Crew of L. C. Smith
Lost 16 August 1943
Telephone Conversation with 67th's Sqd.
5 Feb 1990
Engineer Leroy Winter told me that on this mission, they had successfully dropped their bombs, so he entered the bomb bay to check for any bombs that may have hung up. Finding everything okay, he turned on the catwalk and started to enter the flight deck. Something attracted his attention, turned back to see that the bomb bay was on fire behind him.
About that same time, he saw that Ernest McCabe in his turret was wounded, turret on fire, and the Plexiglas falling into the plane. Their plane apparently, was under heavy attack by the enemy fighters and they were causing heavy damage, fire in the wings, etc.
Upon seeing the firebreak out, he yelled to Gerald Sparks up on the flight deck to get him a fire extinguisher. However, he could not get the message across to him due to all the confusion, smoke, etc.
Shortly thereafter, and before he could get onto the flight deck, it was obvious that they must abandon ship. So he reached for the interior lever and opened the bomb bay and bailed out. He was of the opinion that he would be the only one to get out, but upon the chute opening and looking up, he saw five other chutes above him -- probably from his plane.
All six men in the front of the aircraft managed to bail out successfully, while the four in the back did not and were KIA. Those that bailed out were soon captured and taken to POW camps.
Leroy said that he was burned on his face, but did not believe that the radio operator, Gerald Sparks, was injured.
On or about 16 Sept., one month after being shot down and captured, being in a camp with nearly 3,000 British, the Italian guards, learning that their country had capitulated, walked away from that camp. Leroy and Gerald, finding themselves about in the center of those soldiers, who began to surge through the gates or over the fence, went out to freedom as well. Nearly all of those escaping walked uphill towards and into the forest. But most of the British attempted to hide in those woods and soon were rounded up again by the German troops sent to replace the Italians. But Leroy and Gerald continued to walk all night and most of the next day.
Finally, they took a chance and asked a woman at one of the houses they were passing if she would help and she took them in. It seems that this woman had spent considerable time in Youngstown, Ohio, so not only spoke English, but also hid them there for 18 days.
With the good news that the Allies were not too far away, and approaching, these two left this "safe" house about 9 p.m. in civilian clothes, headed in the direction of these advancing troops.
A day or two later they happened upon two American officers, one of whom was in bad shape. They discussed plans, finally agreed that it would be better if they were caught, for these two non-coms to split, one each pairing off with an officer. Then each could state they both were officers, and would receive better treatment. So the two pairs separated, took different paths and proceeded on towards the advancing Allies.
Leroy said that when they reached Foggia, the same town that they had bombed when shot down, they met another American officer, a Major, who took them under control. As he was in civilian clothes, no identification, he was immediately flown directly to Tunis, then to Algeria, Marrakech, and soon a flight all the way to Prestwick, Scotland. Hardly had he landed when he was ushered aboard another plane, apparently just for him, and flown to London. There, he was place din a Major's room, guard placed at the door. He was interrogated for most of the next day, papers filled out, papers to sign, etc. Finally, he was told to go to another room to sign yet another paper, and when he entered that room, he saw his brother standing there!
This most unexpected meeting appears to be one of the most unusual coincidences of the war. Leroy's brother, a Lt. From the 306th BG, had been shot down over France, also evaded, returned to England, and brothers meet in London at the same interrogation center! Most remarkable.
American Intelligence was quick to see the significance of such an improbability and wanted the brothers to make a tour of great Britain to publicize it, but Leroy said that they chose not to do so, but elected to return to the States.
After returning to the States, Leroy attended college for four months, accumulated sufficient credits to qualify for pilot training covering a two-year period.
In 1947, Leroy qualified for professional baseball, played for several years. However, failing to make it to the "big leagues," became a sheriff. Too, later enlisted in reserves and eventually retired with the rank of Major.