Robert "Bob" W. Keller, Pilot
558th Bomb Squadron, 387th Bomb Group
558th Squadron Commanding Officer
More on the Baron and Baroness Van Meeuwen and how the 558th Bomb Squadron became Godfather to their son, Henry, in May 1945 at Beck, near Maastricht. Holland.
In the May and August 1997 issues of the 558th Newsletter, we ran a series of letters from members on “Remembering “Doc” Dr. Bvron J. Smith (1906-1996) our 558th Bomb Squadron Flight Surgeon”. In the August issue, Col. Bob Keller, our 558th C.O., contributed letters and photographs of how the squadron staff officers were invited to reside in the Baron and Baroness Von Meeuwen’s Manor House at Beek (Y44) near Maastricht, Holland. Since the Baroness (Elly) was pregnant, Dr. Smith's services were welcome. The 558th Bomb Squadron was to be the Godfather of the child. “Doc” Smith dutifully represented the 558th at the baby’s christening. He was named Henry Von Meeuwen. He became “Little Henry” to members of the 558th . “This was such a heart warming article and generated so much interest amone our readers that we asked Col. Bob Keller for additional information He submitted the following two letters.
Dear Mr. Keller, December 1945 Vleek, Holland
First of all I must apologize for not having written to you already some time ago, when we got your kind letter. And then that I haven’t guided little Henry’s hand to thank you and Mrs. Keller for the marvelous parcels with your Christmas gifts. But our Christmas card must be accompanied by a letter, so let us start:
Really we were so very glad when your letter arrived, telling us so much and so many happy things about you. Who are now Mr. Keller again, for we are always interested in our good friends of the U.S. Air Force who stayed at our house. We often nourished the nice time, which brought us so much gaiety and hours of pleasure with people, who we got to regard as friends. And of all those you are the only one who wrote to us and kept into touch. Your fine courtesy to reach us in the name of the whole squadron is greatly appreciated by us, but I want to express to you our thanks for the nice time and all the friendship we got from you and your squadron. We will never forget the 558th Squadron.
And now little Henry’s most sincere thanks for the beautiful and fine Christmas gifts. Every day he is using his nice cup and he couldn’t miss it to drink his juices, also a gift from the Squadron when you stayed here. How lovely to engrave it with his initials. Really it is a great present for he had not yet a cup of his own. And then the fine Heinz baby food, how wonderful. He only consumed one, for the other ones will be kept for his lorry trip to Switzerland, where he will go with his mother, probably end of January. I will accompany them as a business tour and fetch them home 2 or 3 months later. Elly rejoices to revisit her beloved mountains and it will do her good after a rather strenuous time without any help in the HV house.
But as to the presents we want to express also our thanks to Mrs. Keller, whose fine and womanly hand has been in this, and all that to friends of Lt. Colonel Keller, who are unknown to her, may we add “yet unknown” for we keep hoping to meet once again.
After you left the airfield it wasn’t used any more till September, when a regular airline to Amsterdam was started for civilian use. So the 558th personnel were the last military friends who stayed with us and life here became rather dull after the nice times we had before. During the summer my family came on holidays, which meant a lot of work for Elly. But she managed bravely to get on, though she came out rather tired and needs a good holiday badly.
Little Henry, the Squadron’s Godchild, is getting on marvelously. He is a darling little man, very active and gay. He creeps along the floor at terrific pace now. Always good-humored and gay. When he can hold a chair or table or grip your finger he even walks proudly around. How they grow up in some 7 months time. Since you left us, I enclose a picture we took in November when he was 3 months old. So Mrs. Keller will have an idea about her little unknown man, to whom she gave together with her husband such fine Xmas presents.
Our Christmas card is perhaps not the type used in the U.S. but we thought it nice to send it to all those, who stayed here, a picture of the place, but were approximately in the Christmas snowy sphere: it is the gate through you went so often to go up the lane leading to you camp. [hope you will like it.]
Life gets gradually better, but alas not easier. A number of foodstuffs will be free from rationing about the 1st of January. On the other hand in business you still have to fight a lot of red tape. The most difficult point in Europe still is the coal situation. The key - no doubt to complete recovery. And then you meet over here those wonderful “leaders” between the various countries: for example to go from here to Switzerland, a matter of 400 miles you need a Belgian, a French and Swiss visa and a permit to leave Holland. It takes you about 6 weeks to collect them by means of formulas in 4, 5 and even 6 fold, accompanied by heaps of photos. This gives a fairly good impression of actual bureaucracy, seething everywhere! Let us hope people will get normal and efficient again. I am still working at the Head Office and will have to travel a lot in the next months. Once awhile I will send you a post card from another one of Europe’s countries.
I know it is rather asking much, even too much by a lazy letter writer like I have been, but we should like it extremely to keep in touch with you, so please write us again, tell us about yourselves, what job you found and everything else, for we are sincerely interested.
Thanking you again for your letter and beautiful presents, we want to end this letter with a proposal: let us drop Mr. and Mrs. Baron and Baroness, let it just be like friends say: the very best wishes to Laura and Bob and we sincerely hope we can add soon: to......junior - and kindest regards from
Sincerely yours, Elly and Henry and little Henry.
P S. I nearly forgot to thank you for the beautiful Christmas card, which reached us in the mean time, many thanks for your kind wishes!! Little Henry had a souvenir, the Major’s insignia (medal, gold color) but unfortunately it has been lost and never found. So Elly asks if it is possible to get a new one (maybe, a Colonels insignia?) Could you help to find one for us? (Colonel Keller sent them one)
THE FOLLOWING LETTER WAS RECEIVED FROM COL. BOB KELLER ON JUNE 30.1997 There’s an interesting and long postscript, covering several decades, to my relationship with the Von Meeuwens. Some time after the war Laurie and I corresponded with the Von Meeuwens. This became an annual Christmas greeting of considerable interest.
Later, in 1959. Laurie and I went on a vacation to Paris, France. While there we took the train to Liege where the Von Meeuwens met us. They had since moved out of the manor house we had known and which was then occupied by a relative. We had a delightful time reliving old times and revisited the manor house and 558th Squadron site which remained much as I remembered it. Young Henry was there, then about 14 years of age.
Some years later the Von Meeuwens moved and divided their time between Switzerland, (Elly’s homeland), and a villa near Barcelona, Spain. During that time Whitey Mathewson and his wife Gayle, while on a tour of Europe, visited them at their home in Les Diablerets, Switzerland.
Fast forward to 1989. Laurie and I were on a cruise of the Baltic Sea. One port of call was Amsterdam. We knew that Henry was living there and working as an economics journalist for an Amsterdam newspaper. Our time in port was very brief but we arranged to meet with Henry and his family, who kindly invited us to lunch at their home - a 17th century house which they were remodeling. After lunch we phoned Henri and Elly at Les Diablerets, Switzerland, for a brief chat.
Several years later we received an obituary notice of Elly’s passing away. Three years ago we failed to receive the usual Christmas greeting from Henri. We feared that he too had died. Several attempts to contact Henry in Amsterdam were unsuccessful. End of story!! Col. Bob Keller