All the Way
Story by Christian Knutson of Swan Valley High School
It was the early morning hours of June the 6th, 1944 – D-Day! The noisy C-47 was filled with paratroopers waiting to begin the assault on Fortress Europe during World War II. As the airplane flew over the French coast, anti-aircraft weapons opened fire. Through the noise of the aircraft and the burst of anti-aircraft shells, the jumpmaster’s commands began. “Stand up!” “Hook up!” “Check equipment!” “Sound off for equipment check!” “Stand in the door!” “GO!” There was a rush of wind, a jerk, and then silence. Get ready to land. “Dear God, please let me make it through this day.”
This is what my friend and hero experienced 62 years ago. Bob Likam was a combat engineer with the 101st Airborne Division. He jumped into France on D-Day and fought with his unit through northern France. When he went back to England one month later, only half of his unit went back with him. The rest had been evacuated to hospitals in England or were buried in graves in France.
In England, Bob’s Division had a brief rest, and then they were reequipped and received replacements. The whole Division began to prepare for another mission. On September 17th, 1944, the 101st participated in Operation Market Garden. This was the largest airborne operation ever conducted. One September 18th, Bob Likam’s unit was over run and he was captured by the Germans. He spent the rest of World War II as a POW in a German Stalag. Stalag is the German word for a Prisoner of War Camp. That winter was one of the coldest winters on record. Trying to stay alive was very difficult. Bob survived and he was freed in April of 1945.
Bob came home to Saginaw, Michigan where he went to work and raised his family. It was at a reunion of the 101st Airborne Division in Frankenmuth a few years ago that I met Bob and his wife Mary. My dad was a paratrooper but was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. It is fun to watch my dad and Bob kid each other. Bob has told me about jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and some of his other experiences. I would like to tell what happened when Bob and Mary went to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
As Bob and Mary were walking down the lane at the cemetery over looking Omaha Beach, he heard a voice behind him say;” I hope the Americans are not angry with us.” Bob turned around and came face to face with a German veteran. “I have forgiven along time ago.” With that the German veteran reached out to Bob and embraced him. Now it turned out that the German veteran was also a paratrooper. After the ceremonies were concluded, the German paratrooper and his wife invited Bob and May to their car. There the German opened a bottle of wine and they toasted each other’s countries; they toasted to no more war; and with tears in their eyes they toasted to absent comrades. A special bond of friendship has been formed between these two veterans and their families.
When God asked the prophet Isaiah, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?” Then said I, “Here I am, send me.” When our country asked, “Whom shall I send?” Bob answered, “Here I am, send me.” Bob Likam has taught me so much. He has taught me about courage, bravery, how to forgive, but mostly he has taught me about love. Love for my country, love for my family, and love for my friends. Bob Likam is my friend and my hero.
God Bless America