History is always different in person.
The written account of 1st Lt. Ted Weaver's plane being shot down over Nazi-occupied Holland in 1944 reads like a novel: hiding in a wheat field, with a German soldier searching for him just a few feet away. A dog that didn't bark. Families of the Dutch underground taking him in, moving him from house to house, until the town of Nijverdal was liberated nine months later.
In March, when UNH President Ann Weaver Hart--Weaver's daughter--went to Logan Airport to pick up a Dutch 15-year-old boy who was coming to America, Weaver's story came full circle.
Micha van Veldhuizen isn't just any Dutch student. His great-grandparents hid Hart's father from November 1944 until April 8, 1945, when Canadian troops entered Nijverdal.
Micha never knew of his connection to Hart until he decided to fulfill his English language requirement in the United States. Students in the Netherlands who attend a bilingual high school and want to earn an English diploma have to spend two to three weeks in an English-speaking country. When he was considering where to go, he asked his mother if she knew anyone in America. She mentioned Hart.
"I had never heard the story," he says. "We did a Google search and found her. Then later I asked my mother, how do you know Ann Hart?"
His grandmother, Annie van Harten, was a young woman in 1944. She spoke little of the war until her grandson heard about Hart and started asking questions. He just recently learned his grandfather, Kim van Veldhuizen, was an important leader in the Dutch resistance. Annie, a resistance messenger, was imprisoned for a time by the Germans, who were trying to entrap her husband.
Talking in the car
Ann Weaver Hart's experience was similar to Micha van Veldhuizen's.
"The only stories I heard in the late 60s were about how hard it was and how everyone who had hidden him made sacrifices," Hart says. "I think it was a little too painful, a little too difficult. Mom tells a story about the first night Dad was back home. They were sitting in the living room and the doorbell rang and Dad jumped up and hid behind the couch. Then he realized he didn't have to hide anymore."
Hart's mother, Sylvia Weaver, began encouraging her husband to record the events of those nine months. One day while driving in the car, Hart's uncle pulled out a tape recorder and told Weaver to start talking.
"Most of the tapes were made in the car, telling stories to my uncle," Hart says.
B-24 under fire
Ted Lionel Weaver was 23 years old when he piloted the B-24 bomber Full House on its 23rd mission over Holland. It was July 7, 1944. There were nine men on board. Their mission was to strike aircraft factories in Bernberg, Germany.
The flight path was to take them across the northern tip of France and then into Germany. They were flying at an altitude of 20,000 feet when the plane came under fire. The enemy aircraft came out of nowhere, ME-110 fighters at one o'clock high. The strike lasted minutes. There was a rush of air into the crippled plane: smoke filled the cockpit. The radios were destroyed, and hydraulic fluid leaked over the rudder. The left outboard engine was the first to go. The crew stayed calm, adjusting their parachutes, waiting for Weaver's orders to abandon the plane.
The first man out was one of two wounded in the attack. His crewmates placed the ripcord in his hand, pushed him out the opening and yelled, "Pull!" Weaver speculated later that he was unconscious. He was killed when he hit the ground.
The young pilot ordered the crew to bail out while he tried to guide the limping plane. Six of the crewmen were captured and became prisoners of war. Two, including the wounded crewman, were killed. For nine months, Weaver was listed as missing in action.
When he hit the ground, Weaver did what he had been trained not to do: he shed his parachute and left it where it fell. He could hear gunfire nearby. There was no time to roll up the silk and hide it.
Weaver had landed in a wheat field. He began crawling on his hands and knees, so he wouldn't leave a trail. Along the way, he jettisoned anything that could connect him to his family back home. He buried pictures, a silver bracelet decorated with a set of wings that had his future wife's name engraved on the back, all but one of his silver officer insignia bars.
Fifteen years later, the son-in-law of the farm's owner would find the silver bracelet and have it returned to Weaver.
The soldiers carried escape packets containing German, French and Belgian money, enough concentrated food to last a few days, silk maps of Europe and cards with vital phrases written in German and French. Weaver memorized a few of the phrases and then tore up the cards and buried them. He spent the day lying in the wheat field, watching a house nearby and the family that lived there. That afternoon, he got up, walked toward them and said, "Ich bin Amerikanische pilot. Guten tag." ("I am an American pilot. Good day.")
Given a pair of coveralls, Weaver was sent back to the field, where he covered himself with wheat stalks. Farmer Schoemaker later brought him to meet Jan Roorda, who was with the Dutch Underground.
From July to November, Weaver moved whenever danger appeared. He had met another American: they were living in the woods when the van Harten family offered to hide them.
The Germans had released Annie van Harten's father from digging traps for tanks, but he had not yet returned home when the two pilots arrived in Nijverdal. Henk, the van Hartens' oldest son, had just been freed from a concentration camp. The stakes were high.
And yet, for the next six months, the van Harten family sheltered the men, hiding them in the colonnade between the front room and the dining room whenever the Germans came to search the house.
Then, when the family heard that Nazi soldiers had discovered people hiding in colonnades and were shooting them through the walls, the van Hartens built a new hiding place in their sitting room.
Cutting a two-foot-square hole under a daybed, they dug out an area below it four feet deep and seven feet square. Under cover of night, the soil was carried out of the house in buckets and dumped in the garden so as not to arouse the neighbors' suspicions. That hole in the dirt became the Americans' bedroom.
The men passed the time playing cards--pinochle and bridge--with van Veldhuizen's grandmother and the other family members. Annie's sister, Gerritdina, taught Weaver to knit.
As the Germans moved across the Netherlands, they occupied Dutch homes and then abandoned them. When the van Hartens learned their house was going to be the next command post, they hurriedly moved Weaver and the other American pilot to the home of a baker in town, who hid the men for two weeks until the Nazi soldiers moved on.
Staying in touch
Weaver hid with the van Hartens until the war ended. After returning to America, he kept in touch with the family. Hart met Micha's parents when they visited her father during a trip to the United States in the 1980s. They exchanged Christmas cards thereafter but lost contact after Ted Weaver died in 1986 and the van Veldhuizens moved to Indonesia. Then, early this winter, the family found Hart on the Internet.
"That was a surprise, to find out she was a university president," Micha says. "I know Ann's really busy, she has a lot of things to do. But she still has time for me." And they both have had time to share the stories that have been passed on to them. Stories that intersect their lives.
Hart tells of Jan Roorda, the first man to help her father. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested and sentenced to death. "Jan was scheduled for execution the same day the town was liberated," Hart says. "He said the firing squad was marching one way down the street and the Canadian army was coming in the other direction. All those people who helped him took a chance," she continues.
"Even though there were threats," Micha says. "And they weren't hollow threats. People were killed for helping the Americans." "My grandmother told me of the searches, of the Germans coming to the house and shoving them aside, shouting."
Reflections on courage
Hart is contemplative. "My dad's stories always made me wonder if I would have had the moral courage to do what they did," she says. "It's quite a high standard when you're a little kid trying to figure out whether you're brave or not. I wouldn't be here if a whole lot of people in Europe had not had that moral courage."
Hart seems especially moved when she tells her mother's story. Like so many women left behind, her mother had no idea if her soldier was dead or alive.
"Month after month went by without a word. My mother was a college student," Hart says. Her father was allowed to send only a brief telegram saying he was alive. Her voice catches and then she finishes, "My grandfather got the telegram and went to find my mother. She was in class."
Tears come when she mentions what her mother said was the hardest part: her friends and the men who didn't come home to them. "It could have been so different for us," Hart says. "Any one of those people could have turned my father in, the farmer, anyone."
"So many what-ifs," Micha says. "So many." ~
Jody Record '95 is a news correspondent for the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, N.H. A version of this article appeared in the April 11 edition of the New Hampshire Sunday News.
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