Rare item discovered
When Paul and Carol Butterworth, of Newnan, Ga., were in Minot a few days ago, he brought with him an authentic German leaflet that he received from a former B-17 bombardier. Bombardier Fred Lang said it was an original leaflet that they used to throw out their bomb bays during missions in World War II.
On Monday, when the Butterworths visited the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot, Paul presented the German leaflet as a gift to the museum, to Glenn Blackaby, curator.
“The leaflet is a rare item and we’re happy to have it,” said Blackaby.
The leaflet, its translation and the story of how Paul received it, now are displayed in the museum.
The Butterworths were in Minot Aug. 24-27 for Paul to do research about his cousin, the late Minot World War II pilot 1st Lt. Harry W. Eck and his family, and also Paul’s mother’s family, the Opheims. Paul is a former Navy pilot and also retired Delta Airlines pilot.
He obtained the German leaflet in 1981, when he was a 727 flight engineer for Delta and met Fred Lang, of the Ann Arbor, Mich., area, a former B-17 bombardier, who was traveling on Delta to Detroit.
Visiting with Lang and his wife, Paul learned the former pilot had been with the 91st Bomb Group at Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, England, and had flown the maximum number of missions at the time 30. He was a bombardier on a B-17.
1st Lt. Harry W. Eck, Paul’s cousin, was flying a B-17 when it crashed in Germany Sept. 13, 1944, and was killed. Paul has been researching Eck’s military career and the crash. Fellow researcher Ramon Bakerjian is chronicling the Eck story from the standpoint of the aircraft Eck was flying at the time of his last mission, Paul said.
Early the next morning the phone rang in Paul’s motel room in Ann Arbor. It was Lang and he wanted to meet Paul for breakfast. “Even though I was sleepy, there was no way I was going to turn him down,” he said. They met for breakfast, told war stories and Lang gave him a book, “B-17 Flying Fortress” by H.P. Willmott.
“Tucked into the pages at the beginning of the book was a single page artifact, obviously real and from the World War II era. Fred explained that besides dropping bombs on the Third Reich, they also dropped propaganda leaflets and he wanted me to have one,” Paul said. “Since he was a bombardier, he explained, he had more access to items they carried than the regular crewmember and he had saved this leaflet as an example of what they used to drop. His gift overwhelmed me.”
The leaflet is written entirely in German. Paul tucked the leaflet into the book, they parted and that was the last time he ever heard from Lang.
As the Butterworths were preparing for their trip to Minot, Paul was in the basement of their home looking at his old books and came upon his gift from Lang.
“And that’s when I remembered the leaflet. I thought, ‘Why not?’ This rare relic of the Eighth Air Force chronicle of war should not remain in a book in my basement,” he said.
He decided to bring it to Minot and present it to the air museum as a gift.
“The World War II generation is leaving us at record numbers (According to statistics released by the Veteran’s Administration, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of just over 600 a day.) and it remains the duty of my generation to make sure their sacrifice and commitment to the freedom this country symbolizes is perpetuated for all time,” Paul said.
It is with this goal in mind that Paul said he donated the leaflet “for it indicates that the Mighty Eight Air Force mission was not 100 percent dedicated on destroying the Germans they were also interested in changing the population’s attitude toward the war and their leaders.
“I drink a toast to the memory of the men like Fred Lang and Harry Eck may their memory continue forever,” he said.