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South Texas Living

Internet links Texas author to Belgian eyewitness of WWII crash

Internet links Texas author to Belgian  eyewitness  of WWII crash
Frans Kestemont of Huizingen, Belgium, was 10 when he witnessed a plane crash that would one day lead him to reach out to South Texas author Kathleene Van Treese Runnels, whose uncle died in the crash on Mother’s Day, 1945. This Belgian newspaper article recounts the story; Frans shared the article with Kathleene, whose Wilson County News blog, “Rose Petals,” can be found at http://bit.ly/1qigzH5.

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Special to the Wilson County News
May 14, 2014
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By Kathleene Van Treese Runnels

Who knew that a blog post on the Wilson County News website would be the catalyst to connect the eyewitness of a World War II airplane crash with a Texas relative of one of the crash victims?

It was May 13, 1945. A 10-year-old boy, Frans Kestemont, was playing outside his home near Huizingen, near Brussels, Belgium, when he noticed two bombers flying low. Living under the German Occupation, young Frans had been admonished by his parents to keep an eye on low-flying aircraft, not knowing if they were German or Allied.

As he warily observed the planes, he watched in horror as one made a fatal dive.

The B-26 bomber with eight people on board crashed near a little path along a creek called Molenbeek. One of the crewmembers was Morris Van Treese, from South Texas.

Fast-forward to present-day Texas, where my Wilson County News blog, “Rose Petals,” featured my recollections of “Inimitable Grandma Van Treese,” http://bit.ly/1qigovx. In it, I mentioned her son, Morris, my uncle who died in a plane crash after VE Day at the end of World War II. Little did I know the story would reach around the world to find the eyewitness to the crash, who would reach out across the Atlantic Ocean via the Internet to share his memories with me.

The official report stated that the crash was due to heavy turbulence. Frans tells a different story. His testimony here is edited for better translation.

“I saw these two aircrafts performing mock attacks with each other. They dropped lower and lower, until I had the impression that they touched. Suddenly one disappeared, and a plume of smoke rose into heaven. The ambulances passed by quickly. As a youngster, we went to look, but we could not get closer than 200 meters from the fire and exploding ammunition. What stays with me is a hand sticking out of a body under a side, and jumping up and down.

“In the report it says that there was wind turbulence, but this is not correct. It was a very beautiful day with blue sky and no clouds. I think they were playing with each other and lost height and one of them came too low and hit a tree. Several cows in the pasture were very burnt.”

It was Sunday, May 13, 1945, Mother’s Day in the United States. Sadly, this was just a few days after victory in Europe was announced -- VE Day, May 8.

Recently, Frans told his story to a young man, Olivier, of Halle, a member of the Belgian Aviation History Association.

Olivier “... is interested in the story of all brave airman that gave up their lives for our freedom.”

Olivier had written a book consisting of stories told by his grandparents who had lived through the German Occupation; more recently, he had begun interviewing others in his community who also had interesting stories to share of those difficult times. This brought Olivier to Frans, now 79, who shared his eyewitness account of the crash. Olivier encouraged Frans to try to contact descendants of those eight victims.

Subsequently, Olivier searched the Internet and found my article on the Wilson County News website. In it, I extolled the grit of my grandmother, Mildred Van Treese. I mentioned the loss of her two sons to plane crashes -- one being Morris Van Treese.

Frans then reached out to me, sharing his story, albeit not without some difficulties in translation; Frans writes in Dutch and uses Google to translate!

So, here I am in South Texas, and there are Frans and Olivier, in Belgium, and through the Internet, we have connected.

Also informed of this story are the descendants of Morris -- his daughter, LaNell, who was 6 when her father died, and her two children.

How chilling it is to read Frans’ eyewitness account of a tragedy whose details have always been sketchy to the family. It is too bad that these details were not available to share with my grandmother and my father, Hubert, Morris’ oldest brother, so many years ago.

Frans wrote, “I was 41 years in the Army as an under-officer, 31 years actif, 10 years in the reserve, and I have great respect for the boys who lost their lifes for our freedom here.”

It is humbling to know that even today, those citizens in Europe who experienced the German Occupation and their descendants still treasure the contributions made by our gallant American soldiers.

Kathleene Van Treese Runnels, a former high school teacher, now owns her own cosmetics sales business and travels widely. Also a writer, her first book was Brides Wearing White, promoting teen abstinence. Her passion to write is met with her blog, “Rose Petals,” http://bit.ly/1qigzH5.


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