- Historic Sites
The 36th Mission
He spent his tour of duty bombing German cities and made it home only to discover he could never leave the war behind him. Then, a lifetime later, he found a way to make peace.
May/June 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 3
With sincerest regards and my best wishes
Günter Samtlebe, The mayor of the town of Dortmund
Paderborn July 6, 1987
Dear Mr. Clark,
You must surely be surprised to receive a letter from an unknown German woman in Paderborn.
The reason for writing is that I read in the local about your letter of apology for the bombing attack on Paderborn, on the 17th January 1945.
At that time I was a sixteen-year-old high school girl on my way from school to catch a train to the village where I used to live. Sirens were howling, and the planes diving to drop the bombs. As I was near to the railway station, I rushed into the nearest house and into the cellar. It was all like a bad dream but was soon over.
I remember coming out after the “all clear” and searching for the right way amongst all the dust and damaged houses and, of course, the screaming people. I was very thankful that my life had been spared.
We don’t think of the bad “American” or “British” servicemen. We knew that we were at war and the pilots were doing their duty to their own country. I find it remarkable that after all those years you find time to think about it and send your apologies.
The big attack on Paderborn followed on March 27th and resulted in 95 percent of Paderborn being destroyed.
Forty-two years later we live in a very nice city with modern industry—e.g., Nixdorf Computer. . . .
I am married to an ex-member of the British Army. We have two sons, both engineers, one of whom is married. My husband has worked for the Paderborn Daimler-Benz agents for over twenty-five years, and I am a nurse in one of the Paderborn hospitals.
If ever you came to Germany, especially Paderborn, we would be pleased to show you around.
Yours sincerely Margarethe Harrop
Cologne July 12, 1987
Dear Mr. Clark:
. . . Your letter was sent from the city’s town hall to the Tourist Office, to my department, where I work as a secretary (English and French). I felt quite touched by your letter and thought I’d like to write to you just as a private person since you have addressed your letter to the people of Cologne. I read in our local paper that you have also written to the mayor of Wesseling, who has already invited you; of course, when you do come, you would visit Cologne as well. . . .
I can assure you that nearly everybody here is pro-American, and we wouldn’t think of the past war when meeting Americans. How dreadful it must have been for you as a young guy when you had to carry out such disastrous orders; as you said in your letter, it was the same on all sides. I was born in that year, in the summer, but came to live in Cologne later, when the war was over. My father, who died ten years ago, was from Cologne and a prisoner of war (of the Americans) in the Rhineland. He always liked Americans. I myself have a seventeen-year-old daughter, born in Cologne, and I think that Americans and the people in Cologne have in common their joyful mentality. . . .
Yours sincerely Almut Boumont
Berlin July 28, 1987
Dear Mr. Clark:
. . . I feel deeply impelled to write and assure you that we have nothing to forgive you for. It was war back then—one of the most terrible ever experienced by mankind thus far—and it was unleashed by the Nazi regime.
I, as a German, have often asked myself since then if I bore any share in the guilt for this killing. “No!” I finally told myself as a reply. “You were just a child.”—And you, Mr. Clark, as a soldier, were only doing your duty to your country at the time.
When the war broke out, I was nine years old, and fifteen when it ended. During the war and thereafter I lived in Berlin, which is still my hometown even now.
I’d like to give you now a few notations from my war diary. From it you will see what I thought and felt at the time:
“As the bombers drop their destructive load on us, I don’t cherish any hate for those up there. I feel only great tension and anxiety and wish this accursed war would finally come to an end.”
When the Russian occupying forces left our sector in the summer of 1945 to be replaced by the Americans, I noted in my book: