Currently, I live in on the edge of a very small town in Northwest Oklahoma.  Living in a such a small town sometimes really annoys me because it seems like everybody knows each others’ business.  This can be a bad thing, but sometimes it ends up being a good thing.   A few weeks ago as a prelude to Veterans’ Day, some very pro-semitic  friends in town who knew that I was starting a blog for The Jerusalem Post shared the following story about veterans with me because it touched so many peoples’ hearts.

An American World War II B-17 aircraft navigator, Elmer Bendiner from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, wrote a book called The Fall of Fortresses chronicling some of Europe’s deadliest air raids.   In the book, he described a scenario during a bombing run over Kassel, Germany where his plane (the “Tondelayo”) was hit in its gasoline tank by a 20-mm shell fired from anti-aircraft guns.  Usually this resulted in an explosion, killing the entire crew with plane wreckage falling to earth in flames.  But much to the surprise of the crew of theTondelayo, there was no blast from the shell’s impact and the plane safely returned to their air base, pierced by the shell but otherwise sound.  Crew members weren’t sure if it was luck or if it was a miracle that saved them, but whatever happened, they were very grateful to be alive.

After the Tondelayo landed,  armorers were called out to defuse what ended up being 11-unexploded 20-mm shells newly-lodged in the aircraft.  Mysteriously afterwards, all of the shells were then collected by their squadron’s  Intelligence Unit without any explanation to the involved personnel as to “why”.  However  the pilot of the Tondelayo, Bohn Fawkes, followed ensuing events with great interest.  35-years after the battle, Fawkes shared what he had found with Bendiner, and Bendiner stated that “the event was so awesome that [he] was shaken”. 

When the armorers opened the shells, they found no explosive charges at all – they described the interior of the shells as “clean as a whistle”.  But one shell wasn’t completely empty because it contained a message written in Czech that was scrawled on a little piece of paper which had been rolled-up carefully.  After a thorough search,  the Intelligence Unit finally found someone on base who could translate the note.  It said, “This is all we can do for you now...”

We all know how “Urban Myths” can arise, especially on the Internet, in order to make a great story even more stupendous and sensational.  So, it isn’t too big of a shock when versions of this story are floating around where a lot of people like to add the following line to the cryptic Czech hand-scrawled note: “Using Jewish slave labor is never a good idea.”  While the story I was handed had this additional line, it was not cited in Bendiner’s book. 

Such a tantalizing tidbit would be “the absolute coolest” to track down to see if this part of the story were true.  (Conversely,  if this additional line in the message was just a fanciful fabrication, it would result in one of the worst let-downs in history.)  No matter which ending actually happened, how would anybody find out the identities of these undisclosed people comprising the “we” at the ammunition foundry which produced the 11 non-exploding shells that were essentially “big blanks”?  If they were concentration camp Jews used as “slave labor” at a Nazi armament  factory, then they should surely be worthy of an award from Yad Vashem in a yet-to-be-created category!

But  further digging on the subject showed another interesting aspect to the story – a biography of Elmer Bendiner revealed that he was raised Jewish.  So, whoever the unidentified “we” from the munitions plant were, these unmet friends of the Tondelayo actually were responsible for saving at least one Jewish life during the war.  Their act of defiance to the Nazi war machine is an act of heroism that surely had never  been recognized before the publication of Bendiner’s book.   I am sure that whomever these intrepid people were, there could have been nasty repercussions for them had they been caught passing off dud 20-mm shells as live rounds. 

Also, another great thing about the story is how Bendiner’s faith shaped his gratitude in the circumstances in which his crew was spared.  Bendiner wrote in his book that he felt like the event was a miracle and that it was like the Red Sea had been parted for the entire Tondelayo crew.  I am sure that his gratitude was translated into a true act of worship for the One Who is Worthy of all praise.  For this reason, it was not in vain that such an incredible event occurred – one reason it happened was in order to give glory to the Lord (even in such inglorious, evil-infested circumstances).  It also demonstrates how interconnected all of us are to one another, and that one or two people performing small good deeds can produce such an awesome result where G_d is greatly glorified.

Plus, even if the part wasn’t really true about the additional line from the note giving credit to “slave labor Jews”, it reminds us of a valuable lesson from history.  This is a lesson that the mighty Pharaohs of ancient Egypt as well as the 20th century Nazis should have learned.  “Using Jewish slave labor is never a good idea!”

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