A few hours after I was informed that my father died, early in the morning on December 23, 2013, I called John Engeman to let him know…….
My father was a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator based in England during World War II.
On April 1, 1944, at age 19, his plane was shot down on a bombing run over Germany.
Five men of his ten man crew went down with the plane.
My father and four others parachuted out.
My father was shot while floating to earth.
He landed, bleeding, in the backyard of a German family’s home.
A few weeks later he was taken to Stalag XVIIB, where he spent over a year as a prisoner of war.
And there he met John Engeman, from Brooklyn, New York, the man who would become his best friend for life…..
A few weeks after my father died I wrote Mr. Engeman a letter.
I asked him if, after the cold weather had passed, I could come out to New Bern, North Carolina and sit down with him on a Saturday afternoon for a few hours to ask him questions about my dad and him and their experience.
This past Saturday, May 10th, I spent the afternoon and evening with Mr. Engeman and his lovely wife of 67 years, Rosemary.
And for two of those hours I sat at their kitchen table with Jack (which is what his friends call him, what he insisted that I call him) while I asked questions about him and my father. He made their experience and World War II come alive for me.
He gave me three photographs.
One of my father and his platoon at Kessler Field, Mississippi in 1942.
One of my father and his bomber crew at Kessler in 1943 before they flew to England.
And the third, after the liberation, of my father and John Engeman, and a couple of dozen soldiers and sailors, in Paris, in May of 1945.
He gave me the letter which Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle wrote to my aunt on June 19, 1944.
It told her that my dad’s plane went down, that some crew members bailed out, that there was no definite information regarding him.
The last sentence of that letter reads:
“His mother may find some consolation in the knowledge that her son made a splendid contribution to the cause for which we are all fighting.”…..
My father and John C. Engeman are the very essence of heroes.
What they lived and endured for freedom is one with the ages.
It was an honor to spend those hours with you Jack Engeman.
My father was lucky to have a fine man such as you for his friend.
And I miss Blackie too.