Albert Earl VanOverberg was born May 7, 1922, in the small village of Warner Crossing in Henry County,
Illinois. He was the second son in a family of three boys born to Kamille and Mary Schreier VanOverberghe.1 His father was born in Belgium and spoke Flemish and English. He was a farmer and a veteran.2 His brothers were Francis and Kenneth. Albert was known as Bert or Al to family and friends. He attended a one-room school called Happy Corner and schools in both Orion and Cambridge, from where he graduated in 1939.3 One of his favorite childhood activities was carving wood, especially airplanes.4
He registered for the draft June 30, 1942. He was employed at John Deere Harvester Company in East Moline at the time.5 He enlisted in the Army Air Corp on September 23, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois.6 He was an engineer and turret gunner on a B-25 bomber. As the oldest member of the crew, he was called “Pops.”
Albert was admitted to an Army hospital in August 1944 and was diagnosed with furunculosis.7 Furunculosis is a deep infection of the hair follicle leading to abscess formation. The most common infectious agent is Staphylococcus aureus and can spread to others in close contact. He was discharged back to duty,
While on a bombing mission in Italy leaving Alesan Airfield, Corsica, with the destination of Vipiteno, Italy, Albert’s plane was shot down on February 25, 1945, at 1300 hours. He was with the 12th Air Force, 340th Bomb (m) Group, Squadron 489th.8 The aircraft, a Mitchell B-25J, S/N 43-4062, nicknamed Bubbies, with a crew of six, was lost to enemy anti-aircraft. Initially, the crew was listed as missing in action. They were:
Pilot: Gayle Cooper Gearhart, 1st Lt MIA
Co-pilot: Wendell Holmes Beverly, 2nd Lt MIA
Bombardier: James J Clayton, Jr. 1st Lt MIA
Radio Gunner: Harold Schoenholtz Sgt MIA
Turret Gunner Albert E Van Overberg Sgt MIA
Tail Gunner: Albert Daniel Taylor Sgt MIA
The place of the emergency crash landing was Glorenza (Glurns). Later, after the aircraft was recovered, it was reported to have the following damage:
Fuselage slightly damaged by bullets. Propellers spoilt by bending. Condition of the landing gear could not be seen, because the belly landing was made with retracted landing gear. Left motor slightly damaged by bullets, which caused its loss during the flight.
Craft was 10% damaged.
From the eulogy given at Albert’s funeral, written by his daughter, Susan:
Everyone survived, but they were captured by women members of the Gestapo. Dad was 21 years old at the time and was held in various prison camps in Germany, until being released at the end of the war. As the war was winding down, the prisoners were marched deeper and deeper into Germany, guarded by old men. The prisoners carried the guards’ weapons for them and shared their Red Cross packages with them because the old men were given few provisions. The guards told them if they wanted to escape, they wouldn’t shoot them, but where would they go? The guards were as much prisoners as the Americans, and they all worked together to survive. He was released from his last prison camp on his birthday, May 7, 1945. His younger brother, Jack, searched for him for months, believing him dead. They later realized that at the time of his liberation, they were only 10 miles apart. The military is where Albert got the name Van, by which he was known for the rest of his life.
The official report listed them all as captured and held at Dulag-Luft West, which was a Prisoner of War transit camp for German-captured members of the Air Force during World War II. Its main purpose was to serve as a collection and interrogation center for newly captured aircrew, before they were transferred in batches to their permanent camps.9 All of the crew were eventually sent to Stalag VII-A, the largest prisoner-of-war camp in Nazi Germany during World War II, located just north of the town of Moosburg in southern Bavaria. At the time of its liberation on April 29, 1945, there were 76,248 prisoners in the main camp and 40,000 or more in Arbeitskommando working in factories, repairing railroads or on farms.10
The Fourteenth Armored Division liberated 110,000 Allied prisoners of war at Stalag 7A at Moosburg, on April 30, 1945.11
Scenes of the wildest rejoicing accompanied the tanks as they crashed through the double 10-foot wire fences of the prison camps. There were Norwegians, Brazilians, French, Poles, Dutch, Greeks, Rumanians, Bulgars. There were Americans, Russians, Serbs, Italians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Australians, British, Canadians, – men from every nation fighting the Nazis. There were officers and men. Twenty-seven Russian Generals, sons of four American Generals. There were men and women in the prison camps …. There were men of every rank and every branch of service, there were war correspondents and radio men.
Individual Casualty Questionnaires of crew members Albert Taylor, Wendell Beverly, and Harold Schoenholtz, listed the target of the bombing mission as supply lines, including a bridge, in Vipiteno, Italy.12 A mission list for the 489th Bombardment Squadron in January 1945 included numerous railway bridges in Italy.13 All members of the crew were last seen in Stalag VII-A between April 20 and May 6, 1945. In early April many POWs from other camps were sent to Stalag 7A to prevent their capture by Allied troops.14 This created an already overcrowded camp worse. And food was scarce, even for the guards. Albert was released on his birthday, May 7, 1945.15
To view a map of where the aircraft was last seen, where it crash-landed, and where the target was, visit Page 4 Missing Air Crew Reports, WWII – Fold3.
When he came home from the war after discharge in September 1945,16 he married Elsie A. Serlet on July 16, 1946, in Moline, Illinois,17 and began to put his life back together. He had spent three years in the Army Air Corps and 10 months overseas. They had three daughters in three years, while he worked at John Deere Harvester Works and helped build houses for returning veterans like himself. Elsie shared some of the horrors of prison camp with the children when they were older, but Albert’s attitude was “it happened, but it’s in the past, and I’m one of the lucky ones because I survived.” So, he put it behind him and got on with his life.
He instilled that philosophy in his children, without preaching, just by the way he lived. He taught them that difficult and unhappy things happen, but he expected them to either get over them or adjust and get on with life. He demonstrated that through his taking care of Elsie as she wasted away for years from cancer. Back before the days of hospice care, he kept her at home, and the girls all took turns caring for her during the day. Each night he came home from a long day at work, fed her and cared for her needs, refusing to put her in a nursing home. Elsie died in 1977.18
In 1950, after a vacation in Colorado, the family fell in love with the area and moved to Salida, staying 15 years. They bought a feed and implement dealership there. It was called Van’s Purina Feed & Case Implement. Albert and Elsie would have another daughter and a son there. They were surrounded by mountains there and the family made weekend trips to those mountains to explore.
The family moved to a new house in Moline in 1965 where Albert lived the rest of his life. His garage was popular with the guys in the neighborhood and Albert could fix anything under the hood or on the car body. He was an engineer at Wonder Bread until his retirement in 1987.19
Around 1986, Albert met Virginia Carthey of Davenport and fell in love again. They were together 19 years. Albert died at home May 23, 2004, at the age of 82.
Brother Kenneth, known as Jack, was in the Army at the time of Albert’s confinement as a POW, but later switched to the Army Air Force. He was career Air Force and served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Brother Francis was a Marine and served in the Pacific during WWII. He is also buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery.20
4 From Eulogy written by his daughter Susan Shaffer
20 Information on brothers provided by Susan Shaffer