On Aug. 4, 1944, Cayucan Karl Haeuser was a staff sergeant based in England with the U.S. Army Air Corps when he was shot down over Normandy, France.
The crew’s mission was to hit roads and bridges, but the Germans were ready for them. His pilot was killed and he survived as a prisoner of war until the war’s end in May. First jailed in the French village of Pitres, he was eventually sent to Stalag Luft IV, a prison camp in what is now Poland that held more than 8,000 Americans.
“We were not mistreated, but food was scarce,” Haeuser said. “Fearing the Russians, the Germans marched us around for three months, sometimes 10 or 20 kilometers a day. Finally, they liberated us. I weighed 90 pounds. The American 103rd Division flew us to France, where they fed us eight small meals a day to build up our weight. After 30 days, they shipped us home.”
Haeuser has returned to Pitres six times since. He wondered if anyone in the village remembered seeing his parachute that fateful day.
A woman who was 8 years old in 1944 remembered the parachute’s descent vividly. At that time, her future husband, French Artillery Capt. Ramon Morel, was fighting at Dunkirk.
Later, Haeuser offered the village a small memorial plaque. The Morels, however, rallied the village to create a 5-foot marble memorial in the square.
Haeuser enjoys a hero’s welcome every visit.
“I’m no hero,” he said. “We were just doing our jobs.”
The 2012 Cayucos Lost at Sea event is scheduled for 3 p.m. Memorial Day at the Cayucos Pier.
Brevity with meaning is the goal, said the organizers, who will honor Haeuser, the Merchant Marines and two of the event’s regulars lost in 2011 — Ross Sears, drummer, and the Rev. Doug Carroll, a founder.
In 2001, Chaplain Bill Houston, Tom Madsen, Joe Eyeraud and Pastor Doug created the Memorial Day service to honor those lost at sea, prisoners of war and troops missing in action.
The moving event includes uniformed representatives from all services, tolling of a bell, a missing man flyover hosted by Cayucos Lions at 3:45 p.m., and the release of a memorial wreath at pier’s end by the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization to honor military, law enforcement and local fishermen. Cayucos Seaside Rotary sponsors the event.
A new committee led by former Navy Lt. Ron Janney wants to put a permanent memorial on the pier.
Each year, they carry the bell of a warship from the Spanish-American War to the event. It needs a permanent home in Cayucos. Can you help? Contact Janney at 434-3425.
Reach Judy Salamacha at firstname.lastname@example.org.