Thursday, August 6, 2015

Experiencing Flight

     In 2004 I spent a weekend in Savannah, Georgia for a mini-vacation with my husband.  My youngest daughter referred to it as our honeymoon.  We did make a sort of honeymoon out of it.  Staying on Tybee Island, having a dinner cruise, walking around Savannah, truly enjoying our time.   
     While there, we also visited the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum.  As our visit took place late in winter we mostly had the place to ourselves.  We wondered around looking at the memorials, displays and artifacts when we came across the Mission Experience exhibit.  The final part of that presentation takes you on a flight simulation as an observer.  During the last part of the flight the plane takes fire, the voice coming over the intercom says "We're hit, everyone bailout."  When I hear this my stomach knots up and I wonder how my grandpa felt when he heard those words.
     On August 6, 1944, over Berlin Germany, 154 B-17s are hitting designated targets of factories and airfields.  In one of those planes, SGT John R. SMITH, a waist-gunner, is flying his 13th mission.  According to official reports the plane was hit by flak at 20,000 feet knocking out an engine that then caught on fire.  The plane hit the ground about 20 miles southwest of Berlin.  The crew was gathered up, sent for debriefing in a local Berlin jail and then sent to Stalag Luft VI.  Three months later John was transferred to Stalag Luft IV in Poland.  Staying there until Feb. 6, 1945 when all prisoners were forced to evacuate with the advancement of the Russian Army.  Most of the prisoners were forced on a 51 days forced march out of Poland towards Germany until liberated by American soldiers.  Still others were put onto railroad cars and transfered inside German lines, being left in the boxcars until they too were liberated by American troops.
     71 years later I want to share the best story that I can about my grandfather's experience.  My mom told me of my grandpa being a POW when I was doing my senior high school project, because my project was about the concentration camps of WWII.  My grandma said he never talked about what happened.  It appears he never told anyone about what happened, or at least I never found anyone who knew the story.  I've pieced together different sources and memories, but have many holes to fill to get a better story.
     I wanted to quickly commemorate this day for grandpa, and I plan to put together something to share with my family.  This is a snippet for now, enjoy.