Air battles over Flevoland. Part 14: The unique salvage of the B24 at the Oostvaardersdijk.

“That was an emotional moment for him, after 32 years he saw his aircraft again”. ‘Oh boy, oh boy’.

The story of the salvage officer who was involved in the salvage of, in particular, Allied aircraft wrecks in the Flevoland polders.

Charlie Taylor 1975

Charlie Taylor (left) visits the crash site of his B-24 in the Oostvaardersplassen. He is being briefed by G.J. Zwanenburg (middle). (Batavialand, G.J. Zwanenburg Collection).

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I think the B-24 at the Oostvaardersdijk has always been the largest salvage operation. We had one of the survivors on scene, the co-pilot Charlie Taylor. He was the only survivor of that failed emergency landing over sea [see section 3]. As I had identified the aircraft on the basis of the serial number on it , I tried to find out more about the bomb load etc. through America. That was when it appeared that the survivor was still alive. They searched for him and the NCRV (Dutch TV organization) made a movie about it, ‘Liberator above water ' in a series called 'Time stood still’. Charlie Taylor then came to the Netherlands at the expense of the NRCV and he visited us at the wreckage sight. I welcomed him and we talked. It was an emotional moment for him, after 32 years he saw his aircraft again. At that moment he realized that his mates were still inside. He didn’t see this even though the aircraft hadn’t yet been drained. We had to make a complete sand dam and a large building site to get the human remains of the five men out. Then we pulled the aircraft out with the help of tanks. He was with us when we were working on emptying the cockpit. He didn’t see any human remains himself, I didn’t want that. All he could say was “oh boy, oh boy”. I think he was aware of the fact that his mates must have still been inside. Friends and family always have a picture of how a loved one was when he was alive. It has always been my rule that you shouldn’t disturb that image by showing human remains. He was very emotional. I think due to the fact that he was the sole survivor. They were his friends after all. The men you'd shared everything with good and bad, you formed a unity. They knew each other and went through thick and thin together, that creates a bond. Together they experienced things. So when after 32 years the whole story comes up again ...

He had been in captivity, returned to America and went to work. Perhaps forgotten everything a bit. You pushed it to the back of your mind. Not everyone could talk about their experiences after the war but that wasn’t always necessary. If you had a job, it was OK. However, afterward that, as you get older, it all comes right back. Especially if you were confronted with what happened just like Charlie. Whilst he was in the Netherlands, they took him and his wife to Margraten. Then they visited the graves of the men who had already been buried there. They had been washed ashore. Three men. We still exchange Christmas cards together. He has now heard the full story and knows what went down. He now has some peace of mind.

Source: Batavialand, interview by Lenie Bolle with Gerrie Zwanenburg, 16th September, 2009.

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