When the United States entered World War II in December of 1941, most of Europe was occupied by Germany. The continent was considered a fortress and invasion would not happen for several years. Fortress Europe did not have a roof however, and American air operations against German occupied Europe started in 1942. Air missions increased in until the Normandy landings in June of 1944 and continued until the war in Europe ended in May of 1945.
The American Army Air Force took the war into the German heartland with the Eighth Air Force equipped with B-17 and B-24 heavy four engine bombers that flew out of bases in England. Bombing missions dropped millions of tons of bombs on factories, rail yards and other military targets. These air operations did not go without cost however.
Thousands of planes were shot down by German fighters and antiaircraft fire with tens of thousands of air crew as casualties. During 1943, fewer than one out of four Eighth Air Force crew members could expect to complete his tour of duty – 25 combat missions. Two thirds of the men could expect to die in combat or be captured by the enemy. The Eighth Air Force would have more fatalities than the entire US Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater. Airmen killed in the air war were scattered and buried all across Europe.
On this date in 1943, Staff Sergeant George Krueger was a waist gunner on the B-17 bomber called Man-O-War when it was shot down by German fighter planes near the small village of Opijnen, (oh-PIE-nin) Holland. Krueger was killed along with 7 other crew members and were buried side by side in a small church cemetery by residents of the town.
When the war was finally over, airmen’s graves were located all across Europe and remains were either sent back to the states or interned in large centralized US Cemeteries in the liberated countries.
The citizens of Opijnen made a request that the graves of the eight airmen be left to their care in their own little village cemetery.
The request was granted and George Richard Krueger of Hankinson, North Dakota, lies next to his crew mates in the only place in Europe where American airmen who perished as a crew during World War II are buried where they died.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Book: Masters of the Air by Donald Miller
Article: Nov. 9, 2018 The Washington Post Magazine, A Downed Plane, A Dutch Village and the Act of Remembering.
Research by Peter den Tek, World War II Airwar Historian, the Netherlands.