Crash of the flying fortress B17 #42-5053
in Saint-Colomban (France)
on July 4th 1943
In 1943, as the Allies progressively achieve mastery of the skies, the aerial attacks become heavier in the West. On Sunday, July 4th 1943, an air raid of the 8th Air Force, composed of 62 bombers, targets the airfield of Château-Bougon and its aeronautical workshops where fins and rudders are manufactured for the German firm Heinkel.
The bombing over, the flying Fortress B17F #42-5053, known as "Boody Tangier Show", is hit by the AAA. One of the engines is burning fiercely. The plane is losing altitude. German "Focke-Wulf" fighters pursue the bomber.The pilot sounds the bail-out signal. It's too late for the radio operator and the starboard gunner who are mortally wounded! The other crew members bail out in time from the burning plane. The port lateral gunner, gravely wounded in both legs, is pushed out by one of his comrades.
By now it's noon. Eight chutes open in the sky above the village of Saint Philbert de Grand Lieu, while the Flying Fortress crashes in flames at Saint-Colomban, in the hamlet of "Besson". At the same time, the parishioners of Saint Colomban are celebrating the great festival of "Fête Dieu" in the church.
Six American paratroopers are immediately captured by the Germans, who have been occupying our area since June 1940. But the pilot William C. Wetzel and the navigator Ralph D. McKee, find shelter , with the help of young Frenchmen, in two farms of the surrounding area, in Villeda and Lottrye, two hamlets of Saint Philbert de Grand Lieu. This results in several inhabitants of the hamlet of La Gentiserie in Saint Colomban, wrongfully accused of hiding a paratrooper ,being taken to the prison of Lafayette in Nantes where they stay three weeks.
Through the resistance networks, the two escaped airmen find themselves one week after the crash at the home of the chemist of Basse Indre, who is the Deputy Commander of the secret army of Loire Atlantique. After many difficulties an escape route is found. The two Americans cross France, and Spain where they are interned a few days, then Gibraltar, before flying to Marrakech and finally England! They are back in the Chelveston base in England, on September 4th 1943.
The six other airmen are prisoners of war. William O. Hulett, persuades the doctors of the camp not to amputate his left leg. William F. Mooney, prisoner of war in Stalag 17B in Austria, in spite of hardship, maintains his spirit and independence. On May 3rd 1945, the prisoners are liberated by American troops. William F. Mooney goes back to England to rejoin his fiancée, while William O. Hulett sails back to the United States of America in the Queen Mary and stays several weeks more in military hospitals before seeing his family. The other airmen go back to the United States.
On 4-July-2004, the people of Saint Colomban erected a memorial to the downed aircraft and held three days of events around the dedication.
Website made by Didier Giraudeau 17 rue du Moulin 44310 Saint-Colomban
Last update 04/02/2012
|Ralph D McKee died on
February 4, 2012 (age 90)|
O B I T U A R Y
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Ralph D. McKee (age 90) died on February 4, 2012 at
Wuesthoff Hospital in Rockledge, Florida. He was born near Southard, Oklahoma.
5He came to Brevard Country in July 1958 from Montgomery, Alabama.
Col. McKee retired from the Air Force in 1965 after 24 years of service. He was a veteran of heavy bomber air
operations during World War II and the Korean War. His decorations included two Distinguished Flying Crosses, two
Purple Hearts, five Air Medals, Air Force Commendation medal, six campaign and
service medals and the French Legion of Honor. After retiring from the Air Force, he was engaged in various engineering
assignments on the Apollo and Shuttle programs for 31 years.
He was a graduate of Oklahoma State University, Florida Institute of Technology
and the Air Command and Staff College.
He was a member of Faith “Viera” Lutheran Church.
Other memberships include the Caterpillar Club, Military Order of the
Purple Heart, Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Society, American Mensa Ltd, AF&AM No.
418 – Oklahoma, F&AM No. 318 – Florida, Scottish Rite of Freemasonary, Azan
Temple Shrine, National Society of Professional Engineers, Florida Engineering
Society, Institute of Certified Professional Managers, Aircraft Owners &
Pilot's Association and the Soaring Society of America.
Survivors include his wife, Elinor S. McKee of Viera, daughters Dianne M. Rhodes (Don) of
Melbourne and Helen M. Duncan (John) of Coral Gables, granddaughter Shannon E.
Hill (Gregory), great-granddaughters Blair Alexandra Hill, Holland McKee Hill
and great-grandson, Gregory H. Hill, Jr. of Nashville, TN, daughter-in-law
Diane H. McKee of Jupiter and nephews, Dr. Larry L. McKee (Vicki) and Dr. Garry
L. McKee of Oklahoma City.He is predeceased by his son, Ralph D. McKee, Jr., Grandson, Chadley M. Rhodes and
brother Marion Leon McKee.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Florida Institute of Technology,
Chadley M. Rhodes Scholarship Endowment, 150 West University Blvd., Melbourne,