By: Keith Kappes
Carter County Times
The tall man with the foreign accent stood at the microphone in the memorial garden at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He was the guest speaker for the annual stateside reunion of the 95th Bomb Group.
Sitting behind him were 11 men in their mid-to-late 90’s, all former crew members of B-17 bombers that flew from bases in England to attack targets in Germany during World War II.
But this was not to be a celebration of defeat of the enemy but something more important to most of these old men who had shared a unique experience in the final days of the war in Europe in May 1945.
The speaker’s voice began to crack as he described being half-starved as a five-year-old boy in Holland during the Nazi occupation. He walked up behind one of the flyers, put his hand on his shoulder and said in a heavy Dutch accent:
“Thank you for saving my life and the lives of my family members when you brought food to us in Amsterdam as part of Operation Chowhound”.
The veteran he touched was Ray Hobbs of Ogden, Utah, a former B-17 pilot and my father-in-law. Like the other vets and most of us in the audience, Ray was reduced to tears as the Dutchman hugged each of them.
Dropping bread instead of bombs during six Chowhound missions was the only action Ray and his crew saw in England because they arrived just as the war was ending.
At 96, today Ray is prouder than ever of what he and thousands of other American and British airmen did on those lifesaving missions. After the war, the government of Holland reported that an estimated 500,000 of its citizens were close to starvation when the food drops happened.
Of the estimated 7,000 Americans assigned to the 95th during its assignment in England from 1943 to 1945, fewer than 60 are known to be alive, many of them in poor health. Several have reached 100 years of age.
Ray flew his B-17 back to the United States and was discharged in October 1945. He is the only living member of his crew of 10 men. At 21, he was the aircraft commander.
“It took a while to realize it but now I know for sure that we saved lives instead of taking them and that is a good feeling for a lifetime,” he said, proudly.
Keith Kappes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org