DILLSBURG, Pa. -- Cate Lineberry, author of “The Secret Rescue,” which details a south central Pennsylvania veteran's experience during a World War II escape from Nazi-occupied Albania, will be in Dillsburg, 7 p.m., October 3, to discuss and sign copies of the book. Sponsored by the Northern York County Historical and Preservation Society, the event will be held at the Maple Shade Barn, Dillsburg, Pa. Lineberry will be joined by Gayle “Lebo” Yost, of Dillsburg, the daughter of the late Army Air Force radio operator Sgt. Richard “Dick” Lebo, of Halifax, Pa. Lebo, who was 23 at the time of the incident, along with three members of flight crew of a Grumman C53D Skytrooper, called the “Gooney Bird” by American troops; and its passengers, 13 flight nurses and 13 medics of the 807th Army Air Force Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron, (MAETS), were blown off course by a storm, spotted by German Luftwaffe fighters and were forced to land in Nazi-occupied Albania, on Nov. 8, 1943. Lineberry, a journalist and former editor of the European desk of the National Geographic Magazine, and the web editor of The Smithsonian, and, a contributor to The New York Times, said she came across the story in old newspaper clippings. Yost and her brother Craig Lebo of Silver Springs, Md., worked with Lineberry by providing photographs and sharing war stories told to them by their father. Lineberry's book is the third that has been written about the rescue mission, which had remained a classified military secret until the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Lineberry is also scheduled to speak to students of Marc Anderson at the Northern High School in the spring. On Saturday, November 9, two days before Veteran's Day, and a day after the 70th anniversary of the Gooney Bird's emergency landing in Albania, a private celebration honoring the book and the Americans and Albanians who were involved in the incident, will be held in Arlington, Va., at the Women In Military Service to America Memorial at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. Yost said that several special guest speakers are expected to join relatives of the Americans and Albanians who were responsible for hiding the crew of the downed plane and their eventual rescue. Yost and her brother Craig Lebo are hosting the event. Richard Lebo died in 2010, and his wife, Muriel, died in 2005, Yost said. Growing up in Halifax and later moving to Colonial Park, Yost knew that her father had served in World War II, but he never shared details about his military service with the family. “He never really said anything to us,” said Yost, who has lived in Dillsburg for 42 years. “He took his orders not to talk about it very seriously; and, I think it is pretty typical of the attitude of that generation – they served, came home and they put the pieces of their lives back together, went to work, had families, and that was that.” Yost and her brother had overheard their father mention being in Albania, during the war, but that was basically all they knew about his war time experiences. When her brother was in the military in 1999, stationed at Fort Dietrick, Maryland, he learned that a book, Albania Escape, by Agnes Jensen Mangerich, one of the 13 Army nurses on the downed flight, had been released. He realized that the events described by Mangerich may have also been experienced by his father. “Craig called our Dad to find out and sure enough that is what it was,” Yost said. “That sort of opened the doors. Our children, my brother's and mine, were in high school and college at the time and they asked their grandfather questions and he began talking.” During the 1980s, Lebo attended two reunions with fellow flight crew members and the nurses and medics who shared the three-month ordeal of being hidden by Albanian partisans while a secret rescue was arranged and executed by British and American intelligence organizations, Yost said. By then, the communist regime had fallen and Albania had become a democracy. Lebo and the others felt free to discuss their ordeal about hiding in Nazi-occupied Albania. All of the people involved were sworn to secrecy by the U.S. and British governments to protect the Albanians who were involved in the operation, from possible reprisals from the communist regime that took power after the end of the war, Yost said. In 2010, a second book, Out of Albania, by Pastor Clint Abbott, was published, which told the story from the perspective of his father, Sgt. Lawrence “Larry” Abbott, of Newaygo, Michigan, who was one of the medics aboard the troop carrier. It was then that Lebo started to share his story with Yost. Yost said Lineberry sent her an email explaining that she was working on a third book about the rescue, from the point-of-view of the crew, passengers, Albanian partisans and the citizens who helped hide them; and from the perspective of the OSS, (precursor to the CIA), intelligence officers who orchestrated the rescue. At the time of her father's death in August 2010, he was one of two survivors, who had been involved in the events. The remaining survivor of the crash, Harold Hayes, worked closely with Lineberry in researching the book. Lineberry also obtained classified American, British and German government documents, and photographs and letters. She traveled to Albania to retrace the journey of the medics, nurses and flight crew. While there, she interviewed family members of some of the Albania partisans who assisted the allies in the rescue operation. “Because there is only one survivor of the group and because so many family members have read about their story, we thought it would be nice to get together in Washington, D.C., in November, a week before Veteran's Day,” Lineberry said. “They have never met; and, of course, they would not be here if not for the rescue. We invited family members of the 807th, of the partisans and the OSS officers involved to attend.” The 101-year-old wife of Kostaq Stefa, the leader of the Albanian partisan group involved in the rescue, is still living, Lineberry said. Stefa was executed by the communists in 1948, after their takeover of the country. Lineberry said she interviewed some of Stefa's children and grandchildren. “I was researching a freelance piece for Smithsonian Magazine, when I came across a historic newspaper article on the topic,” Lineberry, who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area said. “It was fascinating to me for a couple of reasons: one, it was hard to imagine 30 Americans stranded for months, while efforts were being made to secretly move them around. It was was amazing that they were able to accomplish such a feat. I was also intrigued because of the 13 nurses involved and I wanted to know who these women were and why they were in that part of the world; and then, when I started reading the two memoirs and I discovered that Harold Hayes was still alive that's what propelled me to write a book, because I had someone who could answer questions about the relations between the people – a firsthand account.” Lineberry said the story of the experiences of the everyday Americans, and the stories of others who lived through World War II also inspired her to write the book. The process took about two years. “One of the challenges of writing the book, is when you have 30 different people, it's such a large group, and each of their memories were just a bit different,” Lineberry said. “I tried to corroborate everything I could. I went through archives in Britain, the U.S. and Germany. Plus I had the reports of the OSS officers who were sent in.” Some of the family members knew a great deal about the story, Lineberry said. Unfortunately, other family members who were interested in the story had never asked enough questions about the incident before the deaths of those involved. Several expressed their wish they had taken the time to learn more. “Harold Hayes is 91 and he's hoping to come to the reunion,” Lineberry said. “He seems to be in good health and his mind is incredible.” During the initial leg of the doomed flight, the transport plane was hit by a violent storm and veered off course, and was later spotted by German fighter aircraft. The plane was forced to land in a wild and remote area of Albania. Lineberry said the group had only one gun, and had no compass, nor any maps or landmarks to help them identify where their plane had crash landed. It was a severe winter and the Americans had few supplies and could have easily succumbed to the freezing temperatures or lack of food. At any time, they could have been captured by German troops. With the help of Albanian resistance fighters and villagers who hid and fed the Americans, the group awaited two possibilities – capture or rescue, Lineberry said. For more information on the book, visit www.amazon.com/The-Secret-Rescue-Untold-American/dp/0316220221; and for more information on Lineberry, visit www.catelineberry.com.
September 25, 2013