2009-09-10 / Features

Spanish Town Recalls Baton Rouge Pilot's Crash

By George Morris THE ADVOCATE

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The last thing Clark Graham expected when he piloted a B-17 out of England on June 19, 1944, was to land in Spain. The last thing he expected this year was for anyone to remember.

It turns out the folks in the village of Luceni hadn't forgotten. Apparently, having a bomber crash land in your neighborhood sticks in the memories, even after 65 years.

Graham was contacted in May by newspaper reporter Ruben Ramos of Zaragoza, Spain, who asked about the final flight of Dog Breath I, which Graham piloted. About a month later, he received a copy of the story published in Heraldo de Aragon.

Graham, 92, can't read the story, but he already knows what happened.

During World War II, Graham was stationed at the Deopham Green air base. This day's mission was to attack German air bases near Bordeaux, France.

Anti-aircraft fire took out two of Graham's four engines, leaving him more than 500 miles from his base and with a decision to make. Making it back to Deopham Green was iffy.

"We were dodging fighters as soon as we left the target," Clark said. "There's nothing a fighter likes better than a crippled bomber. We got out over the Bay of Biscay. One alternative was to try to make it back to England, in which case we would have had to ditch in the water. Rather than ditch - you always lose some of your crew - we told them the next alternative was Spain."

Spain had remained neutral during the war. So, Graham flew over the Bay of Biscay and crossed the Spanish coast, then started looking for a place to land. That was complicated because the hydraulic system that operated the landing gears also wasn't working, so Graham would have to attempt a "belly" landing.

He found a blacktop road and put the big aircraft down there, and the entire crew emerged uninjured. They were unsure about the reception they'd get.

"We had been told to watch out for the Spanish Civil Guard, the local police force," Graham said. "After we were on the ground for a little bit, the Civil Guard pulled up. They didn't bother us too much. We had .50- caliber machine guns pointed at them. A few minutes after that the Spanish Air Force came along, and they treated us like royalty."

Following the protocol for being forced down in enemy or neutral territory, the crew used the fuel that remained to burn the aircraft. The crew was housed in a nice hotel, Graham said, for two weeks until being picked up by British forces and returned to England.

Graham continued piloting bombers without further such adventures.

"I never had a crewman injured in all that time. It's remarkable," he said. "When I went on duty, they told us you had about one chance in three of coming out, of finishing the tour of 25 missions. We were one of the ones that made it all the way. I lost a lot of friends, of course."

Graham grew up in southern California but moved to Baton Rouge before World War II after his brother, Stanley, opened a business here. After the war, he returned to Baton Rouge and to Clark Brothers Engine Co., where he worked until retiring.

Although he received news about friends in the 452nd Bomb Group in which he served, Graham was stunned to know that there were people in Spain who still remembered that day 65 years ago when Graham and his crew burst briefly into their lives.

I was surprised there was that much interest,'' he said. I guess that didn't happen every day over there."

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