Like the words and title of a 1944 hit song, Henry C. "Hank" Woodrum Jr. soon will be going on a "sentimental journey" himself.
Woodrum, 64, of Mesa will be traveling to Paris in April, partly to coach four East Valley runners on the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, a fundraiser for its marathon there - but mostly to pay homage to his father, Henry Woodrum, who died of multiple myloma in 1990.
After the race, Woodrum and his wife, Patricia, and his brother, Mike and his wife Laurie of Redding, Calif., will be moving on to Nanterre, France, where for the first time in nearly half a century he will be reunited with a member of the Berty family who helped save his father's life in 1944. The B-26 Martin Marauder Bomber he was piloting was shot down by German anti-aircraft gunfire on May 28, 1944, during the Nazi occupation of the country during World War II.
Although Henry Woodrum met the Bertys when they visited the Woodrums in California in 1966, he has never been to Nanterre, where Pierre Berty still lives in the same house where his father stayed northwest of Paris.
"I think it's a great opportunity to go to France," said Henry Woodrum, a retired Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. "It's something I've always wanted to do and we've talked about doing this for a long time." When he was stationed in Germany with U.S. military in 1970-71, he thought about going but never did. "I regretted it ever since."
While in France, Hank also will get to personally hand Pierre Berty, now in his 70s, a book his father wrote about his wartime experiences and living in hiding. The book is titled "Walkout," and was published by Henry and Mike Woodrum in October. The elder Henry Woodrum began writing the book in the 1960s on a typewriter and later fine-tuned it on a Tandy Radio Shack computer in the '80s, but never found anyone interested in publishing it. The brothers self-published the book through iUniverse, and it has won the Rising Star Award.
"It's been a long process," Woodrum said of the book coming to fruition. "It's too bad he couldn't get anybody interested in publishing it before he passed away. I think it's a tremendous story. My dad didn't write it to toot his own horn, but he thought it was important for people to know about the help of the French Underground. If it wasn't for them, more American soldiers would've been captured or killed. It tells about a pivotal time in U.S. history when less and less people are around to tell it."
Lt. Colonel Henry Woodrum was 26 years old when he was with the Army Air Force's 495th Bombardment Squadron's 344th Bombardment Group. He was piloting a plane that was downed during his 35th bombing mission, which was only supposed to last a few hours, to bomb a bridge over the Sienne River. Instead the mission, on a day Woodrum was supposed to be off so he could begin enjoying a three-day pass to London, turned into a three-month ordeal of being hidden by heroic members of the French underground so he could evade capture behind enemy lines. He last was taken in by Louie and Marcell Berty and their son, Pierre, in Nanterre.
Woodrum was among a crew of six on that fateful flight 10 days before the pivotal D-Day invasion of Normandy, and was one of three known to survive. Two others were killed from the attack and another crew member who was taken as a prisoner of war was last seen during a forced march by the Germans.
After Woodrum's family was informed via Western Union telegram of the incident and he was reported missing in action, they held out hope he was still alive. Then, less than two weeks after the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Woodrum informed his family in a Western Union telegram: "All well and safe. Please don't worry. Love and kisses. Henry Woodrum."
Hank will also get to see the house in Nanterre where his father's parachute got tangled on the chute of a chimney moments after he jumped out of his plane. He cut the strings two feet above the ground to avoid capture. The Germans had been following his parachute's descent and began shooting at him, but when soldiers caught up with it to capture him he already was gone. They began going door to door in an attempt to find him. The book chronicles the many close calls he had.
In addition to the Liberation of Paris during World War II, Henry Woodrum also witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor from Wheeler Field on Dec. 7, 1941, and took part in the Berlin Airlift after the war in the late 1940s.
Hank Woodrum first reconnected with the Bertys and other families who had helped him in 1948 when he was stationed in Germany for the airlifts, and a number of times before his death. Woodrum and the Bertys also were mentioned in the book "Paris is Burning," and he was one of two foreign soldiers invited back by the French to help commemorate the 20th anniversary of their liberation.
"This is something we've been wanting to do for a long time," Woodrum said. "It's like dad's still working and making this happen. We'll be able to see where he was and walk in his shoes, but under friendlier circumstances."
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