"My father and I are headed to Munich on 20 Oct 09, and are planning... of coming by train to Hannover, then by car to Oerie so see where his oldest brother died in the Arch Angel...."
With this simple e-mail the McKees announced their trip to visit our little village in 2009. I had no idea which amazing development was arise from this visit.......
Thursday, October 22, 2009, was a gloomy day: temperature hardly over 6°C and with an unpleasant breeze blowing.
At 10.00 o'clock, I had an appointment with Larry, Barney, Kevin and Shawn McKee. The two brothers Larry and Barney as well as their sons Kevin and Shawn originate from Louisiana and Mississipi.
They had travelled thousands of kilometers from that nice and warm State to that small, unobtrusive and, on that particular morning, chilly village called Oerie. They came with a purpose: to visit the places where Raymond Otto McKee had lost his life in 1944 and where he had originally been buried.
Raymond Otto McKee had been a member of an American B-24 bomber called „Ark Angel“. After the attack on the synthetic fuel plant in Misburg the „Ark Angel“ crashed behind the Oerier Woods. Raymond was one of the many victims of this ruthless war.
Shortly after 10 o’clock we were waiting for our visitors on the Oerier Square. Also present were two eyewitnesses to the crash, Mr. Fritz-Otto Kreipe and Mr. Horst Swischenko, who were 10 and 12 years old when the bomber came down, Ms. Kim Gallop, journalist with the Leine-Nachrichten, Ms. Sabine Müller, journalist with the Herold, and the Local Mayor Hans-Friedrich Wulkopf. They represented the German side of the story.
The McKees had spent the night in Hannover after having travelled the previous day from Atlanta via Paris to Germany.
When shortly after 10 o’clock a car with Dortmunder plates arrived from the direction of the War Memorial, I knew that this would be the McKee family. We waved and indicated that they should park on the Square.
It was a warm welcome, although it was the first time we met. Until then, I had only be in contact with Kevin via e-mail.
After a short explanation of the planned visit to the crash site and the cemetery of Oerie, our small convoy of cars got on the way.
We parked our cars near the woods. At this moment, the McKees must have realized that they were nearing the spot where almost 65 years ago their brother and uncle had lost his life.
We were standing close together. Behind us the woods, in front of us the empty fields A cold wind was blowing. Larry asked his son Kevin, a preacher, to say a short prayer, and all those present participated, silently and each in his own way.
We then went, accompanied by Mr. Kreipe and Mr. Schwischenko, to that exact spot in the field where almost 65 years ago the bomber had come down. The two German gentlemen, who had been schoolboys in 1944, described where and how they had found the wreck and the bodies of the crew.
Eye-witnesses: Fritz-Otto Kreipe and Horst Swischenko
The cold wind kept blowing. The eyewitnesses confirmed that, contrary to this day’s chilly weather, November 26, 1944 had showed a clear blue sky. However, the woods and the field haven't changed since 1944.
A picture of Raymond O. McKee who died in 1944
Mr. Kreipe is telling the McKees (Shawn, Kevin, Larry und Barney) about the plane crash.
After the impressive explanations of Mr. Schwischenko and Mr. Kreipe, Larry and Barney asked the two gentlemen to join them on the spot where the main body of the bomber had come down. They deposited nine white roses there; one for each of the deceased airmen . . . .
Flowers for the deceased brother
After this moving ceremony, the small convoy followed by Larry, Barney, Kevin and Shawn drove to the cemetery in Oerie.
The Oerie cemetery is small. To the right of the entrance you’ll find a water-pump and right and left along the short gravelled path the graves are neatly laid out. At the back and to the left there is a small chapel built after WW II.
Also at the back of the cemetery you’ll find a relatively large lawn without graves in the shadow of a big weeping willow. On this spot the nine Americans had been buried in 1944 (According to American military documents)
In 1946, the remains were exhumed and re-interred in American military cemeteries in Belgium (Neuville-en-Condroz) and in the Netherlands (Margraten). At a later stage ,Raymond O. McKee found his final place of rest on Baton Rouge National Cemetery in the State of Louisiana.
Final place of Raymond O. McKee on Baton Rouge National Cemetery
When we arrived at the cemetery, the McKees were astonished that the part where the crew of „Ark Angel“ had been originally buried had remained unused. We did not spend much time there because of the cold and the wind.
Larry (middle) and Barney McKee (right) at Oerie Cemetery
But all of a sudden, Larry asked Mayor Wulkopf if it would be permitted to place a small monument on that particular spot in the cemetery. To be continued....
Larry McKee with Mayor Wulkopf
The rest of the afternoon we spent in a convivial small party.
The next day, the McKees continued their journey towards Switzerland, where they were received by John and Carien Meurs.