1LT Harry William Strahlendorf
Combat Pilot, 404th Squadron ,
371st Fighter Group, Ste Mere Eglise, France
Killed in Action 24 June, 1944, near Cherbourg, Normandy
"TO THE MEMORY OF THE AMERICAN
My dad, 1st Lt. Harry W. Strahlendorf, was born July 8, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Throughout his early years he always dreamed of flight. In his teens he collected any published
article on aviation. Dad received several hours of instruction in a Piper Cub at Devener Airport
in Hanover, PA soon after meeting my mom, who was from that part of South-Central Pennsylvania.
In the late '30s Harry entered the Pennsylvania National Guard's 28th Division. His unit was
federalized shortly before Pearl Harbor and sent to Camp Livingston, Louisiana. While there, he
wrote home saying that his barracks looked out on an Army Airfield, where he could see the huge
bombers. "I'd sure love to fly one of those babies one day," he wrote to the folks at home.
Harry learned that the Army Air Corp was accepting applications for the Aviation Cadet program
and he applied. He was accepted in November, 1942 and reported to Randolph Field, Texas, where he
was a member of Class 43-H. He earned his coveted wings on August 30, 1943, ironically one year
to the day of my birth. He was assigned to training as a P-47 Thunderbolt Combat Pilot.
Dad was a "founding" pilot of the 404th Squadron, 371st Fighter Group. He received his training
in the "Jug" at Army Airfield, Richmond, Virginia, Camp Springs, Maryland (now Andrews AFB), and
Millville Army Airfield, New Jersey. At Millville, Harry received aerial gunnery training during
December, 1943. This was to be his last Christmas home. My mom was able to stay at the Hotel Bellamy
in Millville and dad spent each evening with her. They had a wonderful Christmas. This is where I
began my "journey" to birth and the last time mom saw her beloved husband.
The outfit shipped out to England in late February, 1944, departing New York Pier 54 on the SS
Mauretania for Liverpool. Arriving in England on March 6 after an uneventful crossing without escort,
the unit traveled by train to Bisterne ALG (ALG = Advanced Landing Ground, or temporary airfield),
near Ringwood in Hampshire, Southern England. By early April the group was ready for combat.
Of the three squadrons, the 404th was the first in the air on D-Day and provided air support for
the landings. Dad wrote home, saying, "I had a ring-side-seat and wouldn't have missed it for
anything." In another letter he wrote that he couldn't wait for all the killing to be over with.
Shortly after the Normandy Landings, the 371st became one of the first P-47 units to operate from
a French field, A-6, about two miles to the north of Ste Mere Eglise, site of the famous 82nd
Airborne drop on D-Day.
At 8:10 AM, on the morning of June 24, 1944, while on his 48th mission over Normandy, an
anti-aircraft round from German 88mm guns struck his ship, the "Eddie Nor II," while attacking
that gun emplacement at Ft. du Roule in Cherbourg. Other pilots told me they saw Dad go almost
straight down, minus the entire tail of the aircraft. He crashed into nearby Octeville and was
killed instantly. His body was immediately buried by the citizens of the town. Two days later the
area was liberated and his body reburied at the temporary American cemetery called Ste. Mere
Eglise #2. This was only about a mile from his airfield.
His fellow pilots were devastated at his loss. At 29, Harry was old for a fighter pilot. Most of
the other pilots were in their early 20's. They even called him "Pop."
In 1948, Dad's body came home to Philadelphia. On a quiet late summer afternoon our family
tearfully laid him to final rest in his beloved hometown. He lies in the veterans memorial
garden of Greenmount Cemetery, located in the old Northeast section of Philly. I visit as
often as I can, or when I need to talk.
For over 50 years now a flower has been placed on the site of his sacrifice by a citizen of
Octeville who lives next door to the crash site. Meusieur René Launey is an avid gardener.
He truly appreciates what my father, and others like him, did to liberate his country. He will
On the 50th anniversary of Dad's loss, June 24, 1994, he was honored by the town of Octeville.
A ceremony was held on the site of his crash, where a beautiful little park, now called,
"Square Strahlendorf" was built. I was there that day with my wife, Ann. A monument marks the
spot and contains this inscription:
LT. HARRY W. STRAHLENDORF
PILOT OF THE 371 FG - 404 SQUADRON
9TH U.S. AIR FORCE
WHO GAVE HIS LIFE ON THIS SPOT
DURING THE AERIAL ASSAULT IN
THE COURSE OF THE LIBERATION OF
JUNE 24, 1944"
-- Harry Strahlendorf, Jr. --
It was near midnight, June 25, 1994, a Saturday. The church bells began to toll; first one,
then another, and another, until all the bells in the city were ringing. We rushed to the window
of our room in the Hotel Mercure overlooking Cherbourg harbor. Across the marina we could make out
the silhouetted forms of hundreds of people.
Suddenly I knew what this was all about; this was the moment of Liberation, fifty years to the
minute! We were taking part in this solemn occasion with the Norman people. The emotions that
welled within me cannot be described. Tears flooded my eyes as I began to imagine what this all
meant to the French people. After five horrible years filled with death, torture, and destruction,
they were finally free of that Nazi tyranny. The Allies were their saviors! How fitting to hear
the church bells signaling that moment in history.
As I stood there I let my mind's eye drift back 50 years. I could see the inexplicable joy the
citizens of Cherbourg must have experienced at this very moment. Then I reflected about all those
who had made this possible, including my dad. He would now be lying in the Norman ground a short
distance from where we now stood, having made the supreme sacrifice for our liberty. Dad, did
you hurt when the end came? Were you afraid? Did you think of your family as your wounded ship
plunged to earth, or were you already with God, away from all that horror? I hope so. It must
have been quick, no matter what happened, and I'm glad for that. I love you so, my father. Rest
in peace, gentle warrior.
I have been back to Normandy once since then. In the fall of 1995, I received a letter from the
same French aviation research group who located my dad's crash site in 1993. They had once more
found the remains of a P-47 Thunderbolt, not far from the village of Brix. This is ten miles from
that of my dad's loss. They had the name of the pilot: Lt. Cary Lewis Gray. Could I find his family
and invite them to Normandy? He was from Tennessee... that was all the information they had.
Within a month we struck paydirt. Through the members of the P-47 Thunderbolt Pilots Association
we were able to track down Mr. Wilfred "Wimpy" Gray, who lives in the same area of Bristol,
Tennessee as when his oldest brother Cary left for the war. On June 17, 1996, we stood in Brix
as ten members of the Gray family were honored. The town took parts from Cary's aircraft and
dedicated a permanent memorial to his memory. We also visited Cary's grave in the American
Normandy Cemetery the next day. To say the least, we all felt such pride and sadness on that day.
We were especially saddened to learn that Cary had safely bailed out of his aircraft, only to be
captured by the Germans and killed just before we liberated Cherbourg.
During that same visit in June, 1996, I was presented with the chin strap from my father's
officer's cap by a beautiful lady who had removed it during a rain storm over his crash site in
1944. Madame Janine Letulle was ten at the time and worried that the cap would be ruined. She
kept that chin strap in her attic, in a Prince Charming powder box from America, all those years
and presented it to me during a ceremony in the Octeville City Hall. We presented the mayor with
a proclamation from the City of Philadelphia that set the week we were in Normandy as "Octeville
Week" in Philadelphia, honoring the relationship that existed between the two cities.
We continue to attempt to find other families of American aircrews who died in Normandy. Our
friends in the Recherche et Histoire Aerienne en Cotentin, the Norman group of young researchers,
continue to seek out Allied crash sites and identify the crew. Their selfless aim is to honor the
"Liberators" in the locale of each crash site. We will never forget them!