1st Lt. Ed Jansen
501st PIR, 101st ABN Division
On christmas eve (1984) Ed Jansen of Springfield received a letter from a Dutchman who was little more than a foggy memory from a bad time in Jansen's life.
As a 12-year-old boy, A.G.C. Hermens, the Dutchman had risked his life to save Jansen behind enemy lines in the closing stage of World War II. Sunday afternoon, Jansen talked about the encounter. It has been 40 years, the 66-year-old amputee said, since he last told the complete story. Before Hermens' letter, it was a time Jansen had fought to forget.
Operation Market Garden was the code name for the event that led to the encounter. Market garden was dramatized by the movie "A Bridge Too Far".
If Operation Market Garden suceeded, a corridor would be cut through the German lines in the Netherlands, the Germans would be outflanked and only sparsely defended land would lay between the Allies and Berlin.
The war would be over by Christmas, cam the official word.
But market Garden failed.
Jansen, a first lieutenant in the U.S. 101st Airborne boarded a transport plane at 11 a.a. the day of the operation, Sept. 17, 1944.
The plane was under flak fire from German cannons as it crossed the Belgian coast at midafternoon, Jansen said. As the paratroopers prepared to jump, 70 miles inland from Eindhoven in central Holland, the plane crossed the battle zone below.
Īt was real quiet."Jansen said.
Firve minutes before the signal to jump Jansen stood at the door, his parachute hooked up for release. He was to be first out.
"It felt like someone hit me in the leg with a sledgehammer." Jansen said. He found himself in a pool of blood, half conscious.
Jansen learned later an armor-piercing shell tore through the fuselage, ripped through his leg, tore off part of his buttocks and exited the top of the plane.
Jansen's leg was wrapped in a tourniquet. The green light designating jumpoff flashed. Jansen sat by the door as his friends jumped, then he eased back and dozed off.
Jansen snagged his clothes as he slid on his rear to the door. Terror struck as flames burned him and he yanked at his clothes.
Rolling out backwards, Jansen tumbled in the air. Upside down, Jansen's gun slammed his face. He threw it off, pulled his parachute cord and floated. The plane crashed in a plume of smoke - the crew aboard.
As Jansen parachuted, Germans took pot shots and clipped a boot heel, he said.
Once Jansen was on the ground a young German soldier took aim at him from 15 feed away, he said. Bot a bellowing yell prevented the shot.
A German paratrooper's yell had saved Jansen. The paratrooper was part of an outfit Jansen had encountered earlier on D-Day, he said. Jansen had suffered two wounds in the belly during that campaign.
"Hundert erste (101st), hundert erste"the German paratrooper boomed, thrusting a greeting hand toward Jansen.
Jansen was rebandaged and placed under the eve of a house. While there Jansen said, a British bomber blew off the roof.
At night Jansen was loaded on an ambulance and driven to a train to be transported to Germany. At daylight however, another British plane bombed the train, blowing up the engine.
Abandoned by the Germans during the bombing, Jansen and four other Allied wounded who were unable to walk lay there hours.
Then at midafternoon, Jansen heard Dutch voices.
Hermens, his sister and mother loaded the men on a straw wagon to haul to a doctor. The peasants risked their lives, Jansen said, because their actions would be considered aiding the enemy by the occupying Germans.
En route to the doctor, two German SS officers stopped the wagon.
"They barked a bunch of crap and the boy just stood there by the horse." Jansen said. Approaching the wounded, the Germans aimed their pistols, he said.
"Like mushrooms, all the sudden Dutch peasants popped out of the ditch and surrounded the cart. I don't know where they came from. That takes a hell of a lot of guts. That little guy (Hermens) never moved." Jansen said.
One soldier died waiting, and another was too wounded to move. Jansen does not know what happened to that soldier.
Jansen was transported to a hospital in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands where his right leg was amputated at the knee. He remained there until liberated by the British, Dec. 3, 1944.
Jansen had not seen Hermens since the day the Dutchmen saved his life. He knew nothing of Hermens' where-abouts and only had a half picture of the events surrounding those days until Christmas Eve. Hermens however spent the past 40 years inquiring about the four soldiers he had rescued. Who were they? And had they survived?
Jansen thinks it was through a reunion of the 101st in Europe last fall (1984) that Hermens learned of Jansen.
Since the Christmas Eve letter, Jansen has written back and received a second, lengthy letter from Hermens. Hermens drew a map of the route from the train and included a biographical sketch of Dr. Hanegraaf.
Now his memory of that time has awakened again, Jansen said, revived by the brave boy he will always remember.
The text is from a local newspaper in Springfield Missouri, USA.
Planning your trip to see the Market Garden battlefields? Bring the battlefield guide.
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