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by Hal Susskind
On January 3, 1943, in the midst of a bombing raid on German torpedo stores at St Nazaire, France, a miracle took place that is still remembered 50 years after.
S/Sgt. Alan Magee, from the 360th Sqdn. a gunner in B-17 #41-24620, aptly named Snap! Crackle! Pop! was tossed out of his burning aircraft at 20,000 feet. Unfortunately, he was not wearing a parachute. As he fell from the plane, he asked God to save his life. "I don't wish to die because I know nothing of life" was his appeal to The Almighty." Then he lost consciousness and crashed through the glass roof of the St. Nazaire railroad station.
He regained consciousness in the first aid station where he was carried before he was taken to a hospital. "I owe the German military doctor who treated me a debt of gratitude," said Magee. "He told me, 'we are enemies, but I am first a doctor and I will do my best to save your arm.'" The doctor, whose name he never found out, saved his arm and also took care of his multitude of injuries.
All this action took place on the 303rd Bomb Group's ninth bombing mission and fifth to St. Nazaire. It proved to be a costly mission. The group lost four aircraft to enemy air action, one carried Major C. C. Sheridan, the 427th Squadron Commander.
On the 23rd of September 1995 Alan E. Magee, accompanied by his wife Helen, returned to St Nazaire to take part in a ceremony sponsored by French citizens, dedicating a memorial to his seven fellow crewmen killed in the crash of Snap! Crackle! Pop! in the forest at La Baule Escoublac on Jan. 3, 1943.
The Magee's were welcomed to France by Michel Lugez, American Memorial Association President. who greeted them at the Nantes/Atlantique Airport and acted as their escort throughout the various ceremonies.
On Saturday, September 23rd, after a mass in memory of the seven killed aviators, the entourage proceeded to the crash site where the memorial was uncovered and dedicated. This was followed by the planting of "a tree of peace" by Magee.
The following day the Magees, accompanied by Michel Lugez, visited the U.S. Military Cemetery of St. James in Normandie, where Alan paid his respects at the graves of his crewmates: Lt. G. Wintersetter, T/Sgt. Dennis C. Hart, T/Sgt. A.M. Union, Sgt. M.L. Milam and S/Sgt. E.W. Durant.
During his visit to St. Nazaire, Alan visited the Hermitage Hotel, where he was treated by the German doctor, also the harbor and the submarine pens and also the ancient railroad station with its glass roof that cushioned his fall 50 years before.
As he looked at the railroad station with its glass roof, he said, "l thought it was much smaller." Actually he had never seen the railroad station before because he was unconscious when he hit it on his fall from 20,000 feet.
Alan was also named "Citizen of Honor" of the St. Nazaire town by its Mayor. "It should be repeated that St. Nazaire was 90 percent destroyed," said Michel Lugez. "Also numerous Nazarians were deported to the concentration camps or shot while helping U.S. aviators evade the enemy in their efforts to get to Spain to rejoin their units back in England; also the landing in Normandy and our liberation by the U.S. Army and Allied Troops was very much appreciated by the local population."
Lt. Glen M. Herrington, the navigator of the crew lost his leg to enemy gunfire. He was captured upon landing. He later became one of the first AAF men to be repatriated. He died in 1987. S/Sgt. J.l. Gordon who also bailed out and became a POW is still among the unknown number of people we have never located.
The 303rd Bomb Group's B-17 41-24620 Snap! Crackle! Pop! was named by Capt. Jacob Fredericks, 360th BS, who flew the ship from the U.S. to England.
Before entering the USAAF, he had worked for Kellogg Co., the creators of Rice Krispies cereal and its "Snap! Crackle! Pop!" promotional slogan.
According to Michel Lugez, "This aircraft's fragment comes from the right forepart of an American B-17 bomber (Flying Fortress) shot down the 3rd of January 1943 in the forest of La Baule-Escoublac.
The section containing the slogan was cut from the fuselage by the Germans. It became a 'war trophy.' It decorated the wall of a villa called 'Georama,' an important property next to St. Marc sur mer/ St. Nazaire which looks down upon the sea, opposite the Loire's estuary and of course occupied by the Germans.
At the end of the war, before they were captured, the occupying enemy threw the trophy 'Snap! Crackle! Pop!' off the cliff along with an RAF aircraft bomber's company crest. They were recovered in the rocks bordering the sea by Michel Harouet. On the left side of the aircraft there was a signature: Clinton H. Dole restored in August 1989."
In spite of being shot down 50 years ago, the spirit of Snap! Crackle! Pop! still lives on.