On February 19, 1945 in Germany, a 13-year-old girl was standing outside her parents’ farmhouse when she looked up at the sky and saw something that would haunt her for the rest of her life. What she saw was a mysterious man falling from the sky without a parachute. She immediately knew he was condemned to a certain death and felt so sorry for him. Her mind told her to look away, but she couldn’t take her eyes off him. What she didn’t know was the identity of this man. His name was S/Sgt Tzolag A. Aaronian, and he was an Armenian American hero from Massachusetts.
Aaronian and his eight crewmates were aboard a B-24 bomber nicknamed “Our Little Lady.” They were heading toward Kirchen, Germany to destroy a military target. Flying over Germany was always dangerous; but there were no German fighters around, and the weather was fine. Suddenly, all the navigating instruments broke down. The pilot, 2nd Lt. Leo O. Mercer, felt it was safer to cancel the mission and quickly return to an Allied air base. That’s when one of the engines broke down, causing the bomber to rapidly lose altitude. The pilot desperately tried to reach Allied territory, but it became obvious that the bomber was going to crash on German soil. Running out of options, the entire crew bailed out over Krefeld, Germany, which is only 18 miles from the Netherlands. Eight crewmen opened their parachutes, landed on a field and were quickly captured by German soldiers. Aaronian’s parachute, however, never opened; he was killed upon impacting the ground. This true Armenian American hero was only 26 years old.
That German girl never forgot the man who fell out of the sky, and back in Massachusetts, his family never forgot the wonderful young man who went off to war and never came back. Born on February 1, 1919 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Aaronian was the loving son of Arakel and Vartanoosh, two Armenian refugees who were forced to leave their country. That heartbreaking moment inflicted a wound that never healed, but like so many Armenians, they showed strength and courage, kept moving forward, and started a new life in the hope of a better future. As a child, Aaronian was funny, kind hearted, generous, helpful and extremely clever. He attended Northeastern University in Boston, where he became a reporter for the on-campus newspaper. Who knows, if that parachute had opened, Aaronian could have become a renowned reporter, and maybe he would have written outstanding articles for the Armenian Weekly.
On July 2, 1943, Aaronian decided to join the war effort and put his life on the line to defeat tyranny. He became a proud member of the US Air Force and served as a radio operator and an air gunner with the 565th Bomb Squadron, 389th Bomb Group. Every time Aaronian and his crewmates flew over enemy-occupied territory, their aircraft became vulnerable prey. German anti-aircraft defenses were very effective and accurate, and German fighters were always hunting down Allied bombers. Unlike a city or a forest, there was no place to hide. Like most airmen who fought for freedom during WWII, Aaronian was often scared—scared to never see his beloved parents again, scared to die thousands of miles away from home, scared to die alone. But like all heroes, his courage was stronger than his fears. His convictions were stronger than his doubts, and his willingness to sacrifice was stronger than his desire to live.
Week after week, Aaronian and his crewmates miraculously avoided death and successfully fulfilled their missions. But they ran out of luck on February 19, 1945, only two months before the end of the war in Europe. Shortly after that fateful day, Aaronian’s body was found by the Germans, but he was misidentified as a Canadian airman. His body was located and correctly identified in September 1947. Aaronian was buried at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium, where 5,329 other heroes are resting in peace. Some of them fought and died at sea. Some fought and died on the ground. Some fought and died in the sky, but they all fought and died for a heavenly cause.
Far from home, far from his parents and far from his relatives, Aaronian may seem all alone in Belgium, but he isn’t. He’s with PFC Armen B. Tookmanian, T/Sgt Harry Zadoorian, PFC Andrew Kevorkian and T/Sgt John H. Minassian—Armenian American heroes who gave their lives to liberate Europe, and they are all buried at the Ardennes American Cemetery. Every single one of them has a story, and every single story must be told. Thanks to their sacrifice, the skies are now calm and peaceful. The roaring sound of death ended, enabling the harmonious sound of nature to be heard again. We can now look up at the sky and admire drifting clouds without fear and apprehension. So let us cherish what they did for all of us, and show that we are worthy of their legacy.
Beautiful tribute. RIP Tzolag.
A heartfelt tribute to an Armenian hero! Thanks John!
Thank you for sharing the life of Tzolag Aaronian.