5:09 | After bailing out, evading German troops and hiding in the woods, B-17 Pilot George Starks was helped by French civilians and put on his way over land toward Switzerland. He had a broken bone in his foot, but he managed to make good time, with some help from locals. German troops were everywhere but his young looks and beret gave him a chance when he encountered them. Part 2 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
Keywords : George Starks France French Switzerland Spain German roadblocks Langres France snow cold
George Starks enlisted as an aviation cadet in 1942 and made his way up the training ladder to B-17's. He got out of an assignment as an instructor in the small trainers because he wanted to fly the big aircraft. He excelled along the way and at nineteen years old, he prepared to go to war as the commander of a ten man crew. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
The new B-17 crew was part of a provisional group that, once in England, would be parceled out to units that needed replacement crews. George Starks was the young Lieutenant in charge of one crew that had been selected as the best of the group. He barely got away from Labrador in a storm and the flight across the Atlantic was the toughest instrument flying he ever did. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
On his fifth combat mission, his first as aircraft commander, B-17 pilot George Starks was on the outside edge of the formation when the plane was hit by German fighters. With a wing on fire, he gave the signal to bail out and he was soon in free fall from high altitude over France. He landed hard, hid his chute, and hid in the woods as he heard German troops approaching. Part 1 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
As he made his way through France in disguise, downed B-17 pilot George Starks encountered German troops, stole a bicycle and made friends with many locals. In one town he was sheltered by the chief of police, who had a very friendly daughter. Part 3 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
Following his French contact at a discreet distance, George Starks parked his bicycle and watched the man enter a bakery. In the back of that bakery, he met Maurice, a member of the Free French Resistance. He was getting close to Switzerland, but he would need Maurice's help to get over the border. Part 4 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
After a long trek across France, George Starks was finally next to the Swiss border. From the time he hid his parachute until the time he stepped across the creek that was the border, he had been helped by sympathetic locals. When he was finally out of occupied territory and free in Switzerland, he was surprised when someone else showed up. Part 5 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
George Starks had evaded capture all across France and was safe in Switzerland, where he had it easier than downed airmen who had actually come down in Switzerland. They were supposed to stay put and wait, but he had other ideas, which led to the liberation of Evian on the other side of Lake Geneva. Part 6 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
After leaving his safe haven in Switzerland, downed B-17 pilot George Starks finally met up with American forces near Evian in France. Then began a long, sometimes pleasurable trip back to his unit in England. After debriefing, he was sent around to give lectures on evasion for other airmen, then back home to Florida. Part 7 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
After an amazing adventure in France and Switzerland, George Starks was instructing B-17 pilots at the war's end. He took a job with an airline, but decided upon another path, one which would lead him back into the army, but not as a pilot. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
He had been a pilot, but George Starks was now an army dentist. When war broke out in Korea, he had to go, following the action all the way from Inchon up into the north. He was part of the hasty retreat south, as well as the push back northwards after regrouping. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
He had evaded Nazis in France and followed the action through Korea, but there was one more adversary for George Starks to overcome, the unfairness of army bureaucracy. He had to defeat, or at least outlast, this final obstacle to return home. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
It was long after his service as an army dentist in Korea that George Starks read an article in the paper about a veteran who described his evacuation and medical care. He was sure he must have done the surgery so he decided to contact him. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
The first he time saw a German soldier, the two of them just passed each other on the road and kept going. The Airborne medic was part of the massive jump into Normandy. When one of the officers was hit by a sniper, he went to his aid.
When you attack naval vessels on a bombing run, the amount of anti-aircraft fire can be overwhelming. B-24 gunner James Chafin felt, after his most dangerous mission, that the Man upstairs had saved him for a higher purpose. This helped him face the strain of postwar life, something the rest of the crew was unable to do.
The two paratroopers were all spiffed up and out on the town in England. It was late and his vision was a little hazy, but Fred Bahlau was sure he saw the woman of his dreams. (Caution: strong language. May be inappropriate for some viewers.)
Jake Wilson was a specialist in Radar countermeasures assigned to the South West Pacific. A special unit named Section 22, made up of Americans and Australians from all the military branches, was formed to train Allied radar operators in how to recognize and resist any Japanese efforts to use this technology.
With a commandeered German jeep, Airborne medic Ed Pepping evacuated wounded men to the church in Angoille-au-Plain, where the blood stains can be seen to this day. Despite the heavy fire, the medics did their jobs, so busy there was no time for fear.
The fallout from Normandy was felt in different ways. Paratrooper Fred Bahlau remembers how tough it was integrating new men into the unit after it suffered a 40% casualty rate. They were preparing a drop into Holland and he didn't know who was dependable.
The flight had just begun when the bail out bell rang on the B-24. Explosion was always a danger with a full fuel and bomb load, so James Chafin wasted no time snapping on his chute and he was ready, straddling the open trapdoor.
At Arnhem, Sgt. Fred Bahlau was told to take a couple of men and go across the river in a small boat and reconnoiter a little. Right away they caught two Germans, so now the other two men had to watch them while Bahlau continued on alone. (Caution: strong language. May be inappropriate for some viewers.)
James Chafin found out several things while stationed on Morotai. You can still celebrate Christmas while under an aerial barrage, the greatest thing in the world is pretty legs on nurses and gambling was not his forte.
After the guys in headquarters surprised him with a little schnapps, Fred Bahlau went on a detail into Foy, where he found a jeep with two wounded men in the middle of a German 88 barrage. The medics had fled and it was up to him to get them out. (Caution: strong language. May be inappropriate to some viewers.)
The Japanese had two oil fields on Borneo and these were an important target for the men of the 370th Bomb Squadron. B-24 gunner James Chafin remembers the heavy flak and fighter attacks on these missions. Then the enemy would bomb them at night at their base on Morotai.
In the middle of a frigid wooded battlefield, Fred Bahlau left his foxhole to go check on others. He only got a short distance when a shell came in and wounded the Captain. He got a medic and set out again when another shell hit the same place. Now he had two wounded men. (Caution: strong language. May be inappropriate for some viewers.)
Medieval history had been of interest to him in school, so when Ed Pepping got to England, it was instantly comfortable, a slice of history. It was the run up to the big invasion, and the Airborne medic felt privileged to be part of the elite group of paratroopers.
If one of the B-24's in his squadron was shot down, the others would fly a search pattern and try to find it, James Chafin's plane never had any luck at this. They nearly had a crash of their own when they landed to refuel with a full bomb load. He carried something from his mom in a vest pocket that gave him great comfort.
Marine Roy Beck remembers what a hard time they had with a tank in the volcanic ash sand of Iwo Jima. It wasn't much help against the array of tiny hiding holes and miles of tunnels where the enemy could hide and attack at will. When a corporal was wounded, he carried the man out of the battle and was promoted on the spot.
Fred Bahlau wanted to stay in the Army after the war, but then he found out that the men from the 101st would go to the 82nd Airborne, to the back of the line for assignments. Nope, but there was one more task he had to perform before he went home. (Caution: strong language. May be inappropriate for some viewers.)
On the last flight of his Pacific tour, B-24 gunner James Chafin was worried. The co-pilot was making his first flight as pilot, and if you knew him, you'd be worried, too. They were intercepted by Japanese fighters, as usual.
Most of the gunners couldn't care less who got credit for shooting down Japanese fighters. James Chafin just wanted to do the job and get home alive, but there was one guy, a movie star named Sabu who wanted every bit of it he could get. It's a crying shame how they got back at him, but funny.
When B-24 gunner James Chafin got a Dear John letter from his girl back home, he immediately began drinking. He was still sloshed when they got up at 3 AM for a mission, and he had to sneak around a bit. The crew got a small whiskey ration but the enlisted men saved theirs for barter.
It was early in the tour for James Chafin's crew when his pilot suffered a mental breakdown. He was immediately shipped out because flying a B-24 requires a steady hand and mind. The gunner points out that, since they were all volunteers, they could request not to fly anymore.
B-24 gunner James Chafin says that the Japanese fighter planes had the edge in terms of maneuverability, but that ours had the advantage in speed. This was due to a fundamental difference in philosophy.
Corregidor and Japanese installations around Manila were main targets for James Chafin's B-24 squadron. On one flight, they did a flyover of the prison camp where the survivors of the Bataan Death March were held. The Articles of War were ingrained in the Americans during their training. Why was the enemy ignoring these rules?
James Chafin never smoked, never drank, until he went overseas. A cigarette may have been the reason he woke up with his mosquito netting on fire one night. At least he didn't face the wildlife that one of his crew mates found in his bed.
Along with some buddies from school, James Chafin volunteered for the Army Air Corps and, after basic training, he wound up as an instructor on the Link Trainer for instrument flying. Then the Air Corps sent him to college because of superior aptitude test scores, but that program ended abruptly. He wanted to get into the war!
On leave in Sydney, B-24 gunner James Chafin and his buddy Mac went to a place where they heard they could find girls. That didn't work out so well but they met some nicer girls a couple of days later. That presented some problems as well.