Seventy-four years ago, on December 16, 1943, 16 Allied aviators fell into a Gestapo trap at the Porte de Pantin in Paris. The men had bailed out of their fighter planes or crash landed their bombers across northern France. The engine of one British Typhoon had simply cut out, forcing the pilot to land in a tree. Local people had gathered these men up, sheltered them, and passed them on to whatever contact they could find in the resistance. Those local resisters had passed them on to a group in Livry-Gargan (outside Paris) that had connections to the famous Pat O’Leary escape line.

Unfortunately a traitor infiltrated the Pat O’Leary line, causing arrests that cut the group in Livry-Gargan off from the route to Spain. In December 1943, they found a new connection to Spain and arranged to pass the 31 aviators hiding in their town to a new escape line at the busy Porte de Pantin in Paris.

The aviators traveled from their hiding places to Paris in two trucks. The drivers were supposed to park if they saw a particular car parked in front of the Church of Sainte Claire with a Nazi flag in its window. They saw the car but no flag. The leader of the French resistance group, the town grocer, had a bad feeling that the whole scheme for the rendezvous sounded too easy. So he got out of his car and started walking toward three men standing near the church. Something about one of them made him think that he was a Gestapo agent. The grocer asked the men for directions as a ruse and signaled to one of the trucks to keep moving.

That truck with 16 aviators pulled out just as the Gestapo agent reached it. One of the Americans on that truck, a telephone worker from Nebraska, reported that he and some other aviators hid in a garden until dark. Then they started walking toward their meeting point. Two Gestapo agents came towards them with flashlights. Just at that moment a truck rounded the corner. The Gestapo agents went after it, thinking that it must be there to pick up the men. That truck had nothing to do with them, but it gave them the opportunity to get to their own truck and back to Livry-Gargan.

A couple of weeks later the resisters in Livry-Gargan made contact with Dutch-Paris through a resister who worked in a nearby town hall. Dutch-Paris took the survivors of the arrests at the Porte de Pantin to Spain in February, 1944.