Wednesday, May 25, 2005

And that's the way it is...

Legendary CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite agreed to meet with me in his Black Rock office. I interviewed Cronkite for my book on Elmer Lower. Cronkite and Lower worked together at CBS News in the late 1950s.

My son, Parker sat in on the interview as my "research assistant."

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Finding Herb

He had been lost for more than half a century. Herb Cressman's C-47 Dakota, KG489, was shot down over Holland -- this much our family has known since September 1944. But we did not know what became of him. In 1950 Allied authorities abandoned their efforts to find his body. The Dutch, however, did not give up. Lex Roell spent his retirement trying to solve the mystery. He contacted Bev Cressman in 1996 with the news that he believewd he had tied Herb to a grave of an unknown British airman in Uden. In 1998, Roell succeeded in convincing the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that he had sufficient evidence to identify the unknown airman in Uden as my uncle, Herb Cressman. Finally, Herb had a headstone with his name on it and our family had a place to visit.

Now, the Dutch and Canadian governments are commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. My brother, Jeff Cressman, traveled with the Canadian military contingent to play in the pipe band. My father and I took the opportunity to join him. While there we attended official ceremonies. (Because I was writing for the Star-Phoenix, I had media credentials that allowed me to take some pictures up close. I've posted these photos online). We traveled along the Dutch Corridor of Operation Market Garden, then drove through Belgium and France to take the opportunity to visit the beaches of Normandy.

The trip allowed us to learn more about Herb -- that lost and loved brother and uncle who was one of so many sacrificed on our behalf. However, we were also impressed with the love and appreciation that the dutch people continue to express for their sacrifice. We are particularly grateful to new friends there, such as Louis Kleijne and Jurgen Swinkels in Sint Oedenrode and Antoon Verbakel in Uden. For their continued appreciation and for their warm friendship and hospitality we are most grateful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Rebecca's on the air!

My wife's new broadcast is now on the air. KSL-TV did a story on its morning newscast this week.

Last month Rebecca left BYU Broadcasting (where she directed news and public affairs and hosted "Living Essentials" on BYU-TV) to take a job doing the morning show, "Wakin' Up with Rebecca and Kurt" on a new KSL start-up station. The new station is KUTR, known on the air as "Utah's New AM 820." It's the state's first station programmed specifically for women. Beck is teamed with musician and composer Kurt Bestor.

The program airs live -- and can be heard online -- weekdays between 6 and 9 a.m. Mountain Time.

My students and I miss having her on campus, but I'm real proud of her. And she's having a kick!

Friday, May 06, 2005

Reporting from Holland

Here is the story I wrote for the Star-Phoenix, a newspaper in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It will run on May 7, as part of the paper's VE Day package.

UDEN, Netherlands -- Bev Cressman still remembers the early autumn day in 1944 that a telegram arrived at his family home near Ceylon, bearing the news that his older brother Herb was missing in action.

"We were shocked," said Cressman. "Of course you knew it could happen, but we really did expect him to return."

The memories of that day came flooding back this week, as the retired Saskatoon police officer visited his brother's grave for the first time in this Dutch city, 110 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam.

Cressman is not alone. Nearly 1,500 Canadians, most of them veterans, are visiting the country to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Holland from Nazi occupation.

Among the dozens of ceremonies conducted during the week was a memorial service Wednesday for flying officer Charles Herbert Cressman. For Bev Cressman, it was a day he did not know would arrive because until 1998, Herb's body had not been officially identified.

"It's almost like a dream," said Cressman.

"I would have never thought years ago that this moment would come."

Cressman's son Jeff, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, was overcome with emotion.

"I never knew him, but I feel I knew him," Jeff said. "Not only is he family, but a comrade."

Herb enlisted in the Air Force in 1941 and served as a pilot in the ferry command. Married with two young children, Herb was known as a fearless man and a bit of a prankster. While training in Yorkton, he broke regulations to fly over a nearby family farmhouse, dipping the plane's wings to wave to his relatives below. One family legend claims Herb even flew a plane under a bridge over the River Thames in London, later receiving a "proper dressing down" from military brass.

At the beginning of September 1944, Herb was assigned to the 437 Squadron, newly constituted in England and hastily preparing for Operation Market Garden -- a controversial and, ultimately, failed undertaking military planners hoped would provide a final push into Nazi Germany.

On the opening day of the operation, the 27-year-old pilot and his crew towed a Horsa glider behind their twin-engine C-47 Dakota, release it into the airspace over Arnhem before returning safely to Blakehill Farm in England.

In the following days, British air dispatchers joined Herb and his Canadian crew to drop food, ammunition and medical supplies for elements of the First British Airborne Division, fighting near Arnhem. By September 212, when crews joined 53 other Dakotas for supply drops, the Dutch Corridor had become so dangerous paratroopers knew it as "Hell's Highway."

Upon returning from dropping supplies into Arnhem, the column of C-47s encountered nine German fighters. The Dakotas were defenseless. Herb's aircraft went down near the town of Sint-Oedenrode. Eyewitnesses later reported that there were no survivors.

The Cressman family's grief was worsened because Herb's body could not be found. The bodies of seven of the eight crew members were identified: three Canadians on board were interred in the Canadian cemetery at Groesbeek and four British soldiers were buried in the Sint-Martinus Cemetery in Sint-Oedenrode. However, the Department of National Defence finally concluded in May 1950 that its efforts to locate Herb Cressman's body were unsuccessful.

Herb's mother, convinced that her son was alive but without his memory, suffered a nervous breakdown.

"We held out hope for so long that he had survived," Bev Cressman remembered. "We had no closure."

Unknown to Herb's family, his body was believed to be that of an unidentified British airman. His headstone was engraved, "Known Unto God," a circumstance that bothered Lex Roell, a Dutch citizen. Roell was so troubled by the unidentified graves that he decided to spend his retirement gathering evidence that would establish the soldiers' identities. Through eyewitness accounts, physical evidence and the process of elimination, Roell was able to convince the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that the unidentified British soldier buried in Uden was actually Herb Cressman.

When Roell first contacted Bev Cressman in 1996 claiming to have discovered his brother's grave, Cressman thought it might be a hoax.

"I was very surprised," said Cressman. "We had given up hope years ago."

In late 1998, the war graves commission concurred with Roell's findings and agreed to replace Herb's headstone. The day workers installed the new headstone, citizens in Uden gathered for an observance that was covered heavily in the local media.

Roell's devotion is not uncharacteristic of Dutch dedication to remembering the sacrifice of Allied soldiers. Thanks to others like Roell, a few dozen fallen soldiers are identified each year, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

In Uden, as in other areas, citizens have formed a foundation to organize commemoration services and serve as a liaison between the War Graves Commission and visiting Canadian family members.

Antoon Verbakel, secretary of the Uden War Cemetery Foundation, said he cannot let go of his memories of the war. He still carries the memory of finding dead airmen now buried in the Uden War Cemetery.

"It is one thing to say you are grateful," said Louis Kleijne, a retired schoolteacher in Sint-Oedenrode who continues to conduct research on behalf of surviving Canadian and British families. "However, it is another thing to do something about it."

Canadians will leave this country feeling plenty of gratitude to their Dutch hosts, who have been so devoted for so long to Canadian war dead.

"It's not about us," said Randy McDonald, a Sault St. Marie piper with the 49th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. "It's about the guys who served."
The opinions stated here are my own and in no way reflect those of Brigham Young University, its students, faculty, or sponsoring institution.