In the morning of Sunday 17 September 1944 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division boarded C-47’s on airfields in eastern England. Soon the first C-47 took off, followed by over 450 transports.
Name of operation: Operation Market Garden. Destination: Holland - DZ N (505th Regimental Combat Team and 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion), DZ T (508th Regimental Combat Team) respectively southwest and northeast of Groesbeek and DZ O at Overasselt for the 504th Regimental Combat Team – minus the 376th Parachute Field Artillery).
Several C-47s were shot down by anti aircraft fire. One of them crashed at Waldgraaf on DZ T, another just across the Dutch-German border. Paratroopers of the 508th went to their assignments and attacked the enemy where they could. Roadblocks were set up, several were just across the border at Wyler and Zyfflich. Men were killed and at the end of the day several men were missing.
It is known among the veterans of 1st Battalion 508th that two Americans were captured by the German border guards and marched to Kranenburg, some 3 miles from the border. They were murdered by Ludwig Kluettgen, a SA man who draw his pistol and shot the Americans at close range through their heads. Their remains were buried in the Kranenburg cemetery. It was believed that these two men were paratroopers from A Company 508th. Since their names were never known and troopers from A Company 508th were missing that 17 September 1944, members from the 508th started an investigation in the early 1980’s. These men were Owen Bruce Hill (also known as OB), Zane Schlemmer, Jim Blue and no doubt several other 508th troopers. They were aided by Philip van Elteren from Beek, Father Gerard Thuring from Groesbeek and myself. We checked files and records from the 508th, we interviewed other Red Devils and even checked and rechecked files at the National Archives in Suitland, Maryland. Also authorities in Kranenburg were contacted, with no result.
From the National Archives I ordered IDPF (Individual Deceased Personal File or Burial File) for the 508th troopers who were killed on the 17th or who are still missing. I checked locations but they did not match with the story. The mystery remained a mystery. Until early-September 2016.
Marco Cillissen and Gerrie Franken (just like me members of the Groesbeek Airborne Friends), recently received IDPFs for aircrew members of the 49th Troop Carrier Squadron from the 313th Troop Carrier Group. One plane of this unit was shot down on 17 September 1944. The plane crashed just across the border inside Germany. The crew had bailed out and reached the ground. The pilot, Squire Burton was severely wounded and taken POW by the Germans, soon to be liberated by a bunch of 508th troopers under Lieutenant Rex Combs. Burton was badly burned and given first aid. Then the Germans attacked and overran the American positions, taking prisoners, including Burton. Now he spend the rest of the war in a German prison camp. Actually the fate of the other crew members were not know, other that they were buried in American cemeteries in Belgium. In the files Marco and Gerrie received I read the whole story what happened on 17 September 1944 at Kranenburg. Finally the mystery was solved.
The two men were Sergeant George T. Harrison and Corporal William H. Armstrong from the 313th Troop Carrier Group.
No 508th troopers were murdered at Kranenburg
On 17 September 1944 on the day of the airlandings in this area, Technical Sergeant George T. Harrison and Corporal William H. Armstrong, crewmembers of an American transport,
[were] taken prisoner. They were killed on this spot by a SA man. This act became a crime and the man was sentenced
Sergeant Harrison is buried in the Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. Corporal Armstrong is buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neuville-en-Condroz in Belgium, where he is buried in plot-grave C-4-47.
On 19 September 2016 the monument at Kranenburg was expanded with a small plague with the names of the Americans. Family of the two men were present at the unveiling.
This all thanks to Marco and Gerrie.