Meeting after 50 years

(Ing. Josef Brázda, Ph.D.)

It was on a winter foggy day at the end of the last but one war year 1944. I got out of the 
deported labor deal by pretending I‘m sick in my village at Přerov town; I had to work since 
1943 with all my classfellows instead of continuing my study 12 - 14 hours a day. It was a 
support for German empire, which was at those days in its last agony. “I was enjoying” of an 
inflamation of my ear - so why I could spend couple of days with my parents. Suddenly I was 
disturbed from the reading by the rattle of the airplanes and intense shooting. It occured me 
German fighters attacked Americans squadrons which daily flew through our district to aims 
in Silesia. In spite of the temperature I put my clothes on and ran to the backs of the village, 
where we watched an air - battle which continued over our heads. We couldn‘t see much of it 
because of thick fog. The rattle of the planes, shooting of machine - guns and cannons was 
getting stronger. We could hear some explosions and there were falling burnt parts of the 
American bombers. We were sufficient to reach to the burnt slags before the German patrols. 
Their main task was to capture American pilots who, probably, had rescued themselves. 
As we learnt later most of them had perished, fell down with burnt parashutes soaked with 
petrol during the explosion. There were 8 pilots perished at crashed in district 
Henčlov - Troubky - Rokytnice. The rest of 12 pilots were captured, only four of them were 
successfully hidden. In the afternoon I layed down again but I had no fancy about my illness. 
My friend came to me and told me he had hidden two American pilots but he couldn‘t understand 
them. I called my friend Pepik Skacel and we both try hard, he - his poor English and I - German 
spoke to pilots. One of them - Thomas Qualman has got a Czech grandmother and German grandfather 
immigrated to the USA.. So he could speak German a little. After drying and feeding both pilots 
I‘ve hidden them in the close barn of my uncle Stanislav Hoç k. It wasn‘t posible at my place - we 
lived in the middle of the village and had no back garden. I was afraid of the German interrogation 
of my parents and said nothing to them; I only asked my mum for some meal for “my friends.” After 
few days the Germen didn‘t have much hope they would find all the pilots, who had survived, Tom, 
Edmund and I started the way to the Hostýnské hory mountains, where as I knew, the partisans operated. 
In those days I even didn‘t realise I risked not only my life, but the lives of all my family, 
the family of my uncle Hošák and my friends. I loved the freedom, our president and hate the Nazis. 
The next words about the fates of these pilots belong to my friend Tom Qualman liberator bomber 
crewman on a mission against a target in Germany in world war II”. I was a Navigator on a B-24 
Liberator bomber of the USAF based in Cerignola, Italy from 1 October 1944 to 17 December 1944 
when our bomber was shot down in an air battle with German fighters over Czechoslovakia. Our crew 
of ten men was on its 10th bombing mission, which was to bomb the target for the day, the Odertal 
oil refineries at Blekhammer, Germany just north of the Czechoslovakia border. Then Tom describes 
the troubles his bomber had with the start because of mending broken “mag”. Oving to that they 
found the squadron over the yugo but the squadron delayed the whole group. I give the crew 45 minutes 
notice to the “IP” - we‘re a little behind schedule. I look out the side window and try to figure 
out what the heck out squadron is doing so far away from the rest of the group. Then the tail 
gunner sings out “fighters at seven o‘clock level, way out!” Then, over the inter - phone, “here 
they come!” About two seconds pass by, and then all hell breaks loose. Fifty calibres rip through 
the flight deck partition with a terrific crashing noise. Immediately, Tommy is hit in his turret 
not two feet from me, and his legs dangle peculiarly limp off the foot rest. Fifties are ripping 
through all over the flight deck and splattering against the pilot‘s instrument panel. In the next 
part Tom says he was feeling very terribly in the burnt airplane at the moment the crew tried to 
jump out of the plane which rushed down with a great speed to the land. Centrifugal force doesn‘t 
allow the crew to move, they couldn‘t open the door. Through the partition window I can see flames 
licking around the bomb fuses. Something crashes into my face, blood spurts out over my nose; I‘m 
pinned into a corner - “It‘s all over now! This is the end!” Instantly there is a simultaneous 
blinding flash, and everything seems to erupt and spin into one gray twirling cartwheel. My next 
impression is one of floating dreamily, flat on my back, at 26,500 feet through space. It‘s 
unbelievable, but I snap out of it in a hell of a hurry. Tom‘s parachute is caught on the tops 
of three trees. The three men in civilian clothes came up under him and helped him. Just about 
the time I think about spending the night there, I see three guys dodging through the trees and 
running toward me. One more violent lurch with the resulting shot of pain convinces me that all 
I can do is wait for them to come. I reach inside my coat and cock the .45, deciding not to draw 
it yet - if at all. The three in civillian clothes come up under me, and one draws a knife. 
I don‘t know whether they‘re German or what. My heart skips a beat or two, but then resumes as 
one boosts the other up, he hands me the knife. I hack away the “silk” strands and fall down on 
top of the one that handed me the knife, and we both go down in a heap. It would be comical if 
it was under different circumstances. I still don‘t know if they are friend or enemy, so I stand 
facing the three of them with my ungloved hand on the .45 inside my coat. One of them keeps looking 
around anwiously. I break the ice by saying, “American, American.” When they learn I‘m American, 
they pat me on the back, shake hands, and look anwiously at the blood spurting over my nose. I 
indicate with a wave of the hand that it‘s nothing. They pat me on the back again, indicate that I 
should drop my harness and Mae West, and get out of there. I get rid of the stuff, we all salute 
each other, and I take off through the woods.
He met by chance near the place he land it, his co-pilot, Ed Casold. Tom continues his story:
We crawl across the road through the woods and look for a hiding place. We have to wade across
a stream waist deep in ice cold water, and come out wet and cold to the bone. The snow had
melted, and the mud of plowed fields stuck to our feet like lead weight. We found the light of a
small community. While we‘re standing at the gate to a small house, out comes a man, leaving the
house. When he sees us, he gesticulates wildly with his hands and goes back into the house. We
almost die of heart failure a couple of times when the barn door opens, but it‘s just some energetic 
farmer coming in to get some hay. Around noon, there is a lot of rumpus and stirring of hay; we
hold our breath and our .45‘s and forget both, in relief, when we see our Czech friend of last night
crawl up to us. He has two young Czechs with him; one can speak English that he taught himself
from a dictionary; the other can speak German. I‘m in like Flynn with my German, and Ed beats
himself out with the other and his dictionary.
The kid I‘m talking ti is twenty-one years old, a saboteur, and got out of the deported labor deal
by pretending he‘s sick. Ed‘s boy is twenty, and he can really whip through the pages of that
dictionary to look up words he wants to say. Our buddy of last night just looks on, pop-eyed. All
of them have just been listening to BBC, a crime punishable by death, and they tell us the news
about the Bulge and the settlement of the Greek civil war. They have a plan - the Partisans will
either hide us till the Russians come, or they‘ll take us through the lines 250-350 miles away.
We‘re willing! They leave us food and say they‘ll be back at five.
Five more hours of sivering - they come back, and into the house we go. We tak‚ off our six sets
of clothes, drape them on the stove, and start talking.
We awake the next morning to the tune of rain dancing on the roof. We‘re feeling too
comfortable to give that another thought, so back to sleep we go. The rain stops in the afternoon,
and when it gets dark, our Czech friends come and take us into the house again for the final
preparations for our departure. The German-speaking Czech and I go over in a corner, and he starts
giving me instructions (they‘re just about the same as those given us by out intelligence officers
back at the base); keep away from towns, keep off roads, travel only at night (couldn‘t do this
because it turned too cold to stop), avoid all passers-by, Gestapo is all along the railroads, towns,
and roads, don‘t cross bridges unless absolutely necessary, get help from out-of-the-way farm
houses, don‘t use the gun if you can help it. We are given s paper with three phrases written in
Czech, meaning: 1. We are hungry; 2. Indicate our position on the map, and; 3. Show us the way to
the Partisans - that looks good. They also give us a worn leather briefcase with some food in it, a
small thermos bottle, a small, light blanket, a pencil flashlight, writing chalk, and two Czech
sportsman‘s caps. They have two pairs of shoes, one pair fits Ed o. k., but of course the other is too
small for me.
My German-speaking buddy is to accompany us a little way. I give him my gun ‚cause after all,
it‘s more his life than ours if we run into any Krauts.
All the while we‘re talking, the Czech keeps whispering to me, and I absorb about 1/10 of what
he‘s saying because I‘m having plenty of my own troubles. The rain has turned the fields into one
mass of sticky glue. Nobody else is having any trouble, but my boots get completely caked with the
stuff, and every ten steps I have to stop and clean the mud off my boots.
I trip over a signal wire, making a hell of a lot of noise, the light snaps on, and someone yells
something. We dive into the ditch, scramble up the bank and run, waiting for the shots. They don‘t
come, and we keep running until we‘re completely winded. We‘re safe now, so we take a compass
bearing and slog on.
About two hours pass, and that Czech has been guiding us all the time in pitch darkness without
a compass. How he does it, I don‘t know. Then he stops and says we‘re on our own - up ahead is
the first railroad we have to cross. “Be careful on that railroad and good luck, American.” He
hands my gun back to me, and wants to give me his gloves, but I know darn well they‘re probably
his last. We salute, say good-by and he‘s lost in the darkness. It seems a crime that all the 
thanks he gets for all he‘s done for us is a simple “good-bye.”
From here on, the segregation of the days ond order of events are vague and seem molded into
one. The Czechs were marvelous; they would always welcome us with handshaking and pats on the
back, but they were always afraid we might be German spies. They gave us all the food we would
want, would tell us where we were, and do everything tor us except give us a place to sleep.
Our trek of toil, sleeplessness, cold, rising hopes and subsequent despair came to an end on
Christmas Eve. We skirt a small town the night before with spirits at their lowest ebb, and
approach an isolated farmhouse in the surrounding woods. We get the usual greetings and looks of
awe plus a hunk of bread and then take off feeling pretty darn lonely. After walking about fifty
yards from the house, the farmer comes out and rushes up, motioning for us to follow him. He takes
us up a mess of turning paths through the pitch black forest. After about ten minutes of toot racing,
we come upon a well-built farmhouse with the usual buildings set in a clearing on the side of a 
gently sloping hill. 
He indicates for us to wait out of sight, so we wait while he approaches the house.
A few moments later he comes back to us, and we all file down and enter. In the kitchen are two
women and a man, all smiles. One of the women said in a gently voice, “Hello, you are Americans
aren‘t you? Don‘t be afraid.” The only words I had been able to understand since being shot down
were German, so I thought that was the language she was using. I started to answer her in German,
and then my heart leaped for joy when I realized she had spoken in English.
We asked if she were a Partisan. She replied no, but she had helped two Englismen and a
Rusian paratrooper before. She also knew a friend of the Partisans, and she sent her brother to get
him. I would judge her to be about forty years old. She had been to school in Chicago fifteen years
ago, and she kept pointing to first one thing and then another, telling us it had come from America.
When I asked her when Christmas was, she looked at me queerly and said, “Why, it‘s on the 25th,
of course;” and then when she realised what I meant, she turned sad and said softly, “Tomorrow is
Christmas Eve.”
She was very kind and shook her head sadly when we unfolded our story. I almost looked upon
her as my mother. We learned that planes had come over several times at night, dropping Russian
saboteurs into the surroudings woods. The German had been coming to the house to search once,
and sometimes twice, a day. Her brother came back to announce that the Partisan friend was away
and might be back tomorrow. She had heard our story, and now she talked in Czech with her
brother and his wife. Then she spoke gently to us and said we could sleep in the house that night if
we would get up at four o‘clock before the Germans would come, and the next day she would try to
get help for us. We went to the bedroom, and she brought us towels, warm water, and soap.
Somewhere between two and four AM we were awakened from our blissful sleep by a gentle
shaking. Our newly befriended Czech mistress told us in a trembling whisper to dress quickly and
quietly. Planes had come over in the night, dropping Ruskie paratroopers, and she was in grave
fear of Germans coming to search at any moment. We dressed hurriedly, had a glass of that
wonderful stuff called warm milk, and set off with her brother to hide in the woods.
In the evening, shortly after dark, our Czech friend came and led the way quickly and quietly
into the house. Our Czech lady told us softly she had dinner ready, and after that there was a letter
for us to read. What a splendid dinner there was waiting for us! We had a table set for two; and
though the house had electric lights, the table was complete with candles instead. We were in
ecstasy! This was home 5,000 miles away from home! Then we read the letter.
The letter was written in English by the minister of the churchin the little town a quarter of a
mile away. He and his wife had spent quite a bit of time visiting in the United States, and both
could speak almost perfect English. Before the war, the minister was writer of church stories for
children, and these writings were sent to America for our children to read.
I wish I could have saved that letter to keep always. In short, it advised us to give up and
become prisoners of war before it was too late. He knew we didn‘t want to do that, but he felt it
was the only way. We read the blunt facts; it was much too early for direct help from the Partisans.
They were just beginning to organize themselves, and the Gestapo had started a thorough and
ruthless terror campaign to snuff them out.
There was more in the letter - it was written very personally with great sympathy for our
position and regret for all the young men in America that had to go through the hell of war. He
started the Germans were afraid of the Americans, and that as far as he knew, they were carrying
out the Geneva Convention for the treatment of POW‘s; they permitted the Red Cross to send food
and supplies, and all POW‘s were treated very well.
When we had both read the letter, our hearts sank. I saw tears in the eyes of our Czech mistress.
We couldn‘t believe what we had just read, and we both scanned the letter again. We know the
minister and our kind hostess were thinking only of our own safety.
Our Czech mistress and her brother escorted us toward the little town of Lipthal. We were to go
to the church first, where the minister would then call in the Czech gendarmes. We were to
surrender to the gendarmes, and they would turn us directly over to the Wehrmacht so the Gestapo
would not get us. The gendarmes came for us, and slowly we rose. I almost cried (maybe I did)
when I said good-bye to our hostess of the past day, and whom we have since fondly called “our
Czech mother.”
At the police station were several gendarmes. They treated us the same as all the other Czech
had done. There was a picture of Hitler on the wall, and they sat around thumbing their noses at it.
Several phone calls were made to the Wehrmacht at Westin, something went wrong - it was too
late, and we were turned over to the Gestapo in Lipthal.
Then Tom described his miserable trek to the prison camp and the liberation of them by the
Russian army at the end of the war. After his coming back home he tried to contact Czechs who
helped him and Ed. He was finally successful.
In 1993 he visited our republic, after almost 50 years he met me and all the Czechs who had
helped him during the war. Mayor of Troubky village organized a great memorial event at the
monument dedicated to the American pilots - Tom‘s friends who died in air-battle over this area. In
two years later - in 1995 he came again to our country to Prague, participated of unveiling of the
monument of the Czech pilots who lost their lives for our freedom in the fight against the Nazis
during the war. He was very touched when the army band played evergreens, which he had listened
to with his friends at the rest between the air-raids on German. He worshipped the memory of his
friends in Troubky, he visited also Wienna, which he could only see from the plane during the war.
He left for home with a promise if he will be healthy he visits our country again, because he found
here so many good friends.
In the letters we exchanged from time - to time, Tom always remembers with a gratitude all the
Czechs who helped him and Ed in their advanturous journey his “Czech mum” Mrs Mrnuštiková 
and her relatives Maďars, reverend Mr Vallis and his wife, my countrymen from Henčlov.
 
 

28.3.1998

 

 

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