Address by Robert Camby at the 344th BG Memorial (Col. Witty)

Address at the dedication of the 344th BG Memorial at the Aeroport de Pontoise-Cormeilles, France.

Source: b26mhs.org     http://b26mhs.bizland.com/index.php?option=com_mtree&task=att_download&link_id=26&cf_id=24

Dedication of the 344th BG Memorial
Col. Robert Witty (ret.), Commanding Officer of the 344th Bomb Group here at A-59 during World War II was unable to be present today, and has asked that the following thoughts on this significant occasion be passed along to you. When I flew into this aerodrome with the advance party of our Bomb Group in that long-ago summer of 1944, I remember a feeling of deja-vu: sifting through memory and recognizing that we came to France as part of a long and illustrious line of French and American airmen who, down the years, have nobly represented our camaraderie of the air,” including Louis Bleriot and that Pilot Poet Lt. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and our own, Captain Eddie Rickenbacher, and aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. A noble legacy of long standing aviation cooperation between our Nations, indeed.
We had participated in, and in fact had led, the 9th Air Force Bomber stream of eight B–26 groups in the massive I) Day strike of June 6, 1944 against Hitler’s “Fortress Europa” and were, of course, familiar with this aerodrome. History has recorded the part we played that day in the successful destruction of the huge gun emplacements on the Cherbourg Peninsula. It seemed fitting and proper, therefore, in that Autumn of 1944 to move in and occupy this field from which Nazi fighters had flown against us. Re-constructing the runways, building revetments, and establishing living quarters and erecting Tent-Cities would not have been possible without the magnificent support and goodwill of the local residents who formed the bulwark of the workforce we enlisted. From that beginning, throughout our stay here, the wholehearted cooperation and goodwill we enjoyed from Mayor Eugene Loffroy and his townsmen, keynoted our relationships. That feeling was never more prevalent than when our Fire Fighting crew was annihilated in a terrible accident in the early days of our tenancy. A Marauder, laden with two 2000 pound bombs failed to get off the runway, crashed and burned and when the fir e fighters
heroically extricated the crew, blew up and killed all around it. The offers of help and expressions of sympathy of our neighbors on that occasion will never be forgotten.
Our missions from A-59 were aimed at the heart of the German forces: marshaling yards, bridges and tank concentrations became everyday fare in targeting. We joined all the Allied Air Forces in this daily hammering of the Nazis as we flew our strike missions out of Cormeilles. Seemingly, the onslaught was going well until the desperation breakthrough of Hitler’s hordes at Malmedy during Christmas week of 1944. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage the
war, the Germans turned loose every bit of armor, trucks, guns, and men they could muster and succeeded temporarily in breaching the Allied Unes: The Battle of the Bulge. Aided immensely by inclement weather, which kept our air power grounded, by Christmas Eve the situation had become most disastrous. I, and my comrades will remember forever that Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in the Parish Church.
In combat gear; khaki work clothes, Catholic, Protestant, and Jew, we somberly prayed with that (then) young Priest, Father Paul Bance, in the beautiful and unforgettable candle light service. And naturally some of us prayed for a cessation of the terrible weather so that we might mount our air-strikes and help our embattled ground troops. History records that the weather cleared up, we mounted two strikes a day along with thousands of other Al
lied planes, and the Hitler Blitz was stopped. A memorable and satisfying episode in adevastating war.
We come together today to dedicate this monument to those desperate, yet somehow glorious days’ when our Nations were joined as one to fight the tyranny of Nazidom. Symbols of the closeness we achieved in that war abound: Some of us hate carried on correspondence with your neighbors for all these years; we are reminded of the relationship when we proudly wear your Croix-de-Guerre with Palme, awarded by General Charles de Gaulle, and mostly by the skein of memories we have carried with us for over 50 years. These are the treasured talisman of our stay here. With you here today are a few of our aging airmen, representative of not only their comrades who died flying out of A-59, but of those survivors at home in the States. And they proudly represent those very young men
who bustled about in your towns and villages in that far away time, in testimony to the ties that bind our Nations.
We treasure those ties, we appreciate your remembering, we salute you.