During my flying in Europe, I had two articles of clothing that I wore as my symbols of identity. One was a red, white and blue striped t-shirt. The other was a red baseball hat. I wore this hat when I was not going to altitude, or the flight was warm. This baseball hat was an ego-identification in a way. !t was comfortable, and I enjoyed wearing it very, very much.
Sometime before the end of the war in Europe, the Russians, advancing from the East, had captured a German prison camp on the Baltic Sea, near a little city named Barth. Adjoining, this camp was a small airfield that had been used for two-engine, medium German bombers of the JU-88 class. Runways and taxi strips were quite small and much too small for use by four-engine bombers of the B17 class.
This prison camp, known as “Stalag Luft One”, was full of American flyers who had been shot down, captured, and imprisoned in this camp. Negotiations were had with the Russians and, after a period of about three days, the Russians gave permission for the Americans to fly into this airfield by the prison camp, pick up these liberated American flyers, and fly them out. The provision that the Russians made was that the planes were to be given a one-mile corridor from the city of Rostock to the airfield at the prison camp. We were warned that if we varied from this flight, it was possible that we would be shot at.
The day arrived and we took off without any armament, even though we were going to be behind the German lines; however, I did carry, and I think my crew had their .45 caliber pistols for personal protection. Taking off, we flew single- ship, in trail and not in formation. It was “Get there as quick as you can”.
Arriving over Rostock, I set the course for the airfield at the prison camp. When we came in view of the field, we noted it was important that we make a straight-in approach, because there were so many planes in back of us that needed to land. It was a touch, go, roll around, pick-up your quota of prisoners, take-off! Coming in, as soon as the wheels touched the runway, we blew our left tire! The plane jiggled down the runway in a very uncontrollable manner, for maybe a hundred yards. Because, the planes in back of us needed to come in and land as soon as possible, we had to get the plane off the runway. The pilot had no other choice but to make a left turn and pull off the runway onto the grass. Once on grass, the wheels sank in the mud, almost to the wings and we were stuck. Our plane remained in this condition for the rest of the afternoon (some three-four hours).
While we were stranded, there was nothing to do but get out of the plane and mill around, smoke cigarettes and watch the planes come in, land and take off. However, being behind Russian lines, it wasn’t long before a contingent of Russian soldiers came out to greet us. They were rather well dressed (we thought) for combat soldiers and must have been headquarters officers or administrative officers of some kind. One unusual thing we noted was that they didn’t wear ribbons to designate their medals. They, actually, had the medals pinned on their jackets. The entire medal. Of course, they all had their big black boots on, and a machine gun hanging over their shoulder. There was a Russian woman soldier who was in the group, but she never came over to us. She stayed, about fifty yards away and just observed, but never entered the group or came around us in any way. She had her black boots and machine gun, also. One of these Russian officers became very interested in my hand- gun, that .45 automatic that I carried in a shoulder holster. Neither he nor I could understand each other speaking Russian or English, but by hand signals and smiles and things of that kind, I got the idea that he wanted to look at my gun. Taking the gun out of the holster, I removed the clip, jacked the shell out and pulled the slide back; turned it around, empty, and handed it to him, butt first. All of his friends gathered around and they looked at the pistol and were particularly admiring the “big hole in the muzzle”. They would put their little fingers in it, to show each other how big it was and smile and laugh among them-selves. I thought, well, I have lost my gun. Being behind their lines, there wouldn’t be much I could do about it. After they satisfied their curiosity and had fun with it, he returned it to me and nodded in thanks, (or I’m sure that’s what it was).
Next, one of the officers pointed to my red baseball hat. This time I thought I’ve surely lost my hat. I took my hat off, handed it to him. They each put it on their head and laughed and pointed and, generally, were smiling and having a good time admiring and laughing at each other in that red baseball hat. My red baseball hat was returned to me.
Two of the officers indicated that they would like to go and look at the airplane. Since there was nothing unusual about the craft or secret, we took two of the officers into the waist, showed them through the waist, through the radio room, the bomb bays, and took them up on the pilot’s deck. We put one in the pilot’s seat and one in the co- pilot’s seat. Then, we turned on the radio and put the earphones on them. They enjoyed listening to the music. One thing I do know is that they were sitting there, bouncing on the pilot’s and co-pilot’s cushions-laughing and having a big time.
Eventually, the ground crew arrived with huge air bags that they put under the wings. By some means (that I don’t remember)pumped up the bags, and lifted the plane up out of the mud. By jiggling it around, they were able to get the plane back on the runway and change the tire. We were ready to board and GO!
The pilot began to taxi to the pick-up point where we were to receive our quota of ex-prisoners. Arriving at the pick-up point, we boarded twelve or fifteen persons. It is now late evening and most of the ex-prisoners have gone. Our group was the one that remained to the last, to shut down the camp and be sure that everyone was evacuated. Our orders were to fly these troops to an airfield in France. After delivering these soldiers, we were to return to England. We take-off and head for France.
During the flight to France, one of the ex-prisoners came into the nose and rode in the bombardier’s seat for the entire trip. We talked very little. He had no intercom set and it is difficult to have a conversation in the nose, due to noise.
Arriving at the airfield in France, our ex-prisoners left us. We took-off and returned to England.
Fast forward thirty or thirty-five years: I am an attorney. One of my clients is an insurance agency. At Christmas time, the owner of this agency gave a party. My wife and I were invited. Arriving at the party, the owner of the agency greeted my wife and me at the door. He said, ”One of my agents wants to meet you. He is sitting at the bar.” Proceeding to the bar, I was introduced to this agent. We exchanged greetings and Christmas wishes and introduced ourselves. He asked, “I hear that you were in the Eighth Air Force?” “Yes,” I replied. He stated that he was, also, in the Eighth and identified the Bomb Group. His story was that he was shot down on his fourth mission over Frankfurt, captured and imprisoned in a camp on the Baltic Sea, near the town of Barth. I told him that I was in one of the planes that flew the ex-prisoners to France. Did he remember the plane that got stuck in the mud? Yes, he said-in fact that was the plane that took him to France! Continuing his story: He said that he rode in the nose with the navigator. He did not remember the navigator’s name, but he wore a red baseball hat!