Montana Land War Pilot Commemorated in French Film | Montana News


By HEIDI DESCH, Whitefish Pilot

WHITE FISH, Mont. (AP) РAir Force pilot Norbert Herriges was on a mission over Pourri̬res, France on August 12, 1944, when he was shot down by a German fighter pilot.

Herriges managed to get out of his Thunderbolt, but his parachute did not open and during the incident he was shot in the head. The owners of a farm where Herriges landed hid his body from the Germans until threatened with execution.

Despite the Germans, the citizens of the city picked up his body and proceeded to a funeral. In a town of about 1,000 people at the time during World War II, about 3,000 people were in attendance, reports the Whitefish Pilot.

Herriges’ body was eventually returned for burial in the cemetery in his hometown of Whitefish. Graduated in 1938 from Whitefish High School, Herriges volunteered for the Army Air Corps as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.

Political cartoons

Although apparently well known in the town of Pourrières, France, the story of Herriges death and memories of his life have only been told in fragments among members of his family.

Until last year, when a French filmmaker reached out to bring his story and the connection to the city to life on screen.

Margaret Herriges, whose father-in-law is one of Herriges’s brothers, received a Facebook message from director Lionel Kabac who was looking for members of his family. Kabac was making a short film about the city and its history.

“I am preparing a reconstruction of some historical facts including that of our dear Norbert who came to our country to deliver France”, he wrote. He wanted to know if the family could provide photos and information about Norbert Herriges.

Margaret spoke to members of her family, including Norbert’s four living siblings, who gave their blessing to be their representative by putting together the pieces of the film’s story, but also with the younger generations of family.

“He was a man they held to have saved their town even though they had never met him,” said Margaret. “He’s become my hero now too.”

A letter found in a bottle at Herriges’ grave in France underscores the importance he and other veterans who died fighting for the country have.

“In the name of all French people, we wish to tell you how much we regret the fatal blow which so cruelly affected you in our country”, we can read. “In the name of our comrades, we French thank you for having fought to save our native land.”

Nick and Anastasia’s SECOND CHILD, Norbert was born in Canada in 1919 before his family arrived in the United States. Norbert married his wife Jean in 1940 and they had a child, John.

Norbert worked for the Great Northern Railway as a yard clerk before enlisting, according to a notice in the Pilot announcing a high mass held in his honor in May 1961. He enlisted in the ‘Army Air Corps. He went overseas in May 1944 before being shot down during his 35th mission in the south of France.

Dan Herriges, the youngest boy in the family who was 4 when Norbert died, provided much of the story behind Norbert’s story. In 1973, Dan and his wife traveled to Pourrières and to the farm where his brother’s body was found.

“I found out the information about what happened to him when we got there,” Dan said. “I spoke with the owner of the farm who was the son of the owners of the farm when it happened.”

The couple who owned the farm knew they would be criticized for hiding Norbert’s body, but they wanted to make sure the Germans couldn’t find him. They later moved his body to town and to a mortuary, then arranged a funeral for him before burying him in the local cemetery.

Dan visited the town hall where they had an entry in the town register of the deaths of Norbert and other men who died in the battle. An obelisk in the early 2000s was dedicated on the town square to Norbert.

“They have kept Norbert as an important part of the town’s heritage,” Dan said.

About 20 years ago, one of the pilots who flew with Norbert corresponded with Dan to provide him with further information on the events of that fateful day in 1944. Norbert took off from Serragia, Corsica, a military airfield in France on a mission and ultimately shot down two German pilots before jumping from his plane.

When Herriges’ body was found, he had been shot in the head, either in the air descending in his parachute or after hitting the ground, according to recollections.

AFTER the end of the FILM titled “Un Ete en Provence” earlier this year the city hosted a screening and ceremony in which they renamed the city square in honor of Norbert. Dan and his wife traveled to France again this time to represent the family.

“It was a really big celebration,” Dan said. “Norbert has been just their guy since 1944.”

Dan said the town kept Norbert’s memory alive and the celebration was an emotional day.

“They did a really good job doing it for someone they didn’t even know,” he said. “It has been a pretty important part of this village for 70 years. “

During his speech at the ceremony, Dan shared memories of his brother and siblings and thanked the townspeople.

Dan has vivid memories of the day his brother left the house sitting on his lap while Norbert sang him a popular song of the time. Brother Roland says that Norbert was his “flying hero”.

Sister Anastasia remembers him as a very kind young man who learned woodworking in high school and built a huge kitchen table and cupboards for their mother.

Margaret was responsible for putting together photos of Norbert and details to provide to the filmmaker.

“I learned the most from talking to each of the aunts and uncles,” said Margaret. “Watching them reconnect about it and how moving it is still for them was incredibly powerful.”

She says the research and the film that followed put her in touch with family members she has never met before. Although Norbert’s son is deceased, part of the search led the family to reunite with their grandchildren.

“This story has really had a unifying effect on our family because there is a lot of pride involved,” she said. “Pride in the sacrifice Norbert made, but also because the family has a long history of military service. “

The director is submitting the part of the film on Norbert for entry at various film festivals, so it has not been released to the public. But the Herriges family are hoping to show the film at their family reunion scheduled for 2022.

“At family gatherings in the summer, there were discussions with my siblings, and we kept his memory alive,” Dan said.

“I hope that someone watching the film decides that they would like to know more about a member of their family who was in the military,” he added.

To see the trailer for the film, go to https://vimeo.com/584516772.

Copyright 2021 Associated press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About Victoria Rothstein

Check Also

Turkish-Ukrainian film wins Germany’s special award

Directed by Marina R. Gorbach and Mehmet Bahadir Er, the Ukrainian-Turkish co-production “Klondike” received the …