An American hero who fell victim to an almost forgotten heinous crime at the hands of a Nazi officer was immortalized near his Castle Hill home on Monday, August 26.
John N. Sekul was a true patriot since his days living at his family home of 2263 Newbold Avenue with his sister and two brothers before enlisting in the air force as a 20-year-old in 1942, after graduating from Evander Childs High School.
After earning the rank of second lieutenant in 1944, John and eight other airmen prepared for their very mission flying a consolidated B-24 ‘Liberator’ named the ‘Wham Bam Thank You Ma’m!’ was co-piloted by Sekul.
That spirited aircraft joined 2,000 Allied planes on an extensive bombing raid near Hanover, Germany on Sunday, August 24, 1944. The Wham Bam Thank You Ma’m! along with 485 B-24s, 834 B-17s, and 739 fighter planes took part in the largest flight formation to leave England at its time.
Things went south for the crew as they approached Hanover.
Taking heavy flack and anti-aircraft suppression to the Liberator’s bomb bay and hydraulic system, an order to bail out behind enemy lines was given to the desperate crew.
Sekul along with pilot Norman J. Rogers, Jr. were the last to jump from the bomber as it began to plunge into a German farmland, where the whole crew was captured.
After a day and a half of being moved by German troops, the crew passed through Rüsselsheim, Germany which had been shelled by Royal Air Force bombers the night before.
Enraged by the damage the bombing inflicted to their homes, the townspeople approached and beat the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’m! crew mercilessly with the assistance of a German air-raid warden, Josef Hartgen.
The more Sekul and crew reacted to the beating, the worse they were pummeled with hammers, shovels, wood planks, and whatever the German civilians could get their hands on.
Hartgen then lined up the about to-be-lynched air force men to be executed in front of the angry mob.
Sekul and three of his comrades were shot dead at point blank range at the hands of the Nazi officer. One witness later told during a war crimes trial that he remembered Sekul looking up shaking his head no, as he was about to be shot.
The other two B-24 crewmembers cheated death when Hartgen ran out of ammunition and an air raid siren alert caused the mob to disperse.
Hartgen was found guilty of war crimes after peace was restored and hanged.
A motorcade of veterans proceeded past Sekul’s Bronx home on Monday afternoon along with family, community members and elected officials to unveil ‘John N Sekul Way’ at the intersection of Newbold and Havemeyer avenues exactly 75 years after that tragic day.
More than a commemoration, the forgotten story of John’s murder united two parts of the Sekul family that didn’t know each other existed prior to the ceremony.
Christopher Sekul, the son of John’s brother, Nicholas, found John’s first cousin and oldest living relative, Michael online after learning of the Rüsselsheim Massacre.
The reunited family realized how far its military roots continued past John. Nicholas was also killed in action during World War II, while Michael had joined the U.S. Air Force in 1961. Prior to that he lived on Bruckner Boulevard.
“Several Sekuls were killed in the line of duty,” Christopher said at the co-naming.
When Christopher and Michael learned more about the family’s patriotic history, they also found out that the separated families pronounce their last name differently.
“We say Se-kul and they say Sek-ul, but they also cook great so we let it slide,” Michael joked.
Regardless of a difference over pronunciation, Michael and Christopher both agreed on the significance of keeping John N. Sekul’s memory alive.