The letter came from the War Department, sent to 1148 Lincoln St., dated July 11, 1944.

Dear Mr. Hamar:

A report has been received that the above captioned individual is safe and interned in a neutral country ...

You are urgently requested not to disclose this information to anyone outside your immediate family as public knowledge is not considered to be in the best interest of the country, and may hinder efforts toward the ultimate release of the internee.

The mother of Rusty Hamar took the request to heart. Even her young children still at home didn't know what had become of their brother, a nose and turret gunner in a B24 bomber. As the family story goes, the children only remember knowing that he was MIA -- missing in action.

Rusty grew up in Casper, one of eight children, all but one of whom were born at home. He was the big brother, the second oldest, one of five brothers who served in the military.

As a nose gunner, Rusty's station was at the front of the plane. He saw all the flak coming, the men in the other planes flying around him, the planes in his group shot from the air.

Once, he and his daughter, Karen Hamar Bittman, were watching a movie about a B17 bombing crew, "Memphis Belle."

Karen asked if flying was really like that. Besides the men smoking in the plane (they really couldn't), Rusty said it was.

"The only thing I really asked him about it was if he was afraid. He said 'no,'" Karen said. They had a job to do, they went up and did it.

She didn't ask him about the war much when she was growing up, but became interested as an adult. "I just really wanted to know. I just thought it was extraordinary that my dad had this courage, that he could go out and do this and not think much about it. And not brag about it," she said.

On June 20, 1944, Rusty's B24 set out with 23 squadrons, about 324 bombers, to attack an oil refinery in Politz, Germany, now Police, Poland. The refinery was one of the largest in Germany.

German Luftwaffe fighters filled the sky. Thirty-four American bombers, 15 fighters and 49 German planes were lost in the attack. The Princess Konocti, Rusty's bomber, was too damaged to make it to base.

Those that were hit made for Sweden, a country famous for its neutrality.

Swedish planes escorted the bomber to Halmstad. More Swedes surrounded the plane after it landed. "They took us and fed us fish. We thought that's all we were going to get," he said.

Some reports from other interned servicemen made their time in Sweden sound like a prison camp. But Rusty says he had it pretty good. He and other downed airmen -- American, English and German -- lived in hotels, health spas and private homes. They got the same monthly pay they would have gotten had they been flying. They got mail and were well fed. Rusty says he chased girls and had a Swedish girlfriend.

"When the Americans were winning, they treated us well. We could run around and do what we wanted," he said. When the Germans seemed to be winning, the Americans were put on work duty.

The internment was supposed to last until the end of the war, but Sweden was running out of places to keep the men. They started releasing them on a one-for-one basis -- one allied airman for one German. In late summer of 1944, they made a deal to release 300 Americans in exchange for several B17 bombers. Rusty went back to England in October.

After the war, Rusty returned to Casper, got married, raised two children and sent them both to college. He worked at the Texaco Refinery until it closed.

Years later, he and his wife went to Rattvik, Sweden, and stayed in the same room in which Rusty lived as an interned airman. Sten, the man who ran the hotel, was still there.

Frank Hamar, now 74, was just 6 or 7 years old when two of his older brothers left for war -- Rusty to Europe, Curtis to the Philippines. He remembers only that they were gone, and doesn't think it so strange that his mother didn't tell her other children that Rusty was safe. The letter had said not to tell, and children have a way of blabbing about what they know.

Frank Hamar says Rusty was a good big brother and the two are close even today. Frank visits Rusty in Life Care Center almost every day.

His older brother never really talked about the war, just little snippets over the years. Frank never pushed him.

As a young airman, Rusty wrote a stack of letters to his mother. She kept them all.

Years later, Karen got to read them.

"When these guys were in war, they were like kids themselves. Until you read these letters, you don't think of that," she said.

One line stuck out to her, one repeated over and over, in letter after letter:

I sure do miss Frankie.


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