3:47 | Jerry Roettgers was finally shipping out to Europe. He was waiting in England when the Battle of the Bulge happened and his unit was rushed to the docks to cross the Channel. By chance, he was not on the SS Leopoldville when it was torpedoed and went down with a great loss of life. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Keywords : Jerry Roettgers Camp Rucker replacement Christmas England SS Leopoldville Southampton Battle of the Bulge 94th Infantry Division George Patton France Brest La Rochelle Lorient Bordeaux Saint Nazaire German submarine (sub)
Jerry Roettgers saw himself as a fighter pilot, but when he was drafted, the reason they said no was quite a surprise to him. So, he became an infantryman, but when his unit was ready to go, the War Department had a different idea. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
It was a containing action around a superior German force on the French coast. There were daily patrols and it was Jerry Roettgers turn after a night of heavy snow. As they snooped around behind the German lines, trying to locate enemy artillery, they were ambushed and he looked at a lot of guns aimed at him. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
There were pockets of German troops on the French Atlantic coast who were blockaded and contained, but that didn't stop them from capturing Jerry Roettgers in January of 1945. He was interrogated by a mysterious German who was fluent in English. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
The American and French prisoners were kept in an old seaplane hangar near the German submarine pens in Saint Nazaire. The German officer in charge of the prisoners knew the end of the war was coming, so he was gracious to his unwilling guests, including Jerry Roettgers. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
It was their first exercise in the field after basic training. Jerry Roettgers recalls how it rained all night while they dug foxholes in the muck. In the morning, the chow truck came and the first man in line was also in line for a rude awakening. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
He was sick with dysentery, but Jack Roan was determined to escape. The Germans were marching prisoners aimlessly on the road, so security was lax. He and two others made their move during a big storm. They hid in the woods and took potatoes from fields until they made contact with allies.
Alexander Jefferson had flown nearly every day since he arrived in Europe. The casualty rate among airmen was statistically very high, and at the P-51 Alexander Jefferson flew didn't have the survival functionality we might expect on an aircraft today. So when he is shot down after his 18th mission, it was a miracle he survived, but what came after would be equally worrying.
Alexander Jefferson recalls his captivity in Stalag Luft III, camp southeast of Berlin. The war was far from over so the Germans were on edge about potential sabotage of their camp, but Alexander recalls his own interesting treatment there.
B-17 pilot Crawford Hicks was returning from his tenth mission when he spotted the German fighter coming in with guns blazing. The plane was crippled by hits on the engines so they had to bail out. After the others had jumped, he looked down through the hatch to the ground far below, then he fell.
It was his 30th mission over Europe, and his most memorable. Harold Brown describes this mission where his plane went down and he had to bail out. Like many pilots who survived such an encounter, he was captured by the locals. Part 1 of 2
The end of the war was imminent, but the Germans were still marching POW's around the countryside. It was the forces of GEN George Patton that liberated the temporary camp where Crawford Hicks was listening to the approaching guns. Then started a whirlwind of activity for the newly freed Americans.
Upon his capture, Harold Brown would be thrown into a cell alone until the Germans had gathered others to be sent to the prison camp. He recalls a moment where he would be under a strafing run much like he had been doing before, but luckily he survived it. His treatment wasn't great, but the war was coming to an end so he knew he just had to push through it. Part 2 of 2
The Ranger battalion was supposed to make it to a certain point in Italy by nightfall, but rain and mud slowed them down. The result was that the Germans were already there and had a distinct advantage. Jack Roan describes the humiliating surrender of hundreds of Rangers that followed.
The morning after his capture, B-17 pilot Crawford Hicks woke up in a German jail. After interrogation, he was sent to Stalag Luft III, the POW camp at which the "Great Escape" had occurred several months earlier. On his arrival, he was astounded when one of the guards addressed the arrivals with an unexpected accent.
When at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Jesus Cepeda would attend mass on Sunday with his friend from back home in Guam. As he waited for him on deck, he heard a big rumbling noise, like hundreds of planes at once, but as he searched the sky, he could see nothing. Then he turned to the north.(This interview made possible with the support of ALBERT SMALL.)
The POW's were allowed to do whatever they wanted all day except for two roll calls. Crawford Hicks was kept in the same camp where the "Great Escape" had occurred and he describes some of the details of that incident and why he was ordered not to try to do the same.
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.)
The food was meager in the POW camp, but one of the men in the room with Crawford Hicks had been a cook and so they agreed to pool all they were given by the Germans, along with what they received in parcels, so that he could repurpose it into decent meals. The men relieved the monotony of camp life with lively talent shows.
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.)
It was his 29th mission, a bombing raid over Austria, when Bob Honeycutt's luck ran out. First they lost an engine. Then, when they dropped behind the formation, they were swarmed by German fighters. As the gunners fell one by one, a rocket finally set the plane on fire and blew him right out into the air. Part 1 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
They heard the Russian guns approaching from the East and it wasn't long before the men of Stalag Luft III were shipped on a train to Nuremberg. It was there in a freezing outdoor camp that Crawford Hicks saw his friend strip down in the snow to bathe at a water spigot. There was a good reason.
After a hearty breakfast with his German guard, Bob Honeycutt left the comfort of the Alps, where he had bailed out, for the misery of the German POW system. First came the mind games of the interrogation. Then, he wound up at Stalag Luft IV, one of the worst camps, where he learned new meanings for "cold" and "hungry." Part 3 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
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.)
With a commandeered truck, newly liberated POW Bob Honeycutt made three trips into Belgium, loaded down with as many freed US airmen as he could carry. He'd lost half his weight and was eaten up with lice, but he'd made it. When he got back home to Chattanooga, both he and his family had a big surprise. Part 6 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
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.)
The little known "death march" of the men of Stalag Luft IV lasted 86 days. That was when an Allied tank column rolled up and the Russian prisoners took their revenge on a particularly sadistic German guard. With a friend, Bob Honeycutt set out toward a small town, where they spotted a truck in a garage. Mighty tempting. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
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.)
After eight months in the prison camp, Bob Honeycutt could hear the guns of the Russian Army approaching, but he was not going to be free anytime soon. The German guards forced 10,000 men out of the gate and onto the road, where they began a forced march, with no known destination. The deprivation and cruelty was mind numbing. Part 4 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
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.)
Jack Houston had just helped his buddy dress a wound when he volunteered to return to the Okinawa hilltop where they were getting the enemy cleared out. When he got the jump on three of them, his muzzle flash gave him away and he had to leave in a hurry. He flung himself off the hill where he came face to face with a rifle. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
Injured and dazed from his bail out at 18,000 feet, Bob Honeycutt was taken into the home of an Austrian family until the local officials came to arrest him. He was cared for so well, he had to wonder, why were these civilians treating him like a friend? Part 2 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
The Japanese were so well dug in on Iwo Jima that the field artillery couldn't get to them. The flag had been raised on Mt. Suribachi but there was a long way to go to secure the island. When he wasn't wondering where the Japanese rounds were going to land, Bill Richardson had to deal with the cold, wet conditions. Part 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN R. ASMUS.)
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.)