Saturday, September 27, 2014

On the 70th anniversary of the Kassel Mission

On the 70th Anniversary of the Kassel Mission

Aaron Elson
President, Kassel Mission Historical Society
Sept. 27, 2014

Hard as it is to believe, today is the 70th anniversary of the Kassel Mission. Paul Swofford, one of a handful of pilots who brought his badly damaged B-24 back to England that day in 1944, left a message on my answering machine the other day. I could tell from the wavering in his voice how shaken he was by the memories, and yet he stressed how thankful he was that he had the opportunity to tell his story so that it would not be forgotten.
Every veteran of the Kassel Mission, every widow or sibling of a flier killed in the battle, has his or her own personal thoughts as the 70th anniversary of the battle approaches. Some family members of Kassel Mission veterans are in Germany where the annual wreath laying ceremony carries extra significance because of the 70th anniversary.
Thanks to the efforts of people like George Collar and Bill Dewey and Frank Bertram and Walter Hassenpflug, and the energy of the members of the Kassel Mission Historical Society, including Kassel survivors John Ray Lemons and Ira Weinstein, the sacrifice of the men lost on the Kassel Mission will be honored not only by the "next generation," but by the generation after that, as exemplified by social media wiz J.P. Bertram, and generations yet to come.
As for me, I don't have a familial connection to the mission. It was while visiting the village of Heimboldshausen where a buddy of my father's was killed in World War II, that I met Walter and became fascinated by the history of the mission, some of which I've helped to preserve through a series of informal oral history interviews.
So today I'm going to watch at least the beginning, and maybe a few scenes, of "12 O'Clock High," which to the survivors of the Kassel Mission is like "Patton" was to the veterans of my father's tank battalion, and I'll get all choked up when Dean Jagger sees that silly figure in the store window, and I'll listen for the drone of the returning B-24s. And I'll read the poem "High Flight," by John Gillespie Magee, a young Spitfire pilot who died in a training crash in 1941 at age 19, and and I'll remember George Collar telling me how disappointed he was as a youth because that was the War to End All Wars, and he feared he would never get the chance to be like his boyhood heroes.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor e'er eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

For more information on the Kassel Mission, visit