THIS IS WHERE MY PHOENIX ROSE FROM THE ASHES
The Second World War erupted with brutal force and bloodshed. Every now and again there was a glimmer of hope for peace and happiness. Love kept people going. The love between Elaine Smith and her paratrooper Carman Ladner was also promising. They met at the end of the 1930s in Augusta (Maine) in the US. They both dreamed of love. Together they contemplated their future, their own flower shop. A flower for her every day…
This idyllic situation came to an end on 7 December 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. 2400 Americans lost their lives in a deluge of bombs and fire and almost 1300 were injured. Elaine knew immediately what Carman was thinking: he would become a paratrooper. That was a new type of sport; exciting and tough, but also dangerous. But it also paid well and Elaine and Carman could put that money to good use. By 1944 Carman was ready for it.
Elaine was tense when he announced he was going to New York and then further on a mission to England. She wanted to stop him. ‘You told me yourself how slim your chances are’, she sobbed. Then she became angry and argued, but Carman left. Elaine had such terrible regret. What have I done? And what if I never see him again? She travelled to New York and ran through the streets in despair until she found him. He took her in his arms just before he sailed to England.
She received many letters. That’s how she knew that more than a thousand aircraft had taken off from England for Operation Market Garden. And that Carman and his 501 Parachute Infantry Regiment had landed in Eerde, a small village somewhere in the Netherlands, where he helped to capture a couple of bridges. She received one letter after another until suddenly one of hers was returned. There was a Commander’s signature on the envelope and a red circled stamp: killed, 24 September 1944.
More than sixty years later, in 2006, Elaine Smith visited Eerde for the first time. She heard what had happened from the locals. Carman and some comrades were commissioned to load a truck with ammunition and drive it into the village. He did not know that a German tank had him in its sights. While he was standing on the top of the truck unloading the ammunition the tank fired a shot. It was a direct hit. Everything burst into the air with a loud explosion. Six men were killed on the spot. There was nothing left of Carman, he was never given a burial.
Elaine was distressed. ‘But I am pleased that Carman did not have to stare death in the face.’ She had some flowers with her. She saw some children playing on the spot where Carman was killed. Her sorrow gave way to gratitude. ‘He did this for you. I’m so happy about that.’ She asked each one of them to take a flower. She held the last flower, a rose. ‘This is for back home next to Carman’s photo.’ A new chapter had started in Eerde 42 years later for Elaine. ‘My phoenix has risen from the ashes.’
Elaine Smith visited Eerde many times during the annual commemoration of the liberation. Vulnerable and ageing, she made an impressive speech to the people. Her beloved Carman left only his name in Margraten in The Wall of the Missing. The couple will be remembered for many years in the Geronimo Museum in Eerde Molen
Elaine Smith meets a number of Brabant children during the commemoration of her fiancé Carman Ladner.
(Image: Janssen – Museum Eerdse Molen, 2006)