Finding Sam

by Curtiss D. Johnson

I first met Sam VanderJagt in the barracks of the Dodge City Air Base in Kansas. It was late 1945, and I noticed that he knelt to pray by his cot before he retired for the evening. He had been “recycled” from duty in England where he had flown 66 missions over France and Germany as the Radio Operator/Gunner on the two-engine B-26, Martin Marauder. Some were harrowing experiences. One, which he related later in a 1994 edition of the Quad City Times, told of the bombing mission in 1944 over an oil depot in Bitburg, Germany. The hydraulic systems of their B-26 were shot out by Nazi anti-aircraft and the bombs would not release. The choices were to bail out and let the plane crash or return to their England base with a full load and try to land without blowing themselves to bits. They would have to land without wheels, a belly-landing on a steel mesh runway, metal scraping against metal, a full tank of gas, and 4000 lbs. of bombs.

“Bailing out would have endangered the lives of people on the ground,” said VanderJagt. “We were all Christians and believed in God,” Sam affirmed. “It was a risky chance, but we decided to make the landing. We could only hope and pray and depend on the flying skill of the Captain.” Crouched in his seat, head between knees, body braced, with parachute sack in front of him to cushion his head, Sam prepared for a hard landing. When the plane finally skidded to a stop, he and six other crew members dove out the hatches and ran safely from the crippled plane. It had been 3 hours and 45 minutes since their take-off–an eternity in the blink of an eye.

It was on my birthday in 1996, when I became an octogenarian, that son, Bruce and son-in-law, Bryce, descended on my office and proceeded to install a modem and other accessories on the little Mac which son Dewey had given to start me on the road to becoming an E-mail fan. Well, this opened a new world to one who had learned the dot-dash Morse code as a radio operator flying on a B-26 out of the pilot training base near Dodge City, Kansas.

But, something was missing–more power was needed. Grandson, Karl, in Seattle figured it out and soon a more powerful Mac was delivered to my door in early 1998. I called Joey, a recent computer grad from Augsburg and trusty assistant when the grass grows and the snow storms hit, to assist in the new installation.

Hesitating somewhat, I proceeded to find areas of interest–The Covenant Home Page, Yahoo, etc. I even picked up Glen Palmberg’s acceptance speech in audio. I found Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sam’s original home town. There had been some hints in the last letter I had received from him in 1946 that he would go to the Seminary to enter the Ministry of the Christian Reformed Church. With this much information, I entered the Net and almost immediately recieved a reply from the Alumni Group in Chicago: "Rev. Samuel VanderJagt lives in Davenport, Iowa and here is his phone number and address." An exciting phone call revealed he was somewhat retired, now 80, nevertheless back there serving the Christian Reformed Church he had started 33 years ago. Altogether, Sam was a minister of the Gospel for 46 years, a Protestant Chaplain in the local hospital, and had served three Presbyterian churches on a part time basis, as well as other assignments. In October 1998, he planned to go to Las Vegas to give the annual memorial message at a reunion of his WWII buddies.

Some day my wife, Lorraine, and I would like to see Sam and his wife, Jane, again. God may bless us with such a reunion day. Oh, the joys of E-mail!

Curtiss D. Johnson (1914-1999) was a member of Salem Covenant Church.

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