Chapter 7

Shot Down


At seven O'clock on the evening of May 11 we were called for a

short mission to France. This was my twenty third mission

my army records show that I flew thirty seven missions. I don't

know what caused the difference in the records. As far as I knew,

it was my twenty third mission and I was glad it was to be a short

one. Bruce and I had recuperated from the night before and he was

flying as my wingman. We got over France and were attacked by a

large group of enemy fighters. We were soon scattered all over the

sky engaged in combat and Bruce, who was to be off my left wing

guarding my rear, wasn't there. All I saw was an ME-109 directly

behind me. He must have come from above so quickly that I missed

him. I immediately started a right turn, but it was

too late. The next thing I saw was two rows of bullet holes

chewing up each side of my instrument panel. The armor plate

behind the seat was only a foot wide and the bullets were hitting

the instruments about twenty inches apart. I'll never know how my

arms kept from being hit.


The cockpit filled with flames and I knew the gas, tank behind the

seat had been hit and was burning. I just had time to pull the

canopy release and struggled to kick myself out as fast as I

could. My oxygen mask and earphones were still fastened to the

plane and these together with the force of the wind made it

difficult to get out. I was lucky not to be hit by the tail

section of the plane. Both of my ears were burned and the silk

scarf around my neck was nearly half burned, but the wind

extinguished that. I was 23,000 feet up which about four mi1es

and did what I was not supposed to do I pulled the ripcord to open

my chute. Due to the panic from the fire I suppose I wasn't

thinking too clearly. The farther you fall before you open the

parachute, the less chance the enemy has of seeing you and the

better your chance for escape. Also some of our pilots had been

shot by enemy planes while coming down in their chutes. I was

headed down when my chute opened and Jerked me around into a

sitting position which later caused all my back problems. My heart

went to my throat when I looked up and saw three panels of the

parachute were missing. I realized now that they are made that way

to release some of the air underneath to make them more stable. It was

really quite an experience to look down and see nothing

beneath you except your shoes. The first impression I had was of

the absolute quiet around me. I checked my watch and noted that it

took exactly twelve minutes for me to come down. I threw away all

the info I had that might help the enemy and ate the candy bar I

had in my packet rather than let it be taken away. It was a good

thing I did so as it was quite awhile before I was to eat again.


I saw my plane go down, crash and burn several miles away. I found

out later that I was in Luxemburg near the city of Metz. As I

neared the ground I could see that I was going to land in a plowed

field near a small village. I was not facing in the right

direction and tried to turn and steer myself by pulling on the

chute lines. I almost died of fright when the chute folded half

under and so I let go in a hurry. The chute opened again correctly

and I landed in the soft dirt of the field without even falling



The landing was very easy and I immediately got out of the chute

harness and began to run for the woods that were on either side of

the field. I had gone only about ten feet when I heard a rifle shot

and the bullets whizzing past me so I stopped and held up my

hands. The German was coming across the field toward me from one

direction and a group of twenty people from the village were

coming from the other. The group from the village reached me first

and one of them took out a package of Lucky Strike cigarettes,

gave me one and lit it for me. They were French and all smiles.

they could have hidden me if the Germans were not right there. the

German was a young boy, but I gave up any thoughts of escape as he

was the one with the gun. He took me back to the road where he had

a bicycle. It seems the Germans patrolled the roads on bicycles

during air raids and captured the Americans when they saw the

parachutes coming down. If I had not opened my parachute so soon

he might not have seen me and I could have reached the woods

safely or the townspeople could have hidden me. It was almost dark

now as it was 8:00 pm. I walked along the dark road with him

behind me on the bicycle carrying the gun. After about an hours

walk we came to a city where I was taken into a building where

there were several German soldiers. They made me empty my pockets

and took my watch. They were interested in my 'May West' life vest

so I showed them how it worked and they all jumped when I pulled

the pin and it inflated. I was then put in a dark room, face down

on a cot with my ankles drawn up behind me and tied to my wrists.

They left me this way through the night and returned for me in the

morning. Than I was taken into the city of Metz where I was joined

by some other prisoners. Bruce was with them and I was very glad

to see him and know he was safe. We had been shot down at the same

time. There were several fellows from a bomber crew and we were a

group of about ten. They took us down one of the busy streets and

we were a little nervous as to the reaction of the civilians who

we had been bombing, but they just looked at us. None of us spoke

French and they were probably afraid of the German soldiers with us.


As one of the boys in the bomber crew had been hit in the knee by

flak, he had it all wrapped up in bloody cloths. He had received

no medical attention and could not walk on it so we all took

turns, one on each side of him. He was in a lot of pain but never

complained. I recall traveling part of the way in a streetcar, but

can't remember how we got from Metz to the interrogation center in

southern Germany, which was our destination. When you are in a

foreign country in this situation it certainly seemed good to have

your fellows to talk to! By this time we were beginning to get

hungry, but were all, so nervous about what was going to happen to

us that we didn't concentrate much on food.


When we arrived at the interrogation center we were separated and

I was put into a small room about ten feet square with a high

ceiling. There was a little window about fifteen feet off the

floor which gave a little light in the daytime. The only

furnishings in the room was a wooden bed with a burlap mattress

filled with straw. I could just faintly hear the prisoner in the

next room and later learned that some of the prisoners tried to

communicate with one another by tapping on the wall in Morse code

(which we had learned in training). We were fed three times a day

by the guard stationed in the hall outside. In the morning there

was one slice of bread and a cup of tea, at noon a cup of barley

soup, and at night the bread and tea again. It was just enough to

keep you from starving. I got so hungry that when eating the bread

I would put my jacket over my lap, eat over it then lick the bread

crumbs off the back of the jacket. I tried to keep track of the

days by taking a stick of straw out of the mattress and putting a

one inch piece on the board at the head of the bed each morning.

With nothing to do all day you would soon begin to wonder if you

had counted the day or not. I would sometimes spend several hours

worrying: did I or didn't I do it? The bathroom was down the hall

so when you needed to go you banged on the door until the guard

came. There was no paper and no water so we couldn't keep clean.


I spent eleven days living like this with no one to talk to. All

you could do was think and look at the pieces of straw on the

board. I would walk back and forth for exercise then sit and

think. About the third day a guard took me into a room where a

German officer sat behind a desk. He asked me questions about the

mission I was on, the others in our outfit, all about the planes

and our base in England. We had been told to give nothing but our

name, rank and serial number and that is all I did. After about an

hour I was taken back to my room. A few days later I was returned

to the officer and he began telling me all the information he

already had about me. He knew my hometown (even about the lake),

when I graduated from flying school and all my training bases, and

who I was flying with the day I was shot down. They even knew

about my home base back it England.


1 was amazed at how widespread their spy system must have been and

assumed they must have had informants at every base in England and

the U.S. All he asked was that I sign the papers to the effect

that all the information was true which I refused to do. He even

had the number of my plane and knew the position of it in the



Just recently I read the book The Interrogator by Haus Scharff

and realized that he was the one who interrogated me. He moved to

the United States after the war and lived in California. The third

and last time I was taken in for interrogation Bruce was in the

room when I was brought in. We just looked at each other and tried

to show no sign of recognition. He didn't say anything and shortly

another door opened and in came "Here I sit, fat, dumb and happy"

Barlow who had been shot down a month previously. We still tried

to show no sign of recognition and finally the interrogator said:

go ahead and say hello to each other for we know already you were

flying together. We shook hands and smiled at each other. After

eleven days of solitary confinement we would have liked to talk,

but didn't. After those eleven days we were desperate to talk to

someone besides the interrogator! He asked no more questions and

we were taken back to our rooms. Barlow was not in the same prison

camp that I was and I believe that was the last time I saw him. I

learned later that after he returned to the States he stayed in

the service and rose to the rank of Major before I lost track of



After eleven days, according to the straws on my shelf, we were

all taken to a large room. There were about fifty of us and it was

a sight you should have seen. We all had beards an inch or longer

and the talking and hollering was deafening. Even the situation in

which we found ourselves did not dampen the laughter and Joy of

being with friends again. Bruce was the only man I knew but these

bomber crews were immediately as close as long lost buddies. We

all had a shower and then a shave. They gave us a little pair of

scissors like you have in kindergarten and I cut Bruce's whiskers

and he cut mine. We had to cut them off enough so the razor could

do the rest. We only had one razor blade which everyone used (and

it was dull) but we managed to get fairly clean without too much



I assume the reason we were not interrogated further was due to

the greater number of Americans being brought into the place. I

also suspect that they weren't getting much information from second

Lieutenants and were more interested in higher ranking officers

who knew a lot more about the war effort in England. They were

probably trying to find out more about invasion preparations. One

thing of interest was a ceremony in England presenting a medal to

one of the leading war aces of the time. He was shot down the next

day and when he arrived at the interrogation center the Germans

had a large picture of him receiving the award. It was hanging on

the wall of the room when they brought him in for interrogation.

You can understand how fast their extensive SPY system worked!


The next thing I remember we were all standing out in an open

field waiting for a train. We were each given a cardboard

suitcase from the Red Cross. Wt opened them and mine contained a

sweater, pajamas, toothbrush and paste and several other small

items which I forget, mainly because the sweater took all my

attention. It was bright orange and when I put it on it came down

to my knees and the sleeves were about six inches too long. It was

Just straight knitting like a scarf and was probably done by some

Volunteer who knew nothing about knitting but wanted to help the

war effort as best they could. It was the best present I ever

received. It was worth a million dollars to me under those

conditions and I probably had tears in my eyes. I know everyone

said that if the Red Cross were collecting money there that they

could have had everything we owned.


As we were standing there talking, I heard someone mention the

name Len Pierce, so I called out "Who knows Len Pierce?" I met the

pilot who was flying with Len and he told me all about how Len was

killed. Len was lost on May 10 the day before I went down and it

was strange to learn about it under these circumstances. I

probably knew about it over there in the middle of a field in

Germany even before his folks were notified. The pilot who had

been flying with Len explained that Len's plane was damaged and he

was trying to make it back to England. His plane quit over the

Channel and he had to parachute out. He landed in the water and

the chute came down on top of him. He was tangled in it and

drowned even though he was a good swimmer. He was flying with a

good outfit and had shot down two enemy planes.


The German guards were standing around us with huge black dogs

that I believe were Dobermans. They started marching us to a train

in single file and the guards and dogs kept us in line. The dogs

were staining at their 1eashes with teeth barred and saliva

foaming from their mouths. They were really fierce and we were

petrified with fear. They were only about six feet on each side

us and you can bet we stayed in a perfect line! We boarded the

train and started out with the hope that American fighters would

not come down and strafe the train. We didn't know where we were

going but figured it was to a prison camp.


Somewhere along the way the train stopped and down a bank below us

was another train with all the people from it standing on the

grass. They were about 200 feet from us and Americans also. We saw

pilots we had gone through training with and a few we knew from

other squadrons in England. We waved and hollered but our train

started up again. It was on that train I learned my first German

word "abort" meaning bathroom. I forget how long we were on the

train or if they fed us, but we were so apprehensive about our

future we were less concerned about our appetites.

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