Fifty-four years after the guns fell silent, the last Luftwaffe reunion of the last century was held at Geisenheim, Germany. The bi-annual gathering of the Gemeinschaft der Jagdflieger (Community of Fighter Pilots) was joined by the American Fighter Pilots Association, members of the modern German Luftwaffe and official contingents from Italy, Belgium, Russia, Czech Republic, Canada, South Africa, the United Kingdom and France.
All politics and past grievances were set aside. Only comradeship and goodwill was felt among the members as old friends met and established new friendships.
The first day of the Treffen (meeting) guests enjoyed a semi-formal dinner. The second day there was a guided tour of Geisenheim’s historic sites including the Jagdflieger Denkmal (Fighter Pilots Monument) dedicated to those fallen in war and peace. A ceremony included reading names of those who died since the previous Treffen. As the reading began, the sky clouded over and the wind billowed flags mounted at the base of the monument as if saluting the deceased. Wreaths of honor were laid in solemn tribute. A wine reception at the Rathaus (town hall) was hosted by the Burgermeister (Mayor). The second evening’s formal festivities included some four hundred persons. Traditional offerings of friendship and speeches of mutual respect were made.
A current hero
A special award was presented to Hauptmann (Captain) Stefan Strittner, a young Tornado photo reconnaissance pilot, who recently flew dangerous low level intelligence gathering missions over parts of the former Yugoslavia and Balkans, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. These missions gathered critical data necessary to ensure the safety of other air crews entering potentially hostile skies. One of Strittner’s most important results was evidence of the mass exodus and purge of ethnic Albanians, corroborative information supporting and justifying NATO’s position to the world.
Strittner, an example of the new generation of Luftwaffe pilots, met the first time with his forefathers; pilots who, six decades earlier, laid the groundwork for the future of aviation and aerial combat. When asked if he would like to meet some of the famous World War II veterans, Strittner said, “Do you think they would mind? They are important men, and I don’t want to bother them.”
There was lots of opportunity for pilots and historians to share information for research and casual discussions of mutual interest. Perhaps the most poignant moment was when former enemies, American, British, South African, Belgian and German, now old and grey, met, some for the first time. They compared combat accounts and remembered that as young men they tried their best to eliminate each other. It is witnessing this singular event that makes reunions unforgettable.
About the author
Colin D. Heaton, a PhD Candidate at the University of Strathclyde-Glasgow, Scotland, is from Wilmington, North Carolina. He has written two books and is a regular contributor to World War II and Military History magazines both published by Primedia Enthusiast Publications History Group.