Friday, August 30, 2013

Two Foxes and a Pocket Bible


Eugene George tells his story during a trip to Germany. Photo by Linda Dewey.

   Walter Eugene George was the co-pilot on Donald Brent's crew on the Kassel Mission. I interviewed him over lunch in a Mexican restaurant in San Antonio. I don't remember the name of the restaurant, but it must have been a good one because he drove all the way from Austin to meet me. Because of the background noise in the restaurant, I did not make an audio CD of our conversation.
   His is one of many dramatic accounts of the Kassel Mission I've been fortunate to have chronicled.
   Eugene George died on Jan. 16 of this year. He was 90 years old.

                                                          Eugene George

                                                San Antonio, Texas, Aug. 29, 2001

Aaron Elson: How old were you when you went into the service?

Eugene George: I was called to active duty in February of ’43. I’d been on a standby reserve before that. In February of  ’43 I would have been 20, 19 or 20.

Aaron Elson: Had been you been to the university yet?

Eugene George: Yes, I’d gone to the university about two years.

Aaron Elson: Of Texas?

Eugene George: Yes.

Aaron Elson: Were you called into the Army?

Eugene George: No. I joined the Air Force to go into cadet pilot training and was on standby for that.

Aaron Elson: So you were in the Army Air Force?

Eugene George: Yes.

Aaron Elson: And what position did you wind up in?

Eugene George: I ended up in pilot training. There were three groups, a pilot, navigator and bombardier.

Aaron Elson: You were a co-pilot or a navigator?

Eugene George: I was a co-pilot, but my wings were a pilot. I mean I graduated as a pilot. I flew with Brent as a co-pilot but I qualified as a pilot and logged pilot time in addition to co-pilot time.

Aaron Elson: How many missions did you fly?

Eugene George: I flew 17 missions and aborted one. We had an engine shot out, so that one didn’t count.

Aaron Elson: So the Kassel was your 18th mission?

Eugene George: 17th.

Aaron Elson: Which missions were your most memorable?

Eugene George: My first mission was to Paris. We bombed Orly Airport. The Germans were using it as a backup field, and there were some dirigible hangars, very famous ones built in  1918, and I really hated to bomb these. But the thing that was most amazing was you couldn’t see the ground because of such low fog in Paris, but the Eiffel Tower stuck straight out of that fog.

Another one was Nancy. We bombed a fuel dump there, and as we left the target, the tail gunner called me and said, “Lieutenant, you’ve got to see this.” I got up in the top turret and looked back, and this big black smoke came up through the clouds. I remember those.

One mission took us over the island of Helgoland. I never knew why they routed us over Helgoland because the reputation was that that’s where they retired the best flak gunners in the German artillery. I was flying on the wing of the lead airplane, and I saw a flak burst come up. It was 88 millimeter flak, you could tell the difference between that and 105, and there were two that bracketed right on that lead aircraft. I saw the two bursts and I knew the third burst would get him, and the fourth burst would get us, so I racked the plane out of formation, and the third burst got him and the fourth burst missed us.

On the mission we aborted, we came home on three engines. When we got on the ground, there was a fragment of something in the engine that was shot out. The crew chief said “Don’t touch that thing!” It was a nose fuse. We’d had a direct hit on that engine, and the nose fuse was still active. It hadn’t exploded. The shell had broken off before it exploded.

Aaron Elson: What happened the morning of the Kassel mission?

Eugene George: We had a briefing, of course. One was awakened, oh, as early as 3 a.m., and we went in for breakfast. We had a flying officers’ mess and we had a ground officers’ mess and we had an enlisted men’s mess. The flying officers’ mess was considered the worst of the three, and the ground officers’ mess was the best. We would take our wings off and go in there at times, and the food was better. This upset us somewhat, but on that mission, the food was so bad that morning. They did have some canned peaches, and that’s all I ate for breakfast. I had not started drinking coffee yet. I learned to drink ersatz coffee when I was imprisoned in Germany because that was the hot beverage during the cold winter.

We went into the briefing, and there would be a chart on the wall, and the target would be located. There would be possible areas of flak listed, and as I recall where our IP would be located, there’d be some possible alternatives. We would get a weather report, and be told what to expect. We would be told about fighter protection, if it was English or American and what it would be. On the long missions we would link up with P-38s which were very easily identified, and the Mustang with that big cowling was easily identified, and we could identify German aircraft. But generally we would then get our parachutes and check out an escape kit, and go out and wait under the airplane until the control tower fired a flare, then start up the engines.

As I recall the run to Kassel was at 23,500 feet. I was not aware of any mishap in navigation until I heard a discussion over the intercom among the navigators. What upset me was that they were discussing over the radio that we were off course, and of course the Germans could hear this. Now, I say the navigators, I think this was two navigators that were discussing over the lead navigator. And as part of this discussion I heard the lead pilot say “Stay in close and follow me.”

We also knew we were without fighter protection, and there was some communication to try to get to our fighters. I also remember our tail gunner saying “There are fighters coming in from the rear.”

I said, “That’s great.”

And he said, “They’re not ours.”

So I knew they were approaching from the rear. Of course I didn’t see any of this.

I was very much aware of the fact that we were under fire, and what made me aware of it was our own guns started firing. And also, the German artillery was sort of like patters of rain on the cockpit, but our own guns were making much more noise. My concentration was right on that wing. I was totally locked in to keeping the aircraft in formation. I knew we were being hit, but the first, see, I was flying the airplane and I was aware that we were dangerously hit when I was watching engine instruments and I thought the engine was burning, which it was, and I could see  the engine right next to me was burning. I didn’t know if I should put the fire extinguisher or not. I didn’t, and Brent was still just sitting there. So I pushed the bailout button, and I gave the crew time enough where I thought they would bail out and go through the procedures that we had learned when leaving the aircraft.

     I tried to raise the rear of the airplane and the front of the airplane on the intercom, and I couldn’t get anything from either direction. I knew we’d been hit, but I didn’t know whether something had happened to them. I could see flak coming on the nose of the airplane because it was in front of me, and the Germans were approaching from the rear, coming up, rolling over and doing a split S and down, coming out. I saw one of them do this when I was getting the top turret gunner out.

     After I gave him enough time to get out, I could see, in the cockpit area, the radio operator and the engineer, the top turret gunner, were supposed to leave on the sound of the alarm, open the bomb bays, and we would keep on flying the airplane until they got clear. Then we would go out. I went out and the top turret gunner was, whose name was Constant S. Galuszewski, he was from East Tonawanda, New York, and the radio operator was named Sam Weiner, who was from the Los Angeles area. But he was still in his turret, and I had to crawl up there and jerk him by the seat of the pants. Weiner didn’t even have his parachute harness on. So I jerked Galuszewski out of the turret, but in doing that I saw the German plane turning and splitting S. After having made his run, a beautiful airplane, very close, as close as to the other end of, well, three-quarters of the way to the other end of this room. And I got Weiner’s harness and shoved it at him, and opened the door into the bomb bay, and it was just a mass of flame. The fuel gauges, which were on the left, were spitting like blowtorches, and the bomb bay doors were closed and we would have been trapped if they had remained closed. They operated hydraulically. There were fires all over the place in the bomb bay. It’s amazing, I’d see areas of flame chasing up pipes and pipework. And the switch to open the bomb bay doors was right between those two blowtorches which were the fuel gauges. I thought I could hit that switch and if we had hydraulic power, I could open the bomb bay doors. If we didn’t, I’d have to wind it, and I didn’t think I could survive in the flames. But I could jump through all of this flame on the catwalk to get there, and I hit the switch on the way over to it, and I jumped through and got there. And the bomb bay doors opened.

     But I still had the responsibility of these two enlisted men. So I went back through those blowtorches. Galuszewski was just sort of standing there in a daze. I started snapping Weiner’s harness on him. Everybody had chest packs. I had a back pack. I’d been off oxygen for a while to do all of this, and I didn’t know if my parachute was burned when I walked through the fire. I’d walked through the fire and I walked back through the fire.

     While I was standing over Weiner and getting him put back together, Brent came by and told Weiner to hurry up and he went ahead and bailed out. He went through the door into the flaming area. I never knew whether he went back to check on people in the waist or whether he went on out or what happened. Or whether he was injured in going out, because the fire obstructed vision.  I was concerned about that. But he went on out. I still got Weiner put together, ready to go, and and Galuszewski, and they were behind me, so I went on out. And they went out too, as the aircraft broke up. It broke up. They told me later. The three of us were the only ones who survived of the crew.

     I never knew what happened to Brent. During the reunion at Bad Hersfeld I heard what the Germans did and things like that, but the Brent story is another story which I’ll fill you in on down the line. Now, do you want the account of my fall, of my jump?

     Aaron Elson: Oh yes! I’m spellbound.

     Eugene George: I came out of the airplane. I used to swim a lot, and I came out, I was afraid I would hit some obstruction and my safest bet would be to get into a cannonball position. I didn’t know whether I had a parachute or not. And there were three things. One, I’d been off of oxygen for quite a while, and I was concerned about this. I wanted to get lower. Two, I knew there were a lot of German fighters in the area and chances are they wouldn’t shoot someone in a parachute, but I was afraid of even getting rammed, or run into, by a fighter. We had been briefed on the fact that the Polish fighters in the RAF would have no hesitation shooting a German in a parachute, and we knew that when this had happened the Germans would retaliate. That’s what we’d been told. The other thing was, in training films, we had a Navy character named Dilbert. Did you ever hear of Dilbert?

     Aaron Elson: Just the cartoon.

     Eugene George: He was a cartoon. He was a cadet, or a pilot, who goofed every possible way. One of these cartoons showed Dilbert in a parachute with a target painted on his chest and a duck sitting on his head and a Japanese aircraft lining up his sights, and I had that vision, of Dilbert. Those three things. And I was tumbling. I was in the cannonball position. I thought I’d better get out of that, and I didn’t know quite how to do that, and I stretched out into a swan dive. I reached for my ripcord to see if everything was still there, and I started spinning, so I got back in the swan dive.
Robert Osborn's Dilbert the Pilot

     There was a solid cloud cover underneath us. I thought when I get into those clouds, I will pull my ripcord.

     I went right through the clouds, and I could see the ground. But I was still in a freefall situation. And I was curious as to whether I had a parachute or not, but actually, the swan dive situation, it’s almost exhilarating. It was fun!

     So I fell most of the 23,000 feet, and I pulled my ripcord, and I was jerked up into the proper parachute position. My parachute worked. That was the great news. And I was coming down on some trees, which I later found were beech trees. My canopy covered the top of a tree, and I was swinging in the tree.

     I was kind of reconnoitering, I could hear an air raid siren, and I could hear impacts of aircraft crashing. And as part of this I could hear a lot of small explosions which I think were ammunition on the aircraft.

     I was able to swing over to the trunk of the tree and I discovered that my boots had snapped off when the parachute opened.

     I got over to the trunk of the tree and could climb up so I could reduce my parachute, which I left in the tree. While I was in the tree I looked down and there were two foxes, they were beautiful, red foxes with white tips on their tails. And they were obviously frightened by all of this activity. I thought, they would know where to hide, I mean they would go to a dense place. So I watched their direction. I never saw them again, but I got on the ground and headed in that direction, and I did get into a very dense undergrowth. I could see the sky but I was pretty well concealed, and sort of took stock of things.

I opened my escape kit, and it had been rifled. The stuff that mostly there was some hard candies, some halizone tablets for water purification, someone had been through it and turned it in, and the map was not there, which was really the one thing I wanted.

Waitress: Coffee?

Eugene George: Yes. I would like a cup of decaf, black.

Aaron Elson: Regular.

Eugene George: I had a little pocket Bible, and with it a New Testament with psalms, and I  opened it up, it was about ten o’clock in the morning, and it fell open to the 91st Psalm.

Aaron Elson: Is that “May ten thousand fall to your left...”?

Eugene George: Yes, that’s the one. So, that was very reassuring. That was a miracle. I mean, the foxes and the psalm. I waited for quite a while. I did see three, they could not see me, but ME-109s flying low over. They were in formation, probably returning to base. Also, there was a path not too far away and I heard some people talking. There were three men, all senior citizens, and they had a little fox terrier with them. I was really worried about that, but I was downwind from them. I was enough of a Boy Scout to know about this sort of thing, and the dog never caught me, but they were sort of talking to the dog, the dog was looking up at them, they went right on by.

My plan was to head for Switzerland, walk all night and sleep all day, and before the sun came up I would find a place to dig in.

I ran into Corman Bean, and we were together on that first night, or maybe the second night, I don’t remember. It was the 27th of September or the 28th. It was pretty chilly, and he slept all morning and he kept talking in his sleep about Millie, his wife. He would talk about her and it was quite a touching encounter. And then somehow, he decided to take off and we got separated. I don’t know how it happened.

I think we would have been together for a day or so. We didn’t have any food. We both had these little plastic water bottles that folded up and we purified our water, we had plenty of water. We tried eating raw potatoes. You’d go into a little farm, it was the fall and there was fruit on the trees, but the German dogs were really friendly, but they would start barking, and we didn’t want to risk that. So we didn’t eat.

Now, Corman’s stories may match up here some, but I think most of what I’m going to tell you was solo on my part. Somehow we got separated. We didn’t dare make a fire, or even if we had I don’t think we had any matches, but the raw potatoes were just not possible. At any rate, I found myself alone, still headed south. I was out about six days before I was picked up. I lost count. I knew it was into October some.

There were about three or four encounters that would be interesting. One is that, it’s amazing how your senses sharpen up under these circumstances, and I realized walking in the dark that I was not alone, and, you freeze. I had made shoes for myself out of part of my heated flying suit, I had a very sharp pocket knife and I used the wires in the heated suit to tie them, so I could move very quietly. So I just froze and there were two lovers, and I was very close to them. They never knew I was there, they were focused on each other.

The Brent crew
     Another time I found an autobahn, the main autobahn south, and headed toward Switzerland. Everything was blacked out but when you know a large, concentrated area, even though it’s blacked out, you get a feeling for the place. I could hear a railroad train. I was very concerned about bridges, because I didn’t want to get caught in the middle of a bridge. There was practically no traffic, and any traffic there was would have been military traffic, but I would often instead of walking on the bridge I’d go down and try to cross over the creek, not to get caught on the bridge. So I would walk all night and hide out all day. There was one time when I encountered a railroad going the same way as the autobahn, and the train was moving very slowly. I thought, if I can get onto this train I can hitch a ride for a while if it’s going in the right direction. It was going north. I was in timber, and I was on the edge of this forest by the railroad track, and I was secure behind a tree, it’s pretty dark, but I could make out, it was hauling something, and I could see cigarettes on these flat cars. It was an armored division, and it had tanks on this train and the crews were riding on the flatcars, now this was in the dark of night, so I thought, it was going in the wrong direction so I didn’t take that train. But those were two of the situations that I ran into.

One thing, the German forests were planted, and the trees were not at random. You could look down rows and rows of trees, and I think they could see you, so you really had to be cautious. But I was doing this at night.

About the sixth day, I ran out of cover. What happened was I was down in a valley, there were no trees, an agricultural area, and there was bridge. I thought if I could get under that bridge I could stay there all day. And so I did get under the bridge in some high stuff, but I didn’t reconnoiter at all. There was a path under the bridge also on the other side of the stream, and the Germans went to bed fairly early but they got up very early, and there were agricultural workers walking on this path. I knew they’d see me. I knew I was burned about the face and looked horrible, but I didn’t have a mirror, I didn’t know what I looked like, so I thought, well, my best plan is to just get up on the road, act boldly, and if I can find a bunch of bushes somewhere I’ll go in there, but surely they’ve seen me. I think they were so-called slave labor, I don’t know that they would have said anything, they were strange looking people. But I got up on the road and walked. A couple of military cars went by, didn’t stop. And I was getting into central Germany. I’d been walking like crazy. I put myself down as four miles per hour, because I’d conditioned myself to that pace. But I ran into an overseer of these laborers, and he saw me and he looked very stern and said “Englishman!”

I said, “Nein, nein, Amerikanische.” I was pretty hungry and tired by this time. My right eye was really hurting and I was afraid I might lose it from the burn. I could feel my face, and part of my oxygen mask had melted on my face. And he looked at me and looked horror stricken.

We had been told that the SS were dangerous, to never give up to them, that the Hitlerjugend were kids and they were dangerous, but to give up to the Wehrmacht. So I asked if he could take me to the Wehrmacht. He said yes, he would. He took me into this little town, I don’t know where it was, or what it was, I really would like to know the name of that town. He took me into what would be the equivalent of the administrative office. I had an o.d. uniform with insignia and stuff under my flying suit which had been burned in places. I took off my flying suit to show that I was in uniform. Finally they sent for someone who spoke English. So he came up and he said, “Are you from Chicago?”

And I said, “No, I’ve never been to Chicago.” And I told him I had walked for six days without food, did he have anything to eat?

He said, “Oh, you’ll get food.” They never did.

When he asked this question about Chicago I thought he was thinking about gangsters, American flyers were gangsters. So I told him name, rank and serial number, that I was a student, an architectural student, and they were amazed at how old I was. They thought I would have been much older. And I was from Texas. Now you’re just supposed to tell name, rank and serial number, but, he said, “Well, I lived in Chicago.”

And I said, “Well, you must not have liked it because you’re here in Germany.”

“Oh yes,” he said. “I’m going to go back there as fast as I can when this war is over.”

So they put me in their hoosegow, which was the top of their church, a little room in the  belfry. And I was so exhausted. And they sent for a Wehrmacht guard and a truck to take me to the railroad station.

And that little room was so filthy, I slept on the floor. But I was dead to the world, I was so tired. So I got on the train in the baggage car headed for Frankfurt. I didn’t know where it was going. And they had a guard in the baggage compartment. It had bicycles and baggage and things, and he was a Wehrmacht guard. Do you remember the Milton Caniff cartoons? He was very accurate in his drawings, and he would show Germans with Mauser rifles and actually in training, his drawings of Japanese landing craft were so accurate that those were used as training aids. But one of the things he was very accurate with was his weapons, and the Mauser, the German Mauser, was one of them. And this guard was a young guy, I looked at him, he was very curious about me, and I think the word had gotten through to him that I was from Texas and that I had been without food for six days and had walked all this distance. I did ask him how far I was from Switzerland. He said about 50 kilometers. And I went back and checked that distance after from Bad Hersfeld to see if it was possible, and it was plausible at a four mile per hour pace. Now I don’t know whether I’m exaggerating, but at any rate, that’s what I believe I heard him say. Another two nights I could have done it. And Switzerland wasn’t blacked out, so you knew when you were over the border.

My plan had been to get a boat and go to Lake Constance and go across there, if I could get a sailboat. I used to sail sailboats and I was thinking to do that. I didn’t know what sort of patrols they would have but I didn’t think they would be very severe because that was not a war zone. But anyway, I saw his rifle and I said, “Mauser?” And I looked at it, not trying to get too close, and he handed it to me. And I looked out the window, and I lifted his rifle and very carefully handed it back to him, and he realized what he had done, and then he was a little uptight. I was whistling which I think just passed the time, and I was whistling the Marseillaise. He asked me not to do it. He didn’t speak English, and he asked me not to do that, so I tried Lili Marlene and asked him to sing Lili Marlene. So we got into Frankfurt eventually. I still hadn’t eaten.

Aaron Elson: You must have been starved.

Eugene George: Well, actually with water you can last a long time. But those peaches I had back several days before had to last a long time. At any rate, I was taken into a place where there were a lot of German enlisted men, and they all knew that I had walked this distance and had been without food, and that I was from Texas. And being from Texas, it really turned them on. And I said, “No, my great-grandfather did. Not my father.” And that I grew up on horseback, and with cows and oil wells. So we talked about things like that. The big question on their minds was, “When is the war going to be over?”

And I said, “We think it’ll be done by Christmas.” And they were overjoyed at that. Everyone was sick and tired of war.

I was taken into the hospital for my burns. I had very good medical care. I asked the doctor if he went to school in Heidelberg. He said he did, and he said, “When is the war going to be over?”

And I said, “That’s one of the best medical schools in the world. Some of our best physicians went there before the war.”

And always, I think, because I was in a hospital bed, and because I behaved like an officer, these orderlies would come in, I did get some potato soup finally, and they would salute before they would ask a question, and I think this really paid off.

We went to a place called Dulag Luft, which you’ve heard about. I was there a couple of weeks and put on a train with one other person, an Australian radio operator in a Lancaster, and we headed for Stetin.

Aaron Elson: At Dulag Luft, were you interrogated?

Eugene George: Not much. You see, I looked like Frankenstein. I was all bandaged up. I was not much interrogated. The Australian and I were locked up in a compartment of a passenger car. We went through Berlin on the way, and we were locked in the car and there was an air raid on Berlin. The German officer said that the Geneva Convention says I’m supposed to warn you that I will shoot you if you try to escape and I’m now warning you, and he went to the bomb shelter. We stayed locked up in the train, and the bombs didn’t fall near us. I looked the Australian up in Australia when I went there later on, his name is Johnny Murray and he went to the College of England after the war, he studied dentistry, and we had a little correspondence.

We would go through places and there would be P-51s in the area, they would stop the train, they’d leave, running, and all the passengers would go to the woods. We would stay locked up. And we eventually got to Barth. Stetin, then to Barth, and we did do some walking with a large group of prisoners. There were very vicious dogs and guards, and we got into Stalag Luft 1 near Barth.

Aaron Elson: How did you learn what happened to Brent?

Eugene George: I never knew really what happened to Brent. To me, he was MIA, and I thought probably he was killed in the jump or he got caught by civilians who shot him and killed him on the spot or something. I never knew. He was just straight MIA.

I had a telephone call one day, he said he was from Oregon and he asked if I was Walter E. George who had been a pilot in the Air Force. And I said yes. And he said, “Did you fly with Donald E. Brent?”

I said, “Yes, he was my pilot.”

And he said, “I’m his great-nephew.”

And I said, “If you want to know what happened to him I don’t know. I think I was the last one to see him alive, he went out of the airplane before I did, but I don’t know what happened to him after that.”

He said, “He was killed and he was buried in Germany and reburied in an American cemetery.” And he said, “I really would like to talk with you. My family would like to talk ... my grandmother would like to talk with you.”

And I said, “Well, I’d like to talk with you.”

I’d always wanted to see Oregon, so I said, “I’ll come to Oregon.” So my wife and I went. I was not sure where Brent was from, but I knew he was associated with Eugene, Oregon, and he had a wife in Bellevue, Washington. So we went to Eugene. I’d been in most of the states but never Washington or Oregon, and I wanted to see the trees and other things. So it was like going to a funeral. All the relatives, two of them military, high up, colonels, who came from the Washington, D.C., area. There was another retired Air Force person. There was the family. His former wife, of course, was remarried, his sister, the grandmother of this nephew, and her daughter, and these people really rolled out the carpet but I told them all I could.

Brent was a good pilot. He was well-coordinated. He thought ahead of the airplane, and he was interested in railroads. He wanted to be a railroad engineer and he’d worked on the railroads for a while, and he was mechanically inclined.

We were in harmony as a team, as pilots. I knew what he was thinking before he said it, and he knew what I was thinking, and the way we worked, reacting on the airplane. But he was a good pilot, and I’ve flown with pilots who are dangerous. In fact, I refused to fly with two pilots because they just weren’t with it. And they were trying to be macho.

So we had a good visit. I gave Brent’s sister’s daughter the Bible that I’d had in my pocket when I bailed out, and she broke into tears. I said, “This rode next to Brent on 17 missions.”

So that’s about it. I stayed in the Reserve. I never flew a B-24 again. When we were evacuated from prison, for a lot of prisoners, B-17s came in and picked us up, and I was up near the pilot and I said, “Can I fly your airplane?”

He said, “Sure.”

So I flew back to an airfield in France at very low altitude in Germany, the low altitude being, oh, 1,500 feet, just looking at the countryside.

Aaron Elson: What was it like in Stalag Luft 1?

Eugene George: We were very crowded. We had 16 to 20 men in a room. We were stacked up in berths that were too short or worked well for Italians. We had Italian blankets which were too short. And remember, this was wintertime in Germany. We had two or three briquets of coal and a little heater, but actually our best warmth was from the fact that we had 20 people and we had body heat. But we had Red Cross parcels. We didn’t have a lot to eat, we were on very small rations, but when we got off Red Cross parcels it was pretty rough. We lost a lot of weight. I really got angry with these television programs about Air Force prisoners, all of these healthy guys who obviously ...

Aaron Elson: Hogan’s Heroes?

Eugene George: Hogan’s Heroes. To me this is the biggest farce I ever saw. It’s ridiculing the situation. I mean, these people, for what they did they would have been shot. And we had a fellow shot for chasing a baseball under the warning wire, and another fellow shot when he opened a window during an air raid. The German guards varied greatly. We had cigarettes in the Red Cross parcels and these were trade goods.

One thing that had happened, we were so out of shape if you got a scratch, it took so long healing. And then we walked around kind of bent over. In Hogan’s Heroes, these people are straight and doing things, it wasn’t like that. The Germans kept their civilian group late in the war pretty well informed about where the Russians were. We knew the Russians were coming, but we didn’t know what form this would take. And we didn’t know what the Germans would do. We would hear explosions and the Germans were blowing up motorcycles and things like this they didn’t want to fall into Russian hands. And we knew there was an airport nearby, there was an airport very close to us, and I think our prison was put close to that airport to protect the airport. And we, as pilots, were watching these Germans fly. They were flying JU-88s mostly, and they were so uncoordinated. And we thought they were throwing inexperienced pilots with very low flying time into hot airplanes, and they’ll kill themselves in these planes let alone do anything to the Russians.

But the Germans grabbed a lot of Red Cross parcels and pulled out. We heard they were headed for the English lines, and the German civilian population was very agitated. The first Russians I believe we had was a boy and a girl on horseback just sort of scouting out the territory, and they came into the area and left. And we knew the Russians were coming. And the Russians came in the form of a lot of drunk Mongolians and Orientals. I don’t know where they were from but some of them were driving very skinny horses and pulling a cart full of loot. They were dressed in parts of German uniforms and they all had German machine pistols, and they were drunk. And mostly they came in wearing black armbands and we said, “Why are you wearing black armbands?”

And they said, “Why aren’t you wearing black armbands? Roosevelt is dead.” The Russian army was wearing black armbands to honor Roosevelt. And so they got us some black cloth and that was our identification.

Aaron Elson: Had you not heard about Roosevelt?

Eugene George: We had not heard about Roosevelt being dead. But at any rate, we had numerous incidents in the camp. One of them was there were prisoners, I suppose they were officers but they were painting a stripe down the street, have you heard this story?

Aaron Elson: No.

Eugene George: And they painted right on up to the guard opening, they painted their own way out. They painted as long as their paint would last, and they were out of prison. But the Orientals just had a reign of terror. And they were very fond of German children. You’d see one with a little blond kid on his lap and just as happy as could be, they treasured these children. And you’d see children holding onto the harness of a trained German shepherd. Then there were civilian suicides in places, and the Russians didn’t bury anything. This was a problem. But finally, more regular, disciplined troops came in behind them.

Aaron Elson: Did they do anything to the children?

Eugene George: Oh no, they didn’t harm the children at all. The parents I’m sure were terrified. I don’t know that they would have harmed the parents if they were the parents of the children. The German children were extremely well fed, they were healthy. The Russians drove in, and we told them we hadn’t had beef for quite a while. And their ration was alcohol and they had little tins of sardines. They lived off the land. We told them we hadn’t had beef, and they drove in a very fine herd of Holstein cattle, and you know, to get a cow from a cow to a steak takes some in-between work, and that was attempted but it didn’t work, and we were trying to get the cows back to the owners. But their troops came in and they were a crack outfit. We had seen their reconnaissance planes, which were like 1930s biplanes coming over. Their vehicles were all worn out, their land vehicles, on the units we saw. They encountered SS and the SS had a unit somewhere around there, they went down to a little town called Zingst and made a last stand and I think the Russians killed them all. The Russians were fishing with hand grenades and things like that, they were kind of dangerous to be around. When the first ones came in they were line troops and they wanted us to tear down our barbed wire enclosures. We didn’t have any techniques to do this, and we didn’t have any tools to do it with. They sent a lot of them over with, I don’t know how, maybe a hundred vehicles, and they wanted us to demonstrate things. And they sat in squads or patrols and a lot of individual cars. I was worried about their fires because I was thinking any German reconnaissance would pick them up, but they were doing their dances and they had their little squeeze box, they were very musical, and they wanted us to join in, and they wanted us to join with them and go on and keep chasing the Germans.

They also brought in a USO, the equivalent of a USO show, and they brought in a lot of banners commemorating dead soldiers, large photographic banners. We heard they said “We’ll take you out to the Ukraine” or Georgia, and we said, “We’ll stay right here, our people will come and get us.” They couldn’t believe that.

We waited there on the ground for I don’t know, two or three weeks, and things got settled down and B-17s came into this little airport. It had been mined. We had gone over there, I was curious about the time I got shot at. I learned that you hear the whine of the bullet before you hear the report. So I went back in and stayed pretty much put. There were corpses, which was very unpleasant.

Aaron Elson: Were you married at the time?

Eugene George: Yes. I was married for about two years. I was married just before I went in. When I got my wings I got married. She was about the equivalent of Hedy Lamar in appearance, she was a beautiful young woman. She was a graduate student in nutrition. To be an architect with a lot of time in front of me, our marriage just wasn’t in place. I finished up at Texas and then later got my graduate degree. I got divorced early on, while I was a student at Texas. And I didn’t get married again for quite a while. My current wife is my third wife, and we’ve been married for 21 years.

The question of flying in the military and all of that never goes away. When we met these Germans (in 1991), we were right at home. I mean, there’s a lot of camaraderie and a fraternity, nationality is of no consequence.

Aaron Elson: Even though the two sides, you were trying to kill each other?

Eugene George: And I’ve read, of course I’ve read a lot about aviation and aviation history, I’ve read that during World War I the French pilots and the German pilots used to be at air shows together before they were enemies, and developed great friendship during this time.
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The Kassel Mission Memorial in Friedlos, Germany

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this very interesting interview with Mr. George. I just happened to be thinking about him and some of the work that I did for him while he was building his residence in Austin when I came across your blog posting. I was a student of his at The University of Texas at Austin in the late 1980s. He was one of the best professors that I had at Texas and I learned a lot from him. I remember him telling us about his experience as a B-24 pilot and prisoner of war, but he never went into this level of detail about the actual mission when he was shot down and subsequently captured. I'm sorry to learn that he passed away back in 2013.