One man's war: After 50 years a sweet memory

The letter touched Paul Laubacher

After all, he'd never met the woman. The kindness he did her was fleeting - as small as a pack of gum, as effortless as tossing a box out of an airplane an it's been 50 years now.

But last month he received her letter. It came with family pictures and a card adorned with here needlepoint.

"My family and myself send you thousand thanks for that beautiful day," wrote Mariette Deweerdt. "We have still today a very good memory of it. ..."

In May 1945, Laubacher was radio operator Laubacher, 390th Bomb Group, Third Division, Eight Airfoce. In seven months, he'd seen his share of combat.

Mariette Deweerdt was a 5-year-old in the Belgian town of Ekeren, a suburb of Antwerp. She too had seen her share of war. The previous December, German bombs had killed the family down the street. Just across the nearby Dutch border, the occupying Nazis had blown up the dikes, flooding the region's farms.

Thousands were starving.
That's when British and American warplanes mounted "Operation Chowhound," a massive airlift for the Dutch.

It's also when Paul Laubacher, a 21-year-old who was to become a men's clothing salesman and raise seven children in Oxnard, crossed paths ever so briefly with Mariette Deweerdt.

Laubacher and the other eight men on his B-17 were juibilant. They roared over the lowlands, buzzing windmills. In some spots, the Dutch had arranged flowers to spell out "Thank you Yanks." The men unceremoniously dumped hundreds of tons of K-rations.
But there was something else. The pilot had collected small comforts from his men: chocolates, soap, gum. He placed them and a note in a package, a gift for the spirit more than the body. He rigged it up with a little parachute and it wafted across the border into the Deweerdt garden.

"I saw that a package was falling," Mariette wrote. "In the morning my father and I were in the garden to walk with our four sheeps that we had at that time. I remember it was a very exiting moment when we opened the package and saw the sweets, cigarettes etc. ... "
A few monts later, Mariette's grandfather sent the pilot a postcard. He called the package "a generous gift fallen from heaven. "
"The family much hopes to be able to one time reward a service," he wrote. "A good-turner is never lost."

Laubacher gets together with his Air Force buddies regulary. For years, he'd kept a copy of the postcard in his attic. When one of his friends, a Ventura man named Rick Biddle, announced he was going to Belgium, Laubacher knew just what to do: "Look these folks up, will you?"

He did. Mariette and here parents still live in their wartime house. They chat on patio chairs in the garden. They remember the package. Laubacher, a man with a wry witt and an appreciation for history, does too. "It beats bombs," he says.

The wardiary of Paul Laubacher

1 May 1945
"Food" mission. "no credit" took off carrying "K" rations to drop to the Dutch.
Assembled at 1000 feet but had to let-down to stay below the overcast + thunder storms. Flew at about 600feed to I.P. + broke up in "elements" and let down to 400 feet.
We led "high elements" of "C" Squadron about a three hour mission. Landed about 10.15 A.M.

5 May 1945
Food Mission "Utrecht"
Carried food to Dutch. Flew single ships. "No formation" Dropped food from 400 feed at 135 miles per hour.
Done a GOOD BUZZ JOB afther groceries away.
Had four "Ground men" along. Two captains and two line men.
(Editor's note: The target for that day was airfield Valkenburg, the pilot was Haven P. Damer. They flew in the B-17G Q 338769)

6 May 1945
Food mission Utrecht - same kind of mission as Yesterday. Dit a BETTER buzz job Today!!

Had four line men along today. The crew chief + his helper of 906, the assistant crew chief + helper of our plane 769. They all had a good time. except the "helper" from our plane. He was sick just about the whole trip.

The above information was provided bij Paul's son Joel H. Laubacher. The crewphoto was provided by Russell Ingram, the son of Russell H. Ingram.

The Manna Monument at Terbregge

At the exact spot of one of the dropzones overlooking the freeway at Terbregge is the Manna monument located. It symbolizes the belly of an allied bomber filled with food parcels. The monument has been the central location of the Manna / Chowhound commemorations since its unveilling in 2006. One year later the Air Commodore Geddes footpath was opened next to the memorial.

Diary of Norman Coats

May 3 - "Another mercy mission to Holland. We went deeper into Holland today. Very low altitude. I believe I must have waved at everyone in Holland. It is really a shame the ocean being turned into Holland. The great fields of tulips are beautiful. They had, "Thank You" spelled out with rocks. They could see me waving at them because they would point each others attention to it. Some of them had American flags waving them."