March 4, 1944 1st daylight raid over Berlin. Weather was stinkin’. Only 2 P-51s guarding a box of bombers. They hit their targes. I shot down my first enemy aircraft (a/c). Woo hoo.
I was out of ammo returning home. I espied the stragglers of the bombers in formation heading home. I called ahead. “Can I form up with you, I’m out of ammo and could sure use some protection.”
“Don’t let your trigger guys shoot me down.” You see, P-51s looked somewhat like German aircraft. Me -109, FW 190.
I formed up. We got home safe.
March 5, 1944: This time we headed to Bordeaux – to bomb a factory. Weather was still stinkin’. We could not see the target so we headed east for a target of opportunity. I was tail-end Charlie, called out bandits at 6:00 and turned into them. Three of them and I did a head on pass.
I didn’t have to climb out of my a/c – it was falling apart all around me. I stepped off. And free fell for 25,000′.
At around 6000′, I pulled the chute. It…..
As I floated down, I headed for the forest, grabbed a sapling and rode it to the ground. Just like West Virginia.
I gathered the parachute up, couch-walked in the woods a few miles – had to get away from where I came down in case anyone saw me – and hid.
Ain’t a German in the world can catch a West Virginian in the woods.
As I sat and assessed my situation, I noticed I was wounded, so I opened my survival kit, got out the sulfa powder and put it on my wounds – groin area, hands.
I slept a little.
March 6, 1944: In the morning, I heard a rhythmic banging. I crawled to where I could see – it was a woodsman chopping wood.
We played charades – he didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak French. Told me to wait right there- he would be back.
I moved off 20 yards, repositioned with protection from and a good view of where I had met the woodsman.
He returned with 2 men, whispering: American, where are you?
I sussed them out – they were unarmed and not menacing so I presented myself.
They took me to a Russian lady who spoke English. She ran a sort of hotel.
Her first words: Has America run out of men already that they have to send boys?
When I didn’t respond, she said, Are you married?
RL: “Aha! You are wearing a ring!” as she pointed at my right hand.
I looked; then explained: that’s my high school ring.
RL: That’s your wedding ring finger.
Mr: In America, we were the wedding ring on the left hand.
I guess I pass – not a German trying to infiltrate the Maquis. They give me civilian clothes and hide me in the barn. Some Germans poked in the hay, but I was about as far back as one could get. Just hoping they’d miss. Glad now of the lack of food and being skinny – they can tease me about being skinny all they want - maybe the pitchfork will go either side of me and I’ll have the last laugh.
They told me to rest up – that night they were taking me to another hide-out.
Good – this one was dicey. But the Germans had already been so probably wouldn’t be back….
March 6, 1944 evening: dark
We ride off on bicycles: make it as far as Castaljaloux where they put me in a house for the rest of the night and the next day.
March 7, 1944 evening
At night, a couple of men take me to a farm where I spend a week with a young couple with a young son. It’s off the beaten path. The house is beyond some tall hedges and fairly far in from the road.
Again, I slept in the barn. It was a young couple with a young son named Jean about age 6.
March 8, 1944. Jean and I played soccer. Then he took me to a little lake where we fished. I’m alert. The Germans are probably still on the prowl looking for me. If I am caught, not only I, but this family too, would be tortured and killed. They are truly risking their necks for me and I sure appreciate it.
March 9-10, 1944. More soccer, more fishing. Jean’s mother makes a shirt from my parachute for me. I must admit with the clothes they have given me, especially the beret, I do look French.
March 11, 1944: I’m getting a little antsy. Will I spend the rest of the war here? Was it still going on? What was happening?
March 12, 1944: Staying in one spot too long can be wearing on a family. The tension and risk grows daily.
March 13, 1944. I’m glad to be able to provide some food for the family by fishing. But the days are long. It’s quite cold – a very frigid winter here. I’m used to cold – West Virginia can be freezing in the hollers in the winter. No sun at all. I always say I was born so far up a holler, they had to pipe daylight in.
March 14. They tell me to get some rest. I’m leaving tonight. Jean looks a little sad – his adult friend is leaving.
March 15, ’44.Dr. Henri & I bicycle all night, sleep in the woods during the day. Then bicycle to get to the outskirts of Nerac. Dr. Henri (Cahn) leaves me with Gabriel LaPeyrusse. Gabriel hides me in his barn.
March 16, ’44. They want to hide me in the attic. No way. No way out and probably 1st place Nazis would look. I stick to the barn. For now.
March 17, ’44: Sitting around waiting. Gabriel is Mayor of Nerac & head of the Maquis & French Underground. He brings his vegetables 2 market every Saturday. Another has radio, brings Gabriel at market, the week’s messages.
March 18, ’44: I venture a little closer to the road – watch the passersby from under the shade of the tree, think about my next move. How am I going to get back to Americans and on combat?
March 18, ’44: As I’m sitting under the tree at Gabriel’s house, a large group of German soldiers marches by. I don’t move a muscle.
March 18, ’44: After German soldiers are gone, I breathe again. Gabriel, apoplectic, makes it clear: if I don’t keep in hiding, “You & me!” & he slides his finger across his neck. Gulp.
March 18, ’44 I went back to the shed. I’m just not good at sitting around but torture or getting my benefactor killed isn’t my idea of a good time either.
March 19, ’44: I notice in the shed Gabriel had a single cylinder engine that wasn’t working. So I set to it. As a kid, my Dad came home to see me amongst a lot of pieces of an engine. “Son, you gonna be able to put that back together?” Me: Yes, I took it apart, didn’t I?” And as promised, I put that one back together running smooth.
Please visit Part II