Clinton "Clint" Gruber '47 flew numerous missions over Europe and North Africa with his mates in a B-24D heavy bomber nicknamed "Iron Ass" - until Dec. 1, 1943.By Sig Unander '87
In a few hours an answer came. While making a list of aircraft lost over Belgium during the war, Dufresne had come across one incident that didn’t quite fit. A B-24, supposedly downed over Belgium, had, he believed, actually crashed in Germany. The aircraft in question was Iron Ass. Over the following months Dufresne and fellow researcher Eric Mombeek spent countless hours and considerable personal funds to track the last moments of Gruber’s B-24. Their informal network often solves cases of lost airmen and aircraft on both sides, valuable work that can help bring closure to relatives.
Then came a surprise. A contact of Dufesne’s in Germany, Wolfgang Meyer, had located actual remains of Iron Ass near the small village of Eicherscheid, south of Cologne. Gruber read Meyer’s e-mail: “The aircraft…exploded still in the air over the town, four kilometers south of Bad Munstereifel…Most of the parts fell in the town…in private gardens or parcels. Nevertheless, a larger part of the aircraft including parts of a wing as well as an engine, [fell] in a wood and I could find some pieces last year.”
In the summer of 1999, Dufresne, his wife Claudine and five-year-old granddaughter Laetitia, visited Gruber at his home in Beaverton. Dufresne brought a suitcase of excellent Belgian beer and a package of recovered parts from Iron Ass. The pieces were carefully laid out on a picnic table in the back yard. As Gruber examined some of them he thought about what they meant, about his crew, and wondered at the kindness of strangers.
Months earlier he had tactfully offered to send Dufresne some money to reimburse his research expenses, which were adding up to a considerable sum.
Dufresne’s response read: “Hey Gruber, we are friends now, don’t ask again that you want to pay for something…You must know that without people like you we are still in the darkness. What we do is very little compared to the risk you and your friends [took] that bloody day for people you really don’t know who are mostly ungrateful to your country…You do it for Laetitia and all the children who can play in the snow without fear. I never thank you enough and I am proud to be your friend.”