On a cool, cloudy, rainy morning four or us (Virginia and Burdett (Stub) Priefert of the Thayer County Historical Society Belvidere Nebraska and Bonnie and Dewaine R. Erickson formerly with the 507th P-47 Fighter Group in W.W, II located at the Bruning Nebraska Air Base) left the flat lands of South Central Nebraska for Naper, Nebraska. We were to meet others who have become interested in the Naper 28 tragedy.
From the level irrigated land we drove to the rolling sometimes hilly Sandhills. We crossed the Platte, Three Loups, Calamus, the scenic Niobrara and the Keya Paha rivers. In the Sandhills we noted many small lakes inhabited with Mallard ducks making their summer homes. Muskrat habitat made of cattails, forage and mud occupied many small lakes. These dome shaped structures are built on the water and if a severe cold winter is expected the Muskrats build them further out to deeper water.
So the story goes.
Passing us were numerous sports vehicles pulling fishing boats into recreation areas. Grass was becoming green and lush after recent rains. Stub commented on the large number of cattle in the pastures around the ranch buildings. No doubt cows and calves waiting to be turned into summer pasture. There appeared to be more crops grown on that sandy soil than we expected.. Much of irrigated with center pivots.
We arrived in the village of Naper which an atlas indicated had a population of l30 people. After meeting dh our group assembled at the Naper Café, operated by Vivian Alexander. I was told that the community built the café and it appears they still support the operation by eating the delicious food.
We introduced ourselves as follows:
Later Joy Vogt stopped by for a few minutes discussion. Joy is the daughter of Harry Helenbolt who saw the C-47 in flight and gave testimony to military investigators. Joy was a young girl at the time .
Burdett (Stub) Priefert, Belvidere,Ne
Jackie Williamson,Belvidere, NE.
Kent Williamson, Belvidere, NE.
Dewaine R. Erickson Wilcox, NE.
Bonnie Erickson, Wilcox, NE.
Steve Hendrix, Cameron, Missouri
Tim Mertz Hecla, South Dakota
Gary Hoffman, Spencer. Nebraska
For the noon lunch or dinner roast beef was first on the menu ( In cattle country), second item was pork chops and other items of course. Some one ordered the pork chops and was razzed for eating pork in the Sandhills. . Later we found hogs being raised by the Sattlers. Stub and I chose to stuff ourselves with a delicious piece of cherry pie. An excellent place to eat.
During the meal information was exchanged concerning the accident. A few pictures were shown of the Jolley twins. Also a P-47 deadsticked in a field. Plans were made to drive to the Jim and Mabel Sattler ranch and see the area of the crash. Their headquarters is located five miles west and two miles south of Naper.
Driving into a lane we crossed a cattle guard then on to the buildings. We noticed the hog lot on the right side of the lane contained many various sized hogs. The building site among many trees is situated on Morse creek. Mabel greeted us in the yard as we drove up...She said that Jim was helping neighbors ?work? cattle. This a cooperative activity with several ranchers. They give calves shots, tag them with ear tags, castrate males and check them over before turning them loose into the large pastures for the summer.
Mabel took time from her normal chores to guide us to the crash site. Someone in the parade of vehicles opened and closed the barb wire gate as we passed into the pastures. Black yearling heifers looked at us from one pasture as if expecting hay or cubes. To gain entrance to the last pasture a four wire fence had to be taken loose from several posts. It was then pressed to the ground while the pickup trucks drove over it.
We then drove to within a couple hundred yards of the fatal spot. We crossed a ravine that carried a shallow stream of water. Clumps of prairie cord or slough grass provided stepping stones in crossing. We then assembled directly across a deep gully from the five foot cross which marked the site of the crash. Two cedar trees had grown up beside the cross as if a sentinel. Members of our group quietly gathered together and were led in prayer by Steve Hendrix, a Lay Pastor. Each in our own way prayed that Divine presence had been and would continue to be with the victim?s families and friends.
Tim Mertz took pictures of this gathering with the several cameras present. Perhaps some of these pictures will become a part of the report. As we gazed around the grassy hills someone mentioned it would be nice to see the gray weathered cross painted white. As the growing season progressed it would then show up brilliantly against the green grass, the cedar trees and the red sumac on the hillside in the background.
Having planted various pasture grasses at home I observed the types of native grasses here in the Sandhills. Identifying grasses at this stage of growth is difficult. Later visiting with Jim Sattler via telephone he told me some of the types growing on those rolling hills. Blue Grama, Side Oats grama, Switch grass, Indian grass, Western Wheat and Crested Wheat grass and the low growing Buffalo grass. Panic grass, Big Blue stem, and where planted Brome grass. (Jim S added later that there were other kinds, : panic grass, green needle, needle and thread, little and big bluestem, and where planted, brome grass.)
Looking over the rolling terrain I asked myself ?Where could a two engine plane land and take off from this place? . Is there a ?hog back? with enough area for a plane to land ? Back home and maybe else where hog back is the name given an area between two canyons or gullies with sufficient space to turn into crop land. John W. Allison of the 507th P-47 Fighter Group told us of having been a part of a small investigative team from the Bruning Air Base to fly to and land in a pasture near the site. The plane was a UC 78, sometimes referred to as a Bamboo Bomber. The team spent about ten hours in the area. In leaving they taxied the plane in a position with its tail next to a fence, had kerosene lanterns to mark the so-called air strip. Then they took off. I am amazed that the UC78 could land and take off from such an area as this.
We returned to the ranch yard where Mabel Sattler brought from the house a large pan of frosted chocolate brownies along with a cold drink. What Sandhill rancher hospitality? Mabel told us to go out near a calf pen and fuel barrels to view several pieces of the C-47 which had been found after the military gleaned the pasture for parts.
(Tim Mertz Hecla of South Dakota checking it out...DH)
I guessed that one large piece was a part of the horizontal stabilizer or a tip of the wing.
This picture of Jim Sattler was taken during the DH's first visit in January
For this intrusion into the busy day of the Sattler?s we apologize and yet thank them for the generous hospitality and kindness. Although we did not meet Jim, it seemed that we knew him though Mabel.
A few weeks later this was confirmed when we had a telephone conversation. Jim answered the call from the barn. I asked him questions about the Naper Café name, how many businesses in Naper he said ten or twelve. The local Lions Club meets in the Café . The staples in the fence posts were regular common staples I took them to be specially made for use when letting a barb wire fence down. Jim is very knowledgeable about farming and ranching. Very modest, wishing not to reveal the extent of the business he and Mabel own and operate. Typical of farmers and ranchers. We appreciate their candor. Jim?s Grandfather homesteaded the land on which they live. Earlier Dale Hueske was shown the location of the sod house.
For and from one of the bunch, I thank you both Jim and Mabel, for the visit
April 24, l999.