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Crash of B-17 44-6546 MACR 12366

(1945)

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Mission 412 to Vienna Southeast goods depot

Lake Balaton, Hungary

13 February 1945 Bomb Fall Plot

The 301st Bomb Group, 32nd Bomb Squadron of the Fifteenth Air Force was stationed at an airfield near Luceria, Italy. The airmen lived in tents. On 13 February 1945, 1st Lt. Merrill E. Barnes and his crew of a B-17G Flying Fortress, serial number 44-6546 were assigned to bombing mission number 412. The target that day was the large warehouses located at the Southeast Goods Depot in Vienna, Austria.

Approximately ten minutes after bombs away, the B-17 received a direct hit on the left wing from enemy flak. The pilot, 1st Lt. Merrill E. Barnes, immediately peeled out of the formation but the aircraft started to go into a spin. The following description of the events that day were written by the co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Lawrence A. Ward, and contained in Missing Air Crew Report 12366:

I bailed out. The pilot – M.E. Barnes followed me. I have no knowledge of D. Bowman the togglier except that he was in the doorway preparing to bail out. Descending, I counted four chutes beside my own. M.E. Barnes, R.E. Edelen, Olis, Whittaker & Dale Harper on Edelen’s chute. A.E. Thomas bailed out close to the ground. The seven of us were immediately taken prisoner. A.E. Thomas has told of how S.E. Losh had been unconscious & he had tried to drag Losh out until the plane was within 1000’ of the ground. Gael Elmer told me about 2 months later that he had rode the plane down in the tail & was blown clear. He told of observing D. Bowman before his death.

R.E. Edelen received a severely strained leg in the groin when bailing out. I received a severely bruised right thigh and knee landing in a tree. M.E. Barnes received a severely twisted ankle and bruised foot on landing.

The aircraft crashed near Plattnsee/Balaton, Hungary.

Edward Simon Olis

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Staff Sgt. Edward Simon Olis (O-35575027) was the replacement ball turret gunner.  He was born on 18 February 1921 in Indiana, son of Frank and Theresa Olis of Gary, IN.  After four years of high school, Olis enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 18 December 1942 at Indianapolis, IN. After his liberation, Olis returned home to America on 5 June 1945 aboard the SS. William S. Jackson, a Liberty ship. Olis later filled out a casualty questionnaire describing his experience for the Missing Air Crew Report 12366. He was awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, POW medal, Good Conduct medal and Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign medal. He was employed for 38 years at U.S. Steel Gary Works.  He died at age 78 on 27 September 1999 in Hobart, IN.

Athanasius F. Thomas

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Staff Sgt. Athanasius F. Thomas (16161166) was a replacement waist gunner.  He was born on 25 February 1923 in Michigan, son of Frank F. and Bernice Thomas of Michigan.  Thomas graduated from high school and attended one year of college before he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 11 December 1942 in Detroit, MI. Thomas later filled out a casualty questionnaire describing his experience for the Missing Air Crew Report 12366.  He was awarded the Air Medal, POW Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service. Thomas resided in Rochester Hill, MI and later died on 19 August 1988 in Royal Oak, MI.

Merrill Eldon Barnes

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1st Lt. Merrill E. Barnes (O-770515) was the pilot.  Barnes was born on 8 August 1921 on the dairy farm of his parents Charles Frederick Barnes (1886-1935) and Martha Duane (Freer) Barnes (1887-1981) of Ada County, ID.  After high school, he attended Boise Jr. College for two years. He first married Isabelle M. Stroud.  She lived in Boise, ID in 1945.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 1 March 1943 in Fresno, CA.

He was awarded the Air Medal, POW Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service.

Barnes continued to serve in the U.S. Air Force.  In 1964, he married Phyllis Mary Fullmer (1923-2003) in the Salt Lake Temple.  They moved to Washington, DC where Barnes was stationed at the Pentagon.

Merrill retired from the U.S. Air Force and moved to Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.  Both he and his wife taught school in the area.  When they both retired, the loved to travel to Europe and the Orient.

Merrill died on 9 February 1987 in Los Angeles County, CA.  He was 66 years old.

Robert Elmer Edelen

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Flight Officer (F/O) Robert E. Edelen (T-129913) was the navigator. Edelen was born on 16 September 1915 in Paonia, CO the son of Dominic Isaiah Zadie Edelen (1873-1963) and Sarah Caroline "Sadie" (Haggard) Edelen (188-1951).  After graduated from high school in Denver, in 1940 Edelen was a salesman in a grocery store.  He was single and lived with his parents.  He later married Rosalie F.

He was awarded the Air Medal, POW Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service.

He died on 30 June 1992 in Denver, CO.

Dale H. Harper

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Staff Sgt. Dale H. Harper (39567407) was the engineer.  He was born on 14 November 1923 in Salt Lake City, UT the son on Lester John Harper (1893-1944) and Ida (Jones) Harper Leibrecht (1899-1978). His family move to California before 1940.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 24 March 1943 in Salt Lake City, UT.

He was awarded the Air Medal, POW Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service.

Harper died in August 1968.

David W. Whitcombe

Tech. Sgt. David W. Whitcomb (12185390) was the replacement radio operator.  He was born on 12 September 1924 in Rhinebeck, NY the son of Arthur Charles Whitcombe (1894-1970) and Gladys Ella Whitcombe (1897-1955).  After graduating high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 14 November 1942 in New York City.

He was awarded the Air Medal, POW Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service.

After being liberated and returning to the States, Whitcombe graduated in 1949 from Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.

He died on 14 November 2000 in Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA at age 75.

Sanford E. Losh

Staff Sgt. Sanford E. Losh (17120598) was a replacement waist gunner.  Losh was born in 1923 in Poplar Bluff, MO the son of Robert L. Losh (1889-1918) and Lulu R. (Miller) Losh (1903-1984).  After attedning high school of one year, Losh enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 26 September 1942 at Jefferson Barracks, MO.

He died as the result of injuries sustained from the crash of his B-17 on 13 February 1945.  He was awarded the Air Medal, Purple Heart and Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service.  He was later buried on 29 January 1949 in the New Saint Marcus Cemetery, Wilbur Park, MO.  Both his parents were later buried beside him.

Gael Winfield Elmer

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Staff Sgt. Gael W. Elmer (39822059) was the tail gunner.  He was born on 12 October 1924 in Delta, UT the son of Carl and Cree (Underhill) Elmer.  The family later moved to Milford, UT where he graduated from high school.  He received a scholarship to Utah State Agricultural College.  He also attended Washington State University in Pullman.

Deveroux Whipple Bowman

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Staff Sgt. Deveroux W. Bowman, Jr. (39820467) was the togglier.  Bowman was born on 2 August 1924 in Kanab, UT the son of Deveraux Washington Bowman (1897-1961) and Cleah (Whipple) Bowman (1900-1990). 

According to an account written in July 1994 by the co-pilot 2nd Lt. Lawrence A. Ward, "The togglier, Sgt. Bowman, was snapping on his chute and was preparing to exit behind me.  Then Lt. Barnes was coming down (the hatch) and would be be behind Bowman.  When he came down, Bowman wasn't in sight, so he bailed out.  Bowman must have gotten knocked down from a lurch in the plane or something.  We will never know, and I've always felt that maybe I should have booted him out."

Bowman died in Tapolka, Hungary from injuires sustained from the crash of his B-17 on 13 February 1945.  He was awarded the Air Medal, Purple Heart and Europe-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service.

He was later buried in section N, site 1995 of the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA.

Lawrence A. Ward

Lawrence A Ward as an AVIATION CADET
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2nd Lt. Lawrence A. Ward (O-775215) was the co-pilot.  Ward was born on 25 April 1924 the son of John L. Ward.

In July 1994, Ward wrote the following short story titled Our Fateful Sixth Mission to describe his experience of the crash and being a prisoner-of-war.

Flying B-17s with the 32nd Squadron, 301st Bomb Wing of the 15th Air Force, we had made some successful missions out of Foggia, Italy, some of them to target the Vienna South Ordinance Depot of Austria.  We were experiencing bad weather over the Alps and this, my 6th mission had been scrubbed three times previously when we got the go ahead signal on 13 February 1945.  Up at about 4 AM, for breakfast and into the briefing tent for the mission for the day.  Our target again, the Vienna Marshaling Yard.  A long day it was to be, approximately nine hours in the air in formation to 30,000 feet on oxygen and with heated suits.

After the briefing, I had an uneasy feeling come over me and I stayed to talk to the briefer about the mission, I don’t remember about what or why.  But, when I left to get my flying gear I noted that everyone had left by Jeep for their planes.  The supply sergeant said that he didn’t think I was coming, so he gave my parachute to someone else.  I told him, I was going flying and he had better get me something.  He found a chute that was beyond inspection date and gave it to me.  I told him I was taking it, but if it didn’t work, I’d be back to haunt him.  My uneasy feeling persisted as I left to find a ride out to the plane.  A plane we hadn’t named yet, as other crews had done.  We had developed a sort of fondness for it and we wanted to give her the right name befitting her all L.D.S. (Mormon) crew.  Our plane, a B17G #44-6546 sat there waiting, as did the anxious crew awaiting my arrival.

Losh, Witcomb, Olis and Thomas were replacements to our original crew for this mission.

I then preceded to double check everything, as my feeling still persisted.  On board, I dropped into the right seat and stored my “old” chute behind me.  Lt. Barnes dropped into the left seat and we prepared to start engines as we waited for the go ahead flare.  Lt. Barnes and I exchanged seats every other mission and changed control every thirty minutes on a mission in order to gain experience and to “stay loose” on these nine hour missions.  It was so cold at 30-32,000 feet that we had to crack our frozen fingers off the controls.

The go ahead flare was fired and we were soon on our way.  After take-off, we took our position of left wing behind the plane flying left wing to the lead plane.  Flying formation all the way got a little tricky at times as we flew through clouds over the Alps of Yugoslavia.  There were no signs of any fighters along the way, but as we turned from the initial point (IP) to the target, the flak came up so heavy, the feeling was you could walk on it.  Just minutes from the target, the plane in front of us looked like it exploded and we flew through the debris.  We then moved up into the slot vacated in time to drop bombs on the target.  Job well done if I do say so myself.  Evasive “S” turns were taken as we left the area, and we felt that we were in the clear.  But, not for us.  We soon felt jarring blasts under us.  Looking down, we spotted one lone flak battery flash from the ground and then moments later felt the blast under us.  The engineer, Sgt. Harper, called to say that a shell had come up through the fuselage and torn up his duffel bag as it went out the top.  I told him not to complain, that we were lucky that it didn’t explode instead.  Very shortly after, I noticed the controls seemed to be hitting something every time I turned to the left.  I told Lt. Barnes, and he checked them.  He also felt it, so he called the crew for a report of condition of control cables.  The report first was, everything OK, then a waist gunner reported smoke coming from the left wing.  He soon corrected that, to say it was on fire.  We immediately notified the crew to prepare for bail-out, we called the lead ship to advise and to leave formation to head for Russia.  That plan didn’t last long, as we turned away from the formation, the left wing buckled and we went into a spin.  Lt. Barnes called bail-out and told me to get out, but the centrifugal force glued me to my seat.  Something changed and I floated out of the seat, I grabbed and put on the parachute that the supple sergeant had so kindly given to me.  Pulling my oxygen hose down as far as I could before disconnecting it, I dropped down to the escape hatch.  F/O Edelen and Sgt. Harper were struggling at the hatch.  I thought first, that someone had frozen and I was preparing to boot him out.  One of them went out as the other spread-eagled over the hatch and then he folded up and went out too.  The togglier, Sgt. Bowman, was snapping on his chute and was preparing to exit behind me.  The Lt. Barnes was coming down and would be behind Bowman.  When he came down, Bowman wasn’t in sight, so he bailed out.  Bowman must have gotten knocked down from a lurch in the plane or something.  We will never know, and I’ve always felt that maybe I should have booted him out.  My last recollection was observing the belling of the plane go by and then I came to in the clouds.  I could hardly see the canopy above me or hear the planes in the distance.  The chute worked and I wouldn’t have to come back and haunt the supply sergeant, but I think “Goodbye cruel world, it’s all over.”  Coming out of the clouds, I tried to spot the other chutes and count them.  Then I noted on chute that was open above someone with somebody hanging by his leg underneath.  It was Edelen and Harper, their chutes had caught and tangled as they went out the hatch.  I pulled off the oxygen mask and dropped it, amazed as it fell and disappeared from sight.  I then began observing the countryside and noted I was dropping into a forest.  I tried to maneuver the direction of descent, but ended up dropping into a large tree.  The tree stopped my fall as I slammed my right leg into one of its large limbs.  As I hung by the shroud lines from a branch, Lt. Barnes came running over and shouted for me to get down as they were shooting at me.  I could hear the shots and bullets whizzing by.  The German soldiers came with a ladder to get me down, but when one of them pulled out a big knife to cut me down, I found the strength to climb the shrouds up the limb.  He then demanded my pistol and told me (in German) to climb down.

The Germans consisted of a small group of Luftwaffe guards stationed there on the west bank of Lake Balaton in Hungary, the Russians were on the east side.  They captured all of us who parachuted.  I later learned that Staff Sgt.’s Bowman, Losh and Elmer had ridden the plane sections down.  Staff Sgt. Losh was killed in the crash.  Staff Sgt. Elmer came down in the tail section and was taken to a German hospital with Bowman. Bowman later died in that hospital.

The German guards held us that night in their barracks, they tried to feed us some of their blood sausage but no one seemed hungry.

14 February 1945

They took us and a B-24 crew that they captured, by truck, on a three day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, for interrogation.  On the way, they went through Vienna and we could see the havoc our bombing had caused in the marshaling yards.  We stopped at a house and rested, at which time I went to the toilet and flushed the map I carried showing our target.  In Bratislava, we were put into the basement of a house.  It had just a dirt floor and one broken out window.  There was a stove that gave a little heat and we found a surface of the metal chimney where we could try to fry a slice of bread with a little fat.  A young local boy spotted us through the window and offered to get food for us.  He brought several carrots which we appreciated very much.  After two days they brought in a captured Russian pilot who was badly injured and had no medication or help.  A couple of fellows in our group spoke and understood enough of German and other languages to talk to him and the guards.

Then we were taken out one at a time for interrogation.   When it came my turn, I could hardly walk, as the blow from the limb of the tree I landed in had turned me black-and-blue from my toes to my shoulder.  (I was later awarded the Purple Heart).  At my interrogation, the German guard didn’t like my answers or lack of answers and proceeded to break my nose for me.  He took my belt and a small kit of toiletry items I carried in a large pocket of my flying suit.  I got even though, I was wearing a gold signet ring my fiancé had given me along with the kit.  I put the ring on my left hand and turned it toward my palm, I told him it was my wedding ring and he let me keep it.

21 February 1945

They transported us by truck again to Vienna.  As we then moved by foot through downtown Vienna, we observed by signs on any building that was bombed, “THE AMERICANS DID THIS.”  Apparently Vienna had been bombed while we were in Bratislava and quite a bit of damage was done.  We heard rumbling every day.  Women came out into the street screaming at us, spitting on us and throwing rocks.

After Vienna, we found ourselves in Hungary.  Don’t know where, but at a station we were glad to have guards, because they protected us from the natives who wanted to string us up.  Most of our guards now were Polish who were forced into service because of threats to their families.  On our men spoke good Polish, so we knew what was going on.

 21-28 February 1945

We were traveling by train, in cattle-cars, on our way to what we were told was Frankfurt on the Main.  The best I could find out was a place called Giessen.

 28 February through 3 March 1945

Then [we traveled] to a couple of Dulags through the 3rd of March.  In our travels the train backed into a marshaling yard, I don’t know where, and parked.  We were in compartment cars then, and I sat across from the guard.  He snoozed with his rifle up between his legs and his duffel bag on [the] shelf over his head.  At approximately midnight, a bomb exploded, the guard jumped, fired his rifle and shot a hole in his duffel.  It was funny, but not to laugh out loud.  The all hell broke loose, the British were dropping their 2-ton blockbusters and we were in the middle of it. The noise was deafening and the falling shrapnel sounded like a hailstorm.  Luckily, there  was no damage to us and we moved out the next morning.  It was slow moving as they had to keep changing routes to clear the damaged rails ahead.  We were now in boxcars or cattle cars and packed so tight that when lying down, if one turned over, everyone had to turn over.  One day, enroute, the train stopped at a camp and they unloaded us.  We then stood in lines where we were undressed and went into what seemed like caverns to take a shower (we were worried) but it was a shower, and we were powdered for lice.

In the prison at Frankfurt, I was put into a solitary cell for about four days,  there was a cot with one blanket and window was broken out, it was very cold.  We had a slice of bread (German style) and a bowl of watery soup a day.  Prisoners marked off their time by making calendars and scratching off the days.  When the guard came for me, he handed me the toilet kit that was taken when I was captured, and asked if I’d like to go to the restroom and freshen up.  It felt good to wash my face and shave.  Afterward, I handed him the kit but he said for me to keep it.  I was able to clean up and shave after that, when I could.  The interrogator, a German sergeant, spoke good English.  He tried to pump me with the normal line of questioning and only go my name, rank and service number.  When he asked about the Nordon Bomb Sight, I told him I knew nothing about it.  He said, “I can take you downstairs and show you a complete mockup and explain it to you if you want.”  I said no thanks.  He then asked if I had any questions so I asked how come he spoke such good English?  He said he was from Montana and had to come home (Germany) because his parents were being held.  He then got down to maps and showed how the war was going and said, “It won’t be long now.”

 3-7 March 1945

We then traveled by rail toward Nürnberg, on the way, I believe March 6, the train pulled into the beautiful little town of Crailsheim, at noon.  They allowed us off the train to get a drink of water.  Some of us were in the station when sirens sounded, like a noon whistle.  No, it was an air raid.  We were herded back on board and the train was backed out of the station a couple kilometers, to a location where the engine was protected on both sides.  Naturally all us POWs had to get off to see what was happening.  Pretty soon we heard the distant roar of bombers.  Searching the sky, we located the small specks growing larger.  They were headed directly toward our position.  As we watched, the lead plane dropped a smoke bomb, we saw bomb bay doors open and observed the blur of bundles of bombs as they left the planes.  Momentarily we then heard the wish/wish sound of what we called the fuses and the whoosh/whoosh sound as the bombs went over our heads.  We turned and watched as the boxcars, we had previously seen in the marshaling yard just the other side of town, went sailing all over the place.  This went on for over an hour.  The P-47s came in, apparently picture taking.  The guards screamed “Terror Flegers” and tried to hide wherever they could.  After it was over, the train backed up to the station to switch rail lines and we could see the devastation that took place.  I could see only one bomb hit across the river in the city.

 7 March to 5 April 1945

From Crailsheim, our trip took us to Nürnberg.  We were confined in a barracks at one end of the compound with a large space between us and the barracks at the upper end.  I secured one of the tables as my bed.  I was glad I did because the floor was completely covered with sleeping bodies.  When someone got up at night and headed for the door with diarrhea, everyone on the path to the door got trampled on.  But, tents were set up in the space and political prisoners, mostly from Yugoslavia, were brought in.  It was there that we began receiving Red Cross boxes of food.  I was glad to get off so much sauerkraut.  We were fed that and a slice of “sawdust” bread, sometimes a bowl of watery soup with a horse’s leg bone in it.  I lost 35 pounds.

Also at Nürnberg, the Salvation Army people came and brought us things.  I got an accordion which everyone “said they enjoyed.”

I had also spotted a piece of metal, like a barrel strap, about 12-inches long just outside the fence.  I finally worked it over with a stick and got it into my hands.  I then rubbed it against some concrete blocks to form a blade.  With the blade I then carved the two sides needed for a handle and wrapped it with cord.  I made a scabbard from cloth and cardboard.  I had a nice hunting knife which was kept well hidden.

6 April 1945

We were advised to move out and those who couldn’t walk would take the train.  My leg still hurt to walk so I took the train and the rest of the crew walked along with many others.  We moved out that evening and kept changing tracks all night long.  The next morning, we were sitting on the tracks a couple of kilometers out of Nürnberg.  We could see the stadium, with the big Swastika on top, just over the hill.  We stayed there quite a while and about noon bombers dropped bombs on Nürnberg and we watched the Swastika get blown up.  We were all standing out on the roadway when looking up we saw an American fighter [P-51] come over a ridge with its guns blazing.  When he saw who we were, he waggled his wings and the ones following did the same.  The train engine did get hit and needed some repair.  We wouldn’t get back on board until we were given paint to paint POW on the cars.

 7 April 1945

Our train arrived in Moosburg and our group was put into barracks at the far end of a compound that was still fenced with barbed wire.  The rest of the crew, who had walked, came in the next week and were put into a compound across the street.  Staff Sgt. Elmer also arrived, having survived the crash and spending two months in hospital.  All the rest of this camp was wide open and prisoners wandered everywhere.  I was told that there were over 50,000 American, British, and Russians at the camp.

About 22 April 1945

I was outside enjoying the sunshine when I heard a voice behind me at the fence.  I turned and met a friend that I had graduated with from high school in 1942.  He had flown out of England with [the] 8th Air Force and I out of Italy with [the] 15th Air Force.

 29 April 1945

General Patton’s Army came through and liberated us.

30 April 1945

The guards had left and we POWs were free.  I got into the headquarters, found and “liberated” the records they had on me.

 1 May 1945

[I] had a slice of white bread.  It was good, after eating that German stuff.

2 to 6 May 1945

I wandered around, walking in the woods and into a little town to look things over.  I found an overturned Jeep in a ditch [and] there was a camera in the jockey box.  It had film in it, so was able to get some pictures of prison life.  The people in charge of repatriating the POWs then took care of all our needs and within a few days we were on our way home!

 7 May 1945

We were trucked to Ingolstadt and interrogated by the “Criminal Board.”

 8 May 1945

WAR IS OVER!  We were flown to Reims, France in C-47s.  While waiting for our flight, a German sergeant in a Stuka landed and surrendered.

 9 to 11 May 1945

At Reims, we were issued clothes, showered, and fed.

 11 May 1945

[We] left Reims by C-47s and flew to LeHarve, France to a ramp camp.

20 May 1945

[When I was going] into area “D” for processing, I saw General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower.

 23 May to 1 June 1945

In LeHarve camp, [we] waited to ship out.

 2 June 1945

On board the “Sea Porpoise,” the Liberty ship.

 3 June 1945

Arrived in South Hampton, England.

 4 June 1945

Shipped out for New York and home!

Ward died on 5 June 2001.  He was buried in section 55, site 4092 in the Riverside National Cemetery, Riverside, CA.

Event Details

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301st Bomb Group:
332 Bomb Squadron 1
Liberation from Stalag VIIa Moosburg:
29 Apr 1945 1

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