398th Bomb Group

Gunner Had A Day To Remember

Allen Ostrom

Selmer Haakenson was greeted with a big box full of ‘stuff’ sent by people he never knew or saw from the Czech Republic.

“Why me?” he asked. “I didn’t do anything.”

The deliverer of the ‘stuff’, FLAK NEWS editor Allen Ostrom and wife Geg, had driven from Seattle, Washington to Haakenson’s home in Sacramento, CA to carry out a delivery promise made to several people in Slany, Czech Republic while with the Year 2000 Tour last June.

The Czech folks had hoped Selmer and his wife, Jenny, would be in Slany to receive these items, but they were unable to journey there because of ill health. Hence, the surrogate recipient and deliverer.

The “I didn’t do anything” comment was met with, “Selmer, as a tail gunner on the 603 Christensen crew you engaged a flight of FW 190’s over eastern Germany, had your B-17 cut in half by 20mm explosions, saw all eight of your comrades killed, managed to bail out just before your tail section hit the ground, lost an eye during the gun fight, and spent months in prison camp and hospitals. And not only that, you probably accounted for at least one FW 190 during the gunfight before you got hit. Besides your own B-17, two German fighters also crashed at Slany that day.” “No more talk about ‘I didn’t do anything,’” said Ostrom.

The Czechs felt so strongly about this event they built a memorial at Slany, not far from where the Christensen plane came down. It was built in 1996 and re-dedicated when the June tour group came to visit.

Among the gifts bestowed on the modest Haakenson was a photo of the memorial (Page 1), a specially crafted quart-sized ceramic pitcher painted with the lettering and marking of the 8th Air Force, tail marking of the Christensen plane and pertinent dates relating to the crash (March 2, 1945). The plane was actually hit over Germany but came to rest in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Also presented was a giant ‘jug’, bearing Haakenson’s name, dates, group and squadron marking and a large ‘DEJ BUH STESTI’, which means ‘God Give You Luck’. It was presented by Milan Spineta, who directed the special Slany ceremony on behalf of the City of Slany. The jug was sponsored by the Jaromir Jagr Fan Club of Slany, which happens to be the hometown of the very famous National Hockey League player with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Also given was a colorful figure called ‘Svejk’, said to be a Czech national hero (a very agreeable soldier). And added to all that, a specially made plaque bearing the ‘rate of climb’ indicator from his plane’s cockpit, along with a 50 cal. bullet taken from Haakenson’s crashed tail section and a 20mm slug obviously contributed by one of the FW 190’s. These came from Czech Jaroslav Markus of Kadan, an eyewitness to the crash in 1945.

So even if the Haakensons didn’t get to the Czech Republic in 2000, they still had a day to remember. To make up for another ‘day to remember’ in 1945.

Printed in Flak News Volume 15, Number 4, Page(s) 1 & 7, October 2000

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