Over time, I learned more about the incident, and how a battered wing of the Chow-hound was repatriated to the U.S. Air Force with ceremony and respect just a few years ago. More recently, I came across a website dedicated to the Chow-hound and her men.
I hope you will all have a look, because it tells the tale much better and more concisely than I could here. www.chow-hound.org/OUR-STORY.html
Astonishingly, the villagers of Lonlay l'Abbaye have never forgotten or put aside the sacrifice of these men. I was surprised to see that there have been several ceremonies over the years. The crash site was excavated, remains transferred to Arlington National Cemetery, and relatives of the Chow-hound crew have made pilgrimages to Lonlay.
Front row, left to right: Sgt. Gerald F. Gillies, Tail Gunner; 1st Lt. Jack R. Thompson, Pilot; Tech Sgt. Henry F. Kortebein, Engineer; 2nd Lt. Frank Bolen, Bombardier [not aboard on the fateful flight]; 2nd Lt. Charles Sherrill, Bombardier.
Back row, left to right: 2nd Lt. David J. Nelson, Co-Pilot; Tech Sgt. Blake A. Treece, Radio man and Gunner; 2nd Lt. Charles F. Bacigalupa, Navigator; Sgt. Warren D. Godsey, Lower Ball Turret Gunner; Sgt. Richard R. Collins, Waist Gunner
I only recently became aware of the event when I came across an article about it by Nathalie Guerin in Le Publicateur Libre online: actu.fr/normandie/lonlay-labbaye_61232/a-lonlay-labbaye-roses-blanches-le-sergent-gerald-gillies_18191068.html The article is in French, but I took the liberty of translating it as best I could to be able to share it here with you. Today seems like an appropriate day.
Posted on August 17, 2018 at 17:57
By Nathalie Guerin in Le Publicateur Libre
A ceremony was held Wednesday, August 8, 2018, in honor of Sergeant Gerald Gillies who was aboard the American bomber shot down by the DCA [German anti-aircraft] August 8, 1944.
Coming from Houston, Texas, to pay tribute to Sergeant Gerald Gillies, their father and grandfather, Dolly, Jody, Jana and Jill were welcomed by the Mayor of Lonlay-l'Abbaye, in the Orne, Christian Derouet who had instructed his assistant Christophe Pellerin to organize this day rich in emotions.
Associated with this ceremony, Jacques Paris, President of the Association Normande du Souvenir Aérien, recalled the circumstances in which Sergeant Gerald Gillies died.
9 Crew Members
On August 8, 1944, the B17 "Chow Howard" [sic – should be "Chow-hound"] bomber, belonging to the 91st squad with 138 elements, was tasked with bombarding the axis between Caen and Falaise. On board 9 crew members including Sergeant Gerald Gillies in charge of the rear machine gun. They flew at 15,000 feet. A relatively low ceiling for this type of plane. The ["Chow-hound"] receives its first impact of the DCA [anti-aircraft fire] over Mantilly.
The debris of its cabin will extend over more than 400 meters in fields in Lonlay-l'Abbaye. No survivors.
A Vibrant Tribute
After a poignant speech of thanks followed by a minute of silence in front of the memorial to the plaque dedicated to the 9 crew members, it is in procession that the descendants of Sergeant Gillies go to the exact place where the rear turret of the "Chow-hound" was found....
In the Le Guédier Field
An American flag stands, lost in the grove among the weeds. It is precisely in the Le Guédier field, midway between the villages of La Houdière and La Guerche Midi, that the rear turret of the ["Chow-hound"] crashed.
Christophe Pellerin points out: "You see, at the end of the road, 400m is the farm of my mother Thérèse Pellerin born Lebreton ... They saw everything ... "
Solemnly the flag is lowered.
The American flag will be folded in the rules of the art: "The American flag never touches the ground," confides Jacques Paris. It will be offered to members of Sergeant Gillies' family.
The Sergeant's Wedding Ring
One regret, however, for Jacques Paris: "The sergeant's wedding ring was saved and passed on to the Resistance. We did everything to find it. It may today still be in a forgotten drawer of a chest of drawers from Lonlay-l'Abbaye ... We would so much have liked to offer it to his daughter Dolly! ".
There are four white roses at Le Guédier field, amid tall grass that the August wind stirs up. Four white roses that must hum in this Norman grove: "If the 'Ricains [Americans] were not there ...".*
[*This last line is a reference to an old pop song by French singer Michel Sardou]