2/Lt. Joseph Louis (Joe) Ashbrook was the bombardier of B-17 42-31189 ‘Paragon’ that sustained flak damage over the target area on July 7, 1944. Returning over the Netherlands another engine failed and it became obvious that they could not make it to England. Approaching the Noordoostpolder, an area reclaimed from the Ijsselmeer, the pilot gave the order to bail out. Ashbrook landed in the reed beds of this area and after disposing of his gear, met some of his fellow crewmembers. The crew’s descent was observed from Emmeloord by Jacob Muller, one of the directors of the Kingma-Muller building company. This company builded the farms and houses in the Noordoostpolder. Muller walked to his car and having noted where the airmen descended, drove in that direction.
Having parked his car near where he expected to find the crew, Muller entered the reed beds. After some hours searching, he came upon one crew member of the Paragon. Muller didn’t speak English but indicated that he had seen 9 parachutes and together with the American searched on. After a while and looking through Muller’s ‘illegal’ binoculars, the American spotted four fellow crewmembers. Muller then took the five airmen to one of the farms under construction and from there to near Emmeloord where the five are hidden in a reed bed. Muller then arranged for civilian working clothes and one of his foreman is sent of to collect the five. They were taken to the ferry at the Lemstervaart and while underway, a sixth crewmember had joined them. At the ferry the men changed their clothing and then with two cars, all six Americans were brought to Muller’s house. Later that day, the Americans were collected by the resistance and taken to Vollenhove where they went in hiding at several addresses. Ashbrook, 2/Lt. Bob Giles (E0597) and S/Sgt. Kenneth E. Mays (E0599) stayed together at one address.
The next day, they were joined by 1/Lt. Robert M. (Bob) Harrah (E0598) who had spend the night with the Weijs family in Blokzijl. Later that day all four were brought to Meppel by the resistance group of Peter van der Hurk. Here their working clothes were replaced with proper civilian clothes and they were provided with forged Dutch ID-cards. Escorted by police officer De Jong, the four Americans then travelled to Amsterdam by train where they were handed over to resistance men Henk van Cleef and Ernst Smidt van Gelder. Already on July 11, the four airmen travelled by train via Eindhoven to Veghel, escorted by van Cleef and Smidt. At the station, they were collected by members of the Otten family who took them their house at the Kerkstraat 6 in Erp, the so-called Pyama-House. Here the four airmen split in pairs with Giles and Ashbrook leaving first on July 14. They went to Cor van Laanen in Dinther and then to the van der Ven family in Heeswijk-Dinther. The van Mook family in Schijndel was their last known address in The Netherlands and they stayed here for one night only. From here they left for Belgium but there are no further details. On July 22, they were arrested in Antwerp and Ashbrook eventually went via Dulag Luft Oberursel to Stalag Luft I at Barth.
After the war Ashbrook remained in the USAF and reached the final rank of Lt.Col. After retiring from the Air Force, he was an instructor at Gulf Coast Community College for seven years and then worked at the Bay County Property Appraisers Office for fifteen years. Joseph Louis Ashbrook passed away on 26 January 2009 at the age of 84. He is buried at Evergreen Memorial Gardens, Panama City, Bay County, Florida, USA.