Jack Cramer was wearing his Boy Scout uniform in the yard on June 2, 1945, when a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed near his family’s Grass Valley home. The plane was flying low over town, as the pilots often did back then, when it suddenly went quiet for a moment.
“I could hear the plane, and then nothing, and then WHOOM!” said Cramer, now 82 years old. “And I said ‘Mom, that B-25 crashed!’”
He took off running toward the crash site.
The plane had careened down Pleasant Street after losing the tip of one wing on a tree-top, slicing into residential structures and destroying the upper story of one home while an eighth-grade graduate occupied the downstairs area.
It came to rest near the Boundary Mine and a grove of pine trees.
“When I was a kid, that’s where my buddies and I played,” he said.
One thing that has always stuck in his mind, Cramer said, down on a pile of rocks there was a hand severed at the wrist.
“It was just a hand sitting there on the rocks, and I looked down and I looked at that and it had a wedding ring on it,” he said. “Geez, they just came apart.”
“The plane disintegrated, and one of the engines went clear over the trees, down the slope and into Peabody Creek,” Cramer added.
Pieces of the plane and motors were spread over an area of three square blocks, and the flames from the crash touched off a fire that consumed three structures and four acres of pine trees and brush.
“In one or two seconds, the community was jarred with a terrific concussion and simultaneously a huge billowing cloud of smoke arose in the southwest sky,” read an article in The Morning Union, June 3, 1945 . “To residents of the Pleasant, Chapel street and Gold Hill area, the sky was filled with a sheet of flame.”
Military Police from Beale Air Force Base were dispatched to guard the site of the wreck from “souvenir hunters,” and preserve the scene for boards of inquiry that would later investigate the crash. The B-25 had been recently conditioned at McClellan Field, near Sacramento, and they sent wrecker trucks to salvage what remained of the aircraft.
Local police and firefighters were also on scene to put out the fires and tend to those affected on the ground.
According to reports in The Morning Union, four Dutchmen from the Royal Netherlands Air Force were killed in the crash.
The identities of the crash’s casualties were released several days later by a news agency in the Netherlands. They included Lt. Senior Grade R. Basenau and Lt. Senior Grade C. C. Jaeger, members of the Netherlands navy; and 1st. Lt. B. J. DeVries and Sgt. Raden Soejipto of the Netherlands army.
Three of them were married, and one had tied the knot with an American girl just a month before the crash.
The crew of the aircraft was known to the people of Grass Valley and Nevada City at that time. Many Dutch Airmen had been entertained here before going overseas. Basenau had visited the area just weeks earlier.
“It was one of those horrible, terrible things that happens in a small community,” said Cramer. “It really affects everybody. You have to realize it was a very small town, maybe 5,000 people. Back in those days everybody knew everybody.”
“And the obvious result was that no B-25 ever buzzed the town again,” Cramer added.
It was June of 1945. Just two months later Japan would surrender and World War II would end — taking the lives of more than 416,000 Americans.
Roger Cramer, Jack’s older brother, was one of them. Roger attended Grass Valley High School before joining the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1939.
He was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Roger never made it home.
To contact Staff Writer Dave Brooksher, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.
“The plane disintegrated, and one of the engines went clear over the trees, down the slope and into Peabody Creek.”