In Memory Of Capt. Robert B. Holmes
I've been riding the bike paths in and around Divoká Šárka for 10 years now, and I thought I'd seen everything there was to see there. Monuments and craggy overlooks and beer gardens and chainsaw sculptures.
I was wrong.
A few days ago, a work colleague of mine, Ron Synovitz, told me an intriguing story about a historical marker he had run across in Šárka. I just had to try to find it for myself.
It took some doing. The marker is not located along a path of any sort but is instead hidden in a copse bordering a farmer's field, close to what I thought was an old abandoned house and collapsed quonset hut. (That is, until two dogs came running out after me as I cycled by. Kinda scary.)
I didn't have any GPS coordinates to help me, and it took a few minutes of aimless wandering before I stumbled over the marker.
The historical marker is located on the edge of this stand of trees.
The stone marks the site where, on April 16, 1945, a U.S. P-51D Mustang fighter-bomber, with its distinctive checkerboard nose, crash-landed after being hit by Nazi guns protecting the nearby Prague-Ruzyne airport.
The plane was piloted by Captain Robert B. Holmes of the 82th Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force. Holmes was killed in the crash.
According to one account, a small crowd surrounded the crash site before the first German soldiers arrived. One eyewitness said that Holmes, still fastened in his cockpit, did not have any obvious signs of injury and that it seemed as if he were asleep, with his chin resting on his chest.
That's Captain Holmes in the center, with his mechanics, James Tudor, on the left, and Robert L. Thoutem in front of Holmes' P-51 Mustang. Just under the cockpit window you can see a swastika to indicate that Holmes had one confirmed kill of a German Messerschmitt. (Photo courtesy of hloubkari.bloguje.cz)
According to his mechanic, James Tudor, who knew him well, Holmes was said to have been an introverted and well-mannered young man who didn't drink or smoke.
Holmes was reportedly buried secretly and without ceremony in a nearby cemetery in the Vokovice neighborhood of Prague. (Coincidentally, I live in Vokovice now). After the war, his remains were exhumed. He was first interred at the American military cemetery in St. Avold, France, and then, at the request of relatives, reburied in Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota.
Holmes' grave today at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota. (Thanks to findagrave.com)
Near the marker in Divoká Šárka, at the base of a tree, is a small pile of debris that is apparently all that remains from Holmes' Mustang. I certainly hope that visitors respect the memorial and don't steal any of these artifacts.
A small pile of debris, apparently from Holmes' Mustang, at the base of a tree near the marker.
The memorial is located at GPS coordinates N50 ° 05.740 E14 ° 18.407. A quick search on Google, where I gleaned the historical information for this post, reveals that many folks have already made the pilgrimage to pay their respects to Holmes' service.
I salute you, Captain Holmes.
Length of ride: 15 kilometers
Average speed: 12.4 kph
Maximum speed: 41.7 kph
Time on the bike: 1.13.06
Pivo Index: 1
Distance ridden so far in 2012: 122 kilometers
Previous visitors have left small tokens of respect at the base of the stone marker.
A willow tree in early bloom on the edge of the reservoir near Divoká Šárka.
Looking out over the reservoir on the edge of Divoká Šárka.
A beer at restaurant Kaštan in Vokovice.