Lt. Haynes M. Baumgardner was a pilot on of a B24 Liberator bomber in the 491st Bombardment Group ("The Ringmasters") during World War II. On September 18, 1944, when Operation Market Garden was in full swing, his squadron dropped supplies to the 101st Airborne Division between the villages Best and Son, near Eindhoven.
The squadron departed from North Pickenham in England. To reduce their exposure to Germans anti-aircraft fire, the squadron flew very low, at about 250 feet (about 76 m.) altitude. Crews reported dropping supplies on target, but almost half of the supplies ended up in German hands.
Squadron leader Capt. James K. Hunter's aircraft was struck by flak on the return flight and crashed near Udenhout. The other planes flew on, after descending as low possible. This is what Lt. Baumgardner wrote in his diary: "I flew below dike height at times, just climbed a little to clear and right back down. I will never forget the cyclist crossing the dike in front, who saw us at the last minute, and threw himself to the ground." He also long wondered who that cyclist had been. "He must have felt the wind of the propellers."
Haynes Baumgardner never knew exactly where in the Netherlands this incident took place. But with tough tenacity, his nephew Robert sought it out. Thanks to an article in the Dutch newspaper BN/De Stem of 13 May 2019, written by one of Robert’s Dutch correspondents, he made contact with the cyclist's daughter (Adriana van Leent, then 97), who immediately recognized her father's story. Gerardus (Geert) Krijnen, 52 years old at the time, was the man on the bike, returning that fateful afternoon from a visit to his son in hospital in Breda.
On his bicycle, he rode home on the Hazeldonkse Zandweg between Breda and Zevenbergen. At the bridge over the River Mark at Zwartenberg he heard the unexpected drone of aircraft engines and suddenly saw coming toward him from the east a four-engine B-24 at a speed of more than 200 miles (300 kilometers) per hour. He jumped off his bike and dropped flat on the embankment as the plane hurtled right over him. Once back home on the Koekoeksedijk in Zevenbergen, Adriana said he was shocked and upset. “He kept shouting that he almost got killed!”, she recalled. Geert Krijnen survived the war and lived until 26 March 1977, aged 84.
Watch the documentary: “The Search for the Man on the Bike on the Dike” by Robert W. Baumgardner Jr.
Editor's note: This story is a translation of a Dutch version.
Noot van de redactie: Dit verhaal is een vertaling van een Nederlandstalige versie. Het is hier opgenomen, omdat we verwachten dat er ook Engelstalige belangstellenden zijn.