On the 17th of September 1944 at the start of Operation Market Garden C-47 “Chevelet” was heading towards the Netherlands, on board were ten pathfinders of the 101st Airborne division and five crewmembers. Their destination was drop zone A1 at Veghel where the pathfinders were to jump and then mark out the area for the 1st battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment which were to land there.
However this was not fated to be, hit by German anti-aircraft fire the C-47 quickly lost altitude before crashing near Retie in Belgium. All five members of the crew and four of the pathfinders died in the crash. All but one of the bodies were recovered, the body of 2nd Lt. Eugene P. Shauvin was not found and he remains missing to this day. Because drop zone A1 wasn’t marked out the 1st battalion accidentally landed near Heeswijk Castle, about 4.5 miles to the west of the intended spot.
Fast forward almost 77 years and it is Saturday, May 29th 2021 and I drove to Margraten American Cemetery to lay wreath on behalf of the Screaming Ducks Living History Association. Then I continued on to Henri Chapelle to place flowers on the grave of George W. Bonner which I adopted though the official term is being the Primary Sentinel.
This day by itself would be memorable enough, it would be the first time I would be able to place flowers on George’s grave for Memorial Day. In late 2019 I was assigned George’s grave and in 2020 due to Covid we were not allowed to leave The Netherlands so this was my first opportunity.
After parking my car I walked to the grave, keeping an eye out for the green vases that are located somewhere at the cemetery entrance. There were no vases to be seen so I walked to the grave, Plot H, Row 13, Grave #45 which is the second to last row. Deep in thought I walked to the grave and then had a short private ceremony and I placed the flowers on the grave, but not in a vase. This kept bugging me so I decided to rectify this and I walked back towards the entrance and there by the chapel they were, in plain sight and neatly stacked. There even were a few cans of water so quite pleased with myself I walked back to George’s grave and put the flowers in the vase, arranging them as best I can.
A female American voice asked me if I had adopted the grave, to which I proudly responded that indeed it was my honor to do so. We got talking and she told me she was the daughter of a C-47 pilot that crashed near Retie and was still missing. She was in Belgium because at the crash site a new search was underway to try and find the remains of her father while she and her mother, who never remarried were still alive. She had just returned from Margraten where Lt. Shauvin is listed on the Walls of the Missing.
Now the final bit of the puzzle that I did not tell you is that I live not more than a couple of hundred yards from, what was supposed to be, drop zone A1. You can imagine the look on our faces when we discovered this, a strange quirk of fate allowed us to meet, the chances of which were incredibly small.
We had a very pleasant conversation, she told me of her hopes that her father would finally be found and we took a couple of pictures and then parted ways. On the 31st of May it was in the news that fragments of bones were found at the crash site and the search was halted.
Let us hope her father has been found and that he will get the honored grave he rightly deserves, especially after nearly 77 years of being missing.
My task now being complete, the grave of George W. Bonner has flowers on them for Memorial Day, I headed back home.