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.)
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.
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.
While in the armada at Iwo Jima, the men on Corwin Mokler's destroyer went to the aid of a sister ship when it was hit by a kamikaze. They escorted it to a safe anchorage and took the opportunity to have a little beer on the beach. They then sailed for Leyte Gulf, where they encountered a Japanese task force and confronted them head on.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
While still in high school, Marion NeSmith joined the National Guard. He was activated in early 1941, so he had to postpone school for a while. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, his unit served on guard duty in Washington DC.
The ship was headed out into the Pacific with a large convoy when it lost it's rudder. After that was repaired, it had to make it's way to New Guinea alone. David Mealor was grateful there were no encounters with submarines, but once he got to the destination, there was impenetrable jungle and tropical diseases, one of which took him out of the action.
After a short stay in England, Marion NeSmith crossed the Channel and landed at Omaha Beach, where there were crosses on the graves from D-Day. As his unit moved into the interior, he never knew where he was, but there was a target coming up, the city of Saint-Malo.
There were no jobs to be found in 1940, so David Mealor followed his brother into the National Guard. Just as his year was up, the country mobilized to fight a new war and he was in for the duration. He was sure his unit was destined for Europe, but when the ship was just getting out into the Atlantic, it turned right.
While on maneuvers, Marion NeSmith heard about the news from Pearl Harbor. His unit spent a year protecting Washington DC and training, then it was their turn to ship out. He crossed the Atlantic bound for Liverpool.
While still in training, David Mealor thought that it was too cold in camp, so he volunteered for mountain training and maneuvers. He figured it would be hiking through the hills, but he had a rude awakening when he saw what he would be climbing. The maneuvers were disorganized, which led to a plot for a little getaway.
He was sent home from New Guinea with jungle rot, but it cleared up on the trip. David Mealor began an odyssey of Army backwaters and disorganization. He was bounced around in stateside units, finally ending up in Petaluma on a converted chicken ranch. While he was there, his mother asked him to find his brother, who's ship had just docked in San Francisco. Find a sailor in San Francisco?
During the attack on Saint-Malo, Marion NeSmith narrowly missed getting cut down by a German machine gun. He ran for a ditch, where he found the rest of his unit taking cover. This worked for a while, but the German 88's began to wreak havoc. There was a blast and he went one way and his rifle went another.
By the time sonarman Corwin Mokler got to the Pacific, the threat from Japanese planes and submarines was just about gone. His destroyer found no opposition as they took part in shore bombardment of Saipan and Peleliu. Later, as kamikazes began to appear, they had a near miss from one of the suicide planes.
It was just terrible in New Guinea. Jungle so thick you couldn't move and rain that never stopped. David Mealor was in the communications section, so he had a little wire trailer that he could sleep in. That was about all the luck he had there.
In the Philippines, Corwin Mokler's ship escorted LSTs and troop transports through the region. He remembers a lone aircraft at high altitude that was relaying a signal that identified it as a friendly. That turned out not to be the case. When the ship was reattached to its task force, they took part in a bombardment run on Japan.
After being wounded by shrapnel from a German 88, Marion NeSmith began a journey through aid stations and field hospitals until he wound up back in England in a first class hospital. He could hear buzz bombs going over and there was always that tense moment when the engine cut out and it would fall.
Corwin Mokler decided to enlist in the Navy before the Army got him through the draft. At Great Lakes Naval Station, he was selected as a sonarman and went to Key West for training, where he saw the ocean for the first time. The destroyer USS McGowan was his ship and it was still being built.
It was the safest job in the army, according to Buck Stiles. He was company commander of service company in the 66th Armored regiment and it was his job to move whatever needed to be moved. His trucks were in constant movement to each forward company, first in North Africa and then in Sicily.
He had qualified as an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Corps, but Jim Wicker jumped at the chance for pilot training. He aced a test for those with no college and began flight school. It was a proud day for him when he graduated because he thought he had no chance to become a pilot.
He was getting acclimated to Navy life. Corwin Mokler had completed sonar school and went to Brooklyn Navy Yard, where his ship was still being built. The crew moved on board and dealt with all the noise. Finally, they set out an a shakedown cruise down to Bermuda and, once that was done, they made their way to the Pacific.