CRAWFORD COUNTY - Recently several members of the Eugene Moran family joined John Armbruster to fly to Germany for the 75th anniversary of the B-17 Flying Fortress, Rikki Tikki Tavi, getting shot down over a small city named Syke.
As the tail gunner, Moran rode the tail down 28,000 feet without a working parachute. He and the navigator, Jesse Orrison, were the only survivors from the 10 man crew. Mr. Orrison’s eldest son, Wayne and his family converged in Syke along with waist gunner, Edmund Sweedo’s nephew Gregory and wife Sue to complete the contingency from the United States for the commemoration.
There were several school children who witnessed the plane's overhead demise on November 29, 1943.
One such witness, Dr. Dirk Ippen, sponsored the lodging at Bed & Breakfast Eschenhof for 27 guests for the four days of public recognition of this historic event.
During the summer of 2017, German author Ulf Kaack was doing research for his book concerning the WWII air war over his region of Germany near Bremen. In the meantime, former North Crawford award-winning history teacher John Armbruster was deep into writing his own nonfiction account of Eugene Moran's turbulent WWII saga. Searching online, the German author discovered Armbruster's name and website, Tailspin, where he found invaluable information and photos of the crew.
Continued online communication between Kaack and Armbruster resulted in each author answering questions for the other. A global friendship ensued when Ulf asked John for permission to use information and photos for his book, published earlier in 2018. Ulf then presented the idea of having John and Eugene's family travel to Syke, Germany, as welcomed guests of the city on the 75thanniversary of the downing of the Rikki Tikki Tavi. John requested Eugene’s daughter, Joni Peterson, handle the details of a global gathering as Ulf suggested.
As the event grew nearer, the emails continued to cross the Atlantic firming up details. Extensive Deutsch media coverage was expected during the four days in Syke. John and Joni would be interviewed at Sandbostel, the original Prisoner Of War Camp (POW) and hospital where Moran’s severe head trauma was treated. Moran was held prisoner there for two months before being transferred to other POW camps. The following day, they were joined in Syke by other siblings and their families, relatives of other crew members and German friends. The interview was presented on German PBS TV and aired before most guests left Germany.
Silvia Rojek-Zierau, a former 1989 German exchange student in Soldiers Grove, acted as interpreter during a meeting of the Syke city council and Mayor Suse Laue. Acting on behalf of all Rikki Tikki Tavi families, Joni Peterson presented the mayor of Syke with an etched glass art piece created by Denis Daniels of Wausau, Wisconsin in grateful appreciation of the hospitality shown to all, while emphasizing the grace and dignity the dead crew members were treated during that cold, fateful day in November 1943.
The highlight of the speeches was when the charismatic German politician and former mayor of Bremen, Dr. Henning Scherf, spoke bilingually in English and German. He shared that he was a boy of six sitting in the bomb shelters under Bremen, tightly clenching his grandmother’s hand in 1943. His granny told him: “Be grateful for the Allied bombing and destruction because it was necessary.” He further explained, “No German of today carries any grudges toward any Allied airmen or soldiers because they were needed to achieve peace.” The room erupted in continual applause.
In spite of several downpours, a chartered bus was procured for sightseeing. It was simple to understand how Syke was in the flight path for allied bombing of Bremen as the guests were driving past the actual debris field of the Rikki Tikki Tavi; the bus passed a man’s backyard garden where one of the engines lodged, as well as the location of the bakery where the other engine dropped through the roof, burning the building to the ground.
Emotions were apparent as the family members of the Rikki Tikki Tavi neared the wooded edge of a field where Eugene Moran fell while riding inside the tail section of the plane crashing into a large tree trunk and falling to the ground. Armbruster invited everyone off the bus to the muddy spot on the same day 75 years earlier where Moran could not believe he was, in fact, alive. Recognizing a teachable moment, Armbruster called out to Moran’s great grandson Jackson taking him by the shoulders saying: “Look around you Jack! Memorize what you see, feel, and witness today. Seventy-five years from now, you will be 89, the same age as Eugene was when he died. You carry with you the memory of this crew. As long as you live and remember, those men will not have died in vain! You carry their memory and their sacrifice with you.”
In a park setting not far away, another magnificent wooded area was the next stop. It was here that Jesse Orrison’s parachute caught itself in the canopy of trees. Crying out to a schoolgirl eyewitness, Orison experienced great pain from his wounds. She quickly sought out adults for help. John Armbruster interviewed her near the same location, while her grandsons were listening and translating. In the meantime, Wayne Orison shared with the group amidst camera crews and reporters, how his father, unbeknownst to Wayne at the time, returned to Syke after WW II to thank the villagers for saving his life and for the excellent medical attention he received prior to becoming a POW. Wayne and his family were asked to unveil a permanent plaque bearing the entire crew’s photo along with the historic significance of the site.
A replica of the plaque was later presented to the Moran family to share with the village of Soldiers Grove. Accepting this global gift were several of Eugene’s children: Tom, Mike, and Patrick Moran, Laura Hackman, Joni Peterson, and Caroline Moran (wife of Patrick). Nieces, nephews and friends included Joseph Schueller and Louise Wang, Kelly and Ryan Donner, Tim and Melissa Moran, Steven, Michelle, and Jackson Moran.
German friends in the group included Silvia Rojek-Zierau, Angela and Volker Spickermann, and Sylvia Thun. John Armbruster rounded out the family members.
To balance the more serious aspects of this visit, a fun day was spent in Bremen touring the Mercedes-Benz factory, eating lunch at the Rathskeller, the former German council house. A visit to the large Christmas Market was enjoyed by all prior to leaving Germany.
Other members of Eugene Moran’s family unable to attend were Pauline Moran of Soldiers Grove, Margo and Bill Murphy of Gays Mills, Bridget and Randy Trussoni, Romance, Sue Moran and Richie, Viroqua, and Elizabeth and Kevin Doyle of Rancho Cucamonga, California. Two sisters, Rosemary Korber and JoAnn Moran, along with their brother Marty and Ida Moran, also were unable to attend.