Lagny le Sec, France (NNCNOW.com) - Residents of a small French village hold an annual ceremony to honor an American crew that crashed near their community while on a top secret mission during World War Two.
This year the extended family of Duluth airman Floyd Lauletta traveled to France where they learned about the mission that killed their relative and about its role in one of the most important efforts of World War Two.
Parts of that mission remains classified today.
Some 80 million people died in the Second World War. The long and bloody war lasted six years. One group of airmen is attributed with helping to shorten that war through its clandestine efforts to aid the resistance movements in France, Norway, Denmark, Italy and other occupied nations.
Bill Becker, who was one of those airmen said
“We dropped agents into France and Norway and Denmark."
Soon after the United States got into the war the top secret agency, the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS began recruiting elite airmen for a secret mission.
The clandestine wing of the 856th Bomb Squadron was code–named Carpetbaggers.
Minnesotans and even Duluthians were members of this top secret group.
Airmen like Bill Becker flew espionage missions in the dead of night, close to the ground, dropping weapons, ammunition, food, information pamphlets containing details of enemy troop strength and movement, and spies, into occupied and enemy territories.
“It was hairy, flying at night stuff, and we didn't have any communication with anybody other than the long–range navigation on the plane” Becker says.
When they were recruited, the men were told the basics of what they would be doing and the deadly consequences of talking about their mission.
Becker says “If you don't want to do this, it's perfectly fine. You can walk out of here now and forget that you ever knew this. But if you walk out of here and you might happen to talk about what we just spoke about, you will be brought back and shot.”
The men were assigned to eight person crews. In dangerous nighttime missions they flew in planes painted black, sometimes flying just a few hundred feet off the ground.
“We were shot up so bad going over the North Seas that (chuckle)I'm still thinking of it. My knees were knocking, that's how bad it was.” Becker told us.
The Carpetbaggers flew mostly B17 Flying Fortresses and B24 Liberators. When the aircraft were hit by enemy fire Carpetbagger ground crews worked quickly to put the planes back into service.
Sidney Martinson from Crystal, Minnesota was one of those mechanics.
“They had a few that came back with holes once in a while. There were some hazards.”
Becker said information provided to the Carpetbaggers was on a need to know basis.
“We didn't even know till we got in the plane at night where exactly we were going.”
Even after the war ended the Carpetbaggers were sworn to secrecy by the OSS which became the CIA.
Martinson said “They warned us not to talk about it.”
The covert missions were only partially declassified in 1985, 50 years after the war ended, while other parts of what the Carpetbaggers did, remains classified today according to Becker.
“We were told when you go home forget that you ever did this. Don't mention a word.”
Martinson said he got the same message.
“We carried over the secrecy. We just didn't talk about it.”
One highly secret part of the Carpetbagger mission revolved around their efforts to keep the Germans from building their own atomic bomb.
Sgt. Becker says he knows he played a small part in that larger mission.
“We flew into Norway. We dropped guys that, from what I understand, they blew up the heavy water in Norway that Hitler needed for his Atomic bomb.”
The Carpetbaggers saw heavy casualties during the war. Those who came back mourned privately for their lost comrades but also took great pride in their accomplishments.
“I feel that I accomplished something in my life. I'm 88 years old now and I was 18 then” Becker says.
The dangerous work the Carpetbaggers performed during the Second World War is appreciated to this day by the resistance countries according to the Mayor of the French Village of Lagny le Sec, Didier Doucet.
“Without that, the liberation and the end of the war would probably have been delayed with more dead people.”
France recently bestowed its highest civilian honor on tail gunner Sgt. Bill Becker...the Legion of Honor Medal. “All my grandchildren they're all proud of their grandfather and I'm proud of it.”
June 6th, 2014 will be the 70th anniversary of the D–Day invasion and people across the world are commemorating the heroic struggle.