Evelyn Roberts was 14 years old when she and her family learned that her brother, Bernard Lipsky, was flying on a plane that crashed over France in a snowstorm in November of 1944, killing the entire crew. “For over 70 years we knew very little more about the circumstances of the crash, and have lived with the sadness and the loss,” said Roberts.
As a first lieutenant in the United States Army Air Force, Lipsky was part of the four hundred and fifty-second bombardment squadron, flying on a B-26G marauder aircraft. “That aircraft eventually earned the name of a ‘widow-maker’ because it was known to have defects,” said his great-nephew, David Siskind, son of Lipsky’s sister, Selma.
The three siblings, Evelyn, Selma and Bernard Lipsky grew up as members of Anshai Sfard Synagogue in Lynn. The family later moved to Swampscott. World War II broke out after Lipsky graduated from Swampscott High School and he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force, the two branches of military combined at the time.
He finished serving his tour in Europe but remained in the military and went to Alaska on a second tour, upon request of the Army Air Force, to teach new recruits. He later asked to be transferred back to Europe to the front lines of war. “He argued that he stayed in the army not to teach but to fight,” said Siskind.
Toward the end of the war, on November 9, 1944, Lipsky was part of a squadron of U.S. planes on a bombing mission over Nazi Germany. “They were about halfway through that mission when the weather turned very bad,” said Siskind. Unusual for the month of November, a severe snowstorm caused the mission to be aborted and the planes headed back to base in France. The frigid weather of the storm froze the wings of the plane Lipsky was on, causing it to crash over eastern France.
All six crew members of the plane died in the crash. Since the mission had been aborted, there were still bombs on board the plane, which exploded upon impact.
A 17-year-old French boy working for the National Forestry Office at the time, Pierre Jeanjean, witnessed the crash with a friend and rushed to the scene with the hope of saving lives. He later created a written account to describe what he saw. He wrote: “Debris hang on the trees, the flames of every color, a smell of oil and rubber floats in the undergrowth, occasionally a bomb exploded. In this hell we called several times, determined to save lives, no response.” Witnessing the crash influenced Jeanjean so profoundly that he made it his mission to honor the sacrifice that the American crew-men made for him and his fellow French citizens.
For over 70 years, the family never knew where in France the plane had crashed. “My mother did not talk about her brother that much; I think it was very painful for her,” said Siskind. It wasn’t until Siskind’s nephew, a high school student in New York, Jackson Bayer, worked with a veterans research group on a school project last summer that the family would finally learn exactly what happened to his great-uncle on that snowy day in France.
Bayer worked with a local mentor who enlisted the help of a local French teacher to interpret documents. “Just by pure coincidence this French teacher had a good friend in France who took an active interest in the crash,” said Siskind. He reported to the family exactly where in France Lipsky’s plane went down, a very small village in eastern France. He also informed the family that on November 9, 2014, 70 years after Lipsky’s plane crashed, local French towns dedicated a monument to Lipsky and his crewmates.
The monument was made possible by the efforts of two French Citizens, Jeanjean and a local military officer, Gilles Houllier. “Since 1944, Jeanjean has kept his desire for a monument in honor of these men to be erected in the town where the plane went down,” said Roberts. A Skype call was set up for Jeanjean and Roberts to meet with the help of a translator. “We were very impressed with the sincerity, earnestness and strength of this courageous man. When we met him, we were not disappointed,” said Roberts.
Roberts, her three sons, their wives, a nephew and his wife, all went to Abainville, France, for the dedication of this monument. There were about 100 people there singing God Bless America, among other songs, in the rain. Roberts had a translator since very few people spoke English in that small town in France. “She said to me a sentence I will never forget. She said, ‘If it weren’t for your brother and men like him, I would not be free today,’” said Roberts.
At the ceremony they presented Roberts with a piece of parachute and a piece of the plane that went down. Local towns had closed off public access to the sight so that no one removed pieces of the aircraft.
“Incredibly enough, pieces of my uncle’s aircraft still lay in the woods where the crash had occurred and there were still indentations in the ground,” said Siskind.
Lipsky was devoted to ending the war and to protecting people. “Hitler for him, and for us and our family, was the devil,” said Roberts. According to Roberts, she learned a great deal that changed her life completely, and her family, in particular her mother, never recovered from Lipsky’s death. “My brother believed that it was the war to end all wars,” said Roberts, “I wish it had been the war to end all wars.”