Bob Harts life is becoming more storied by the day. During one period in 1944 he experienced not only one, but two life-threatening events in the span of a few days.
Consider a successful bailout from his B-17 over England (coming home from Humieres, France) and then another B-17 jumps a week later on July 16 (after a Flak-attack over Munich, Germany).
Either one would qualify for a top-of-line war story. Mix in some PW time, 27 years in the business world and a career with the Air Force Reserve that gave him an LC and his life would have been more or less complete.
Finally, time for family and hobbying with his cherished antique and late model cars. (Plug in a year as 398th Bomb Group reunion chairman in Dayton, Ohio in 1989. And now, after all these years, Bobs story could well be surfacing next fall as part of a Public Broadcast Service television production featuring a youth choral group and world famous organist.
All this involves a Catholic nun, a 90-year old priest, a Pennsylvania choir director, a Luxembourg tour company and a Swedish tour guide. Not to mention an English Friend of the 398th, an artist and an aviation archeologist. (See separate story covering the bailout over England).
Back to Munich (where the second bail-out occurred), Hart was riding co-pilot with Curtis (Dane) Lovelace and his 600 Squadron crew consisting of Bob Uhl, navigator; Alton Andrews, bombardier; Robert Rees, ETG; Charles Weatherwax, Radio; Sam Miller, ball turret; Donald Land, waist; and Gerard Anatillia, tail gunner.
German Flak bursts over Munich set the Lovelace port wing on fire and the pilot gave the bail out order. All did so successfully except for Lovelace and Anatillia, who were ultimately found dead at the crash site.
The crash site was in a mountainous area near the Austrian city of Achenkirk, 30 miles southeast of Munich and east of Innsbruck. Hart managed to remain free for two days, but was captured near the Catholic Church in Achenkirk, where soon after the bodies of Lovelace and Anatillia were buried after being retrieved from the crash site. The others who bailed out successfully were also soon captured and sent to PW camps. Ten months of PW time and finally home to begin the aforementioned civilian/Reserve careers.
Enter Par Nilhammer, the Swedish tour guide working for Destination Europe of Luxembourg. Nilhammer guided the 398th tour to England and Germany in 1998 and also to England and the Czech Republic in 2000. He was forever asking the 398th veterans about their World War II experiences, not only because of his personal interest, but also for his professional tour knowledge.
Hart supplied him with his Munich experience, and Par took note that Achenkirk was near the Innsbruck-Salzburg highway he had used many times before in tour guiding an American musical group from Pennsylvania.
Would the church nun (Sofie) be interested in having an American choral group sing at her church? And would the choir leader (Barbara Spiri) be interested in singing at the Achenkirk church (and perhaps honor the men killed on the Lovelace crew who had been buried there in 1944?)
Everyone said yes and the Eastern Area Youth Choir did perform and they did lay a wreath at the altar.
Nilhammer, the following day, found a 90-year-old priest and man who had brought the two bodies down from the mountain in 1944 and they all drove to an area overlooking the crash site. If Bob comes on our Choir tour next summer I will lead him to the crash site, said Nilhammer. (Bob and Eloise are already making such plans).
Meanwhile, Nilhammer returned once again to the area in early December 2000. Same choir director (Spiri) but in the accompany of Diane Bish, an organist with monumental musical credits and all in the accompany of a U.S. public television crew and journalist.
The group sang and Diane Bish played, and the TV crew has promised a nation-wide viewing in the fall.
All because Hart jumped and history and Nilhammer wouldnt forget.