Ed Gormley as the underside
gunner on a B-17 bomber in World War II. (Courtesy Gormley family.)
Ed Gormley of Greeley lived to be 99, and following his
Nov. 17 death, he will be memorialized at an 11 a.m. Thursday service at Adamson Life Celebration Home.
He was well-known in the area for
his career with the Weld County Sheriff’s Office and the Greeley Police Department before his 1978 retirement. Prior
to moving into law enforcement, he started out as a machinist. He also worked part-time on the side at Consumers Oil.
Ed had another
story, involving his World War II service.
Few knew it.
“He was one of those guys that didn’t talk much about it,”
his son, Steven, said recently. “I guess he left it back there. He was proud to have served. It was something he did
and I think he just moved on.”
Born in Denver, Gormley was a Greeley High School graduate who entered the U.S. Army Air Forces
in 1943. At 5-foot-8, he was considered just compact enough to be assigned as the ball turret gunner on a B-17 “Flying
Fortress” bomber crew in Europe. On the underside of the plane, he squeezed into the spherical shaped turret, which
was about three feet in diameter and had two mounted machine guns. There were no safe places on a bomber, but the turret gunner
was glaringly exposed.
The crew was stationed with the Eighth Air Force’s 384th Bombardment Group, 547th Bomber Squadron,
at Grafton Underwood airfield in Northhamptonshire, England. Gormley arrived there in February 1944 and went on his first
mission to Augsberg, Germany, on March 16. That was successful.
Two days later, the crew went on its second mission. The primary
target was an aircraft assembly and repair plant at Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. Because of congestion — and the danger
of hitting friendly planes in formation below them — five planes, including Gormley’s, diverted to the secondary
target. That was an airfield near Memmingen, Germany.
The raid was successful, but anti-aircraft fire was heavy and Gormley’s
B-17 was hit, leaving it on about half power, with two of the four engines disabled. Pilot William LaSeur originally declared
they would try to head back to England. But it quickly became apparent they wouldn’t make it that far.
said LaSeur told the crew that, at best, they might make it back to the coast of France but most likely would end in occupied
territory. Gormley said the crew was quiet for a few moments before he said, “Well, it’s a hell of a long way
For the crew, landing or parachuting to the ground in Germany or German-held territory inevitably would have led
to capture, interrogation at a Dulag Luft camp and then internment in a Stalag Luft prisoner of war camp. Many flyers in that
situation bailed out of damaged planes out of control, headed for the ground.
LaSeur headed for neutral Switzerland.
This is the B-17 bomber Ed Gormley served on as the underside turret gunner after it crash-landed at Dubendorf, Switzerland
on March 18, 1944. (Courtesy Gormley family.)
With Swiss fighter escort through the final stages, the B-17 was taken to Dubendorf,
Switzerland. After crash-landing with wheels up, the crew destroyed sensitive documents and equipment and tried to burn the
plane before Swiss personnel stepped in and prevented it.
Trying to demonstrate its neutrality, and because it had pronounced its air
space to be inviolate under international law, Switzerland interned the crews of more than 100 Allied planes, including Gormley’s.
The crewmen eventually were sent to resorts that essentially were shut down in the war years. German crews and combatants
from other nations were interned elsewhere.
After interrogation and a quarantine period, and then a train ride, Gormley ended
up at Adelbolden, a mountain village in the Alps. He originally was reported to be missing in action, but his family soon
learned he was alive and in Switzerland.
Internment was a loose term, though many Americans unsuccessfully tried to escape
to France, especially after the June 1944 D Day invasion of Normandy. The Americans were watched, supervised and escorted
more than they were imprisoned. The Swiss didn’t take escape attempts lightly, though, almost as a violation of trust,
and treatment of those recaptured was surprisingly harsh.
Elsa Bernhard and Ed Gormley
in Switzerland. (Courtesy Gormley family.)
At Adelbolden, Americans formed a band that played in one of the hotels and
Swiss nationals came to dance. Ed Gormley listened, too.
Cindy Gormley was married to Ed’s son, Kris, who died of pancreatic cancer
in 2016. Over the years, she learned about Ed’s service and internment. Her daughter, Jill Gormley Staples, researched
her grandfather’s wartime years, locating the Sortie and Mission Reports, and even a picture of the B-17 after
it crash landed at Dubendorf.
“He skied a lot and became a member of the Swiss ski patrol,” Cindy Gormley said.
“For being a prisoner of war, it was an OK experience.”
While in Switzerland, the American prisoner from Greeley
met a Swiss woman, Elsa Bernhard, who was from Bern and was visiting the area on vacation.
“Elsa worked in a legal office,”
Cindy Gormley said.
“My mom used to tell us that the Swiss liked that the Americans came in and drank their wine,” Steven
early 1945, as the war in Europe seemed destined to end soon, and before Gormley was repatriated — the formula was two
Germans in Swiss captivity being released for each American — he asked Elsa to marry him.
Ed Gormley with Elsa Bernhard
Gormley. (Courtesy Gormley family.)
Ed later said Elsa told him: “Go home and look at the American girls for a
while and see what you think.”
After the end of the war and Gormley’s return to the United States, he first settled in
Los Angeles. What he thought was that he still wanted to marry Elsa. He sent for her.
Elsa journeyed from Europe alone to join him,
and they were married in Los Angeles in March 1946. Elsa — known as “Elsy” to those who knew her —
became a U.S. citizen two years later.
“She spoke five languages,” Cindy said. “They must have had quite a loving relationship.
All of the pictures of them together, they looked really happy.”
Theirs was a wartime love story that lasted.
Elsa died in
1997, and Ed’s retirement ended up lasting 40 years.
“He was very active,” Steven said. “He’d go fishing
and things like that. He wanted to stay busy. He wouldn’t pay someone to do something. When he still was working, He
bought an old home on 12th Avenue and renovated it all. Electrical work, he’d do it. Plumbing work, he’d do it.
He was just really good.”
Ed Gormley during his
law enforcement career. (Courtesy Gormley family.)
Cindy noted Ed “was a quiet hero. He never boasted about things. He would
come home from his shift as a police officer, and the first thing he would do was go into his bedroom and lock his gun away.
It wasn’t like he’d talk about anything he’d had to do. And looking back, I wondered what he did do, things
we went through on a shift that we didn’t know anything about.”
Steve remembers a night when he still was young and the
family went to dinner at the Hut in Eaton. Ed was quiet on the drive home. He was calculating. Soon, he announced: “I
think he gave me too much change.” He turned around, returned to the restaurant and got it all right. The sons, Kris
and Steve, remembered it as a lesson.
Understandably, Ed slowed in later years, especially after he underwent eye surgery and soon after
suffered a minor stroke. He lived in Sterling House assisted living and then the Life Care Center in his final years. When
he died, he was 55 days short of his 100th birthday.
As is so often the case now, when a World War II veteran passes away, most
of his contemporaries already are gone.