GARVESTONE, ENGLAND - Former Dansville resident Harry Wensel was 24 when he died on June 4, 1944. A gunner in a B-24 Liberator Bomber, Wensel and his nine fellow crew members were on their way to German targets in support of the D-Day landing that could come two days later. The sky was full of aircraft that day and, trying to avoid a collision, Wensel’s pilot lost control of the plane. The B-24 came down hard in the small village of Garvestone and, filled with fuel and bombs, exploded in a field. All 10 crew members, as well as two firefighters who responded to the crash, were killed.
Over 70 years later, the people of Garvestone continue to honor the fallen 12, as a remembrance ceremony was held June 6 in recognition of Wensel’s relatives’ first visit to the site.
Though the initial dedication ceremony took place in 2012, no one from the Wensel family was able to attend, said Dan Wensel, Harry Wensel’s nephew. Determined to make the trip, Dan, along with his wife, brother and a handful of others, traveled across the Atlantic in June to see the site of their uncle’s death.
As part of the trip, Dan Wensel and his relatives visited not only his uncle’s memorial, but also his gravesite at Madingley Cemetery in Cambridge.
“We visited four of the 12 people who died in the crash,” said Wensel, a resident of Perkinsville. “The other eight were... brought back (to the US).”
As they toured the cemetery, Wensel was confused as to why their guide was carrying a bucket of sand and a large sponge. Finally, he decided to ask her about it.
“The sand was from Omaha beach, so they brought it over from Normandy,” he explained. “The stones are all white marble and if you looked at one from any distance, you wouldn’t be able to read it, everything is just etched in. So she (the guide) filled the sand in the dates and the names and sponged it off so it looked like dark lettering.”
The party held a brief ceremony and laid a wreath at each of the four graves.
“I look some poppies from the (Dansville) American Legion and put them on each of the four wreaths,” said Wensel. “My brother and I did it.”
After the visit to the cemetery and remembrance at the memorial, Wensel and his party still had one more stop to make.
“We went up to the farm where the field is where the actual crash was and they gave us a little bag of dirt form the field,” said Wensel. “It was very emotional. It was like meeting him and burying him all at the same time.”
Wensel and his family didn’t leave the people of Garvestone empty-handed however, as Dan and his family presented to the village the flag that covered Harry’s coffin 70 years ago.
“We would cherish it, but beyond that somebody’s going to find it in my attic someday and maybe not even know the significance and even if they did, what’re they going to do with it,” said Wensel, explaining his reasoning for making a gift of the flag. “They’re having an oak case made for it and they’re going to have it hung up in their town hall. The email they sent us said ‘we are in awe that you would give us this heirloom.’”
Now, nearly a month removed from his trip, Dan Wensel is still struck with a mixture of gratitude and surprise that the people of Garvestone, who could have forgotten, chose not to,
“I never realized how grateful they are,” said Wensel. “We hear stories about, we we go over there, we send our boys and now our girls over there and we die for them and they don’t really care on way or the other about us. That’s not really how it is, at least not there anyways.”