Saturday, January 16, 2010
Saturday Evening, January 16/10 at the Mardaga
We are back here at the Mardaga after an amazing day. I must say I am running out of adjectives. Karel and his son Jan picked us up and took us to Opglabbeek (beek meaning brook) City Hall where we were met by the mayor and some of the council and some members of the local historical association including William Engelen who was another major driver of the events today. There were a few reporters as well. A lovely reception with some wine and juice and canapés followed in the council office. The mayor took me on a bit of a tour showing off the local art which is everywhere in the building – paintings and sculptures. They had a special page for me in the guest book which everyone signed with me at the top. The mayor gave a speech welcoming us and thanked us for coming. Everyone was so welcoming. I gave a small response thanking them for coming and making me feel so welcome. And especially honouring my father. I was presented with a lovely gift of chocolates and a strawberry drink which I will try when we get home. We have lots of bubble wrap from the poster now.
We then went over to a hall next to a grand church – a very old grand church. There was an amazing display of US Army vehicles outside the hall and there were people in US Army uniforms. There was an air raid siren which ushered us into the hall! The place was jammed! Bill and I figure there were about 150 people there – many of them elderly who still remembered the war and what happened. They brought their pictures and their books as well and wanted to tell people about it. I went around the room shaking hands and thanking everyone. I had my hand kissed twice! The display was marvellous. William spoke and the mayor spoke and I spoke and I said (according to Bill) thanks for being so welcoming to Dad and the other pilots who were very far away from home 65 years ago.
In truth, 130 Squadron was only there from December 31, 1944 to January 27, 1945. Dad only flew four times because the weather was so awful then – snow and wind. The wind actually blew some of the supply tents down at Y.32 Ophoven airfield. And so more details have become clear, to me at least.
And now to the plane! A man named Frans says he knows where Dad’s plane crashed. All that can be seen right now is a slight depression in the field near the woods not far from the Mardaga. However, Karel believes that work might be done to see what’s under there. So we’ll have to wait until the countryside improves before any digging goes on. But he says he’s like a pit bull once he has something in his teeth! I met Frans and he was one of the fellows who kissed my hand – I’m charmed! He is also going to give me a small piece of a plane tomorrow and I’ll have more about that then.
I had to be almost dragged away to get back to the Mardaga for the reporters and the presentation of the poster to the hotel owners. There will be lots of pictures later this week but above is one of Ludo Geurden of the Mardaga and me holding the plaque up on the wall in the lobby where he says it will be hanging. And that's Bill, of course, on the right. That’s the dining room just behind Ludo and the stairs going up behind me – a place of prominence indeed!
And so our host Ludo brought Bill and me each a snifter of Hennessy Cognac and we raised a toast to the hotel and to Dad. We raised our glasses on behalf of John and David Hall as well as the rest of my family.