The 36th Mission

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I had saved some money and had vacation time coming. I felt this might be my last opportunity, as I feared my time left on earth was limited. My wife had never flown, and I had never flown in a jet.

We disembarked from the American Airlines plane in Düsseldorf, Germany, after making a stop in Frankfurt, less than nine hours after leaving Chicago. My first flight across the Atlantic, to England, had taken thirteen hours in a new B-17.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have seen myself returning after forty-four years to see and talk to the people of Germany. What a contrast with the first time!

After we left the plane, we heard over the loudspeaker, in English, “Mr. and Mrs. Frank Clark, you have a driver waiting for you at the main entrance.” We had wondered all across the Atlantic how we were going to get to Remscheid by ourselves.

At the entrance a young man took our luggage and led us to a big black Mercedes limousine. Amazed, we climbed in, and we were off on the autobahn at well over one hundred miles per hour. When we arrived in Remscheid, our driver took us to the best hotel in town, where we were shown to a beautiful room on the fifth floor overlooking the city.

We had not been there five minutes when Richard Bremicker burst into the room. Though he and I had only corresponded, we embraced as if we had known each other all our lives.

After a short visit he told us that his driver would pick us up at noon. We visited his beautiful home and then his factory, where seventeen hundred employees were manufacturing parts, mostly door hinges, for the automotive industry all over the world.

When our host learned that I was interested in meeting with some of the people in other towns who had written me letters, he put his interpreter at our disposal, and we were able to reach several of them.

During one conversation I mentioned feeling particularly bad about having bombed the college town of Paderborn, a city with no military targets. Bremicker said Paderborn was too far to drive, and without missing a beat, he hired a helicopter to fly us there. Bremicker and his wife, along with our interpreter, accompanied us. We met the Bürgermeister, who had his assistant show us the beautifully restored town. I enjoyed this particular visit immensely, for in my imagination I had feared Paderborn would look much different.

In my eyes, Bremicker is a living symbol of the good people can do for each other. He set up a roundtable discussion with the press about my visit, which culminated in various articles in the local papers. I am convinced that everything he did, he did with the hope of furthering peace among his fellow human beings and among countries.

And still the letters kept coming. Some were highly emotional, loving, and heartfelt; others, equally heartfelt, were mean and accusing. But an odd thing had happened to me. The understanding letters, which far outnumbered the others, had brought me peace. Vicious letters that might once have sent me into deep depression now merely rolled over me. I realized for the first time the whole world didn’t need to forgive me. I could finally forgive myself.