to hoisting the American flag at the museum's entrance.

It was also amazing to witness the number of guests and reporters who had taken the time to be in attendance as yet another gesture of Dutch gratitude. Among those present for the ceremonies were the Deputy Mayor of Haarlemmermeer, Mr. Jeroen Nobel, and the U.S. Consul General to The Netherlands, Mr. Randy Berry, whom we had met in Amsterdam when we first arrived. Introduced by the Museum's curator, Mr. Peter de Raaf, these two dignitaries spoke of the sacrifices of war and of their appreciation to authors like Janny who, through their writings, keep us ever mindful of the fact that freedom is not free.

Deeply gratifying for my sisters and me, personally, were the excerpts from a copy of a DVD we had given Janny in 2013 of Dad telling his WWII story that she played for the audience. Her husband, Frits, had conveniently added Dutch subtitles so all could understand what was being said. As we looked at Dad on the screen, big as life, telling his WWII story in his all too familiar voice, it was as if he were there in the room with us. Many, many thanks to our hosts for adding that magical moment to what had already been an incredible day.

Please click here for our Photo Gallery of this wonderful event.

OBJECTIVE 4: Revisit Sites from Our Trip in 2002

As if what had already transpired in the five preceding days were not enough, our hosts then spent every moment of our remaining four days ushering us from site to site, including a round-trip to Barth, Germany, the site of Dad's POW camp Stalag Luft 1, in a valiant effort to ensure that we accomplished our fourth and final goal before our reluctant return to the States. In the process, we were also treated to a wonderful tour of their corner of The Netherlands, itself, from the Royal Palace in all its grandeur, to Haarlem's breathtaking Cathedral of Saint Bavo, to a lovely dinner cruise on the canals of Amsterdam, to a visit inside a working windmill in Hoofddorp, to the sights and sounds of the world famous Cruquius Pumping Station in the nearby town of Cruquius, and to several other extraordinary and even ordinary places too numerous to mention. We are truly indebted to our hosts and friends, Janny and Frits Herfst, for this memorable 9-day journey together.

(Map Courtesy of Frits Herfst)

It is our sincere hope that in sharing this story we have expressed some semblance of our gratitude to these two individuals and to their fellow countrymen for all they have done and continue to do to honor our WWII Armed Forces for the past seventy years and counting. This link is dedicated to you.

(Above Photo Courtesy of the CRASH Air War and Resistance Museum '40-'45, The Netherlands)