Listening to your grandparents embellish stories is half the fun of growing up. Trying to determine which ones are legit and which might be bending the truth creates plenty of time for family bonding. But, one Danish boy heard a story from his grandfather he just knew wasn’t true.
During WWII, the old man claimed that something major happened on their family farm, but the boy never believed him. However, when he grew up and had his own son, he began investigating his grandfather’s tale. It was then that he found out there was much more to the story than he ever imagined…
One holiday season, Klaus Kristiansen — then just a boy — was baking Christmas cookies with his grandfather on the family farm in Birkelse, Denmark, when the old man launched into a story from the past.
His grandpa told him of a World War II fighter plane that crashed behind the family farm back in 1944. But the field, currently used for “grass and cattle” didn’t back up the claim.
At that time, Klaus, seen in 2018 (left), recalled, “he was telling a lot of stories. Some of them were not true, and some of them were true.” But “we had never seen anything on the surface. Not a single bit of metal.” Just cattle.
As far as he knew, the story of a fighter jet in the backyard “was just a good story.” Still, in 2018, when teachers gave his 14-year-old son Daniel, below, research homework on World War II, the dad made a suggestion in jest…
“I jokingly told him to go out and find the plane that is supposed to have crashed out in the field,” Klaus said. Daniel, though, jumped at the idea of including family history in his project.
To humor his son, Klaus grabbed the metal detector and the father-son duo set out for the pasture. At the very least, Klaus “hoped we might find some old plates or something for Daniel to show in school.”
Klaus and Daniel searched the family’s farmlands for hours. But just as they were about to turn in for the night and chalk up the plane to another one of grandpa’s crazy stories, the metal detector beeped on boggy ground.
Shocked, the father and son started digging. First, they used handheld spades, and then they borrowed an excavator from a neighbor. Five yards down, they found something.
“At first we were digging up a lot of dirt with metal fragments in it,” Klaus said. With the excavator, they pulled out more piles of dirt, all filled with bits of metal both big and small.
Eventually, they’d collected an estimated 2,000 – 5,000 shards of the metal that no doubt once belonged to a plane’s cockpit. When they dug further, however, a discovery turned the dig into more than just a school project…
As they dug, they uncovered a motor, which Klaus eventually discovered belonged to a Bf 109 Messerschmitt plane, German munitions, and then something more disturbing…
They found clothes. Then bones. Then the body of the dead pilot! On him, “we found some personal things,” Klaus said. “Books, a little Bible…in his pocket.” At that point, Klaus and Daniel knew they needed help.
They placed their findings in small bags and contacted both the Danish authorities and World War II historians. Forensic scientists removed the pilot’s body with hopes of identifying him.
In fact, the experts did just that! After digging around in the rubble, experts uncovered his service record. “It was not in one piece, but it was enough to read his name,” they said. The pilot’s identity?
The pilot was 19-year-old Hans Wunderlich, an unmarried man from Bavaria, Lithuania. Experts also uncovered on his person two unused Danish coins and food stamps good for a canteen at the nearby Aalborg air base…
While the wreckage served as his final resting place for 70 years, authorities returned him home for a burial. This was an unintended — and undoubtedly a sentimental bonus —to Daniel’s simple school assignment.
As for the rest of the wreckage? No, Daniel didn’t get to bring it all in for a school project! The plane, as well as Hans’s personal belongings, ended up at the Historical Museum of Northern Jutland.
In the end, Daniel wrote about the experience for school, which likely earned him an A+. But because he uncovered a bit of history, the school gave Daniel a bonus besides the grade and time in the spotlight.
So that he could watch the authorities perform the rest of the excavation, he was given the rest of the day off from school! After all, what better chance at a history lesson would he get?
Meanwhile, Klaus knew his grandfather’s story of the downed airplane was not one of his many tall tales! So, with a laugh, he said, “Maybe I should have listened to him a bit more when he was alive!”
Grandpas might be full of embellishments, but in this case, we’re happy Klaus’s was telling the truth about the backyard airplane! What a cool find.