How I met the German Pilot - by Lester Schrenk Photo to  from Les Schrenk   Updated: 21 JAN 2013

JU 88G of 11./NJG3, Grove 1945, flown by HHM when he shot down B17 42-31377. Confirmed by HHM in a letter to Les Schrenk at Christmas 2012. HHM's photos
Lester Schrenk - The day of my capture give more information.

On 22 February 1944 B17 42-31377 crashed here in Thy after the crew with Sgt Lester Schrenk had bailed out. See ID + Lester Schrenk.
On 23 April 2012 Lester Schrenk and his family visited former Oberleutnant Hans Hermann Müller who shot down Schrenk's B-17 Pot O' Gold.
Lester Schrenk and H.H. Müller in uniforms and Lester Schrenk and Hans Hermann Müller in 2012 based on information and photos from Les.

On 9 MAY 2012 Les added his letter that started it all. You may see TV items 41sec. TV2: Old enemies meet 68 years later and 2 min. 47 sec.
TV/MIDT-VEST: Mortal enemies become friends (print the speech)
sent on 25 APR 2012. On 28 MAY 2012 Les sent How I met the German Pilot:

On the 22nd of February, 1944 I was flying my 10th bombing mission out of Podington, England in a B-17 named Pot O' Gold ( serial number 42-31377) to bomb the
airfield at Aalborg (here) in Denmark. There were about 30 B-17 airplanes in our formation.  All of these planes were from the 92nd Bomb Group and we had no fighter escort.  We were the only  group sent to bomb the airfield.  There was very dense cloud cover over the target so we did not drop our bombs. Bombs were never
dropped on friendly countries, unless we could clearly see the target. Denmark was considered a friendly country, even though it was occupied by Germany.  On our way back to England, first over Skagerrak, Denmark, and further on over the North Sea, we were repeatedly attacked by German ME-109 and JU88 fighter aircraft.

A B-17 flying just to our right was hit (see 92nd USAAF-USAF Memorial Association with Missions 1944, see Losses 22 FEB 1944. AS) and crashed into the sea.
There were no survivors. Two minutes later our plane was also hit by a JU88 twin engine fighter. There was a very loud explosion coming out of the right wing fuel
tank and we were on fire. I heard the navigator telling the pilot that we were 20 minutes dead east from the nearest land. I knew right away that we were going down.
Our pilot, Lieutenant William Ralph Lavies lowered the landing gear. This was a sign that we were surrendering. This was a universal sign. We were escorted to land.

For the next 20 minutes there was one explosion after another coming out of the right wing, with only seconds between the explosions.  We were trailing fire of about
25 feet.  None of us thought that we would make landfall. If we had gone down over water, none would survive in the cold North Sea water in February. We did
manage to reach landfall. All 10 of our crew bailed out over Thy in the Jutland area of Denmark where lake Ove is situated (overview here, at close range here). 
After we bailed out, the right wing blew off and our plane swerved around and crashed at where, I would later learn, was the farm of Koustrup Mollegaard, Sønderhaa. Unfortunately our pilot Lieutenant William Ralph Lavies lost his life. On bailing out as he landed in lake Ove (about here), breaking through the very thin ice that
covered the lake. The German soldiers would not let the Danish people go out to rescue him, so he was left to die in the cold water. It was only after he was dead
that the Danish local citizens were allowed to go out in a boat to retrieve his body.

Years later after the internet came into being, I searched and found a copy of a painting done by one of the maintenance crew at Podington, of our plane, Pot O’ Gold.  With this success I then searched for the crash site of our plane.  I had located the Danish historian Finn Buch. He located the farm in Jutland where the plane had crashed. He put me in contact with Niels Moller, the  owner of the farm. Soon Mr. Moller and I were writing via email and became friends. He invited us to come for a
visit and see the crash site. In April of 2008 we finally did come to Denmark.  At the Copenhagen airport we were met by Nikolaj Bojer, who we had met three years
earlier when he and his mother, Ida, came to visit us in Minnesota. Nikolaj accompanied us by rail to the Niels Moller farm in Thy. During our entire stay we were
treated like royalty by the Moller family, their friends and neighbours and Nikolaj with meals, lodging and everything we could possibly want. It was at the farm, where 
we visited the crash site of our airplane, now invisible and buried deep under a field of wheat. Even though the Mollers had been excavating parts of the airplane since
it crashed in 1944. Within about 30 minutes, digging in the dry dirt with a shovel, we found dozens of artifacts from our plane. The most incredible find was the identification plate of the airplane with the paint and all the lettering still clearly visible, including Pot O' Gold's serial number 42-31377. The plate was badly bent and partially melted from the fire when it burned upon impact

Almost as amazing, I also dug up one of the control handles from my ball turret. The most memorable part of the visit to Denmark was meeting Agnes Moller, the 99
year old mother of Niels Moller. She and her husband owned the farm when our plane crashed. She had seen our parachutes as we bailed out and for those many
years had not known our fate. Vibrant, talkative, and with a sharp memory, she was very anxious to meet us and this with tears in her eyes. Sadly she died a week
after our visit, almost as if her life was now complete. 

A few weeks later, I again met Nikolaj Bojer when he came to visit us in Minnesota. I told him, that I had always wished to meet the pilot who shot us down and to
thank him for sparing our lives, when he could so easily had taken them. Nikolaj took up the task and began to comb  through German records to find the pilot. He
had learned that his name was Hans Hermann Müller. Over the internet, Nikolaj took all the names from Hans Hermann Müllers group. Two names in particular was special, unfortunately, one was a still being nazist and living in Canada. The other one was Walter Briegleb in Cologne, Germany. He told Nikolaj, that he presumed
Hans Hermann Müller was dead in the 1990's and his wife recently had passed away in Berlin. But there were at least two sons.

Nikolaj now began his 3-1/2 year search for Hans Hermann Müller's grave. At least for putting a wreath in honoring the German fighter for his noble acts.
Presuming Hans Hermann Müller had lived in Cologne, Nikolaj contacted the city hall, the undertaker Kuckelkorn, and all the cemeteries in Cologne. With no luck
Nikolaj wrote to the Military archives in Freiburg, the Deutscher Dienststelle in Berlin. Nikolaj then called the Bundesverteidigung in Bender block in
Stauffenbergstrasse in Berlin and the Bundes archives in Koblinz. Still no luck.
Then one day Nikolaj wrote to Bürgerservice in Bundesluftwaffe in San Augustin, which is close to Bonn.  A Lieutnant Dirk Dieling answered Nikolaj's letter. It said  that the information was classified.  The next day Nikolaj telephoned Lieutnant Dirk Dieling that he respected his answer. But as he did not know why Nikolaj was looking
for Hans Hermann Müller's grave, he told of Lester Schrenk's wish to reach out for the German fighter. When Lieutnant Dirk Dieling learned that I wanted to thank the
pilot for sparing our lives, his voice started to tremble. He said that he would give all his help to find Mr. Müller's grave. Now the news came fast. At web sites, Nikolaj found traces of Hans Hermann Müllers whereabouts in the war. Asking questions, answers came fast. As Mr Müller had been shot down over Caen, France in
September 1944 and reported missing. His name, date and year of birth and birthplace was released by the Germans. This was essential news for Dirk Dieling. The
third time Nikolaj called Lieutnant Dirk Dieling, he told Nikolaj that now he knew why he had had so many problems in finding the grave. Dirk Dieling had found the "widow".  Calling her, he asked, "do you know Hans Hermann Müller?" "Yes." "Is he born 5th of February 1921?" "Yes." "An American soldier wants to put a wreath on
his grave, honoring him for sparing the crew's life on an airplane", "Stop spinning. He is alive - sitting here beside me," Lydia the wife of Hans Hermann Müller replied.

With Mr. Muller very much alive, Nikolaj went to Heidelberg, to explain why I wanted to contact him. I immediately wrote to him through Nikolaj and Dirk Dieling.  I was very happy to soon receive his return letter. After the fourth letter, we were given the direct addresses. 

After 6 months of correspondence and considerations and with his invitation, a date was set in April 2012.  My family and I + Nikolaj went to Heidelberg, Germany on
April 21st, 2012 to meet Mr. Muller and his family.  As soon as we met, we became friends after 68 years and 2 months. During our stay in Heidelberg he and his
family had us to their houses and restaurants many times for meals, took us on tours of Heidelberg, and showered us with gifts.  The warm reception the Muller family gave us was amazing and they were so incredibly kind and generous to my family and me.

It was very interesting hearing his version of shooting us down.  I found that the reason I had not seen his JU-88 airplane was because he had attack us from behind
and above and so he was not visible to me as I was located in the ball turret under the B-17. I never got a chance to shoot at him.  Also I learned that just before our
crew of 10 bailed out that he was ordered to completely shoot us down as his advisers feared we would fly to neutral Sweden.  He said that he did again fire at us but stopped as soon as he saw us bail out.  Until I had talked to him 68 years later, I did not know this. He remembered clearly what had taken place that day and talked
at length about it.

It also was great hearing what he thought of various aircraft and finding that he had flown during the entire war from 1939 to the very end of the war and later working
for NATO.

He first flew JU 52 transport planes, in Africa, later FW 190 fighters and lastly the JU88 which he said was by far his favorite plane.

Also, I learned that he had been shot down and badly wounded,  but was lucky in landing on the German side of the conflict,  so he never became a prisoner of war.

It was very fulfilling meeting him and I am so glad that I could do so.  Just as soon as we met it felt like meeting an old friend.

Now we are the best of friends and will certainly remember this event the rest of our lives.  I am so very thankful that all of the events ended up at such a happy 
fulfilling occasion.

Les Schrenk