The delivery of a B-24 bomber 9,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean via Trinidad, Brazil, Senegal and Tunisia to a newly-opened airbase in southern Italy …
A series of missions into Nazi territory during World War II to disrupt supply lines and production by the Axis powers …
A Nazi fighter attack, bailing out of a burning aircraft and the dramatic rescue of two Allied airmen with the help of local villagers and Partisan soldiers …
These are the elements of a story that culminated one year ago in the dedication of a monument in a tiny village in Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia.
My daughter and I attended this dedication in memory of my father, Ernie Nordwell, who was one of the two men who evaded the Nazis.
Slovenia is a beautiful country on the northeastern edge of the Adriatic Sea. While it does include a very small coastline, most of the country is mountainous or forested. Tourist destinations include Lake Bled, the Julian Alps and spectacular underground caves.
While we did explore some of these sights, our main reason for going to Slovenia was to experience the dedication ceremony, and to connect with a family living where the bomber crashed nearly 80 years ago.
The crash was the beginning of a dramatic, six-week journey from the northernmost section of Yugoslavia southward to the central area of what would become Bosnia. There, C-47 transport aircraft of the 15th Army Air Force flew more than 80 Allied airmen, escaped POWs and injured Partisans to safety.
My daughter and I felt honored to be invited to the dedication. The memorial consists of an information board located at the side of a small country road, with a sign directing visitors to a stone memorial 200 yards into the forest.
That stone was carefully placed at the center of where the B-24 crashed on March 19, 1944. The location is known because Francišek Blašic, who was 14 years old at the time, saw the plane come down.
Frančišek was the last living eye witness, and unfortunately he died last year before we met him. However, his son Anton Blašič has now seen the project to completion, and faithfully keeps the story alive.
I am impressed by the eventual uniting of two families, one from the U.S. and one from Slovenia. They are tied by activities from the war almost 80 years ago.
I spoke during the ceremony, citing the selflessness of the villagers and Partisans during the evasion, willing to share what little they had, even during intense wartime scarcity. The actions were taken at great risk to themselves, due to the possibility of reprisal by Nazi forces, who were occupying Slovenia.
I believe the cooperation exhibited during this wartime evasion can be a model for today, when cooperation between nations and even within a nation, needs to be encouraged.
I hope these monuments and activities of remembrance will keep alive these priceless lessons of history. I look forward to sharing more of the story with those who attend the program.
About the presenter
Steve Nordwell grew up on a farm at the intersection of McDonald Creek and U.S. Highway 101. His father, Ernie, worked at the Rayonier pulp mill in Port Angeles, and Steve did too, after graduating from the University of Washington in chemical engineering.
Steve is now retired and enjoys hiking, biking, mountain climbing and skiing. He has climbed in Africa, Ecuador and Europe, in addition to volcanic peaks closer to home and down the West Coast.
He and his wife Lucy have walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain and Portugal three times.
The best memories and the most important reasons for travel, he says, come from connecting with other cultures, appreciating the things that unite us all.
About the series
Traveler’s Journal, a presentation of the Peninsula Trails Coalition, raises funds to buy project supplies and food for volunteers working on Olympic Discovery Trail projects. Shows start at 7 p.m. at the Dungeness River Nature Center, 1943 W. Hendrickson Road.
Admission is a suggested donation is $5 for adults. Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to wear mask.
For more information, email Arvo Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.