Memorial Day 2016
Memorial Day Talk at the Village of Phelps, NY
May 30, 2016
Donald W. Barton
Commander, Trustees, and Friends,
I am honored to be here today in Phelps, New York to join with you on this 150th Anniversary of Memorial Day, It
is very special to note that this day, which honors and memorializes those who made the ultimate sacrifice,
originated just a few miles from here in Waterloo. Today, my theme is a question which was tearfully asked of me in 1950. This question is “Will he be remembered? A haunting phrase ---Will he be remembered?
My B17, Flying Fortress, bomber was shot down by German fighters on July 19, 1944. Five of us were able to parachute from the plane, and were captured by German soldiers, but four of my crew died as the plane crashed on
the side of an Austrian Alp. They were first buried by German soldiers at the crash site, and were moved after the war by the United States to a US Military Cemetery in St Avold, France, which has about 7,000 other honored dead.
One of those who died was Technical Sergeant Frank L. Nunn, our 19 year old radio operator. And it was six years
later, in 1950 that I visited his twin sister in Gary, Indiana, to tell her my memories of her brother, in training and in
combat, and about that final day. I will never forget her tears, and the parting Question---Will he be remembered ?? At the time I murmured platitudes, and could not adequately give the answer to that question. But now, 66 years later, I want to share with you some relevant answers.
In 1962, my wife and I visited the St Paul’s Cathedral in London. One wing is the American Chapel, dedicated to
the memory of the 26,000 American airmen who gave their lives flying out of Britain. In the chapel is a large open book on a pedestal. Each page of that book has about 25 names of those who died, alphabetically, so about 50 names are showing. And each day a page is turned, so every soldier has his name on public view about once in 500 days. As we viewed the open book on that day, we discovered that the fifth name down on the left hand page was Technical Sergeant Frank L Nunn, 457th Bomb Group, killed in action July 19, 1944 !!! One chance in 500 it would be there on that day.
In 1984, while my wife and I were driving through France, we visited the US Cemetery in St Avold, France. We strolled, with many other people, among the 7,000 crosses. Using the map from the administration office we found the grave of Frank Nunn,---name, rank, serial number, unit, home, all indicated on his cross. A beautiful cemetery, immaculately maintained.
I move on to July, 1994, when my wife and I were guests of the Austrians on the 50th anniversary of the bomber crash. I was on Austrian national television telling about the event, and shown laying four roses where Frank and the others were first buried. The next day an Austrian called me to tell me that 50 years ago he had watched our plane crash. The next day he and his 11 year old twin sister had gone up on the mountain with their father and watched the German soldiers bury the four airmen. When the soldiers left, he and his sister put wild flowers on the graves. They
collected some small parts from the plane, which he still had in a bag. Did I want them? So in 1994 I was able to tell the story to Frank’s sister, and give her some pieces of the plane as a gift from an Austrian.
Then in 2005 I received a long email, in German, with photos. from the historian of the village of Roppen, which is just at the foot of the mountain where the plane crashed. The village had decided, as a part of their celebration of the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, that they would put a memorial cross up at the site where the four american airmen had first been buried. In June, 2005,, the village went up on the mountain and installed a large cross in a bed of rocks on the spot where the four airmen were first buried. It is alongside a summer hiking trail. It has a metal plaque on it with the inscribed names and rank of the four airmen, and when they died. The village choir sang a memorial hymn, the
Burgermeister gave a speech dedicating the memorial to the memory of the four brave american airmen who gave
their lives for their country, and the band played a military march. This done by our former enemies, 61 years after
In 2013, an Austrian Professor of History, from the University of Graz, spoke at a US Bomb Group annual reunion in Washington, DC, and told the story about the memorial cross, and said that the story about the four american airmen is in a Book on the History of the Air War in Austria. And so I say---Yes, Francis, Frank is remembered.
Knowing this story, when I look at a monument, or at a cross in a military cemetery I know that not only is there a
fallen hero, there also are stories of remembrance---they are out there somewhere !!!