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The latest in a chain of uncanny coincidences linked to World War II pilot Lt. Everett L. Bailey occurred when a white car caught his cousin Fred Farnsworth’s eye while driving past the Los Alamos Lemon Lot last September.
Farnsworth, a World War II veteran himself, called the owner, who turned out to be originally from Switzerland.
“I asked her if she knew of Lake Greifensee and she told me she had friends there that she was planning to visit this summer,” he said.
Lake Greifensee is near the site where Farnsworth’s cousin died when shot down April 24, 1944, by the Swiss.
“On this Fourth of July, it’s a time to reflect on the fact that freedom is not free and this is the story of one family’s sacrifice to secure the freedom we enjoy,” Farnsworth said. “My cousin was a hero. He stayed with the airplane in an attempt to save the wounded on board and the airplane was too low for his parachute to open when he finally attempted to bail out.”
Bailey belonged to the 384th Bombardment Group, flying B-17 aircraft during combat missions over Europe as part of the Mighty 8th Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany.
“Everyone thought the Swiss were totally neutral but they weren’t,” Farnsworth said.
Prior to the Lemon Lot coincidence, in which Farnsworth ultimately bought the car, his cat began acting strangely at his home in White Rock.
“I thought it was strange that my cat would go down to that lady’s house and scratch on her door,” he said.
Farnsworth began talking with the homeowner, who was born in Switzerland.
Her husband had translated a German aircraft magazine article for Farnsworth and when she saw the article, she remembered being there as a young girl. She told him she was living in the town near Lake Greifensee and remembered the day his cousin’s plane was shot down.
“She told me one of the surviving crew members gave her a piece of chewing gum,” Farnsworth said.
Farnsworth began researching that period of the war.
“I knew all my life that Everett had been shot down by the Swiss,” he said, “but I didn’t know the details until I started on the Internet. It’s amazing how much is out there,” Farnsworth said.
He discovered a website, www.384thBombGroup.com, and a 1992 book, “Smokestack Blue Leader, Slow Down!” by Dewayne Bennett and Les Jackson.*
The authors describe Bailey’s apparent intention to ditch his plane into Lake Greifensee rather than attempt a landing on one wheel: “The Swiss fighters were waggling their wings, indicating he land. He circled the lake a second time, and the Swiss fighters moved in. As Lt. Bailey started a third pass, three of the fighters opened fire. ‘Little Chubb’ (Bailey’s plane) was doomed. She was at about 1,000 feet and burning. Lt. Bailey immediately gave the bail out order. Eyewitnesses said that all four engines were silent when the plane went over their heads, but the number 3 engine was burning badly. Lt. Bailey, Sgt. (Richard) Hollingsworth, and Sgt. (Anthony) Melazzi bailed out near Lake Greifensee. Lt. Bailey’s body was found on the shore of the lake. His chute had failed to open. S. Sgt. (Raymond) Newall and S. Sgt. (William) Silag both parachuted out at low altitude, and although burned, and shaken up, both survived.”
In 1953, the Swiss authorities finally granted permission to extract the B-17 from the bottom of that lake.
“The lake has become a wildlife refuge and they had a lot of trouble getting permits just to go in there,” Farnsworth said.
In another coincidence, Farnsworth met a young Englishman online. He was a WWII buff who also has developed a keen interest in the historic events surrounding Farnsworth’s cousin.
“We got to talking online and he went to the Swiss museum where pieces of the plane are on display and requested a small piece of the plane, which he sent it to me,” Farnsworth said.
A movie about the event is in the works in Hollywood and a reunion of 384th Bombardment Group members is scheduled for Oct. 2-5 in Dayton, Ohio.
* Both Bennett and Jackson granted permission to include excerpts from their book in this article.