12.08.1944 79 Fighter Squadron P-51D Mustang 44-13620 1st. Lt.Paul Denbo
Operation: Hirson, France
Date: 12th August 1944 (Saturday)
Unit: No. 79 Fighter Squadron - 20th Fighter Group
Type: P51D Mustang
Base: RAF Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire (USAAF Base 367)
Location: Near Pesche, Belgium - 38 km. SW Dinant
Pilot: 1st Lt. Paul Denbo 0-760265 USAAF Age 24. Killed
May 2018 - It seems that the watch worn by this pilot has been recovered by Belgians - efforts are now underway to have this returned to relatives in the USA with whom we are in contact with.
Update September 2019 - watch now returned to relatives - further details to follow!
REASON FOR LOSS:
Hit by Flak - further information submitted by Debra Denbo - see below.
Above and below, the pilot 1st.Lt. Paul Denbo and base photo (courtesy Debra Denbo, portrait - Michel Beckers)
Aircrew Remembered are thrilled to have played a large part of uniting the watch after so many years.
Submitted by Debra Denbo 26th September 2019:
Tuesday, September 3, 2019, as part of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation, a watch belonging to an American pilot found at Pesche by Roger Nicolas in 2016 was officially handed over to visiting Americans for commemorations at Monceau-Imbrechies.
They will then give it to the niece of the pilot living in California.
The landing took place, the Allies are on their way to liberate Belgium and Allied bombing missions continue in Belgium and France.
On Saturday, August 12, 1944, two missions are planned for the 79th Fighter Squadron from base 367, RAF Kings Cliffe in Northamptonshire (GB). In this crew, a young pilot (Paul).
07:40 the first mission (4 teams of 4 pilots + 1 reserve pilot) takes off to bombard a rotunda in Rouilly (F) - Mission succeeded even if the report states that the German anti-aircraft guns North West of Paris was intense.
15:32 take-off for the second mission which targets Hirson station via Blankenberge (16:27) to reach Hirson at 16:55 and release the first bomb.
Response German anti-aircraft guns and Paul Denbo's P 51D Mustang 44-13620 MC-H is hit.
The report mentions that the plane is on fire and crashed 2 miles southwest of Chimay.
In this small village, close to the French Border and located next to the former headquarters of Adolf Hitler (May 28, 1940 - June 28, 1940), there are always Germans and the news travels fast.
The father and son Baudart go first to the scene of the crash at a place called "reverse mill". Despite the intense heat from the fire and ammunition explosions, they managed to extract the dead pilot's body and move it away from the furnace. Our two improvised rescuers could not delay on the scene for a long time because already the German soldiers were coming to watch the area and keep everyone curious away.
Left: Farmers who pulled Paul from flaming Mustang.
The entire scene was witnessed by a young boy, Jacques Donnay.
The next morning, the body of the American pilot was loaded into a German truck. The procession of vehicles left the "Fond de l'eau" at Pesches and a German officer paid the honours as the convoy passed. He crossed the village at the moment when the parishioners were leaving Sunday Mass. Paul Denbo will be buried in the Jusaine cemetery near Florennes on August 16th (Tomb 142).
After the liberation, his body will be transferred to the US military cemetery Neuville en Condroz where he now rests with 5,246 other soldiers (65% of the air force).
A few days after the tragedy, the carpenter of the village Clement Dardenne, took the initiative to hang on a tree near the place of the crash, a wooden cross, built by him.
The war is over ... but the story of the pilot remains a mystery for a resident of Pesches ...
Right: The village of Pesche at the ending part of the war.
This story of the pilot who fell a few hundred meters from the house of Nicolas will particularly mark one of the children during his adolescence.
Roger Nicolas who will grow up with this story will remain curious all his life . "Where did he fall exactly, who was this pilot? What was his story? Did he have family "?
For more than 40 years, Mr Nicolas will undertake research on the fallen planes in the region and especially the 4 fallen in his village. Only one however remained unknown ... until the end of 2016.
With the encouragement and the effective help of a lover of terrestrial research, on an afternoon of October 2016, after hours of walking to crisscross the ground, their tenacity was rewarded.
It was first a bullet of .50, then exploded cartridges witnesses of the explosion.
They were now close to the place. Then, as if to crown their research, it was the discovery of a watch.
Was it related to the crash of the P 51D?
More than a year of research, then ..
The story of Paul:
After searching the internet, messages on forums in the United States, the first contact with the pilot's niece was established in January 2018.
Mr. Nicolas would finally be able to find out who this young man was, who had fallen on the battlefield a few hundred meters from his home
Paul Denbo was born into a family of 5 children (3 boys and 2 girls). He lost his dad (Fred) at the age of 8 and his mother (Mary) raised the children alone during the depression of the 30s.
Paul had a fiancee who was in the "US Army Women's Corps" and had planned to get married on his return, which was scheduled for mid-September that year.
Paul received his wings on December 3, 1943 at Chandler Field in Arizona and left for the mainland on April 30, 1944. He was part of the 8th Air Force, 79th Fighting Squadron.
He will make a total of 43 outings: 30 with a P-38 nicknamed 'Talent Scout' and 13 outings in a P-51 Mustang Fighter.
D-Day, the day of the landing, Paul will perform no less than 5 missions. He will be awarded several medals (Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart).
Unfortunately it will be touched by the Flak on August 12 to come crashing in Pesche. His death will be communicated by the Germans via the Red Cross.
Paul was not the only one in the family to join the US military:
His brother James Denbo also joined the air force (9th Air Force) and after 12 months of training landed on April 30, 1944 in England where he spent 2 months before being transferred to France and Belgium. with the "First Army". He is assigned to the ground crew of the bomber "Sweet Dreams" and will also be the recipient of 2 "Bronze Stars". He will come back from the war.
His other brother Stanley Denbo (dad of our contact in the United States) will enter the Navy on January 2, 1942, participate in several battles in the South Pacific and will be rewarded with 7 "Bronze Stars" and 2 "Area Ribbons". During a leave, he will visit his mother and marry Mademoiselle Carroll on August 22, 44. He will also come back from the war.
Ms Debra Denbo had hoped to be able to go to Couvin for the ceremony but unfortunately was not able to join the reception.
Left: Roger Nicholas (right) gives watch and effects to Steve Snyder to carry to niece, Debra Denbo Bishop.
Mr. Steve Snyder, author of the book "Shot Down" is a fan of American military history and more particularly of the US Air Force represented Debra. Then travelled back to the United States to hand over the precious watch.
Son of pilot Howard Snyder who, 6 months earlier (February 1944) saw his B-17 be shot down and crash in the region of Chimay. His father and 4 others were collected by the local resistance (Camp de Riezes) and survived but 5 others were not so fortunate.
About thirty American citizens (children and grandchildren of the crew of the B17) travelled with him to Belgium for the commemoration of the 75th of liberation (Cendron, first Belgian village released, as well as the first 12 GI's fell on the Belgian soil (Lt Cook Museum) Mr Snyder will take over the watch personally to hand it over to his niece.
Above: Steve Snyder with Debra Denbo.
1Lt. Paul Denbo. Ardennes War Cemetery. Plot B, Row 39, Grave 31. Son of Fred S. and Mary Eliza Denbo (née Cazier) of Los Angeles, USA. Brother of William Ward and Stanley Orval Denbo who was married to Florence and it Debra (née Denbo) Bishop living in California USA. Who we have managed to have the watch returned to in September 2019.
Researched and submitted to Aircrew Remembered by Michel Beckers - December 2014. For further details thanks to the following, Debra Denbo for grave and portrait photo, Also to David Armstrong for additional information and correction to name of crash area, for Kings Cliffe Memorial our thanks go to Geoff Slack.
Memorial at Kings Cliffe (courtesy Geoff Slack)