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1944 ~ 2011

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Historical Research

This photo was taken during WWII in Elisabethville, Aubergenville* about 25 miles west of Paris. On the photo, you can see an American POW taken to the Standortkommandantur by 6 German soldiers. Facing the soldiers, a daring French civilian makes a military salute to greet the American serviceman and at the same time tease the German soldiers.

This page summarizes the historical research that was done in order to identify the POW and contact his family

*On the left bank of the Seine, about halfway between Les Mureaux and Mantes-Gassicourt.

American POW with German soldiers
Click here to view full size photo

Context

When I was a child I was often told the fascinating story of a tall American airman who had landed in a tree in Elisabethville and was immediately arrested by the Germans. Details of the story here. I was always wondering what had happened to the airman and hoping he could safely come back to the United States in 1945. My parents were aware of the existence of the photo however nobody could locate it after my grand-parents house was sold in the 1970's. In November 2010, however, my aunt found the photo in a drawer and my father emailed me a scan. I had heard the story so many times, seeing a photo of the real thing was an incredible experience. This fascinating photo tells a story on its own and I spent hours studying every details: the American POW, the French civilians, the German soldiers... I immediately decided to do some historical research in order to ID the POW, get in touch with him and/or his family and share the photo with this American family.

 

APPEAL FOR WITNESSES

If you have some information about this event, feel free to contact us by using the form below
 

With the help of several historians, we could in a little less than 3 months ID the airman and get in touch with his family. They immediately decided to fly to France and I am now looking forwards to meeting them in Roissy airport on April 14, 2011!!!


The information at hand

To get started with the research, I had the following information:

1)  A handwritten annotation on the back of the photo:

  Handwritten annotation on the back of the photo

Transcription:

" Le 8 Juillet 1944, un avion de bombardement U.S., au retour d'une mission (destruction réussie du pont de chemin de fer situé entre Maisons-Laffitte et Sartrouville) s'est abattu en flammes dans la région. L'un des aviateurs a atterri en parachute immédiatement derrière la gare d'Elisabethville où... six soldats allemands l'accueillaient . "

 English Translation:

"On July 8, 1944, a US bomber, back from a mission (successful destruction of the railway bridge located between Maisons-Laffitte and Sartrouville) was shot down in flame in the region. One of the airmen landed with his parachute just behind Aubergenville-Elisabethville railway station where… six German soldiers welcomed him.”

 

2) My Dad's testimonial (he was 8 years old in 1944 and he was in his garden when the event unfolded). His testimonial can be summarized as follows: he saw allied airplanes flying in the direction of Paris. They were perfectly aligned, all flying at the same altitude. A short while afterwards, he saw the same airplanes flying in the opposite direction (towards the UK). They were in a complete mess, all flying at different altitudes etc. Two were on fire... then he saw a parachute (or maybe several parachutes; he is not sure) popping out of one of the two bombers on fire... From his garden, my Dad saw the parachute landing close to the railway station. My Dad also remembers it took place some time after D-Day, most probably end of June or early July 1944.

3) A story that was verbally transmitted to me. Details here

4) Long shadows pointing eastwards indicating the photo was taken in the evening
 

The Research

Starting with the annotation, we quickly realized there was a problem: the railway bridge between Maison-Laffitte and Sartrouville wasn't bombed on July 8. The last bombing of that bridge took place on June 24. Therefore, either the date was wrong or the target was wrong. Or both were wrong...

Daniel Carville (http://www.francecrashes39-45.net) investigated the MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) of all the allied airplanes that crashed over France on July 8, 1944. Fitfty seven (57!) allied aircraft crashed on that day alone... but none of these crashes could account for an airman landing in a tree in Elisabethville... Therefore the date is probably wrong.

Daniel then investigated the MACR related to the successful bombing of the Sartrouville-Maison-Laffitte railway bridge on June 24, 1944 and he could find interesting information: Two B26 bombers were hit by flak and crashed in the region of Elisabethville. Details of the MACR are available on the following URL:

B-26 Marauder B-55-MA - 42-96120: http://www.francecrashes39-45.net/page_fiche_av.php?id=3424

B-26 Marauder B-55-MA - 42-96121: http://www.francecrashes39-45.net/page_fiche_av.php?id=3425


The first one crashed in Flexanville about 15 km of Elisabethville. In his escape report, Capt Moses J. Gatewood (serial number O-743752) says he landed in the vicinity of Flexanville and that after his parachute opened, he counted 5 chutes around him. There were 6 airmen on that B26 and this means they all landed in the vicinity of Flexanville ie about 15 km from Elisabethville. Besides, copilot Richard Haymond confirmed that he was encircled with the other 5 crew members and immediately arrested by the Germans. None of these men could have landed near Aubergenville-Elisabethville railway station. That B26 is therefore ruled out.

 
Francecrashes39-45.net

Each time an allied airplane went missing in action, the military authorities filed a MACR: Missing Air Crew Report. These MACR are available online; However they are in scanned format and the information is therefore inaccessible to search engines such as Google. That's where Daniel Carville comes in: he is currently analyzing each and every MACR pertaining to allied aircraft lost over French territory and files the most relevant information in his database. His database can be searched online and is therefore extremely useful for historians and researchers. Between 8,000 and 10,000 aircrafts went missing over France and the task is tremendous... So far, he analyzed 3150 crashes and the work is far from over...

Francecrash39-45.net is actually much more than a useful tool for researchers: in a way, it's an online memorial for the thousands of airmen who fought and died for the freedom of France and Europe. Most of these airmen were young men in their early twenties coming from various countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Poland, Norway... We owe them our freedom and we should never forget their sacrifice.

The other B26 crashed in Arnouville-lès-Mantes about 8 km from Elisabethville. In his escape report, 2Lt William E. Giffhorn says he landed near Epône. Another evader from the same B26, Sgt William F. Koenig says in his escape report that he landed near Goussonville. Looking at the map, we can see that Elisabethville, Epône, Goussonville and Arnouville-lès-Mantes are aligned. Furthermore, Didier Masfrand (http://grmcae.jimdo.com) forwarded us an article published on November 8, 1944 in local newspaper "Courrier de Mantes" stating that the day Giffhorn landed near Epône, another airman from the same B26 was made prisoner near Aubergenville railway station!

This means we have very strong evidence that the man on the photo jumped from that very B26.

 

Three Airmen in Epône (Vicinity of Elisabethville)

Bruno Renoult put me in touch with Marianne Heloin Vanura of Epône. Marianne spoke to several senior citizens of Epône and gathered fascinating information about what happened there on June 24, 1944.  Back in 1993, she met Aurélien; Aurélien was 17 in 1944 and was working as trainee in a pharmacy. After the liberation, during the 1944-45 winter (one of the coldest winters on record), he saw a woman named Lucienne Laprêté coming to the pharmacy. She was wearing a USAF vest. Puzzled by the military vest, he questioned her and she told him it was the vest of an American airman called Giffhorn who had landed close to her place and that she hid him for the night. She was sick and the weather was so cold during that winter that she was happy to be able to wear Giffhorn's military vest! A few days ago, Marianne managed to meet with Odette (now 85), the niece of  Lucienne Laprêté and Odette confirmed that her aunt was sharing her life with a man called Nestor Lambin. Nestor Lambin is the name of the "patriot" featured in the "Courrier de Mantes" article dated November 8, 1944! After further investigation, Marianne managed to locate the place where Nestor Lambin and Lucienne Laprêté were living. After the war, the place was bulldozed during the construction of highway A13 (A 2x3 lane highway linking Paris to Normandy) and is now close to a rest area...

 
Vexin Histoire Vivante

Bruno Renoult wrote 8 fascinating books (in French) about  the liberation of the Paris area in 1944. A set of five volumes provide an overall view of the liberation of the region.  Three other books focus on more specific events: the liberation of the Vexin region, the liberation of Mantes, and finally a book covering the dramatic events that unfolded in Northern Yvelines in August 1944 when the German counterattacked and claimed back territory that had been previously liberated a few days before.

His books can be purchased online on www.vexinhistoirevivante.com


Marianne also talked to a woman who was 14 in 1944 and remembers seeing a airman landing in her backyard on June 24, 1944 around 19.30. The German soldiers rushed uninvited through her house in order to access her backyard and arrived there seconds before the airman touched ground. Her Dad was fluent in German and decided to annoy the Germans soldiers by saying: "Don't walk on the small apple trees that I recently planted!" Odette also saw another airman touch ground some distance away. Important detail: She confirmed that none of these two men landed in a tree.

This means that on that day, 3 American airmen were seen in Epône: Giffhorn near what is now a rest area on highway A13, an airman in Odette's backyard and a third one in a field some distance from Odette's house.

 
Marianne Heloin Vanura

Marianne is the author of  "Les Mémoires d'Aurélien ou la Vie à Epône pendant la guerre d'un apprenti pharmacien". She is in close contact with the Veterans association of the 314th Inf. Regiment (79th ID) et 79th Recon Troop and regularly translates articles between English and French. Most notably, she translated the autobiography of a Lt of the 3rd Platoon of the 79th Recon Troop and the story was featured on an Australian TV Channel in 2003.

2Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel

Both 2nd Lt Giffhorn and Sgt Koenig say in their escape reports that they were told by the French that 2nd Lt Seipel had been turned in to the Germans by French collaborators. However, I managed to get in touch with 2nd Lt Ossian Seipel and his daughter and they forwarded me an extract of his memoirs. 2nd Lt Seipel tells a completely different story: he landed in a field where several Frenchmen were working. The French signaled him that there were Germans all around the field; the 2nd Lt was arrested by the SS shortly afterwards and taken to the German garrison in Elisabethville. The information gathered by 2Lt Giffhorn and Sgt Koenig were hearsay from the underground and hearsay should always be taken with a grain of salt.

2Lt Seipel explains that he landed in a field at the intersection between a highway and a railway. As of 1944, there was only one such intersection on the path of the B26: the intersection between highway N13 (now D113) and the railway going south towards Versailles. Interestingly, 2Lt Giffhorn says that during his drop, he saw 2Lt Seipel in a field with several Frenchmen about 500 yards from him. This intersection is precisely 500 yards south of the little farm where 2Lt Giffhorn spent his first night!

Sgt James Weldon Mellody

In the MACR, we could find the English translation of a German document that caused us some headache. This documents states that Sgt Mellody was captured by the SS at around 20.30 (ie more than one hour after the crash) at les Alliettes near Saint-Germain. We couldn't find "les Alliettes" on the map and a search on Google and Google Earth didn't yield anything. Could it be "Les Alluets-le-Roi" (8 km SE of Elisabethville) or "Forêts des Alluets", a forest that borders Aubergenville to the south?

Besides, when reading that report, we gather the impression that the Germans thought that Sgt Mellody had jumped from another B26: a B26 that crashed avenue de la Fontaine in Maisons-Laffitte, a short distance from the target. All 6 airmen on that bomber were killed during the crash. How could the German think that Sgt Mellody could have safely bailed out from that B26 and walk all the way to Les Alluets-le-Roi, or "Forêt des Alluets" or an unidentified location called les Alliettes in the vicinity of St Germain?

This report therefore seemed suspicious; maybe not properly translated or maybe the German who wrote the report somehow messed up the information that was given to him verbally.

I then received an email from Sgt Mellody's daughter-in-law; she told me that Sgt Mellody had told them that he had landed in a tree and was immediately arrested by the Germans. This means this German report had to be dismissed.


A dog tag in a field

In the 1990's, a Frenchman found Sgt Edwards dog tag in a field and historian Mme Josselyne Lejeune-Pichon managed to get in touch with Sgt Edwards in 1997. In his letter, Colonel Edwards (yep the Sergeant later became Colonel!) explained the chain broke when the Germans caught him. This suggest that his arrest was somewhat violent.

 

Identification of the Airman on the Photo

Now let's have a look at the information we have about each of the 7 airmen onboard that bomber:

X 1) 2Lt William E. Giffhorn (serial number O-747691): Landed near Epône and was not made prisoner

X 2) Sgt William F. Koenig (serial number 19147442): Landed near Goussonville and was not made prisoner

X 3) 1Lt Freal Charles Knox (serial number O-684353): Sgt Koenig says pilot was still onboard when he bailed out. This means 1Lt Knox touched ground far from Elisabethville. He was actually seen landing in Arnouville a few hundred meters from where the plane crashed. I later got in touch with his son and wife and they both confirmed that the man on the photo is not Freal Knox.

X 4) 2Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel (serial number O-695772): 2Lt Seipel landed in a field in Epône. When he saw the photo, he immediately said that it was not him.

X 5) Sgt Norman Charles Edwards (serial number 33558570): The violent circumstances of Sgt Edwards capture means he is not the man on the photo.

At this point, we are left with 2 airmen: Sgt Mellody and Sgt Ornstein. One landed in a tree near Aubergenville-Elisabethville railway station and the other one on the ground in Epône.

X 7) Sgt Jerome Ornstein (serial number 36736362): Landed on the ground in Epône. (Click here to see his photo)

6) Sgt James Weldon Mellody (serial number 18178493): Landed in a tree and then arrested by the Germans. Sgt Mellody is therefore the man on the photo! 

 

Unfortunately, Sgt Mellody left us in 2004. I wish I could have done this research earlier; I would have loved meeting him. Sharing the photo with his family was a wonderful experience. They were so excited they immediately decided to come to France. The Mellody's came to France on April 14, 2011 and we spent 4 wonderful days with them. We visited the Normandy beaches and walked in Sgt Mellody's steps in Elisabethville. It was like a dream coming true.

In March 2012, we flew to States and spent a wonderful week in rural Texas with the Mellody family.

Click here for more photos

  Our two families in Arromanches on april 15, 2011 - © armées.com
© armées.com

Here are two photos his family sent me. Note that the crew shown on the photo was not his usual crew.

Sgt James Weldon Mellody
Sergent James Weldon Mellody
Sgt James Weldon Mellody with other airmen
Back L-R: Major Kenneth C. Dempster (Pilot), Capt. Frank Bero (Navigator), Lt Haymond (co-pilot), Lt Creson (Bombardier), Front L-R: SSgt Weldon Mellody, Sgt Dressman (Radioman), Sgt Little (Gunner)

Click here to read James Mellody biography

 

Cigarette

An additional piece evidence later came in the form of a cigarette. Jo Nell Mellody remembers her father-in-law mentioning a Frenchman who offered him a cigarette. The German soldiers nodded an OK, so he accepted. This is perfectly in line with the story I heard "a French guy who was perfectly fluent in English asked the permission to speak to the POW. The Germans abruptly told him it was verboten; however, strangely enough, they let him offer a cigarette to the American."

According to what I heard, the name of that French person is Mr Ramus. Didier Masfrand recently met with Michel Rialland, 11 in 1944. Michel remembers seeing the POW throwing away a cigarette butt. He fought over the butt with his cousin and kept it as a relic for several years.

 

Timestamping

Michael Smith (B26.com) introduced me to Steve Sharp, a British B26 enthusiast. Steve studied the shadows on the photo and using http://pvcdrom.pveducation.org/SUNLIGHT/SUNCALC.HTM he tried to determine the time at which the photo was taken. He actually used another print of the same photo. That other print somehow extends a bit further to the left and shows an additional person. The tip of the shadow of that person is unfortunately hidden behind a kid that watches the scene and it was therefore not possible to determine the exact time. He could nevertheless determine a fairly narrow time frame: between 19.30 and 20.00.

According to the MACR, the B26 was last seen at 19.13 near Sartrouville. The airman therefore probably landed in the tree around 19.20. It obviously took more than 10 minutes for everything described here to happen and then for the soldiers to walk the 300 meters from the tree to the spot where the photo was taken. The shadows on the photo are therefore perfectly in terms with the US military archives.
 

Who took the photo?

So far this question remains unanswered. We would love to get in touch with the person who took the photo or his family. This person certainly took some risks and is definitely one of the heroes of the day. We also suspect that he took more than one photo and that our family has a copy of this particular shot because my grand-father appears on the photo. Having a copy of the other photos taken on the same day would certainly be fascinating. You can contact us if you have information that could help getting in touch with the photographer.

Same 1944 photo showing an additional bystander
 



 

B26.com

B26.com is a fantastic resource about Martin B-26 Marauders. It contains photos, information, accounts of the courageous men who fought on board these bombers during World War II and played a decisive role in the liberation of Europe and the Pacific.

It also contains a guestbook with fascinating information contributed by the veterans themselves, their relatives and historians.

 

Colorization

In 2012, colorization expert David Guihur decided to colorized the photo.

Click here to find out more.

 

Maps

Bruno sent me a US map dating back to April 1944 and with the help of Marianne, I placed the landing places of the four airmen that landed in the Epône-Elisabethville area.

American military map

 

And here is a Google map of the area; Click here to access a larger map and read the comments. NB: comments are in French and English
 

 
 

 

Media coverage

I would like to thank the media for their coverage of this historical research hereby helping me getting in touch with people who came up with interesting information:

Drapeau français January 19, 2011: An article in  Le Courrier de Mantes
Drapeau français January 22, 2011: A full page in Le Parisien
Drapeau français March 16, 2011: An article in Le Courrier de Mantes
Drapeau américain April 10, 2011: A column in the Dallas News
Drapeau américain April 14 2011: An article in the Royse City Herald Banner
Drapeau français April 18 2011: An article in Le Parisien
Drapeau français April 18 2011: An article in the Courrier Cauchois
Drapeau français April 21 2011: An article in le Courrier de Mantes
Drapeau français April 29 2011: An article in the Courrier Cauchois
Drapeau mauricien May 4, 2011: An article in L'Express


Contact Us

If you have some information that could help us move forwards in our research and contact these airmen, feel free to use the form below to contact us:

 

Name:
 
Email :
 
   

Message:  

                                

Philippe Mourand

 

Source:

http://www.mortsdanslescamps.com/pdf/1994/JO1994p14985-14994ALL.pdf

More information:

http://www.b26.com/page/sartrouville/maisons-laffitte-railroad-bridge-bombardements-1944.htm

http://www.b26.com/page/sartrouville/maisons-laffitte-railroad-bridge-bombardements-1944_p02.htm

http://www.b26.com/marauderman/james_weldon_mellody.htm

 

 

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