7:46 | 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.)
Keywords : George Starks Pfaffenhofen Germany Munich Germany Switzerland Coffin Corner Focke-Wulf bail out parachute (chute) terminal velocity German French France Vitry-en-Perthois France beret map
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.)
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.)
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.)
There were Japanese radio antennas on Chichi-jima that needed to be destroyed. John Hancock recalls the downing of an American plane during that operation which was piloted by a future president. From there, his fighter squadron and carrier participated in the retaking of the Philippines.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
It was fighter pilot John Hancock's job at Iwo Jima to keep the kamikazes off the ships. They came in huge waves, but they were slow and easy to hit. The pilots still caused a lot of damage because they were determined to die to achieve it.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
The sinking of the Yamato off Okinawa was the coup de grace for the Japanese Navy. Fighter pilot John Hancock recalls the hair raising moments trying to bring down kamikazes. It took him years to forget about it after the war, but then he began speaking about it.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Near the end of the war, fighter pilot John Hancock would escort B-29's to Japan and then cut loose to create mayhem on the ground with his machine guns. He returned to Hawaii to begin training in F-4U Corsairs and one day, he heard so much noise he thought the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor again.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
George Theis was finally heading to the fight. The glider pilot had been in training for years and was now bound for Europe. It was early 1945 and Germany itself was now the target. He got there just in time to participate in Operation Varsity, the final glider assault of the war.
The carrier Yorktown joined the Lexington near Australia in an effort to keep the supply lines to Gen MacArthur's forces open. When the Japanese sent a task force their way, the Battle of the Coral Sea ensued. John Hancock was manning a machine gun on the deck of the Yorktown and he fired so much he burned out the barrel.
B-17 gunner Nicholas Sawicke's first mission was to hit some submarine pens on the French coast. As the missions moved across France and then into Germany, fighter escort became harder to come by. The airmen had to face the anti-aircraft fire and the German fighters with their own firepower.
As the war was ending, George Theis learned that his unit had a band in search of saxophone players. He was a saxophone player. This was some good duty, but he got another pilot assignment before he went home, flying for the liaison service.
John Hancock describes the experience of torpedoes hitting his ship at the Battle of Midway. Though it was close to sinking, the abandon ship process was orderly because of all the drilling. He didn't even know he had shrapnel wounds and a collapsed lung until after he was rescued from the water.
Nicholas Sawicke was a lucky man. The B-17 gunner finished the required missions without any aircraft he was on suffering a mishap. His pilot, who was out for a few missions, had to stay on longer than the gunner to finish his tour. He was not so lucky.