MANATEE -- Staff Sgt. Robert E. Sudbury of Oneco was serving as a waist gunner on a B-17 bomber, the "Holy Mackeral," when it was hit by German anti-aircraft fire and crashed in the Netherlands on Dec. 16, 1943.
His life is memorialized on Tablets of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery.
The people of nearby Margraten have never forgotten Sudbury or the more than 10,000 Americans killed in World War II who are interred at the cemetery.
The Dutch call them "fallen liberators," and place flowers on all the graves every year. They have been trying to find photos to go with all the inscribed grave markers. So far, the Faces of Margraten project has yielded only about 3,000 photos.
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Teresa Hirsch of Manatee County is among those who have made the pilgrimage to Margraten. She is moved by the enduring gratitude shown by the citizens of Margraten, including an 87-year-old Dutch man she met who had been placing flowers on graves at Margraten every year since he was a teenager.
Hirsch contacted the Bradenton Herald for help in finding a photo of Sudbury after unsuccessfully looking through school yearbooks at the Bradenton Central Library.
In the 1940 Census, Robert Sudbury is listed as a 16-year-old high school sophomore. He enlisted in the Army on Jan. 8, 1942, at Camp Blanding just one month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
He was serving in the 337th Bomber Squadron, 96th Bomber Group, Heavy, at the time of his death.
He was declared missing in action when his B-17, while returning from a bombing mission to Bremen, Germany, was hit by enemy flak that caused explosions on his plane. The pilot lost control due to the damage, according to the Findagrave website.
The Holy Mackeral collided with another B-17, which crashed into the North Sea. The Holy Mackeral crash landed at Kimewerd, south of Harlingen, Netherlands.
Sudbury was posthumously awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.
Ironically, Sudbury probably knew Archie Don Clemons, also of Oneco, who was killed in action April 8, 1944, on another World War II bombing mission.
A Herald article published last year about Clemons turned up a photo for the The Faces of Margraten project.
Cindy Russell, historical records librarian, for the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court, obtained a 1940 year book from Clemons' classmate Wirt Shelton, and provided a photo to the Herald.
Do you have a photo of Robert E. Sudbury? If so, contact the Bradenton Herald at 941-745-7053 or email@example.com