It has been 50 years since Germany surrendered to the Allies during World War II, and many veterans are now returning to Europe to remember long-ago battles fought in younger days. Arden resident and retired Air Force Col. Jim Karnezis is one of those veterans. Last month he and his wife, Vee Karnezis, traveled to Champigny, France, where a half-century ago a 22-year-old Karnezis landed after parachuting from the B-17 he was piloting.
The Karnezises visited at the invitation of Champigny's mayor to attend a Sept. 5 memorial celebration.
On Sept. 6, 1943, Karnezis was piloting a B-17 that was part of a bombing mission over Stuttgart. Germany. Returning to England, the plane was shot down; of the 10 crew members only five managed to parachute in time. Three were captured and became prisoners of war, while Karnezis and his co-pilot managed to escape through different routes.
“I knew as I was floating down where I was going to go,” Karnezis remembered the experience of parachuting. “I could see a slope, a river and a railroad, and some German activity.”
When he landed, the injured Karnezis headed into a thick wood to avoid the Nazis, and after hours of travel stumbled upon a farmhouse. Although Karnezis spoke no French and the farm owner, Marcelle Andre, didn't know English, they managed to communicate. Andre took Karnezis in, cleaned him up and hid him for five days, before the French Resistance was able to lead him to a safe apartment in Paris, and later to England.
“Going through it 50 years later was a very moving experience,” said Karnezis. At the memorial ceremony, Karnezis was reunited with fellow Air Force veteran Richard Loveless, who served as his bombardier. Karnezis also had a chance to reminisce with Andre, now 91. The ceremony was attended by an official from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as well as the mayors of several French cities.
Many years separate Karnezis from the war he fought; during that time he married Vee, raised four sons and pursued a career in the Air Force. After his retirement in 1972, he and his wife settled in Sacramento. Although the intensity of his World War n experience has mellowed, it is a time that he will always remember.
“You never forget the associated fear and danger and excitement of it all,” said Karnezis.
[Source: People 1993]