Aug 15, 2013
05:55 AM
The Connecticut Story

Branford Man Heads to Belgium to Accept Father's WWII Honors

Branford Man Heads to Belgium to Accept Father's WWII Honors

Mara Lavitt

John Tolbert of Branford will travel to Belgium to receive honors for his father James, in photo. James was a WWII Army Air Corps Staff Sgt., tail gunner, who was shot down in his B-17 over Belgium, and spent a year and a half in a German prisoner of war camp.

BRANFORD >> It was August 1943 and the Allies were busy bombing rocket factories in Nazi Germany. Historical records show Nazi forces on Aug. 16 purged a Jewish community in Poland, hauling away more than 25,000 men, women and children to death camps at Majdanek and Treblinka.

On Aug. 17, a 19-year-old American airman from Pennsylvania named James Tolbert was at the rear of a B-17 Flying Fortress, Boeing’s four-engine bomber, high above the dairy fields of Lummen, Belgium.

It is unclear whether a German fighter shot down the “Dear Mom,” the name of the B-17 carrying Tolbert and nine other crewmen.

What is clear is that six of Tolbert’s mates did not come home.

“He had a broken nose and a fractured jaw,” recalled Tolbert’s son, Branford resident John Tolbert. “He came down in the middle of a street and in Lummen they didn’t have a hospital, they had a pub.”

On Wednesday night John Tolbert will board a flight of his own, this one a commercial jet bound for Belgium, where on Saturday he will attend a ceremony in his father’s name.

The town of Lummen is unveiling a memorial to honor the crew of the Dear Mom, Tolbert said.

“I don’t know if this thing is as big as a shoebox or as big as a Volkswagen,” he added.

Tolbert’s relationship with Lummen dates back to 2003. That year he and his wife embarked on a European vacation, with visits to Amsterdam and Paris. Lummen, located east of Brussels, lies in between.

“She said yes when I told her I wanted to visit Lummen,” he said.

Tolbert’s father died in 1996. He recalled that his dad did not talk much about his service in World War II until later in life where at some point, according to Tolbert, “he just started opening up.”

Tolbert learned about his father’s brush with death in Belgium. Years later he would receive a call from a woman in Massachusetts, the daughter of Arthur McDonnell, another survivor of the crash.

The call came nine years after his visit to Lummen.

Read the full article at the New Haven Register online.


Branford Man Heads to Belgium to Accept Father's WWII Honors

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