Fifty-four years after they were shot down over Nazi-occupied Europe, five former U.S. airmen honored Slovaks on Saturday who helped them and other Americans escape to safety.
One of the former airmen honoring the Slovaks was Roy Madsen of Salt Lake. Joined by veterans of the Slovak wartime resistance, the five men raised plastic glasses of blueberry brandy and toasted the memory of those who helped save them."They did so much for us," said Jack Kellogg of Vista, Calif., the only one of the five who was captured by the Germans. "You know when you get back here, it makes you glad. You did what you did."
Kellogg, Madsen and Neal Cobb of Carmel, Ind., John Schianca of Enfield, Conn., and George Fernandez of Bellevue, Wash., were shot down over Nazi-occupied Slovakia during raids in July 1944 and September 1944.
Both raids were targeting an oil refinery in Lauchhammer, Germany, about 40 miles north of Dresden.
Kellogg, shot down in the first raid, landed in trees outside a village. After a week of evading the Germans he collapsed in a field, tired and dehydrated. When he awoke, a Slovak boy was tending him. The boy took him to his home, gave him food and water and let him rest for several hours.
The boy pointed the way to Allied lines and they parted, having never exchanged names for security reasons. Kellogg was later taken prisoner crossing into Hungary and was held in Hungarian and German jails until the war in Europe ended in May 1945.
The other four were luckier. They eventually were picked up by anti-Nazi Slovak partisans and taken to an airstrip controlled by Slovak guerrillas in Banska Bys-trica, about 30 miles east of Polomka.
On Oct. 7, 1944, a team from the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, landed at the airstrip.
Cobb, Schianca, Madsen and Fernandez flew back to American lines aboard the plane that brought in the OSS agents, who were accompanied by Associated Press reporter Joseph Morton.
But the agents and Morton were captured by the Germans in Polomka on Dec. 26 and taken to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where they were executed on Jan. 24, 1945.
Morton's daughter, Mimi Morton Gosney of Lexington, Ky., is accompanying the veterans, whose visit was organized by historian Jim Downs of Oceanside, Calif. The group arrived in Slovakia on Thursday.
On Friday, the airmen were given commemorative medals by municipal authorities of Banska Bystrica, where the 1944 Slovak uprising against the Nazis began.
The visit brought back memories of the desperate days when Europe was in flames.
Schianca, 83, broke his leg after bailing out of his flaming bomber. He was picked up by Slovaks, who took him to a convent in the town of Trencin, where the nuns cared for him until his leg healed.
He left after several weeks and began to make his way toward Allied lines. He was guided by Frantisek Sekeres, a 17-year-old partisan, who took him to the airstrip.
"You don't know how often I have made that trip in my mind all these years," Schianca told Sekeres through a translator during their first meeting since the war.
During the ceremony, Slovak army Lt. Col. Anton Filo recalled hearing as a child that "the Americans were here."
"And I know the children in the village have seen you today and they, too, will say: `The Americans were here,' " he said.