"He told me in German, 'der Krieg ist für Sie zu Ende'. The first real words in German that I understood: the war is over for you."
When they called us into the meeting room and said we were going to Berlin, many of the men said, hurray, you know, at last we get a chance to bomb the capital of Germany. I don’t know what our total force was that night, over 600 anyway and we lost 50 that night. We got back all right, but many of our friends didn’t. And a week later, on our fourth mission, they announced that we were going to Berlin again, started giving us the details of how we were to go and what we were to bomb. It was all quiet, nobody said a peep, you could have heard a pin drop.
When we got to the target, it was lit up like a football field because the Germans, their fighters had flown high above us and dropped flares, so everything was all lit up and you could see all the planes flying, our planes and the enemy planes, the fighters.
We just finished dropping our bombs when we got coned by three searchlights. Pilot tried real hard, did a lot of weaving, break away from the searchlights but they just, you know, one would go out and another one would pick us up, so there was always … And once they had three of them on you, and they could pinpoint your exact position and they knew exactly where to send up their flack and I guess they passed that information onto the fighter planes up above too.
Anyway, we were heading home, we’d dropped our bombs and one of their fighters caught up to us and strafed our plane. They had 20 millimeter cannons. I don’t know. We got the order to bail out because the plane started going down and the pilot couldn’t seem to control it. He tried but … So four of us bailed out, and the pilot and the two gunners went down with the plane. So we came down to the ground and then I took off my parachute and my harness; and I took out the maps and I started heading out across the fields. I traveled for, it might have been nine or ten days when I came to the river. I think it was the Elbe, it was too wide for me to go across. But there was a railway bridge. I thought, well, I might as well try and see if I can walk across.
So I started walking and there was guard towers on both sides of the bridge. There was nobody on the side I entered, but as I got halfway across, and it was more than a mile across that river, I could see a flashlight on the other side and a guardhouse. I went, oh well, 50/50 chance. I could either bluff my way through there or walk back, but I wanted to get over to the other side. So I just kept on walking. And there were two men there, I don’t know, they were in some kind of uniform, whether they were regular guards or military, I’m not sure. They said good evening to me or what it sounded like in German. And I didn’t answer, I just walked by. And once I got to the other side, I just ran off along the side of the grade and there were shrubs and brambles there and right through the bramble patch, I didn’t care, and hid. So they looked a little bit and then they didn’t bother me.
As I was walking through this, on this road and the next thing I realized, I was in the village and on the right side of me was the railway and on the left was the main street of the village. The villagers were out on the doorsteps because of the heavy fire, probably watching, wondering where the bombs were going to drop. Before I saw them, I could feel something and then I looked and they’d been looking at me. So I just eased away a little farther, closer towards the railway and soon I found an opening and crossed over into the railway yard and got into one of the boxcars there. Waited until the train, after they got done, shunting and filling their train, they took off.
Took my maps out, I had a flashlight and I tried to see out of the little crack, as we were going, what stations we went by. I was kind of having fun, walking up and down that train when it wasn’t going too fast and blowing the horns of those jeeps. One place I got off when they stopped and I picked a few little rocks and then as we were driving, going by some kind of a factory, you know the factories had signs on them, Räder müssen auf für den Sieg rollen or something about, which meant wheels must roll on for victory or something like that.
Anyways, we went by. I threw rocks at, I don’t know if I hit any windows but I threw rocks at the windows anyway, hoping I’d hit one, do a little bit of damage. So we pulled into this yard and it stopped there for servicing. Soon, somebody came to check the brakes, again, where I was hiding in the little hut and so I put my fingers to my lips and he nodded his head. But I guess he went back and told his mates. So then one or two others came and had a look at me. About the third fellow that came, he didn’t come up, he just threw the door open, pulled his Luger [German pistol] out and he told me in German, der Krieg ist für Sie zu Ende. The first real words in German that I understood: the war is over for you.