Senior Circles: Behind enemy lines in 1944 — a harrowing tale of escape in Holland

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We commemorate the surprise attack by the Japanese on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. The attack forced the United States entry into World War II.

Americans, who grew up during the difficult times of the Great Depression and then fought in World War II, and those at home whose productivity and contributions to the war effort, are often called "The Greatest Generation." This term was actually coined by journalist Tom Brokaw for the title of his book published in 1998.


On the eve of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, I want to share the story of one hero of "The Greatest Generation," Rupert Lee Phipps. His daughter, Carole Ann Phipps Wilson, related to me the following events surrounding her father's service and harrowing experience in Europe during World War II.

Wilson lives in Columbia, and Rupert's nephew, Les Robinson, and his wife, Dalene, are residents of Ellicott City.


Army Air Corps Lt. Rupert L. Phipps was assigned to the 457th Bomb Group. Trained and qualified as both navigator and bombardier, he flew on 12 bombing runs with the same crew. On his 13th mission, he volunteered to join a new crew to replace both their navigator and bombardier who were medically unavailable.

Mission No. 126 took place on Sept. 26, 1944. The target was the railroad yards on the outskirts of the city of Osnabruck, Germany. The mission narrative for the bombing run on the 457th Bomb Group's website,, describes what happened on that mission.

"Major Watson led 35 planes to the target and no enemy fighters were encountered. The bombs were dropped from 27,000 feet and flak at the target was moderate. One squadron was unable to drop because of interference from another squadron and instead of the primary target bombed an airfield as a target of opportunity. On the way home one plane, s/n 42-32079, was hit by very accurate flak at the Dutch Coast and crashed near Haarlem, Holland."

The damaged plane, nicknamed Delayed Lady / Jayhawk, fell away from the group and ultimately crashed in Lisse, Holland. Two of the B-17 crew were killed, two became POWs and five evaded capture. Lt. Phipps parachuted to safety, evaded capture and was hidden by Dutch locals.

Phipps hid in a number of places — a haystack on a farm; a village where a family, friends and chaplain and a 12-year-old boy kept the secret for four and a half months; the homes of a former commodore of a Dutch cruise ship line and a gin company executive.

Finally, it was at Lage Zwaluwe where Phipps crossed the lake into allied lines in France, five and a half months after the plane crashed.

Phipps' daughter, Carole Ann, is extremely grateful to the families of the brave Dutch people who hid her father and helped him escape. She said, "I've known forever about my dad hiding from the Germans behind the pigs under the mud in a pigpen, and eating tulip bulbs as if they were onions because the Dutch ran out of food."

She knows even more now from reading the official escape and evasion report her father filed and from corresponding with the descendants of the actual people who hid him.


Carole Ann went on to say, "These discoveries have not only given me the contents to fill the book I've always wanted to write, but finding them has been the biggest thrill of my life!"

She attributes key discoveries to the research efforts of her friend Eva Shidle, of Ellicott City. Eva found the official Army Air Corps report Lt. Phipps filed the day he reached safety in France. The report details all the people who hid Lt. Phipps and smuggled him out of Holland between Sept. 26, 1944, and March 17, 1945.

Eva also found information on one of the sisters who hid Lt. Phipps for four and a half months of the five and a half months he was hiding. Carole Ann said that because of Eva's findings, she is now in contact with descendants of both the sisters.

Years ago her mother and grandmother gave her copies of letters sent from several Dutch rescuers to her parents and grandmother after her father was safe in 1945-1946. She also has photos of her dad at that time, as well as photos of the Dutch locals who hid her dad.

"These are gold to me and I treasure what I have learned thanks to Eva's research skills," Carole Ann said.

According to Carole Ann, Lt. Phipps never saw himself as a hero, just as another regular American young man of his generation. He was only 20 years old and newly married at the time of the plane crash.


He really didn't know the members of the Jayhawk crew. When he wrote his official escape and evasion report, he could only remember the names of the pilot and one other crew member.

In 1986, parts of the plane were uncovered when a bulb field was being dug up. Some of the items were archived at the city hall in Lisse, where archivist Erwin de Mooij rediscovered them in 2001. His find led him on a research mission to learn more about the plane and its crew.

Eventually, de Mooij and his brother designed a memorial to honor the brave crew and to preserve their memories.

On Sept. 15, 2012, the town of Lisse, an 800-year-old flower-bulb growing center 16 miles from Amsterdam, recognized the crew of the Jayhawk that crashed there in 1944, with the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to them at Engelbewaarderskerk, the church in Lisse. Many American family members related to the crewmembers attended the dedication of the memorial.

There is more to this story than I can fit in one column, so there will be a second installment highlighting the visit of Les and Dalene Robinson to Lisse for the dedication of the B-17 memorial.

Unfortunately, Carole Ann was not able to make the trip to Lisse for the dedication but plans to go to Holland at a later date to meet the families of the courageous Dutch who hid her father and helped him evade the Nazis and escape to France.