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Lt. William A. Rautenbush, born 1920, KIA 1944

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Verden’s 1990 local almanac includes an article by Dr Peter Clasen, a physician with interest in local history, with further information about Lieutenant Rautenbush – Verdener Heimatkalender, 1990, pages 198 – 203.

Lieutenant William A. Rautenbush set out from Southern England in a P-51 Mustang  early on May 8, 1944, to fly escort for B-17 Flying Fortresses. They flew in formations from somewhere above the North Sea and reached the mainland at the height of 20,000 feet. The groups came from the North West, with Berlin as their destination, and were attacked by German pursuit planes above Verden, Luttum, and Neddenaverbergen. Rautenbush, an experienced pilot, tilted his plane and started chasing the German machines. He apparently expected his adversaries ahead, but one German pursuit plane came from behind and opened fire.

Rautenbush’s plane crashed into a small forest near Hohenaverbergen. Water rose in the crater where the actual hull of his P-51 had hit the ground, and after the war, his remains were recovered and taken to the American military cemetary in the Belgian Ardennes: site D, row 5, grave number 53. In 1983, local residents found more fractions of the hull, the landing gear, and cross-ties, but when finding bits of a leather uniform jacket with a legible name badge, they cancelled their search and put it all back into the crater.

crash site

crash site

Dr Clasen found some additional information. Rautenbush’s army number was -08-803453, and he belonged to the 375th Fighter Squadron. His awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, The Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.

He was born on April 11, 1920, lived in a Chicago orphanage until he was eleven, and then lived with foster parents, Mrs and Mr Arthur Ritchie, Greenwood Farms, Route 3, New London, Wisconsin. His stepbrother, Mr Donovan Ritchie, remembered him well, and in 1988, a memorial was inaugurated in 1988, with American military, among them Lt Colonel Horn, participating. Horn’s father had flown a B-17, one of the planes the P-51’s were escorting on the day when Rautenbush lost his life in their defence.


2 Responses

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  1. I stumbled on this article about Lt. William A. Rautenbush KIA May 8, 1944 who was raised by foster parents named Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Ritchie.

    I was born on May 8,1944 and my parents are Mr. and Mrs Arthur Ritchie of Vancouver, BC Canada.

    Quite the coincidence. Bruce Ritchie

    Bruce Ritchie

    April 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm

  2. That’s true. Internet-empowered coincidence. And your parents were most probably younger than Rautenbush’s foster parents.


    April 27, 2011 at 9:40 am

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