Jan Naaijkens

After leaving the De Noo home, Tom was taken by a series of guides to The Young Duke (De Jonge Hertog) tavern near the village of Moergestel.  There they turned him over to Jan Naaijkens, a young schoolteacher from the village of Hilvarenbeek.  After the war Jan wrote two short stories, “De Fiets” (“The Bicycle”) and “Three Wise Men from the West,” both of which featured an American airman by the name of Tom Applewhite.  English-language versions of the stories appear elsewhere in this website.

Over the decades that followed, each man was busy with his own career and Tom and Jan had no contact.  They had last seen each other the night of 13 November 1943 when Jan delivered Tom to the Van der Heijden home in Hilvarenbeek and they said goodbye.    But almost 53 years later, the Dutch TV station TROS, in its program TV Masqué, broadcast April 28, 1995, changes all that.  They fly Tom from St. Louis, Missouri to The Netherlands at their expense for a surprise on-the-air reunion with Jan.  The program is much like the old American TV show, “This Is Your Life,” but with a lot of good-natured jokes played at the expense of Jan Naaijkens.  But, finally, the host, Ralph Inbar, turns serious and asks Jan about his role in the Resistance and his help to downed airmen.  Jan describes guiding Tom to Hilvarenbeek.  Inbar says that if it had not been for airmen like Tom Applewhite, he (Inbar) would not be alive.   Jan, asked if he had heard anything from Tom since the war, replies, “No.”  The TV camera then turns toward a large window facing out on the street.  It is nighttime.  You can see the street lights and the headlights of passing cars.  There is a face at the window–a man rapping on the glass to be let in.  The stranger, escorted into the studio, is Tom Applewhite.  Inbar introduces the two men.  At first, Jan Naaijkens doesn’t believe it; it is just another joke.

A disbelieving Jan Naaijkens is told, “Yes, this is Tom Applewhite, all the way from St. Louis.”

Tom not only had a reunion with Jan Naaijkens but also with Eugene van der Heijden, who was a close friend of Jan Naaijkens and guided Tom from the student hideout in the forest near the Belgian border to Brussels.

Eugene van der Heijden and Tom Applewhite at the Van der Heijden home viewing it from the southeast corner.

The Van der Heijden home in Hilvarenbeek showing the west and south sides.

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