LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — Clyde Saylor let his imagination fly.
He pictured a little girl standing in a concentration camp.
She looks up at a huge plane overhead. A bomb drops and blows up part of a nearby bridge.
The day before Veterans Day this year, Saylor got a call from that girl. Now 80, she had seen him talk about his World War II bombing missions on television and wanted to meet him. Could she stop at his Lancaster home on the way back from Thanksgiving?
Now the day had arrived, and Saylor had so many questions.
How did a Dutch family end up in Burma, now Myanmar?
How was Marijke Tubbs treated as a child in a labor camp?
How did she survive the rest of the war?
"I didn't sleep well last night," Saylor, 92, said as his sons started to arrive at his house. "I'm anxious to see her."
Saylor and Tubbs are connected by war in another era, on another continent. They're two strangers connected by a bridge once part of what's known as the Death Railway. "It's a story that's almost impossible to believe," Saylor said.
He was drafted into the Army in 1943, just after graduating high school in Altoona. He trained as a gunner on a B-24 and was stationed in India. There, he and his team bombed railroad lines and ports to cut off the Japanese supply chain.
One of those targets was the Thailand-Burma Railway. Engineers thought it would take five years to build this railway, cutting through rocky mountains and constructing hundreds of high bridges. Prisoners of war finished it in 16 months, according to PBS. Tens of thousands of laborers died making the railway, often from disease.
The story of one of the bridges along the rail line was turned into a novel and then a movie, "The Bridge on the River Kwai." The movie didn't get all of the details right. The bridge was built over the river Mae Klong, for example.
Saylor was reminiscing, and his sons Jeff, Terry and Sam were looking at wartime photos Saturday morning when Tubbs came to the door.
"It is so good to meet you," she said.
"This is unreal," he said.
They settled down and started sharing.
Were Tubbs' parents missionaries? Saylor asked.
Not exactly, she said. Her grandfather ran a quinine plantation in Java, an island in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. That's where Tubbs' family was raised.
After the Japanese occupied the islands, men like her father were taken away to work on the railway.
A year later, at 5 years old, Tubbs, her 4-year-old sister, Pauline, and their mother, Elisabet, were taken to a Japanese-run concentration camp in Java. Food was scarce, and disease was common. Pauline contracted dysentery and almost died. Tubbs came down with malaria twice. Children weren't treated badly, but many of her mother's teeth were knocked out, Tubbs said.
"How old were you?" she asked.
Saylor explained how, at 18, he and his crew had a mission to take three passes to bomb the big bridge. They didn't see the promised flak-suppression plane but decided to go for it.
By the last pass, their plane was hit and sent into a spiraling dive. Luckily, they were able to stabilize the bomber and land safely.
Allied forces attacked the bridge, destroying it. Afterwards, Tubbs' father went to another camp and eventually reunited with his family.
"That's why I was grateful for what you guys did," Tubbs said. "You saved a lot of lives that way."
She showed Saylor the passports her had dad ordered so the family could flee to Australia together. By the time he had them, people were no longer being allowed to leave.
She also showed him a letter from her father, her POW registration and a pamphlet dropped into camp with news of the war around the world.
"It's what gave us hope," she said.
After they reunited, Tubbs and her family moved to Holland. She met her husband, Allen, in Spain, and they now live in Rockwood, Pennsylvania, near Somerset.
After the war, Saylor came home to Altoona and left the Army as a staff sergeant. He moved to Lancaster in 1963 to work at Exide Technologies.
More recently, he has spent time as an honor guard at hundreds of local veterans' funerals.
Saylor spoke to an Altoona-area TV station a few weeks ago about his military service, and Tubbs saw him talk about bombing the bridge. She and Allen were visiting Oxford for Thanksgiving. Why not meet Saylor on the way home?
Saturday, they talked about the past, no longer as strangers.
"I just wanted to thank you for what you did," she said.
"I'm glad I could do what I did," he said.
Before Tubbs and her husband got back on the road, both families talked about getting lunch together and argued over who would pay.
Saylor said he hopes to see them the next time they drive by Lancaster.
"I think that it's amazing to see people from far ends of a circumstance," Saylor's son Sam said. "And many years later, they meet each other."
Information from: LNP, http://lancasteronline.com
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