RICHARD A. MAYHEW
WORLD WAR II
I enlisted in the Army Air Force on November 10, 1942 from Reno, Nevada. I was 18 years old at the time and "cocky as hell." I did my basic training at Carnes, Utah, went on to Lowery Field, Denver, Colorado for nine weeks of armor gunnery training. I got my overseas assignment at Harrington, Kansas. I was assigned to the 67th (66th?) Squadron of the 44th Bombardment Group of the United States 8th Air Force.
A week later, about three and one-half months after I had signed up, I was on my way overseas. Our route took us south to Brazil, then on to Dakar, Africa. We landed in Wales where we left our aircraft. Our pilot, Lt. Devan, ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. The rest of the crew was transported to Shipdham Airdrome near Norwich, England.
Since we were without a pilot, we were on temporary standby. I volunteered and went on several missions while we waited for assignment. Later, we were sent to a base on the North Sea for retraining in air-to-air gunnery. After two weeks, we returned to Shipdham and were put under the command of Lt. Splets and assigned to the "Queen Marlene"--B-24."
On January 21, 1944, our target was the German rocket-launching ramp north of Rouen, France, which was a few kilometers south of the Channel. We were awakened at 4 a.m., had breakfast and then on to briefing. We were told they didn't expect us to encounter much enemy contact, so as I finished my duties, which was to check all guns and bombs, I went to my station, expecting just another "milk run."
On this particular mission, the navigator and bombardier were replacements. I did not know their names. Lt. Spurgeon, because of illness, was off flying status and assigned to ground administration. Our squadron was flying the low element of the flight. Our ship, "Queen Marlene," was in the position known as "Purple Heart Corner." Upon approaching the target we got a call from the lead ship saying, "We missed the target. Go around, go around." As we approached the target again, Lt. Spelts called the bombardier telling him that we were on course and he should open the bomb bay doors and take over the ship. The bombardier answered back, "I have the aircraft. Thank you, Sir." The bombardier then said, "We are on target! Bombs away." At that moment, I saw about five or so Folke Wulf fighters or as we called them "Georing's Yellow Bellies," chasing in. I yelled, "Fighters! Fighters! Six o'clock low."
The sound of their gunfire rang through the aircraft from the under side. The ball turret gunner, Sgt. Reedy screamed, "I'm hit. I'm hit." The fighters passed and made a curve to the right and returning from above gave fire, which killed our top turret gunner, Staff Sgt. Hites, and our copilot. Next, I heard someone who I assumed was Staff Sgt. Hall, the radioman yell, "Hydraulic fluid is spraying over my face." Then the navigator said, "I'm hit. The bombardier is dead. My God, we're going down." Lt. Spelts' voice then came through, "Abandon the ..." That was all. The radio intercom had gone out.
At that time, I looked back into the waist position and saw the gunners, Sergeant Gooden and St. F. P. Hall, putting on their parachutes. I then rotated my turret to gain access to the waist position. I fell backward out of my turret, grabbed my chute with my right hand and opened the lower escape hatch with my left. While I was snapping my chute to the right harness ring, it happened. The ship did a rollover.
I presume there was an explosion because I blacked out. When I came to, I was falling free from the aircraft. My chest pack was hooked to the right ring. I frantically tried to hook the left ring, but the harness was too tight. I decided to pull the ripcord anyhow, the chute did not open. I clawed at the cover and managed to open it and reel the chute out by hand. It opened with a loud, crackling sound. I felt like I was going right through the harness. I blacked out again momentarily. When I came to again, I saw pieces of the "Queen Marlene" falling around me.
Luckily, I landed in a newly plowed filed. I didn't appear to be hurt, however, I had lost my partial dental plates and my flying boots were gone. I was bleeding on the left side of my face. I had a few superficial cuts from shrapnel.
Before I could get to my feet, two Frenchmen ran up to me, felt my arms and legs for broken bones and, being assured I was okay, they turned and ran up a small rise nearby to see what had happened. I followed them and saw the remainder of the aircraft burning. I did not see any chutes or anyone else from the plane. I then saw German military trucks racing up to the site. At that time, it was the policy of the German Army to go to the site of the crash and search an area of a mile in diameter.
When I saw the Germans, I ran back, buried my chute, and raced off in the opposite direction. I saw a wagon loaded with boughs and wood stopped at the edge of a wooden area. The driver of the cart was also watching the burning plane. I ran to him and said, "Comrade Americana. Comrade Americana." He motioned for me to get in his cart and hide under the boughs. I did and we moved off down the road.
As we bumped on down the road, I wondered where he was taking me and wondered if I had made a mistake in going with him. After a few miles and many anguished moments for me, we stopped. I crawled out from under the boughs and saw I was in a farmyard. The farmer quickly hustled me into his barn and motioned me to go up into the haymow. I peeked out and saw him close the gate and go to the house.
I waited in the loft, scared and worried, wondering where I could go and where I was. Finally, I heard voices. I peeked out and saw the farmer, his wife and two young women coming toward the barn. They came in and climbed up the ladder. They had food and drink for me. I was too upset to be hungry, but I ate a little while we tried to communicate. The farmer sent the women back to the house and they soon returned with clothes. He indicated I should get out of my uniform and put the clothes on. I did as he asked, emptied the pockets of my flying suit and he took it to dispose of it. I imagine he buried it or burned it.
He gave me a pair of pin stripe pants, oxford shoes and socks, a colarless shirt, and a dark jacket, also a beret. The clothes were ill fitting and odd-looking, but they changed my appearance. He tried to explain about the pants and I think I finally guessed right and realized I was wearing pants the old man had been married in years before.
They left. After dark, the father came and took me into the house. I sat in a chair before the fireplace. I tried to tell him I wanted to go to Paris. Finally, I drew a picture of a train and said, "Paris, Paris." He nodded. He gave me a cup of coffee with some schnapps in it. I drank it and went back to the barn. I had given my candy to the children and divided my cigarettes with the father.
Later in the night, I imagine midnight or one a.m., he came and got me. He was wheeling a bicycle and repeating, "Antily, Parie, Antily, Parie." I figured out we were going to Paris. By sign language, he tried to make me understand that he would ride the bike ahead, stop, park the bike and walk on. I was to walk to the bike, get on, and ride a similar distance past him, park, walk on, and we were to repeat this sequence until we got to the railroad station. I fouled up the first time, but after some more exasperated explanations, I finally caught on and we arrived at the station. He kept repeating, "Antily, Parie, Antily, Parie."
When I was walking up to get my ticket, it finally hit me! That was what I was to say to the ticket agent. I was right. He gave me my ticket. I picked it up and walked away. The ticket agent said something about "Amiens," but I didn't know what he meant. I had French currency, which was issued to us in our escape kit, but I didn't know the value of the money, or the cost of the ticket. I just laid a bill down.
After I had walked a few steps, I heard the agent yell at me loudly and jabber some French words. What now? I walked back and he handed me some change. However, the little episode caught the attention of two German soldiers who were in the cage behind the ticket agent. From then on I could feel their eyes upon me. I casually sauntered out and sat on a bench to wait to board the train. I wanted a smoke, but I knew that if I took out a Camel cigarette, it would be a giveaway. I reached in my pocket and took one cigarette out of the pack, still in the pocket, I emptied some of the tobacco out of each end, rolled the ends, brought it to my lips and licked it like I had seen them do when they rolled their own.
When it was time to board the train, I watched where the Germans went. The train was old with compartments with no walkways between them. You boarded the train on the side and stayed in your own compartment until time to disembark. When we finally stopped, I knew what the ticket agent had meant when he said, "Amiens," because we were at the end of the line. I would have to board another train to Paris. I had no idea which one.
I watched and saw the German soldiers walk by my window. I waited for my compartment to unload. When there was only one couple left, a man and a woman, I jumped up and stepped between them and said, "Americana, Antily Paree." The man was offended and shoved me and made a threatening gesture, but the woman said something to him and took me by the arm. I walked between them around to the platform and they put me on the train. They both hugged and kissed me and bid me goodbye and left. I arrived in Paris the next morning.
I was finally in Paris, but what was I to do and where was I to go? I noticed the men all hurrying in a certain direction and figured they were going to the toilet. I was right! I walked along looking for an empty stall and suddenly noticed a pair of American combat boots. My heart flipped. I thought I had run across another escapee, something I had not thought of or considered. I quickly stepped into the vacant stall beside him and said, "Comrade Americana." I don't know who he was or what, but he didn't want anything to do with me because he finished his business in a hurry and disappeared.
While in the toilet, I reread my escape instructions and tried to decide what to do. We were told to go south. I had my compass. I got it out and headed south. I walked a few blocks and rounding a corner, I bumped smack into a young woman. I repeated my old timeworn phrase in a desperate voice. She finally indicated I should follow her. We went to her apartment where I spent three days. We tried to communicate. I finally decided to go to some bars to see if I could connect with the underground. We had been told in briefing to do that--go to a bar and ask for beer and the underground would contact you. However, nothing happened. I learned later the underground didn't contact unless you were alone.
The next day I decided to head south again. I walked through Paris and came out on the southern end along roads that lead to a village called Blanc Messnil.
I walked along the country roads, watching and ready to hide, if necessary. I had nothing to eat and at night I slept where I could. In culverts, fields and any place I could get out of the cold.
Walking was hard. The shoes were ill fitting and I developed blisters as big as dollars that broke and made huge, painful sores on my feet. The third or fourth day I saw a man working a field along the road. By this time I knew I needed help and I approached him. He was a simple man who had a soft manner and kind eyes and looked like he could be trusted. He, in turn, could tell at a glance that I was a human being who desperately needed a helping hand. He motioned me to come with him. We walked together through the village of Blanc Messnil to a secluded house.
Upon entering the house, I saw a young woman. Her name was Danice and she was beautiful, but she was not to be taken advantage of. She pounced on me with questions. Where? When? Why? I tried to explain my plight. I had begun to learn a few French words by now and could make myself understood, a little. Finally, I could see compassion in her eyes. She sat me down, bathed my sore feet, put salve on the sores and for the first time in days, I had food and warmth. As we talked, I found out that Danice was a war widow with two small children. She had been living in Paris where it was unsafe, as the city was being constantly bombed. She met a man named George Engle who befriended her. He took her and the children to his home in Blanc Messnil, so they would be safe.
When George came home later that first night and saw me, he said, "Not again. Oh well, take him to my room. We'll talk in the morning." I learned later that I wasn't the first, scared, miserable young escapee that he and Danice had helped. A few months before, they had helped a young Canadian Air Force man.
I went into George's room and fell into his bed that had a huge feather tick on it. My feet were so bad, I couldn't walk or even stand. I stayed in bed for several days and slept. My meals were served to me by Danice. I would eat and flop back and sleep some more.
When I was able to be up and around, George introduced me to a friend of his named Joseph. He was also older, like George, and as they knew where to go in Paris for help, it was decided that I should have a false I.D. and that I should go by train to Toulouse, which was in the south, next to the Pyrenees Mountains. The evening before, George, Joseph, and I were to leave for Paris, we had a huge dinner at Joseph's home. Twelve courses, a different wine with each course, the mashed potatoes were yellow with real butter. After dessert, which was apples, cheese, and sweet wine, we sat and talked. Joseph told about his life. He had been a carnival man. He got out pictures of a carrousel he had owned, but it looked like what we call a giant swing in the U.S. He was at that time on a board that issued ration stamps, which probably accounted for the delicious meal.
During this time, Grandma, Joseph's mother or mother-in-law, was busy knitting. When it came time to say goodbye, she had completed a brown woolen turtleneck dickie, which she gave to me to keep me warm. I really treasured it and wore it until I reached Spain. Joseph gave me his address and asked me to keep in contact as they wanted to know what happened to me. After returning home I did, in fact, communicate with Joseph and George and Danice for two or three years.
Early the following morning, George, Joseph and I went to Paris. We went to a bar where they were both well known. Over cheese and bread and wine, we discussed what each of us would do. Joseph would get the necessary documents for an identification card. George would take me to get a photograph to put on the I.D. After Joseph left, George and I started for our destination. We stopped in bars along the way. At the first bar, George whispered to the bartender, "This is my American Comrade." We had free drinks for the rest of the evening. This happened a few more times, at a few more bars. Finally, at the last one, George, feeling no pain, forgot to whisper and blurted out loudly, "This is my American Comrade." Everybody looked up and we had more drinks on the house.
While we were there, the air raid sounded. At that particular moment, George and I were in the can. When we came out, the bar was deserted and the door was locked. George explained that the bartender was an air raid warden and had to go to the shelter. Since there was nothing else to do but wait, we had a few more drinks and ate hard-boiled eggs. When the owner returned, we left for the photo shop, which was next to Gestapo headquarters.
The lady photographer kept repeating a phrase to me, which I didn't understand. Finally, George handed me a comb and I combed my hair and she snapped the picture. We returned to the appointed place where we met Joseph and put together the identification card. They listed my profession as a journalist, stamped it with a French coin and it looked quite official. He gave me the name Marcel Petit, born July 22, 1925. I carried this card with me the rest of my journey and I still treasure it today. They took me to the railroad station. We bid goodbye with hugs and kisses and tears. I got on the train and was on my way to Toulouse, France.
I was seated in a compartment. A young French girl sat across from me. Two German officers came in and sat down beside her. I assumed they were lieutenants. Three other people also came in and seated themselves. We were on our way and I heard the conductor coming down the aisle saying, "Bieat," which meant ticket. I glanced over my shoulder and saw that the conductor was accompanied by a German and that they were checking tickets and identification. Again, I became frantic, fearing I would be caught. However, I had observed the person next to me and placed his ticket on the back of his seat and went into the bathroom. When he returned, I put my ticket on the back of the seat and went to the bathroom.
When he returned, I put my ticket on the back of the seat and went to the bathroom. I knew they would be at my seat before I came out. I waited. Suddenly the door handled rattled and a bang on the door. I thought, "My God, I'm really caught now." I tried to open the window so I could jump out, but it was bolted shut. I thought, "What the hell," and opened the door. There stood the conductor and the German. They said something I didn't understand, pushed by me and went in. I returned to my seat and waited. They left and went on to the next car and I breathed a sigh of relief. A little further down the way, the two German officers got off the train and I slept the rest of the way to Toulouse.
We got to Toulouse at five or six in the morning. It was bitter cold and still dark. Once again, I had no place to go, but I checked my compass and headed south. About an hour after leaving town, I became cold and tired. I saw haystacks along the road. I picked a stack in the middle of the field, dug a hole in the side and crawled in and fell asleep. I awoke and again started walking.
After a few miles, I ran into two French Gendarmes. They came up to me and since there was a light drizzle, they asked me to accompany them to a stone shelter nearby. They started asking me for identification, identification. I played dumb, acting like I couldn't hear or understand. Then one policeman held me and the other one searched me. They found my false I.D. My escape map, etc. After seeing my map and realizing that I was an American trying to escape, they made me understand that I should get off the highway and stay in the fields.
I walked in the fields about one-half hour and suddenly heard dogs barking furiously. The thought came into my mind that they might have turned me into the Germans. I knew they used dogs to track. I began running frantically, thinking I'm surely caught now. I tore through brambles and bushes to the top of the hill and I collapsed, exhausted. I looked back down and found, to my embarrassment, it was some hounds chasing a rabbit.
After resting awhile, I continued on along the crest of the hill. I could see the roadway and further down a village with a bridge crossing a river. Reason told me I should probably follow along the roadway. However, when I got closer to the bridge, I could see a guard post and German guards and I knew I couldn't get by there so I'd have to change my route. I turned to the east and came to a canyon with a dirt road, which I followed. After awhile, I came upon a Frenchman walking along the road in the same direction. Again, I indicated that I was an American escapee and he motioned me to come with him.
He took me to his home, which was a three-story house. Upon entering the house, he took my arm and ushered me directly to the top floor and put me in a bedroom. A short while later, he returned, took me down to the main floor and introduced me to his father, mother, and two brothers. Mother put dinner on the table and we all sat down. Father served. We all ate with little or no conversation. After the meal, the father and the three sons had a conversation in low tones. I sat and waited. I knew they were deciding what to do with me. Later, the brother who brought me home, took me up to the bedroom and told me to stay there until morning.
Early the next morning, the same man came and got me. He and another brother and I walked for three to four hours climbing upward into the mountains. About sunup, we reached a plateau and stopped and had a lunch of wine, bread and cheese. We continued on for another 45 minutes and finally came to a log cabin built in the side of the hill. The cabin had no windows and three walls. The back wall next to the hill was dirt with a huge fireplace built into it. The door opened inward. On one side were two levels of bunks covered with straw, on the other was a table and two chairs and boxes, which contained apples, flour, beans and dried mule meat.
The man built a fire and while we finished the cheese and bread, he told me I was to stay there and he would return in three days. They left and I watched them disappear down the hill. I went into the cabin, stoked the fire, and lit the candle and settled down for the night, feeling secure and safe. The next morning, I took stock of my surroundings. Found the ax, cut wood for the fireplace and hauled it in. I found the spring for water, carried a pail in and put on a pot of beans and mule meat. There was a set of books on the shelf, which were French instructions in English. I occupied my time trying to learn French by reversing the words. Looking around outside, I noticed a tramway from the cabin that ran down the mountain.
The men were to return on the third day. That night I heard a lot of wind blowing, but didn't pay attention. I got up the next morning, pulled the door open. It opened inward, and the snow as up to my nose. I got the shovel and shoveled a path to the firewood, the spring and to my makeshift toilet. I still expected the men to show up. When they hadn't appeared by dusk, I knew I would be there another night, but each morning there was more snow. As a result, they didn't show up for 13 days. I got damn sick of beans and mule meat.
One night I dreamed of pancakes dripping in butter and syrup, so the next morning, I mixed some flour, salt and water and fried myself some pancakes. I cooked apples for syrup. I ate it, but it was terrible, but when you are hungry, everything is eatable, I guess. The woodcutter returned on snowshoes on the 13th day. He brought me a razor and some more food. That night we had a nice meal with wine, cheese and bread. The next morning, he told me that the pass over the Pyrenees was closed and he wouldn't be able to guide me over the pass until spring. However, he said I was welcome to stay there. He left. I was, again, alone to ponder my situation. I spent most of the night thinking. Should I stay until spring or leave? By morning, I decided to stay because of the deep snow.
A week later, loneliness and desolation overcame me and I knew I had to leave. I knew I had to prepare myself as best I could. The snow is still four to five feet deep. I found a pair of high top logging boots in the cabin and although they were a little large, they were a great improvement over the ill-fitting oxfords that had caused so many blisters on my feet. I also took one of the woolen blankets and filled my pockets with dried apples. I shoveled a path to the tramway. It had a log cradle, which was a cable extending down the south side of the mountain. I knew it would be impossible for me to try to walk down the south side of the mountain. The snow was too deep and should I try walking, I would probably freeze to death before one night had passed, but I figured I could ride down in the log carrier.
I crawled into the log cradle, pulled the release and "We're off." Shooting down the side of the mountain, I picked up speed as I went. Soon I realized I was going too fast, the bottom of the tram was booming in on me. I grabbed the blanket I had taken and threw it over the cable and pulled down hard in an effort to slow down, but the blanket burned through and the cradle slammed against the bottom end, hurling me into the air. I landed in a bank of snow, which fortunately cushioned my fall.
Getting to my feet and gathering my senses, I looked on down the mountain. I thought I saw a road about 300 feet further on. After falling, sliding and rolling, I finally reached the road. I looked around and could see a village down in the valley, but remembering the German guards at the last village, I decided I better take off in the opposite direction. I trudged the rest of the day through waist-deep snow. I was tired, cold and miserable and felt hopeless when I noticed a prayer shelter along the road. I went in and knelt down and prayed. "Dear God, please freeze the snow so I can walk on top."
I continued on about one or two miles and as dusk settled in, I came to a small farming village. I saw a lighted building, which I started toward, when I met a man on the street. I approached him and said, "Comrade Americana." He looked at me, took me by the arm and took me into the building. There were seven or eight men sitting around a fireplace, and as we walked in, the conversation stopped and they stared at us. My benefactor said, "This is an American. He just walked into town." They all howled with laughter saying, "He's crazy. There has been only one man in this village for the last week and he came in on skies and went out on snowshoes." Then one of the men got up and motioned me to sit on his chair nearer the fireplace. Another handed me a glass of wine and we talked. I had some sausage and cheese and, finally, the men departed for the night.
The man who I had met on the street took me by the arm and we walked a couple of blocks. We came to a crude, three-sided shelter with a watering trough in it. He said, "You can stay here," and walked away. There was no hay or straw, only snowy manure on the floor. I huddled against the wall, shivering and trembling, tears rolling down my cheeks. I knew I couldn't stay there. I would have frozen stiff. I wondered around and finally found a barn with animals in it and piles of hay. I dug in and went to sleep.
About five o'clock in the morning, I was awakened by a man pitching hay to feed his cattle. I recognized him as the man who had taken me by the arm the night before. He saw me and said, "Hungry?" Naturally, I said yes and he motioned me to follow him into his house.
We went into the kitchen where he explained me to his wife. She gave me some breakfast and then took me to the top floor and put me in a room with a bed. I laid down, covered myself and went back to sleep.
I stayed in that room for three days eating and sleeping. Early on the fourth day, the man and woman came to tell me I would have to leave right away. The mayor of the town was pro-Nazi and he was inspecting houses. He would really cause trouble for him if he found me. I got up and left immediately. The man pointed in the direction for me to go which was toward the Pyrenees.
I walked all that day, constantly climbing. Toward evening, I spotted a farmhouse in a remote area and decided to take a chance in contacting someone. I was cold and tired, and I had a bad sore on my foot from the boots I had taken from the mountain cabin. They were too large and I had laced them tight, and a sore formed where the laces were.
As I approached the house, I saw the farmer just outside the front door. I again explained that I was an American escapee and he took me in the house. The living quarters were on top of the barn. We climbed the stairs and entered a room with a fireplace where I saw an elderly woman sitting holding a baby and a young woman, who was the farmer's wife, stirring a pot of food. The table had been set and after the farmer spoke to his wife, she put another place on the table, and motioned for us to sit up to the table for supper. The grandmother placed the baby in a cradle and stood up, and then I saw that she had only one leg, however, she placed the stump on the seat of the chair and hanging on to the back, she thumped, thumped, thumped her way to the table. During the meal, I found out that she had lost her leg in the last war, as she said, "The war to end all wars."
After we had eaten, the farmer took me downstairs again and up another ladder to the hay loft, which was another part of the upper story. I crawled into the hay for warmth and slept. Early the following morning, I was awakened with the thump, thump of Grannies chair, as she went about preparing breakfast.
The farmer came up and beckoned me to follow him. I thought I was going to breakfast, but no. He handed me a shovel and told me to dig a path in the snow to the watering trough, which I did and broke the ice, so he could bring his oxen down to drink. He then motioned me back to the barn, took a pitchfork and scooped manure into a wheelbarrow. Then he handed me the shovel and told me to finish the job.
After I had finished, we washed our hands and went upstairs to the living quarters. The wife was shaking ground grain in a large strainer, separating the flour from the chaff, which she was putting in a huge pot cooking on the spit over the fireplace. It smelled great. I was hungry and I thought, "Oh good. Nice, hot cereal for breakfast," but I was mistaken. We had coffee, bread and sausage.
After eating, I thought I would be able to rest and survey the territory. No way. The farmer took the pot off the spit and motioned me to follow him up the stairs. We went to a stall where the farmer tenderly took a quilt off a huge fat and old sow and motioned me to pour the gruel into her trough, which I did. The wife then came out of the house and motioned me to follow her. We went to a large, clay, outdoor oven. I split boughs and wood and we staked up a roaring fire in the oven. After it burned down, she showed me how to sweep out the ashes. I swept until I had the oven spotlessly clean. It was a hot and dirty job. The oven was still hot enough to bake bread and you had to practically crawl in to sweep it out.
She went back in the house and came out with large loaves of bread to bake. The farmer then came and put an ax in my hand and led me to a woodpile, where I split wood until they called me for dinner. Dinner was a treat. We had the delicious, newly baked white bread. I ate and exhausted, I went back to my bed in the hay and slept until morning. I guess he had all his jobs done, because the next morning, he said goodbye and pointed down the road toward the mountains.
It took me the rest of that day and into the night to climb over the mountain ridge and descend into a valley. I came upon a hard-top road and I walked down that road in the dark until I was completely exhausted. It was freezing cold and I had to find a place to sleep and get out of the cold. I noticed a culvert under the road. It had leaves in it, which I gathered up around my head and body and fell asleep until morning.
I was so stiff and sore when I crawled out, I could hardly straighten out. It took me awhile to get my bones moving to continue down the road.
About noon, I entered the village of Pamiers. By this time, I was really hungry. I hadn't had anything to eat for two and one-half days. I had ration stamps (which Joseph had given me) and money, but I had been afraid to use them, however, I was so hungry and knew I had to have some food in order to continue my walk over the mountains, so I took a chance and finding an eating place, went in and sat down at a table. A lady came to the table and indicated she wanted to see my bread stamp before she would serve me. Since I didn't know which was which, I handed her the whole pack. This made her suspicious and I knew she knew I was an escapee, but she gave me my food and even though I offered to pay her, she refused the money and waved me off with a gesture of good luck.
I left Pamiers about noon and continued toward the mountains along the same road. I walked the rest of the day. After dark, I came to a town called Faix. I was really cold and tired and started looking for a place to hole up. I came to a building which I later found out was a schoolhouse. The door was unlocked, so I went in, saw a staircase and crawled up. I struck a match and saw it was a loft with straw on the floor, so I pulled straw over me and went to sleep.
Although it was still pitch black, I assume it was toward morning, I awakened to hear footsteps some place in the building. I got to my feet, opened the door a crack and listened,. I peered out the door with one eye and saw the light of a candle coming down the hall. My heart was pounding so loud I couldn't hear anything and I thought, "Oh God, I'm caught." I stepped back and the door opened. There was a woman. She screamed and I screamed. She ran back down the hall and I ran down the stairs and out of the building as fast as I could. I had noticed some potatoes on the floor with the straw and I imagine she was coming to get some to fix for breakfast.
By this time, the sun is rising and I felt I should get out of this village. So I left the road and followed a trail cutting through the fields, back south toward the mountains. About two hours later, I met a man coming down the trail. I could see he had on a military tunic, and once again my heart started to pound, but since there was no place to run to, or hide, I knew I would have to face him. When we met, I once again, explained that I was an American flyer.
He motioned me to follow and after about 15 steps, we sat down in a niche in a stone fence at the edge of the field. As we sat down, he reached in his pack and gave me some cheese and wine. He also gave me some tobacco. I hadn't had any cigarettes or smokes since I left Paris, so as you can imagine, they looked good to me.
As we talked, he kept impressing upon me to be alert. "Regarde, regarde," he kept saying, which I knew meant, "watch, and keep your eyes open." I knew from what he was saying that I would run into people further up the mountain. He gave me some cheese and tobacco and I started on up the trail, but I was apprehensive. I didn't know if I was going to run into somebody to help me or the enemy. It was still early in the morning as I came to the top of a ridge. I stopped to survey and saw a plume of smoke coming up further on. I thought it looked like a campfire, so I kept my eye on it as I moved cautiously down the trail.
About ten minutes later, a man suddenly stepped out from behind a tree and confronted me. Frantically, I again explained, "American, American." He motioned me to follow and after about 15 yards, he left the trail and started down the hill. I followed. We passed through dense thickets and came to a small opening, with a rock outcropping on the north I could see that the smoke had originated there. He went on ahead and in low tones said something that I knew was his way of identifying himself. An answer came back and we then moved forward and I saw the mouth of a cave with a man standing in front of it.
As we got closer, other men came out and greeted the man I was following. He explained to the others that I was an American flyer and we went on into the cave. Counting the man I was with, there were eight men living there. The man who had brought me in told me his name was "Ponga," and introduced me to the others. After introductions, we sat down around the fire. They asked me if I had tobacco. I took out what I had and we all rolled a cigarette. They had a pot of potatoes cooking and we ate them while they all threw questions at me.
After eating, they made me stand while they searched me. Finding my escape map and compass, they were satisfied I was telling the truth. One Frenchman was curious as to why I didn't have a gun. I assured him I had never had one on this mission.
We talked as best we could and I found out they were a group of Parisians who were living in the Pyrenees foothills or the Machee carrying on sabotage and guerrilla warfare. They called themselves a French Resistance Group. There were three Spaniards, five Frenchmen and I made the only American.
I spent about nine weeks with this group. During that time, I went along with them on their forays in the surrounding area. They called themselves Camp Jean Robert, after the group leader. During the first few days I learned the names of the others. I can't remember them all. We used first names only: Ponga, Hasea, Joseph, Coze, Robert, Maurice. The Spaniards were refugees from the Spanish Civil War.
On about the third day I was there, Ponga and I left early one morning with jugs to get water from the river down in the valley. After we had filled our jugs, Ponga leaned toward me and sniffed, which was a not too subtle hint that I stunk. We both stripped and plunged into the icy water. He had soap and I washed myself faster than I ever have, before, or since. We crawled out into three feet of snow on the bank, got into our clothes fast and hurried up the mountain again. Despite the discomfort from the cold, I felt great.
We carried water every day and the men took turns doing it, but for the next week or so they sent me along with whomever was doing it that day. Finally, after some discussion, they decided I could take my turn alone. On my first trip alone, Ponga gave me a pistol to carry along. I had filled the bottles and about halfway back up the hill, I saw a wild sow with four or five piglets following. I shot the last piglet and dragged it back to the cave. When the group saw me walk in with the pig in my arms, they hopped and danced around. We had eaten nothing but potatoes for days and days and this was "meat on the table."
Two of the men started skinning and cleaning the pig and Joseph asked me if I was careful, was I sure that the shot wasn't heard. I answered him that I was as careful as possible and was sure under the circumstances as I could be.
They finished dressing out the pig, then carefully cut off the head and put it in a pot of water to boil. I didn't realize until later that the head was the choice portion and that the choice portion always went to the hunter who had shot it. They reverently told me that the head was mine, complete with ears, eyes, tongue, snout, brains, and anything else within the skull. Needless to say, I wasn't exactly looking forward to it and would have much preferred a nice piece of leg meat, but I was determined that I would eat it and act like I relished every mouthful.
When it was done, they split the head and laid it before me, brains and eyeballs oozing out all over. With a smile on my face, I dug in and forced it all down. Those Frenchmen weren't going to say an American couldn't swallow it! To this day, I'm not sure whether they really did prefer the head or whether they wanted to see if I could take it.
The next night, we were to go to the village of Fiax to get supplies. I was asked to go along, and I knew then that I was accepted in the group, and that they trusted me.
At that time, the German Occupation Army was rationing the food out to the French citizens. The flour at that time was laced with sawdust and the baker was allotted only enough flour and sawdust so each family would get two loaves a week. However, he would take a small portion of dough from each loaf and make extra loaves, which he hid, for the Partisans. The citizens of Fiax fed our particular group. They would gather two or three potatoes from each family and eggs were probably gathered the same way.
We left the cave late in the afternoon and it was dark when we got to the village. We went directly to the barber's home where the party split up into groups to go out and gather supplies. When they returned, we found we had a full sack of potatoes, three dozen eggs, eight loaves of bread and cabbage. We sat around and drank wine and talked for another hour and then started up the mountain to the cave.
About halfway up the mountain, Coze, who was carrying the three dozen precious eggs, fell down. Avoiding all caution, we screamed and kicked and yelled at Coze. We were sure our eggs were all scrambled. But after checking, we found that only one egg was broken and one cracked, so satisfied, we all went on up the mountain to the cave.
Several days later, a stranger (to me) arrived at the cave. He and Robert talked privately outside the cave for awhile. After he left, Robert came in and told us that a British plane had made an air drop which had been retrieved. It contained guns, ammunition, dynamite explosive caps and so forth. Robert explained that we were to meet at a pre-scheduled place and pick up our explosive supplies. He said our mission was to go to Talouse and set the charges to blow up the main tracks at the rail yard there as they had heard that a German military train was to come through at a given time.
The German train was to come through in the early morning hours, so the night before, we left the cave after dark and met at our appointed spot where we got our supplies. The walk to Talouse was about ten to 15 miles, so we had to walk steadily all night as it was imperative that we have our charges planted and be ready to detonate the charges when the train got there.
It was pitch black when we arrived and we hurriedly completed our mission, then we all hid ourselves and waited for the train. In the early dawn light, I noticed several flat cars sitting on a siding next to the track which were loaded with what I thought was rockets. I found out later that they were not rockets, but were small one-man gliders that were jet propelled up to make a single attack on an enemy bomber and then glide back down.
Our mission was successful. We blew everything to hell. We found out later that the underground had deliberately arranged our explosions to be detonated at the same time American bombers were overhead. As soon as the charge went off, we all took off as fast and cautiously as possible to the cave.
We slept and rested the rest of the day and night. The next day we found out we were out of tobacco. The men knew they could get it from a smuggler about two miles away, but they needed money. I went into my survival kit and pulled out some money, and since I was the only one with money, I insisted on going along. It was decided Maurice and I would go.
Early the next morning we left. Maurice leading the way. As we descended into the valley, we came to a farmhouse on a dead end road. Maurice went in and talked to the farmer, and we borrowed two bicycles. Maurice and I got on the bikes and started down the hill. It was a steep downgrade and my bike picked up speed. I realized it had no brakes. I yelled at Maurice, and he indicated I should ram my foot on the front tire.
We finally came to a hard-topped road and as we rode along, my heart flipped. There ahead of us, stopped along the road, was a German patrol car. It apparently had engine trouble as they were out with the hood up.
We rode by them nonchalantly and finally arrived in the small town of Aurnant. We left our bikes behind a building and walked to the house of the smuggler. We got our tobacco and some candy bars. I was overjoyed when I saw he had Hershey bars. I didn't think I'd ever see good, old American Hershey bars again. We stayed and had some food and wine and he and Maurice talked. Then we left and retraced our steps back to the cave.
While we were enjoying our candy and smokes, I noticed Joseph and Robert were gone. The guys said they were gathering wood. They cam back later and told us they had met and talked to a shepherded who lived near Fiax and he told them that the Germans were questioning people in Faix about resistance groups. He knew of a family in Fiax who were pro-Nazi, and who were sneaking around trying to find out about us. He warned Joseph and Robert to be careful.
We were all filled with rage and ready to kill this French citizen who was selling out his country to the Germans and after discussing the situation, we decided to pay him a visit. We were going to use any means possible to persuade this miserable pro-Nazi to stop.
That night we took off. We got to the door of the house. Robert ahead and me following and the other men hid. Robert knocked on the door, and a voice from upstairs wanted to know who was there. Robert answered with the name of the next-door neighbor. He came down and opened the door. Robert shoved him back and I shoved a revolver in his stomach. He threw his hands in the air saying, "What do you want? I didn't do anything." His face was ashen. The other Partisans burst in the door and shut it. While I held the revolver on the pro-Nazi, the others went through the house.
It was plain to see that he had been collaborating with the enemy. He had food -- meat, bread, and stuff that other French families hadn't seen for a long time. The gang collected all the food, tobacco and money that we could carry. As we left, Robert told him, "This is only a warning. If we hear that you tell anyone about this, even your neighbor, we will be back and the next time we will kill you!" I truly believe that to this day, he has never told anyone. He was so scared.
We divided the money when we got back and for the next week or so laid low, eating our food and playing poker. I had good luck and won most of the money. A few days later when we had run out of tobacco, a few of the guys made the trip to the smuggler again. I didn't go and when they came back, they had word that the German Border Patrol in the Pyreness between France and Spain, had seemingly increased and they seemed to think something was about to happen.
We talked about the situation, trying to make some sense out of it. We thought it could have something to do with the weather. At that time, the storm sin the mountains on the border into Spain were quite bad and we thought maybe the Germans night think more people would be trying to get across. We heard nothing more and a day or so later, Ponga asked me to go with him into the village to see a friend of his and to go to the barbers to get our hair cut. We got to the friend's place in the forenoon. Hasea had come along with Ponga and me. Ponga and his friend talked, then Ponga, his friend and I decided to have a game of cards.
Hasea had his eye on the man's daughter and they were in another room. After playing cards until about noon or so, a knock came on the door. The man opened the door and two French Gendarmes were there with their pistols drawn. They told Ponga and I that we were under arrest and lead us out into the street. At that moment, Hasea, who had jumped out a window, was taking off on a bicycle. The police shot at him, both firing several shots. I was ready to fight, but knew I had to follow Ponga's lead.
I wondered why he was standing doing nothing, but he was counting the shots. When he knew the guns were empty, he hit one policeman and I the other. We took their guns and ammunition and ran. We took off in the opposite direction of the cave since we didn't' want to disclose, in any way, our hiding place. Ponga and I hid out for two nights and late the third night made our way back to the barber's house. He let us in and I sat in the barber chair so he could cut my hair while we talked. The barber yelled at his daughter to bring some food and wine. When she entered the room with the tray, she was so dumbfounded to see us she dropped the tray. It was like looking at a ghost because they had heard that we had been captured.
We made our way up to the cave and, of course, the other guys were anxious to know where we had been and what had happened.
Ponga and I slept for a couple of days and got rested up. Shortly after a shepherd who knew us came by to tell us we better do something because the day before the Germans had found the hideout of a group of Partisans about five miles away and had killed them all.
This came as a shocking blow. We knew there were ten guys in that certain group and we realized the Germans were intensifying their search.
We decided to move our hideout. Gathering up the supplies we had we moved about five miles further up the mountain and in the dense forest, we made a shelter of boughs and twigs that was practically undetectable until you were right upon it. This scare had made us all edgy and suspicious. For some reason, Maurice picked me out to vent his anger on. He started by questioning me with snide remarks about America and my life. I realized he was scared as we all were and I tried to ignore him, but one night, while we were sitting around eating, he kicked my plate out of my hand. That was enough and we went at it, slugging and punching. The guys finally broke us up, but the fight had cleared the air.
After we had moved, we knew the situation called for more caution and one of us stood guard day and night. There was a rock outcropping which made a watch out. You could see the whole valley below and in that way, we kept track of German activity on the roads below.
You may think standing watch was a distasteful and tedious job and during the cold, dark nights, it was just that, but in the early dawn, as the sun was rising over the mountains, the church bells in the various towns throughout the valley would start to ring and it was a moving, pleasant experience. I would feel tranquil and at peace and wonder how man could louse up the world so badly.
We finally came to the conclusion that in order to survive, we would have to split up. I knew my goal was to get to Spain, which was over the Pyrenees. Ponga and Hasea were from Spain and had families there so that was their goal also. Robert wanted to go to Africa and join the French African Army where he would ultimately get back to France. The rest of the guys decided to stay in France.
Ponga, Hasea, Robert and I all took off for the smugglers. We hoped he would be willing to guide us over the mountains. He said he would, for a price. I had the money, enough for us all, and we got our instructions. The smuggler stressed the fact that it would be a difficult trip and we would need good shoes and warm clothes. We all assured him we would be ready. We were to be back there, ready to go, in two days. As we left his place, I knew that I did not have good shoes. I was still wearing the high-top shoes I had taken from the cabin. My feet were covered with sores from blisters that had formed, so on our way back, we stopped in the village and Robert and I bought two pairs of string soled French shoes. They had canvas tops and thongs to wrap around your ankle. They felt much better and were easy to walk in.
Back at the hideout, we prepared to leave. We finished the food and gathered our belongings. Before we said our good-byes, Robert asked us to pose for a picture. He took our addresses and said when and if he ever got to a place to have them developed, he would send us one.
The following afternoon, the four of us arrived at the smugglers. As we entered the house, I became aware of five other people in the room. The smuggler informed us that they were four members of the French underground and an American who they were taking out. The smuggler's wife served us hot food, coffee and schnapps and he sent us upstairs to sleep until we were ready to go.
I was in a bedroom with the other American and, of course, we talked about our experiences. I think he said his name was Chandler. He was flying on the same mission I was on. He was a gunner and he told me he thought he saw my plane shot down. A few minutes later, his plane was hit, too, and he parachuted out. However, the minute he landed, he was contacted by the underground and they had smuggled him across the country. He had not been out at all during the day and had not had contact with anyone other than the underground.
We were awakened by the smuggler, and as I came down the stairs, I could see it was pitch black outside. We had hot coffee and toasted bread lain out on the table. We all helped ourselves and soon the smuggler appeared at the front door and said, "Come. Time to go."
We all quietly tramped out into the cold, dark night and started up the mountain. After walking about one and one-half to two hours, we came to a stream that was bout 25 to 30 feet wide and appeared to be shallow, about knee deep. The leader plunged into the icy water and we followed single file. The other American was behind me and when I was about halfway across, I became aware that he wasn't following me. I went back to him and said, "What's the matter. Let's go." He replied that he hated to get his shoes wet. They were the only ones he had. I had another pair of French sandals that I had bought earlier, so he climbed on my back and I carried him piggy back across the stream.
As we ascended, the snow kept getting deeper and harder to walk in. We would walk ten minutes and rest for five. We finally came to a plateau, the sun was starting to rise and we all hid in a stand of trees while the leader surveyed the area with his binoculars. The rest of the journey to the Spanish border was to the top of the steep, mountain peak which from here on, was ice and snow. On looking through his binoculars, the leader saw a border patrol along the top. He urged us back into the trees to wait for them to move on. We waited for about an hour. During this time, we ate and I changed into dry shoes.
The sun came out and we warmed ourselves. The leader told us to cut ourselves a cane or stick from the trees as we would need it for the ice and there were no trees from here on.
When we finally got up to go, the leader for the first time, noticed my shoes and he flipped. He had stressed over and over again that we needed good shoes for climbing and he was sure I couldn't make it. He was mad and said he wouldn't take me any further. He told me I should go back. Robert and Ponga came to my rescue and said if I had made it that far, I could go the rest of the way. The leader was still mad, but he let me follow along. Robert and Ponga told me to follow the reset of them and step in their tracks, so we took off with me in the rear.
When we were about three or four-hundred feet from the top, it happened. I lost my footing and down I went. I slide back down the mountain about l800 feet. When I stopped, I looked up and nobody was waiting for me. My stick had broken, but not my determination to get across the border into Spain. I felt that if I had made it this far, nothing would stop me now. I struggled, and finally topped the ridge. Exhausted, I sat and looked down the other side. The whole valley was below. You could see the village of Andora nestled in a green valley. To me, it looked like Shangri-La. I could see the rest of the men far ahead walking the ridge and down. I knew I would never catch them, but looking down, I decided if I could slide 800 feet back down the other side, why couldn't I slide down this side and catch up with them.
At that time of my life I was bold and daring and desperate. I took off my cap, sat on it and with the aid of my broken stick, I slid down the steep mountain side about 700 or 800 feet. I made it to a rock outcropping and was sitting, waiting for the rest of them.
When they arrived, the leader ignored me. He was still mad, but I got silent cheers from my friends. I joined them and we continued on down the trail to a farmhouse, which was about halfway to the village of Andora. We all went into the barn and the smuggler and one of the underground went into the farmhouse. After about 15 minutes, we saw them leave on bicycles going toward Andora. Sometime after dark, they returned and shortly after they came to the barn and said, "We must go." Ponga, Hasea and Robert told me that after we got to Andora, we would each be on our own. We said our good-byes, hugging and kissing. It was a sad time for me. I had deep feelings for them. They had played a very important part in my survival and I wondered if I would ever hear from them again. (About a year after I was back in the states, I got a letter from Robert telling me that he had made it to Africa. He also sent copies of the pictures he had taken when we left the hideout.)
When we got to Andora, the other American and I were taken to a hotel room and told to stay put. We had breakfast and dinner the next day, and the following night, after dark, we walked out of the village and were met by car that took us to Barcelona. At Barcelona, we were taken to a restaurant and put in an upstairs room. Later, the son of the restaurant owner came up and talked to us in English. He told us the following morning he would take us to the British Embassy.
After arriving at the Embassy, Chandler and I were interrogated and relieved of all our personal belongings -- I.D. cards, dog tags, and I had two guns, which they also took. They then treated us to a hair cut and a hot shower, which was like heaven. They issued us civilian clothes, suits, shirts, socks, shoes, all of which fit. The young Spaniard from the restaurant then took us to a photo shop to have a picture taken to be put on a visa so we could travel freely in Spain.
The following morning, we left by car for Madrid where a week late, we went to Gibraltar and from there to England.