A great love for America still exists in the hearts of Eastern Europeans where pro-Americanism thrives. The proof may be found in Zohor, Slovakia. This passion for America takes the form of a B-24 from 464th Bomber Group, which crashed in Zohor in 1944.
The story about the airmen‘s secret funeral by partisans and the erecting and preservation of their monument decades later, deserves attention.
This telling story transcends today’s politics and anti-American rhetoric. While America faces new enemies and the impending doom of yet another war perhaps in the Middle East, this is one of the most beautiful stories to comes out of WWII. It is in the form of a memorial dedicated to the Slovak partisans’ who protected and honored our American pilots.
Florida based American sculptor Gregory Marra, who specializes in crafting war memorials, stumbled upon the memorial to Merton Haigh and John Fassnacht while studying in Europe. Seeing it in disrepair Marra cleaned it up upon its 65th anniversary, cut the grass and hung the American and Slovak banners on the Flag poles behind. “It was very emotional mostly because I knew that no one in the states knew about the memorial in the U.S. “ Marra said “The families hadn’t known of the care the Slovaks took to memorialize our Airmen. In fact the tombstone was kept hidden from the communists till 1995 when it was discovered. Whoever hid this tombstone was facing a firing squad if discovered,” notes Marra. There are several monuments in Slovakia to downed airmen.
Miraculously in November 2012 Ray Hadden, of North East Pennsylvania, the son of Ray Hadden Sr. the tail gunner of the Bomber “Old Brown Nose” researched and stumbled across articles of the memorial. Hadden found that former Pennsylvanian Marra had restored the memorial to his father’s plane. Ray Hadden called Mr. Marra to thank him and Marra was shocked and relieved, to finally discover that Hadden knew all about the geography and details of the monument. According to Marra, “They discussed that the planes whereabouts have not been found and that a statue in return to thank the Slovaks must be raised.” Marra, a classically trained sculptor, explained to Hadden that, “We need to thank the Slovaks with a statue since they had done so much for us.” They agreed it is befitting to try and do so.
Hadden wants above all to find the rest of the Airmen’s families to let them know of the great offering of respect and care the Slovaks made to their father’s heroism. Above all he wants to thank the people of Slovakia for their actions and to remind the Slovaks that we take note of every kind act towards America and welcome a deep friendship based on mutual respect. Hadden would like to find the remnants of the plane and visit the Slovaks in the town of Zohor to personally shake their hands. He would like to see an effort by America to help clean and maintain these memorials.
The bomber “Old Brown Nose” was on a mission to bomb Vienna on October 17, 1944. The 464th Bomb Group/ 778 Bomb Squadron was on mission number 107 to raid a depot near Vienna B-24 J-15-FO 42-51964 Old Brown.
2nd Lt. John C. Fassnacht Pilot KIA
2nd Lt. John W. Lindsay CoPilot POW
2nd Lt. Richard J. Witt Navigator POW
2nd Lt. Robert F. Cunningham Bombardier KLD
T/Sgt. John R. Lonsdorf Engineer/Upper turret gunner POW
S/Sgt. John Krogstadt Left waist gunner POW
T/Sgt. Lyndle K. Clark Radio operator/Right waist gunner POW
S/Sgt. James T. Hutchinson Nose gunner POW
S/Sgt. Merton W. Haigh Ball turret gunner KIA
S/Sgt. Raymond L. Hadden Tail gunner POW
Frank Kliment who owned a soda factory in Zohor witnessed the crash of the bomber which was riddled with German shot. The plane crashed so close to his home he had to go seek shelter in the basement. Six parachutes blossomed nearby and the windows of his home were shattered by the explosion from the crash. Two Airmen’s bodies lay nearby lifeless. Kliment prepared the bodies for a solemn funeral with flowers in a nearby church. Kliment contacted his sister in America after the war in an effort to contact the airmen’s families. She was successful and the mothers softened by the news were so thankful to the people of Zohor for the burial and treatment of their sons.
The memorial in Zohor, which resembles a B-24’s rudder, was erected by air war enthusiasts in 1995 on the spot where the airmen were originally buried (their remains were later repatriated to the United States). However, the memorial had fallen into disrepair until Marra and his family decided to help restore it. Many have chronicled by the “Slovak Air War ” enthusiast which displays an utmost respect for our country as their own Slovakian history was being destroyed by the communists.
The Slovaks buried our dead knowing they could be executed for the act. The Slovaks contacting the families soon after war and the hiding of the tombstones keeping them safe for till the day Communist control ended is extraordinary.
“It is time we recognize the efforts of the Slovak people and create a monument to thank them for their kindness, generosity, and bravery. Pro-Americanism exists deep in the heart of Europe because the Europeans know that America and her defenders stand for freedom,” says Marra.
Marra’s recent work has been devoted to commemorating American military heroes, including George Washington and his Crossing, Americas last Dough-boy, a Special Operations National monument and many more. His works honor the gallantry and success of human kind through our armed forces, allies, partisans, and freedom lovers world-wide.
Marra states, “There are so many monuments and projects to build from the beginning of our history to now. Let us start with thanking the Slovaks and Slovak Americans by building them a memorial tribute here and across the pond.”
To learn more on how you can be a part of the monument process, restoration of existing memorials such as this one honoring our WWII American airmen please contact firstname.lastname@example.org