New book tells the story of 5 Michigan nurses and medics caught behind Nazi lines in WWII

Jul 10, 2013

It's been nearly 70 years since the last bomb fell and the last bullet was fired in World War II, but stories from the war are still being unearthed.

One of these stories is told in the new book "The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines" by Cate Lineberry.

A plane carrying nurses and medics crash lands in Albania behind Nazi lines, and you would not believe what it took to get these Americans to safety.

It's the kind of story that would make a powerful movie. It has been largely hidden and unknown all these years, and figuring in this story are five nurses and medics from Michigan.

Author Cate Lineberry joined us today from New Orleans.

“The two hour flight turned into a five hour journey,” Lineberry explained. “They got caught in a violent storm, were completely disoriented, and they lost communication with the station in Bari. So they were struggling in the air, they were losing gas, they were stressed . . . They did the best they could in those circumstances.”

The flight had been carrying 13 nurses and 13 medics, as well as a crew of four. Five of these people were from Michigan: Agnes Jensen of Stanwood, Jean Rutkowski of Detroit, Lillian "Tassy" Tacina of Hamtramck, Lawrence Abbott of Newaygo, and Charles Adams of Niles.

In the violent storm, the crew did not realize that they had crossed the Adriatic, and when they tried to land they were attacked. They ended up crashing in Albania, where they were met by a group of armed men. With few alternatives, the Americans went with this group of men to find food and shelter.

It took about nine weeks to get all but three returned to the Americans. The final three got out at a later time.

“These were just ordinary Americans who went through extraordinary circumstances. . . . They were putting their lives on the line all the time, even when technically they weren’t supposed to,” Lineberry said. “It was a meaningful story to me and it was also a triumphant story. They did all survive, with so many people helping them along the way.”

-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Listen to the full audio above.