Part of Our Shared History
August 31, 2012
I recently attended the 68th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising in Banska Bystrica and will return to the area this weekend to participate in the annual Sliac Airshow. This year, a U.S. B-52 Statofortress will be at the airshow, and I had the chance to tour this plane on SNP day along with President Gasparovic and several ministers. As the crew of this impressive plane began planning their visit, they discovered remarkable historical links between their unit and Slovakia.
On the morning of August 29, 1944, the same day as the Uprising, twenty eight B-17 Flying Fortresses from the 2nd Bomb Group set out from Italy on a mission to destroy strategic targets in German-occupied Ostrava, Czech Republic. Nine aircraft from the 2nd Bomb Group, including all seven from the 20th Bomb Squadron, were shot down as they traveled the dangerous flight route over Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Forty airmen were killed, another forty-six were taken prisoner, and four airmen successfully evaded the Germans.
The stories of these men are incredible and touching. Many of those killed during the mission were given dignified burials by the Czechs and Slovaks who found their bodies. Those who escaped their damaged planes and survived told stories of locals who provided them food, shelter, and medical assistance even though the Germans threatened to execute anyone found aiding Americans.
A Czech family hid one of the airmen for the duration of the war. Slovaks helped three others escape to Banska Bystrica, the base for the Uprising. On September 17, two U.S. B-17s landed at Tri Duby Airfield, now Sliac Airport, in a daring behind-enemy-lines mission to provide assistance to the Uprising and rescue these and other airmen who had been shot down in operations over Slovakia. A similar mission brought back an additional 28 U.S. airmen on October 7.
August 29, 1944, was a very momentous day in the history of Slovakia and the 2nd Bomb Group. Both the Uprising and the sacrifices of the U.S airmen demonstrate the commitment of Slovaks and Americans to fighting for our core shared values: freedom, liberty, and democracy.
I hope you will have the chance to visit the Sliac airshow this weekend, meet the crew of the B-52, and experience part our shared history.