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Walking out of the War

     In the living room of former Sen. Howard Cannon’s Las Vegas home, in a place of honor among a lifetime’s accumulation of honors, is a painting. It depicts two young men dressed like farmers, standing at the entrance to a bridge. In the foreground is a half-eaten apple. For Cannon, the painting is a potent reminder of why he fought in World War II.
      On Sept. 17, 1944, Maj. Cannon and Col. Frank Krebs were leading a 45-ship formation of C-47s carrying the first wave of paratroops to be dropped near Arnheim Bridge, prior to the Allied invasion of Holland. Cannon told the story in a 1971 interview with Air Line Pilot Magazine:
      "The anti-aircraft flak was very heavy, but we got in OK and dropped the troops. As we turned for home I thought the worst was behind us.
      "Then, as we passed Breda — Wham! We took a hit."
      They bailed out, and Cannon and Krebs landed in a potato field. They shed their parachutes and hid in a nearby ditch, holding cocked .45-caliber pistols across their chests. An elderly Dutch farmer, who had seen them fall, buried their chutes and tried to convey to the fliers that he was friendly, but he could not make himself understood. He finally motioned for them to stay put, and pointed at the number nine on Cannon’s watch, meaning he would return for them at 9 p.m. It was then 2 p.m.
      "For the next seven hours we sweated," said Cannon, explaining that they couldn’t tell if the old man was a friend or a Nazi snitch. He returned at 9 p.m., sans Germans.
      Cannon and Krebs, running on fear and adrenalin, were led warily away. As they crested a hill, two uniformed figures emerged from the shadows, and the fliers immediately aimed their .45s.
      "But they just smiled at our nervousness," said Cannon. "They were village policemen and part of the underground. But their uniforms did bear a striking resemblance to the German uniforms."
      Reuniting with the rest of the crew proved impossible. Plan "B" was to move them through the Dutch countryside to the underground’s headquarters at Breda. With the policemen on bicycles, and the fliers walking in the ditches and brush, they set out. In that two-mile stretch, they met three German patrols, who the Dutch officers distracted.
      The trek ended at a farmhouse, where they were given much-needed food. Cannon was amazed that the Dutch, though near starvation themselves, gave so generously of their supplies.
      "Looking back, I can see that for them, we symbolized the freedom they were denied."
      They moved on to Audenbosch, where they were hidden in the attic of the police station, until the underground made preparations for them to continue.
      "We left two days later, boldly heading for Breda wearing police uniforms now and riding on motorcycles." Out of uniform, they were now legally spies, and could be executed if captured.
      Over the next six weeks each would adopt two more new identities. Finally Frank Krebs, who could speak German, shouldered a hoe and became a farmer. Cannon, who could not, wrapped a bandage around his neck and pretended to be incapble of speaking.
      They traveled by day. Young boys were their guides.
      "Our recognition signal was to be an apple. We started out and kept walking until, at a bridge, we spotted two apple-munching boys. Frank and I exchanged wide grins as I took an apple out of my pocket and took a healthy bite.
      "The boys started walking and we followed a short distance behind. They followed ditches, climbed through barbed wire barricades, all the while avoiding towns.
      "When we couldn’t avoid sentry posts, we bolstered our courage and boldly walked by them, saying ‘Morgen’ (morning) to the guards."
      At a crossroads called Zundert, Cannon and Krebs stopped at a shrapnel-raked farmhouse, where a widow hid. She fed them for four days in an underground silo. The reason for the delay was that German heavy artillery had set up nearby. So close were the big German 88s that Cannon and Krebs could clearly hear the orders to fire. The Allies were firing back, but only the barn was hit.
      "By the fourth day, we thought the battle would rage on forever, but that night the Germans pulled out and silence filled the air."
      When they emerged, they discovered that American troops had overrun the German position.
      Cannon’s performance during that 42-day ordeal earned him the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, European Theatre Ribbon with 8 Battle Stars and a presidential citation.

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