Linda Berkery, a teacher I had worked with in my early years at School 12 in Troy, knowing of my work with Books for Troops wanted to tell me the amazing story of her father, Army Air Force Pilot Bill Styles and his incredible rescue when his plane went down in the North Sea. The story involves his rescue, by a Danish fishermen, his two years spent in German POW camps and the role that books played in reminding him of home and helped him to put aside for awhile the feelings of boredom, fear, anger, and homesickness He actually kept of a list of all the tilles and authors that helped the countdown time to release seem less tedious. Linda, in her research was actually able to get a copy of this extensive list.
The story of how Bomber Pilot Styles on his eighth mission, acting as co-pilot for Pilot Richard Carey in the airplane, Duration Plus Six eventually ended in the POW camp is one that tells of the unbelievable courage of not only his crew, Pilot Richard Carey, Co-pilot Styles,two other seriously injured survivors and six other members of the B-17, Duration Plus Six, unable leave the plane before it sunk into the North Sea. The plane had been hit by intense flak by German pilots before the Duration Plus Six had even been able to release their bombs. The splash point was fifty miles from Denmark and nearly triple the distance from their base in England. Co-pilot Bill and Pilot Carey, as well as two severely injured gunners were able to escape the quickly sinking plane pushed through the overhead hatch by the other six crew members. These brave "pushers" were trapped in the radio compartment and went down with the plane. Unknown to these four surviving men, a Danish skipper, Svend Pederson on his small fishing boat named Bertha had seen the plane go down and rushed to search for survivors. Within the hour, he found the four Americans floating in their Mae West vests and pulled then to the safety of his boat. Language was not a barrier to kindness and courage. The four fliers bonded with the Danish fishermen, shared food and clothing and helped to use splints from broken crates to mend Robert Lepper's broken wrists and legs. Viggo, one of the crew members on the Bertha took pictures while they hopefully waited for an American rescue. When it didn't come, Pederson was obligated to bring the fliers to the closest port. A German plane had seen the Bertha rescue the Americans, so they would be there at that Danish port to capture the Americans and bring them to a German POW camp. Pederson apologized for being forced to turn them over to the Germans. However,failure to do so would result in severe punishment to the Danish crew and possibly death. When Bertha reached Esbjerg, in southwest Denmark, amid protests and demonstrations, the Germans took the 4 men. These four survivors never saw each other again. Bill, however, before he was taken as a POW, handed his name and address to a woman at the pier and she kept alive the story by writing in the underground press. The story resurfaced six years after the rescue and it was returned to Bill's daughter. Bill was taken to POW camp Stalag LuftIII in Sagan,Germany. He was later moved to another POW camp fifty miles away where he walked in the bitter cold, poorly dressed, tired and hungry. One man he marched with, Clifford Dartt from Oneonta and his POW roommate, concealed a book in his pocket at the risk of his life, because he felt he needed a book to console him when things got unbearable. During the time that Bill was confined to the POW camp he read 215 books provided by the Red Cross and kept a record of them. They filled a lot of empty hours and prevented him from focusing on many negative thoughts. They also gave him hope and reminded him of home. After the war, he returned home, married, had 4 daughters and had a fulfilling career as a mortician at his family's funeral home in Troy. He was very committed to the community. He died at an early age of 54. However, his story continues through the efforts of his daughter. Linda had so many questions she wanted to ask and had a strong need to connect with the fisherman and his family who had rescued her father. The story continues below in, "The Makings of a 75th Reunion." Ellen Keegan as told bu Linda Styles Berkery
The journal that Bill had passed to a women while marching to the POW camp was returned to him August 1945. He also had made scrapbooks along with the journal that Linda inherited when her mother died. Going through the journal four pictures fell out with photos from the rescue. She also found an aged newspaper clipping and a handwritten letter posted from Denmark August 3, 1949. Linda posted everything she found on Facebook looking for a translator for the letter. When she found a Danish translator, he was able to tell her of the name of the man who had rescued her father. His name was Svend Pederson, skipper of the Bertha. With that information she continued her search through social media and was able to piece together the story of her father's rescue and toreach many of the Svend's family, most of whom had never heard of Svend's heroic role in the rescue. Through an archivist for the 100th Bomb Group Foundation she was introduced to Jeanne Carey, daughter of the pilot of Bill's plane. They joined in the search. A historian in Denmark forwarded Linda's e-mail to the same newspaper that had written the original story of the rescue to see if they could assist. A journalist wrote the story for the newspaper and also posted it on Social Media. Kristen, the daughter of the Skipper read the paper and for the first time learned about her father's courageous role in saving 4 Americans. From there, the daughter of the wounded warriors were contacted, as well as any families and friends related to Svend or to the rescue. Correspondence between Linda and the Danish families continued adding information. There was the exchange of further background facts, the exchange of momentos, and the beginning of a friendship. One of the momentos that Linda prizes is that of a silk map used instead of paper because it made no noise. It was sent by Viggo's son, Jaspar, who knew about the rescue.
Because of all the correspondence the families became so familiar with each other they decided that it was time to make plans for a reunion where they could meet everyone whose fathers played such an integral role in their lives. Finally after extensive planning, on the weekend in October, 2017, 74 years after the rescue, the families met. As Linda describes, "We had a close feeling upon meeting each other. I felt an encompassing warmth and familiarity that made me sense the history and connection that we will continue to have for each other. We have become a family."
The incredible story of the rescue of 4 pilots, including Bill Styles, reminds that even in a setting of war, there remains in man feelings of compassion, humanity, and commonality. This story demonstrates great courage, commitment and hope found in all the troops who fought for and continue to fight for our freedom today, God bless all of them and thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their willingness to sacrifice so much to protect our freedom Thank you, Linda for sharing your incredible story to remind us of our debt to our veterans and our troops. Ellen Keegan