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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Crash Landing

By Kerby Rials
June 26, 2011

My wife, Assemblies of God missionary Sheila Rials, has been serving in Belgium for only three years, but she wouldn’t be there today if not for a little miracle that occurred in Belgium 66 years ago.

While Nazi armor was overrunning thin lines of American troops in the Battle of the Bulge, her father, Ray Fairman, was returning from a bombing raid over Germany. Bomber crews paid a very high price for helping liberate Europe: 30,000 American men died carrying out these bombing attacks on Nazi Germany; 33,000 were captured and imprisoned in Nazi camps.

A ball turret gunner and later a bombardier, Ray had already had his share of miracles in what was to be 42 missions, but he was about to need another one that day.

On one of his first flights, his heavily laden plane had crashed upon takeoff from England. Due to a time delay mechanism on the bombs, he and the crew managed to escape the plane before it exploded. Though he ran away from the plane as fast as he could, he was hit by the bomb blast nonetheless. He survived.

On another flight, a chunk of shrapnel sliced through the side of the plane and lodged into his parachute pack. When the jagged metal was removed upon landing, he saw that it had a number stamped on it by the ever-efficient German war machine. The number was exactly the same as his service number: 36876493.

If ever there was a bullet with someone’s name on it, that was it! The incident was so amazing it was written up in Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper.

Clearly someone had been praying for Ray.

That person was his mother, Ruba Faith Fairman, a church-going woman who faithfully interceded for her son. But at that moment in January 1945, she was not praying. She had no idea that Ray was on a bombing mission. In fact she was sound asleep in her bed in Flint, Mich.

High over Germany, Ray’s plane had been severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire. All four of its massive nine-cylinder Wright Cyclone engines were knocked out. Although they were more than 4 miles up in the sky, the plane was too heavy to glide very far.

Knowing they would never make it back to England, the pilot had a choice: give the order to parachute over Nazi Germany or try to glide into Belgium, which was controlled by the Allies.

The mistreatment of captured Allied airmen by the Nazis was common knowledge among bomber crews. Additionally, the highly publicized Malmedy Massacre of captured American soldiers had just occurred. Accordingly, Capt. Al Pilliod decided to glide as far as possible, hoping they would reach Belgium.

A bomber with no power does not have a lot of control over its fate. The Ardennes region of Belgium has many hills and forests. The houses and barns are made of stone or brick. The roads are winding. It is not an area where one would want to try to land a crippled plane. But the plane was going down, and where it hit was up to God.

After some time of silently slipping closer and closer to the ground, the pilot issued the order to prepare for a crash landing. Fearing the worst, one of the crew disobeyed orders and jumped out. The plane was too close to the ground by that time, however, and he died upon impact.

The rest of the crew obeyed orders and awaited their fate.

Meanwhile, still asleep in Michigan, Ruba suddenly woke, hearing her son calling her. Of course it could not be him — he was thousands of miles away. But she knew something was terribly wrong. She began to pray.

Back in Europe, a patch of clear but rolling ground appeared below the plane — free of buildings, with no trees, just snow. The pilot gently eased the heavy plane down onto the ground, and it began to slide for more than a mile, breaking off parts and bending the propellers back.

When it finally came to a halt, everyone who had remained on the plane was alive and uninjured.

The crew could see people running to the plane. Not knowing if they were in Belgium or Germany, they took out their .45-caliber pistols, prepared for the worst.

But as the people came closer, the crew could see some were carrying buckets — determined to collect the leaking fuel for gas-starved Belgians. They had made it to the Allied-controlled area, safe and sound.

A few weeks later, Ray received a letter from his mother, telling him she had heard his voice and asking what had happened that day. By comparing time differences, they found she had heard him the very day and the exact time of the crash. They both knew God had answered prayer that night.

Ray never forgot that. Years later at the age of 65, while attending a service at Mount Hope Assembly of God Church in Lansing, Mich., he stood up at the salvation call and went forward to give his life to Christ — in front of his entire family.

Now 85, he lives in Pleasant Lake, Mich., where he prays for his daughter Sheila, a missionary to the country where his life was spared some 66 years ago.

KERBY RIALS and his wife, Sheila, are Assemblies of God missionaries in Belgium.

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