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More than 60 years later, video surfaces of WWII B-29 crew rescue
DENVER - For more than six decades, the events of an ill-fated 1945 B-29 flight off the coast of Japan lived solely in the minds of the men who survived it.
Then, sixty years later, the film of the rescue showed up at their doorsteps.
"No Hollywood stars there," said one of the survivors, 85-year-old Richard "Van" Vanden Heuvel. "These are actual servicemen here."
Vanden Huevel was 20 years old when he volunteered to join the regular crew onboard the "City of Galveston" B-29. Van's plane was grounded, and the "City of Galveston" was in need of a tail gunner.
"I raised my hand," Vanden Huevel said.
It was going to be his sixth bombing mission over Japan.
The flight took the crew from Guam to the skies over Japan. The flak was intense that trip. Seventy miles off the coast of Japan, the crew realized a six-foot section of a wing was missing. Two engines were out.
"The pilot told us to prepare to abandon," Vanden Huevel said.
The bomb bay doors were stuck open. They had no other choice. One by one, they jumped off the B-29 hoping their parachutes would open.
Vanden Huevel decided to pull his chute late out of fear the Japanese pilots in the area would target him.
"When I finally pulled my chute, I quickly hit the water. Another two or three seconds, and I wouldn't have made it," Vanden Huevel said.
Shortly thereafter he saw the American sub.
All 12 members of the "City of Galveston" were rescued that day. Many had no idea that on the deck of that sub was an officer with a film camera that was capturing the events in color.
Two years ago, a copy of it showed up at Vanden Huevel's home in Denver.
"[Another member of the flight crew] said the officer had put it in a shoe box and only brought it out 63 years later," Vanden Huevel said.
The film clearly shows Vanden Huevel getting on board that sub.
"I see a young kid who doesn't see fear," Vanden Huevel said.
(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)