The Most “Unimaginable Discovery on Texel Island” in the Cold Case Search

Unimaginable Discovery on Texel Island
The unimaginable discovery of a young 17 year old Dutch boy on Texel
who witnessed the final moments of my brother, Eugene F. Darter.

We had tracked the flight path of the Lonesome Polecat B-17F from Bremen, Germany to Texel Island, Netherlands through individual surviving crew reports as well as eyewitness reports on Texel. In addition, we discovered reports from two German pilots who saw the B-17 crash near De Koog village.  With all this information, we knew the general flight path of the B-17 across Texel as the crew proceeded to bail out thinking they were over the North Sea.

In addition, it is known that the four crewmembers bailed out soon after my brother Eugene, and landed across Texel Island (I met and interviewed two of them). Eyewitnesses on Texel also confirmed this.  Thus, there is no doubt that my brother splashed down in the Wadden Sea that lies between the Netherlands coast and the Frisian Islands, of which Texel is the largest.

So at this point the unanswered questions include: How far out from the island did he splash down? What happened after he hit the sea water? And sadly, if he died, what happened to his remains? If he did not die, what happened to him?

Crewmember Doral Hupp told me that it was about 4 minutes from the time that Eugene jumped out of the Polecat to the time he bailed out, and he landed half-way across the 5 mile wide island. At the estimated speed of the Flying Fortress, that would place my brother’s landing trajectory several miles from the Texel shores. Thus, no one would have seen or heard him on that freezing, stormy and foggy winter’s day.

But in a crisis, how accurately can you estimate time?  One minute would seem like eternity trying to get out of a bomber on fire and ready to explode! Eugene could have landed on the eastern edge of Texel Island and not even in the Wadden Sea! But even if he came down not far from the shore, who could possibly be out there to hear or see him come down on a foggy winter’s afternoon?  No one of course!

A few years ago, my son Paul and I made another trip to Texel and spent a week meeting people and seeking information on other eyewitnesses and information. The night before we departed for the US, we had dinner in a café in De Koog, and the waitress assigned to our table was “Naomi”, because she spoke good English. She was very friendly and told us that few Americans visit Texel, so why were we here? We told her about my brother who bailed out near Texel during the war and we were seeking information about him. She responded with “Well, we should talk to her father in law since he was here during the war and knows all about what happened on the island.” So she wrote down his name and address on a piece of paper and gave it to us. I put it into my pocket.

The next morning, I wrote another short newspaper article, which De Texelse Courant was always so gracious to publish with the photo of the crew. I gave my name, address, and email and pleaded for any and all information from anyone who could have seen what happen on 16 Dec 1943, 60+ years ago! I delivered it to the newspaper office and we departed for the ferry and Amsterdam, and then home to the US.

A few days later, I arrived at my office and turned on my computer and started going through my emails when I noticed a recent one from a Cornelius Ellen. I opened it and began reading, and within a few seconds, almost fainted from what I read. It started out:  “About the lost member of the crew B17 on December 16, 1943, local newspaper De Texelse Courant. On this day I (then age 17) am witness with eyes and ears when the airman with his chute past the dike on a level of height of +/- 150 meters….” and it ended with “’Gone with the wind’ between the farmhouses Sint Willebrord and De Bemes.  I am, after nearly 60 years satisfied to send you this.  Cornelius J. Ellen”.

I was stunned! Could this be true? A 17 year old Dutch boy out on the dike that afternoon saw an airman just over his head come down through the fog and screaming for help, then splash down into the Wadden Sea up to his chest in water with a fierce wind blowing out to sea!

After I recovered from the immediate shock, I noticed his telephone number and I dialed it immediately and he answered. I told him who I was and he spoke pretty good English.  We had a long conversation about what he had seen and I tried to determine if it was indeed my brother. His account certainly sounded like it was my brother, so after hanging up I called my good friend Johan Graas who had helped me a lot in the search, and asked him to travel to Texel to check out the account which he immediately did.

Johan called me the next day and said that after an intense talk with Cornelius, he believes it was my brother that he saw directly over his head and out into the Wadden Sea. There was nothing to rule it out and all of the circumstances matched with what we knew, in particularly the location (on the known flight path), the timing (afternoon), the date (16 December 1943), the fact that Eugene’s right arm was shot and he could not disconnect his parachute in the water. Needless to say I was in another world the rest of the day and for weeks afterward.

A few days later, I was cleaning out my briefcase and discovered the piece of paper that our waitress Naomi had written down the name of her father-in-law who grew up on Texel and knew so much about the war. The name on the paper was Cornelius Ellen! I cried again in thankfulness.

Michael Darter is an Emeritus Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is an international authority in design, construction, rehabilitation, and management of highway and airfield infrastructure. He has spent the past 15 years in a dedicated cold case investigation trying to find out what happened to his only brother.  Please see www.gonewiththewindhe for details and a short video.

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