The Special Collections portion of the United States Air Force Academy McDermott Library, contains the The Ralph Patton Collection and The Bruce Bolinger Collection. The Special Collections address is 2354 Fairchild Dr., Suite 6A52, USAF Academy, Colorado, 80840, located near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The Ralph Patton Collection
Click on the above title for direct access to a detailed description of the collection. For more on Ralph Patton, see Ralph Patton – Escape & Evasion Society collection, 1943-2006 .
Includes diaries, 1943-1945; publications, 1954-2001; manuscripts, undated, 1970, 1999; AFEES materials, 1964-1994; narratives, 1944-2001; correspondence, 1983-2003; photographs, 1944-1997; artifacts, 1982, 1988, 1994; service records, 1943-1945; books, 1943-2000; films and video, 1982-2006
This collection contains two specific areas of information. The first are materials dealing with Anne Brusselmans and files pertaining to her resistance activities in World War II, which involved providing false identity papers, shelter, and escape for over 130 Allied airmen shot down behind enemy lines. Of significant importance is Ms. Brusselmans’ hand written diary describing the men she was protecting and how they were moved through the escape route designated the COMETE line. The second part of the collection pertains to the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES) co-founded by Ralph K. Patton in 1964 after he had traveled to Europe and visited with some of the French resistance “helpers” that enabled him to escape after being shot down in Western France. Ralph Patton’s materials consist of numerous books pertaining to escape and evasion during World War II, AFEES rosters which include members, evaders, friends, and helpers who were involved in the war again the Germans, as well as photographs and reunion details. Personal stories of those who escaped are also part of the collection and detail journeys through France, Belgium and the Netherlands en route to freedom. AFEES was officially founded to honor members of the French escape network known as Reseau Shelburn, to perpetuate the close bond that exists between airmen forced down and the resistance people who made evasion possible at great risk to themselves and their families. AFEES is still a very active organization, planning yearly reunions, and now staffed by the children of those who escaped and those who made those escapes possible
2nd Lieutenant Ralph Patton was co-piloting a B-17 in January 1944, returning from a raid on the German airfield of Merignac near Bordeaux, when his already flak-damaged aircraft was shot down by fighters near Kermoroux. Seven of the ten-man crew evaded successfully, including Patton, and he and his surviving crew members wandered the French countryside for days until peasants helped connect them with the French resistance. They were provided with forged papers, safe houses, food and clothing until March, 1944, when the group was assisted in being returned to England as part of Operation Bonaparte, the code name given to the “Escape by the Sea” mission of the resistance network named Shelburn. Patton was discharged from active duty on 31 October 1945. It was some sixteen years later, in 1961, that he returned to France and traced his escape route. While there Mr. Patton met with the provincial Resistance leader who had a list of names and last-known addresses of Americans who had escaped by way of Operation Bonaparte. When he returned home, Ralph contacted two other men on the list and the three of them proceeded with plans for a reunion in Buffalo, New York, in 1964, to honor their war-time benefactors. Including family members, 56 people attended the Buffalo reunion, thus creating the original list of United States Air Forces Escape & Evasion Society members. It was in 1967 that Mr. Patton met Anne Brusselmans and exchanged their war-time memories. They stayed in contact until her death in 1993. Anne’s daughter, Yvonne, is credited with entrusting her mother’s diaries and other items to Mr. Patton and his collection of AFEES materials. Mr. Patton retired in 1983 from Consolidation Coal Company, where he worked his entire career, retiring as Vice-President of Sales. He currently resides in Maryland
Anne Brusselmans started her underground activities in 1940 as she translated messages from the BBC into French. She then proceeded to give assistance to Allied servicemen after the invasion of Belgium. From 1941 through September 1944, she was a member of an escape line which stretched from Belgium, across France, over the Pyrenees to Madrid, and finally to England and freedom. Her diary, entitled “Rendez-Vous 127,” was published in 1954 and describes her resistance activities. She received numerous awards for her valor and wartime heroism, was made a Member of the British Empire, an honorary member of the RAFES (Canadian branch), was an active member in AAFES and the Order of Daedalians. In 1987, after spending six years in Canada waiting for legal authorization to enter the United States, Ms. Brusselmans was made a permanent resident of the United States and allowed to live with her daughter in Florida. She died in June 1993 and, at her request, her ashes were flown to England.
The Bruce Bolinger Collection
The webmaster, Bruce Bolinger, donated his escape and evasion collection to the McDermott Library in January 2020. To view the 86-page description of the collection, click on the following pdf file: Finding Aid_MS 71-Bolinger, Bruce. The collection is focused in particular on Dutch escape lines, especially the Karst Smit – Eugene van der Heijden Line, and the experiences of the American airman Tom Applewhite.
The Friends of the Air Force Academy Library NEWSLETTER of Spring 2021 has the following article by Chris Schreck:
“The Bolinger Collection”
“The Bolinger Collection is a marvelous resource on World War II escape and evasion. It contains material on airmen who escaped enemy capture in Europe, the families who harbored them at great personal risk, and the sophisticated underground networks that developed amid war and German occupation across Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. Bruce Bolinger was the son of Belgian refugees who fled their homeland for England following the outbreak of World War I, and later emigrated to the United States. Mr. Bolinger, fascinated by his family’s heritage, toured Belgium and the Netherlands in 1975. He met his great-uncle Arthur, a Dutch national who helped rescue Allied airmen, Jews, and members of the Dutch resistance movement during World War II. Upon his retirement in 1998, Mr. Bolinger decided to explore his great-uncle’s activities in greater depth, uncovering a wealth of information regarding WWII escape and evasion in the process. The material Mr. Bolinger collected over the following twenty years included interviews with airmen and members of various resistance organizations, personal papers, legal documents, correspondence, and much more. The Library received Mr. Bolinger’s entire collection of research materials (over 112 boxes of documents) in January 2020. The Friends spent the following months preserving and cataloging this important historical resource. The Bolinger collection can be found within Clark Special Collections at the McDermott Library.”