WristWatch Magazine - Page 115

Watch has the original brown leather strap. On the case back is the track mark left from the Kitchener-style strap that has rubbed on the nickel case for 100 years. 2nd Lt. James Richard Hoel enlisted as a cadet in the Army Air Corps in February 1942 and soon found himself navigating a B-26 Marauder with the help of his Gallet chronograph, a gift from his employer before he left for the war. On May 17, 1943, Hoel’s plane, along with nine others, was shot down while on a mission to destroy an Axis-held power plant. Hoel’s bomber received substantial damage from ground fire and crashed into the Maas River in Axis-held Holland. He and three other survivors swam to the closest shore only to be greeted at gunpoint by a German officer and 50 of his men. Thankful to have escaped with his life and preoccupied by the serious situation at hand, Hoel did not spend much time mourning the loss of his watch in the crash. Now a POW, Hoel was sent to Stal ag Luft III where he did his part in creating the tunnels made famous by the movie The Great Escape by helping slowly disperse soil from the excavation around the yard. Of the 76 who escaped through the tunnels, 23 were recaptured, 50 were executed, and 3 made it to freedom. As Hitler watched the Allies closing in and he saw his time was up, he began to consolidate POWs in Stalag VII-A Moosburg, a single well-protected camp close to Munich, so they could be used to bargain with the Allied Forces. For many of the 10,000 POWs walking up to 70 miles through one of the coldest winters in recent European history, it was a death march. Those who survived the ordeal, like Hoel, had very little to look forward to once they reached the camp. They were greeted by overcrowding and starvation until the war ended. Fast forward to August 27, 2003, when Hoel received a phone call from England at 6:30 in the morning from a man who said he had his missing Gallet chronograph lost so many years before in the crash. The watch, nearly forgotten by Hoel, had spent most of the last 60 years kept in the drawer of one 89-year-old “Tiny” Baxter among other World War II memorabilia collected by his mother in England. While “Tiny” never thought to ask his mother how she came to own the watch, it may have been recovered while the airplane was being salvaged from the river after the war. The watch, in a state of disrepair, was restored to its original working order. Soon, Hoel and his watch found themselves on the bank of the Maas River at the site of the crash, together with his son and Peter Cooper, the man responsible for tracking down Hoel after all these years. Although he was greeted with a hero’s welcome, the 2016 | WRISTWATCH 113