Pilot Savers from Well See American Again;
Meeting Again After Half a Century in St. Louis
by Paul Pouwels
Brabants Dagblad, Bommeler-Waard, 2 June 1993
(Excerpts translated by Peter Smit, 19 Feb. 2003 with corrections by Paul Pouwels)
Some people suffer from the noise when jet fighters are screaming low over the Bommelerwaard. Peter and Nellie de Noo have completely different feelings on the passing aircraft. Fifty years ago they saw an American bomber being shot down by German fighters. One of the crewmembers, 22 year old 1Lt Tom Applewhite went into hiding with the couple from Well. This past month the couple from Well met their person-in-hiding after 50 years during a reunion in the American town of St. Louis.
Peter de Noo, who lives in the small town of Well, received an award from Dwight D. Eisenhower for saving the life of Air Force Lt. Thomas Applewhite. He and his wife, Nellie, were invited by the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES) to make the trip of their life. They were invited to attend a meeting in St. Louis for a reunion of the fliers and their helpers in WWII who kept them out of the hands of their enemies.
After one-half century they have their reunion with Tom Applewhite. It was the first time after 50 years that they saw Applewhite again. “We were very happy that everything went well for him,” said Nellie. She showed her little pin from AFEES with a parachute that ends up in the palm of your hand.
On November 11th, 1943 a group of American bombers flew over the Bommelerwaard back to England after an attack on the German town of Munster. The Flying Fortress (as the B-17 was named) with 22 years old bombardier Tom Applewhite, already had been hit and over Holland it was attacked by German fighters.” I saw how those fighters set the bomber on fire” tells de Noo. “The aircraft flew across the river Maas and I saw those boys baling out. At that time I was rather curious and I was not afraid at all, so I took the rowing boat of my brother and crossed the river. In the neighborhood of Hedikhuizen I met Tom in a shed where he was sent to by the people who found him. Via a person who spoke English [Jan van Bommel] I could make clear that it was safe when he followed me. We waited until dark and then we rowed back across the Maas to Well”
Nine out of ten survived the crash of the B-17, but Tom Applewhite was the only one who did not fall in German hands. Last month Applewhite told a reporter of the local newspaper South Country Times that he waited as long as possible with opening his chute, so that the Germans did not see where he landed. The aircraft crashed near Dussen.
“The first thing I did was shave his moustache and side-whiskers. Everybody could see that he was not a Dutchman. But I told him that he looked like Hitler”, de Noo chuckles. The Germans searched the surroundings for the tenth man and they also searched in Well. But in the remote area of Het Heust they did not get German visitors.
It was a very nervous time for the de Noos, especially because his wife was in advanced pregnancy. They lived in a very remote area [outskirts of Well]. They realized that what they did had a high risk. If they got caught it meant death for them. But even knowing what could happen to them, they did it anyway. In attending the reunion they came into contact with someone who saved 49 fliers, which gave them the feeling that they hadn’t done all that much.
Peter’s brother is Adriaan. He was the contact man in Den Bosch. He was the one who brought Tom Applewhite to Den Bosch. He took care that Tom Applewhite was picked up by helpers from Den Bosch. Adriaan told the ferry guide, when they crossed the Maas, that Applewhite was mute.
The Air Force man escaped via Brussels, France, and Spain to England where he arrived in January 1944. During the war he did not fly any more because of the risk of falling into German hands after another crash, with consequences for the Resistance.
Peter de Noo had another experience in 1944 when he was risked being shot. He helped a German soldier to desert. He hid the soldier’s uniform and gave him civilian clothing. The German said, “I don’t need war anymore; I have had enough of it.” Peter kept the soldier’s carbine and used it to shoot at German planes. He never heard from the German again. But they kept in touch with the American for years, because Applewhite had written his mother’s address on the back side of a painting.
After 1957 the de Noos lost contact with Applewhite. It was a big surprise when last year they got a message that Tom was still alive, followed by the invitation. It was an emotional meeting. He was very thankful. They were thanked, awarded a medal, and thanked once more for something that “was brought to us by accident.”