Saturday, April 21, 2007
(A special post for SundayScribblings)
May 28, 1944. A young American navigator was going up for his 30th bombing run over Germany. With his long tour of duty nearly complete, he gives this account:
"We were attacked by fighters of all kinds. In all of the missions, we had not encountered as many aircraft. Some of them, I didn't even recognize. When we finally got to our target, we opened the bomb doors and they disappeared as they had been shot off. We dropped our payload and decided to try to limp back home fully knowing that we would eventually have to abandon the craft due to the extent of the damage it had sustained.
We were flying over a complete cloud deck that day. We finally saw one small clearing. It was right over the German city of Liepzig. Seeing through the clouds enabled us to steer clear of it. A lone, crippled B-17 would have been easy fodder for the anti-aircraft guns protecting the town."
The plane dropped to 18,000 from 24,000 feet. The rear of the plane was so badly damaged that the entire crew had to huddle together in the front. It was the only place where oxygen was available.
At 17,000 feet, our young navigator and the tailgunner bailed out at the instruction of the pilot. The 8 remaining crew members were exploded out of the plane seconds later. The pilot and two others perished at that moment.
"As instructed, I made a free fall from 17,000 to 2000 feet so to go unnoticed. My first attempt at opening my chute failed. I reached into the pack and pulled out a handful of silk. When the chute opened, I thought every bone in my body had been broken."
Though his desperate tug had worked in getting the chute to deploy, he was still carrying excessive speed. The airman slammed to the earth. He was severely shaken but now grounded. His welcoming committee to the German Motherland were a vigilante mob of angry farmers armed with shovels, pitchforks, and fists. They weren't too keen about this young flyboy who, just minutes earlier, had been bent on destructing the Third Reich.
"I was being beaten up rather severely when a German guard on a bicycle took charge and captured me."
Off he went to the POW Stalag where he would spend the next 8 months. It was 11 pm on January 25, 1945 when he would next walk out of those gates. Unfortunately, it was not a walk to freedom. With the liberating forces moving in closer, the Germans rousted the 2800 prisoners in the middle of a fierce blizzard and sub-freezing temperatures and marched them farther inland. There was no Patagonia. No Northface Outerwear. Old French Army greatcoats were de riguer.
2800 men were just picking up one foot and putting it in front of the other and planting it in the fresh Bavarian snow amidst the silence of the night. 800 stopped to rest. It would be the last respite they would take as they either died of exhaustion or were shot by the German guards.
Our 1st Lieutenant would live in deplorable conditions as the prisoners were aimlessly marched for months to come around Germany. Flea ridden abandoned factories. Cattle cars on trains jam packed with prisoners of war so tightly that no one could move during the ride. He would finally be liberated in May of 1945. There was no heroes welcome waiting for him when he finally came home. Only a surgeon's scalpel to remove a frost-bitten toe. Because he waited to have the surgery done by a private doctor, there would not even be a Purple Heart to hold on to over the years. Finally, over a half century later, the medal was awarded.
A break in the clouds. Being one of two men that jumped out of the plane before it exploded. Manually opening a parachute at low altitude after it had failed to open (it was the only time he ever parachuted...all training was theoretical on the ground). Surviving the impact of the late opening free fall . A German officer patrolling the countryside on a bicycle. The will to survive a march of death. If any one of these things had failed to happen, you would not be reading these words today.
The brave 1st Lieutenant was my father. I must be one of the luckiest men on this earth just to get a chance to be here because, as you can see, logic would say that I shouldn't be in attendance.
Today, at the age of 86, he lays in a VA rehabilitation center recovering from radiation treatment on his cancer. He'll be gone within the year per the doctors. The hope we have is that he gets through the radiation well enough to be brought home. There, he can be surrounded with the grounding that family can provide during the hospice period. We won't know that for another week or two.
Death comes to us all. Our family has reconciled with that. The thought of a man so brave withering away in the confines of a VA Center 90 miles away is unbearable at this time. No need to give it any more thought than that.
If you have a prayer in you, please utilize it to help get Lt Colonel Nutter back home . He was part of the fight for freedom that so many enjoy today. We all owe him, and the others that served, gratitude but prayer is what is needed at this time.