Excerpts – In Love with Freedom; ch 24
A Princess, a kidnapped orphan, and a Princess yet again… all by the time she was 16! Yet at such a young age her life of trial and turmoil was just beginning. A courageous and driven woman copes with personal loss and sacrifice to save 1400 American’s shot down in her country during WWII… and her country.
Your American Orphans Are Going Home
Grabbing the bars beside the fuselage hatch Britt boarded one of the last flights. The airmen of the low-level raid were the first in Romania and it turned out the last to leave. Britt settled in for his flight and found his thoughts meandering. There would be the camaraderie and jostling and joking of men being rescued after many months of captivity, followed by moments of retrospection. The war was not yet over, not as his German captures had once claimed, so what would his next assignment be? Would he fly again, could he… physically… mentally?
The door to the bomber shut with a loud clang of metal on metal. The engines revved and pushed against the brakes as pilot and copilot danced their tango to get the air ship sailing fast on the short runway. The plane lurched forward when the copilot released his hold on the brakes. Inside the men quieted as the metal vessel fought gravity and physics. It bounced several times before the bomber rose free of the earth.
As the plane grudgingly left the ground Britt’s thoughts stayed in Romania for a moment. “Princess Catherine, return to your Romanian orphans now. Your American orphans are going home.”
The road north of Bucharest was not as cratered or littered with debris, unlike the city that suffered under bombing first from British and American aerial forces, then the Nazis, and finally, Russian land forces. Catherine made good progress that afternoon as she and Nicholas drove towards Ploesti. It had been a busy and challenging couple of days, and emotionally draining. There was a beautiful overlook from a hillside that panned across the plains southward to Bucharest, once thought of as the Paris of Eastern Europe, now just another war torn outpost of hungry, tired, and frightened mankind — the nameless victims of man’s greatest failure of civilization — war.
The huge car strained to climb through the rolling terrain. At Catherine’s order Nicholas came to a stop at the top of the hillock. She left the car and climbed to a rocky outcropping. Fighter planes of the American aerial cover for the rescue mission roamed the skies above her. There was no resistance from the German Luftwaffe. What was left of it had retreated to Germany after the raids of revenge against Romania to escape the ravages of the American offensive against it.
Catherine stood on a rock for a few moments her arms folded across herself as if cradling something, perhaps her fleeting hopes, thinking for a fleeting moment about nothing, it seemed. Soon her thoughts took in a panorama, and she thought for a moment of happier times when her Grandpapa first brought her to this place. The distant silhouette of another American bomber rose from the ground and arched slowly in the sky across the horizon as it headed west with its precious cargo of former POWs, now liberated airmen. Catherine followed its path upward into the blue sky. Her ‘boys’ were now free. She moved higher up the rock to get a better view. As the first plane became a speck, she looked back along its path and saw another rescue plane reaching upward. Behind it yet another of the large craft was elevating above the low skyline of Bucharest.
The wind blew across her face from west to east tousling her hair and ruffling her long skirt. Catherine’s gaze moved into the wind, westward. Was it the breeze that chilled her to a shiver? She rubbed her goose bumped arms. Plumes of smoke drifted eastward towards the city. She saw orange flashes arching briefly skyward and new plumes of smoke appeared downwind. It was the advancing tanks of the Red Army. Within days Bucharest would be in their control.
The cracks of the cannon and the thump of their impact see-sawed — out of rhythm with the visual view, distorted by the distance that the sound traveled — yet it was indeed a surreal image. From behind her a squadron of American P-38s raced up flying at tree top height. The four fighters roared over the top of her, one after the other. Startled, Catherine ducked at first then turned to watch them zip past barely fifty feet above her head. They began to elevate and raced towards their charges on a mission to escort her ‘boys’ back to Italy, back to safety, back to freedom. Reminded perhaps of her personal mission, Catherine knew she hadn’t the luxury of idle time. She turned and approached her faithful and brave driver. Catherine was certain he was not aware of what he was in for when he signed on — then again neither was she, but his loyalty never wavered. He had been with her for the entirety of the war as heroic as any soldier.
“Nicholas!” she hollered. “Let’s get on the road! We’ve work to do! Let’s be off to the orphanages!”