In Search of Chuck Yeager’s Evading Germans 1944

April 22nd, 2013

I had wanted to explore with CY the places where CY had been shot down and was working with the Maquis, escaping into Spain.

Finding specific spots was an adventure. Not many who were involved in 1944 were still around, kids didn’t get the history from their parents, many would-be not so good historians who got much information wrong so we got many opinions. It took three years and three trips to gather the information.

We met the mayor of a town near Casteljaloux. He says he was six when he saw General Yeager’s parachute come down. He says he called his sister, age 4, out to the field to see it. He also still had the window from General Yeager’s P-51 and was so pleased to show it to its owner – General Chuck Yeager. The whole family and neighborhood was out to see this.

The sister was looking at CY and said (in French): It’s a great thing that he was saved.

I understood. I thought. I waited for her to say something like all that CY had accomplished.

Instead, she said: So handsome!

I thought good thing he wasn’t ugly I guess – would they have thrown him back?

We then went to where CY’s P-51 came down. The first time we visited the crash site, the owner of the property was having a hunting party and not been forewarned of our visit. Fortunately Philippe and his wife, Jacky are kind, generous, warm people who were thrilled to meet General Chuck Yeager.

There was a hole there; no, not from when the plane originally crashed, but from when the Germans and later “historians” came to dig the plane out.

We visited an area where folklore says CY came down in his parachute. The forest had been cut down within the last 10 years. About five elderly men started arguing as to where the actual spot was. It was that tree, no, that tree. No, that area. No, over here.

We often had 5-10 people talking at me – all in French. That was a challenge.

Gen Y was very gracious – this was not the spot where he came down – it was too close to houses. He steered clear of houses.

Next we went to La Rode, where the Russian Lady, the first English speaking person CY met in 1944, interrogated Gen Yeager. There were many photos of the house as it had been in 1944. Today the area where the Russian Lady had lived had already crumbled.

We met the Russian Lady’s daughter in 2008. She was the youngest of the Maquis we had met – and she was the first one to die – in her 70’s – in 2009, before we were able to get back. We were very sad but glad we had met her (again for CY). She had some great insights.

We visited Gabriel’s house and Raoul’s house both places where CY had hidden.

We saw the tree under which Gen Yeager had sat watching the Germans walk by after which Gabriel was apoplectic and vehemently warned CY not to go outside again.

Near Raoul’s house, relatively, was the field where several allied drops were made, one of which Raoul and CY had helped collect and load.

Unfortunately, by the time we returned two years later, Raoul’s house had been remodeled beyond recognition and beauty.

We also visited Gabriel’s grave. That was a very sad moment. General Yeager was quite moved. Gabriel had saved his life oh so long ago. The grave was beautiful and elegant.

We visited the site where we have a photo of Gabriel and CY from 1955-56 when CY had gone back to visit while stationed in Germany.

Gabriel must have felt great joy when he saw CY in 1955-56 – that one of the many men he had saved, because there were a few he couldn’t, had not only survived, but had gone on to do great things.

I know Raoul, when he saw General Yeager for the first time in 66 years, had tears of joy. Charlie – with a French accent: Sharlee – had survived.

We visited the field where the German airplane that had shot down CY, had come down. We learned the German pilot’s parachute had not opened so he did not survive.

We visited the farm where CY played soccer with the little boy Jean. And the house in Casteljaloux where he had spent his first night with the French Underground. The current owner is a larger than life women with a big personality so thrilled to see us and know her house had some importance in history.

We visited the defunct pencil factory – from the outside. So picturesque.

We visited the farm that was where they assembled the evadees to take the south to the Pyrenees. The present day farmer was resistant to strangers. But after just a few minutes, he and his wife were inviting us inside for a drink.

We visited the Saturday market and saw where Gabriel had his booth and where most of the messages were passed. Other messages were passed at Gabriel’s house – another had the radio and he would come by to relay the messages such as it’s raining. This meant the Allies were going to do a drop that evening.

We met so many wonderful people. One couple saw the plane come down almost toward them. That’s the couple, a little embarrassed because, although not married yet, were having a tryst. When General Yeager heard this, he asked her (and I had to translate): Now did you have the best view? Were you on the bottom?

She giggled. Something only CY could get away with.

Another 2 people, brother and sister, saw the plane’s trajectory as they came out of church. Their father was the pastor. When we asked them to point the trajectory as to where it came down 66 years before – two different hands/arms pointed in completely different directions. Very funny.

We met Gabriel’s widow days before she died. CY had met her in 1955-56. She admitted she had such a crush on him. She refused to see him while in the hospital – she wanted to look her best. Well she did look great and I told her so. So she ceased worrying about me as competition and glowed even more.

After two tries and CY said no, that’s not it, the guys on the ground finally did some more research, and found the route CY took when he hiked over the Pyrenees. We got to see this. We also saw a prison just like the one he escaped and the hotel where he slept for a day. We met the wife of the former owner.

The had a grand festival in Sort on October 14, 2010. The whole town came out. On stage, the Spanish Air Force made CY an honorary Spanish Air Force pilot. Gen YEager smiled, took the proffered wings pin and said Where is my airplane?

The audience roared.

Then a trio sang like the Andrews Sisters and did a great job. They couldn’t figure out whether to flirt with my husband or with the handsome Spanish Air Force General sitting on my other side. They were talented and delightful.

We went to the spa in Spain where CY stayed for a week or more and perhaps the building where he had stayed on the way.

We look forward to our next visit – we may get to meet Dr. Henri’s son. Dr. Henri was the man who brought CY from house to farm and then down to Nerac.

c. GCYI

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