The World War II exploits of Joanne Schultz-Ithier’s father have always been part of family lore.
The story is that Army Air Corps Sgt. Francis Hugo Schultz, who was from New York but spent part of his service at Baer Field, wanted to be a pilot but was too short. So he became a crew chief on a C-47, a troop transport, which at least let him get into the air.
Then, on June 4, 1944, literally hours before the D-Day invasion, Schultz’s plane was shot down near Tamerville, France, a little town with about 600 residents.
It wasn’t the first plane to go down in the area. In April 1944, three B-17s had been shot down near the village, killing most of the crew members. The rest were taken prisoner by the Germans.
Schultz’s flight crew was more fortunate. All survived and eventually returned to England – all except Schultz. He had been separated from everyone else, and the tale, Schultz-Ithier says, is that he hid in a cave for 20 days before finally being forced out by hunger.
He encountered a French woman who showed him a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, a sign she was friendly, and eventually led him to some American soldiers.
But Schultz’s luck didn’t hold out. He and the other Americans were taken prisoner. His captivity concluded when his captors, fleeing approaching Russians, forced them on a 500-mile death march, which ended when a column of British tanks encountered them on May 2, and the Germans fled.
Schultz-Ithier still has what you might call souvenirs of her father’s time in prison camp.
She has a tiny book, the pages sewn together, with the names and addresses of the men in his barracks in the prison camp.
Another book, made from the paper of old cigarette packs, was filled with what Schultz-Ithier called wish lists.
One page contains all the clothes he was going to buy when released. Another contains various breakfast menus – peaches with cream, pancakes, eggs, biscuits, coffee, sausage.
There is a list of desserts, including éclairs and cakes; another page lists the types of breads he liked.
He recorded wagers he’d made. He and two other men bet quarts of Canadian Club to see who could come closest to guessing the day the war would end. Imaginary bottles of whiskey seemed to be the favored currency in bets.
After the war, Schultz returned to New York and became a plumber. The last building he worked on was the World Trade Center. He died in 1983.
It’s an interesting story, but it doesn’t end there.
One day, years ago, Schultz-Ithier, who is the secretary to the chair of the Department of Theater at IPFW, got a call from a man named Hans Den Brok from Holland. Was she the daughter of Francis Hugo Schultz? He had noticed she had put an in memoriam on a website in her father’s name.
Den Brok explained that he searched for crashed American military aircraft, and he had found pieces of her father’s plane.
Only a few months ago, Schultz-Ithier learned that Den Brok had approached officials in Tamerville and persuaded them to build a monument to the men killed and captured in plane crashes near the village 70 years before. Francis Hugo Schmidt’s name would be one of those on the monument.
Schultz-Ithier was invited to the ceremony, set for the end of May, and because hotel rooms were scarce, villagers had agreed to put up those who attended.
Schultz-Ithier was thrilled by the gratitude the people in the little town still held for the Americans who fought and died near there so long ago.
But the trip, that was questionable. Schultz-Ithier’s daughter is getting married this summer. Other unexpected expenses had come up. She makes decent money, she says, but it just cost too much to go.
This month, Schultz-Ithier was helping a friend who owns a shop called the Poppy Cottage on East State Boulevard. A couple came in, and they got into a conversation, swapping tales. Schultz-Ithier told the man her story.
The man was surprised to hear she wouldn’t be able to attend.
So he gave her $50, said he’d be her first sponsor, told her to tape the bill to her wall, put out her story, hope for more sponsors and above all, believe she would make the trip.
She was stunned.
The $50 is still taped to her wall with deepest gratitude, Schultz-Ithier says.
And she’s trying to believe.