A young Washington, Connecticut, man’s role in World War II recounted
Published 4:54 pm, Sunday, October 2, 2016
WASHINGTON — In a few weeks, it will be 73 years since Ed Zumpf, lost his brother, Frederick.
Frederick Zumpf was a 19-year-old gunner in a B-17, when his plane was hit by a rocket above the small Dutch village of Beek Oct. 14, 1943. The rocket pierced the Flying Fortress shell, rocking the plane’s bomb rack and setting it on fire. Several airmen bailed out, but Frederick Zumpf was stuck in the burning plane as it went down, records show.
His body, severely burned, was found in the wreckage.
Ed Zumpf, now 86, was 13 years old when his older brother died. And after hearing that the villagers of Beek had planted a tree in his brother’s honor and were planning a memorial, he went to the Gunn Historical Museum in town to commit his memories to print.
Museum Curator Stephen Bartkus sat down with Ed last week and heard about World War II from a child’s perspective: the story of a sibling who was killed and a family that wouldn’t hear about it until six months later.
Ed was at school that day and was told to go home, but no one would tell him why.
“It was hard for me to imagine what it would have been like,” Bartkus said.
Although it’s known that Frederick Zumpf was the first Washington native to die in the war — American Legion Post 87 in town is named Gage-Zumpf partly in his honor — it wasn’t until villagers in Beek started compiling records of Frederick Zumpf’s last flight and planning memorials a few months ago that much was known about how Frederick had died and what it had been like for Ed Zumpf, who still lives in town.
Ed had long kept to himself, reluctant to tell his story, Bartkus said. But when Ed heard of a memorial in the works for his brother, he planned a 90-minute interview with Bartkus, who manages the museum’s oral history archives. That interview is being transcribed by the museum.
“Most of the time people don’t think their stories are all that important,” Bartkus said. “But everybody's got a story to tell.”
“Small town,” Bartkus said, adding that a Zumpf has lived in Washington since the late-1800s.
After the crash back in 1943, Germans found Sgt. Frederick Zumpf and three others in the wreckage and buried the bodies. Zumpf was so badly burned they could not identify him immediately, records show. So he was put in an unmarked grave. His body has since been identified.
In 1945, after the war had been won, all four bodies were moved to the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. There, under a white cross, Fred’s body still lies.
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