AFEES MEMORABILIA STILL CHERISHED IN FRANCE
May 6, 2017 – The reception table at the Ploemel village hall was set with festive decorations, small glasses of hard cider and Far Breton cake – a traditional spread set out for the American guests who had come to honor the local Diabat family, who was the first to help Lt. James “Bud” Wilschke escape capture by the Germans 74 years earlier. A lively crowd of Americans and local French politicians and citizens crowded into the room, all excited and eager to toast new friends.
Between the drinks and food, a collection of cards and letters was prominently displayed on the table, front and center, and I instantly recognized the AFEES logo. These were cards and letters the Diabat family had received over the years from the Escape and Evasion Society, and were clearly treasured keepsakes of the village’s WWII collection. Directing my daughter to take several photos – she was the designated trip photographer – I wanted to share the images with AFEES members who, I was sure, would want to see how meaningful these gestures, sent decades ago, were still preserved in France.
After many months of planning, our group of 11 family members had traveled from all parts of the United States to France to retrace the crash, escape and evasion of Bud Wilschke. Bud (bombardier, B-17 #42-5219) was shot down May 17, 1943 over Nazi-occupied Brittany, France while on a mission to bomb the submarine pens at Lorient. Crashing into a field fence on landing, Bud was aided by the farmer Monsieur Mathurin Diabat, and quickly hidden from the German patrols who had witnessed the attack and crash and were swarming the countryside.
We had the privilege of retracing Bud’s route through occupied France, over the Pyrenees mountains and into Spain, and met the descendants of the local French helpers who hid Bud and other servicemen as they evaded Nazi capture. Our trip started in southern Britany at the crash site near Brec’h, and followed the men’s path through France to where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean Sea. It took Bud and Bob six months in 1943, and then they spent 3 weeks in a Spanish prison before finally being released to travel first to England, then back to America for the rest of the war.
Further along on our pilgrimage of “Bud sites” (seventeen in all), we were guests at a reception at the Chateau d’Laillé (near Rennes) another of Bud’s hiding places. In the Chateau office, I spied the AFEES logo again – this time on their wall of honor, amongst the display of photos and mementos of Mademoiselle Andree Récipon, owner of the Chateau in 1943. Mlle. Récipon sheltered many refugees and at least 2 American airmen – Bud Wilschke and Sgt. Robert Neil, both from the crashed B-17. Right there in the middle was the AFEES commemorative plate, hung next to the photo of Mademoiselle and General Charles De Gaulle.
Throughout our trip, the Wilschke family was honored and feted by the local people. The events of WWII are still very fresh in the minds of the French, and they remain very grateful and thankful to the American forces that risked their lives for the freedom of all.
AFEES greetings, Ploemel
At the Chateau d‘Laillé
Jim Wilschke Jr. accepts a commemorative medal from Jean Luc Le Tallec, the Mayor of Ploemel, while Katie Bejlovec (Bud’s granddaughter), Scott Vaughn (Bud’s son-in-law) and Barbara Wojcik (Bud’s niece), look on.
The Wilschke pilgrimage was reported on in five different village newspapers
The memorial monument to B-17 #42-5219 near Brec’h, France.
2017 Wilschke Family Memorial Tour, May 6-18. To view a video of the tour, click here.