Mary Ruth Memories of Mobile...We Still Remember
Chapter Five - Don Judy - His Flight From Mercer Island to Long Island
Tuesday, 13 September, 1955, 8:30 AM. Mitchel Field, a U. S. Air Force Base on southwestern Long Island, only 20 miles from New York City. A bright sunny morning. A gentle breeze is blowing from the north, the temperature a refreshingly cool 55 degrees. Southwest of the airfield, at the Uniondale Grand Avenue School, 500 students are settling in to begin their classes for the day. Down the way on Grand Avenue, a bus carrying 27 late-arriving students approaches the school. Students at the nearby Uniondale No. 2, Franklin, Ludlum, and Hempstead Schools also are quieting down to work in their classrooms. On Cedar, Crowell and Meadow Streets, and the other crowded residential streets adjacent to Mitchel Field, housewives are proceeding with the morning chores and tending to their babies after seeing the older children off to school. On the nearby Southern State Parkway traffic is still bustling along as the morning rush hour slowly winds down.
At the west end of the main runway sits a weary, aging two-engine B-25 Mitchell bomber, serial number 0-58822. The engines are revving up loudly. At the controls, Major James, Don, Judy, a 13-year Air Force veteran. The copilot is Captain Richard E. Hall, another Air Force veteran. The pilots, Air Force recruiters stationed on Mitchel Field, are preparing for a routine flight to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. They will log in the eight hours of flying time for the month, as required to maintain flight status. Four other men, one an enlisted airman also stationed at Mitchel Field, are aboard. Major Judy was planning on flying another plane to Washington, D. C. today to check his records prior to assignment to Europe. The pilot originally scheduled to fly the B-25 to Wright-Patterson became ill so Major Judy is flying instead.
The roar of the engines deepens. The B-25 begins lumbering down the runway, slowly accelerating in speed. Before reaching the end of the runway, it becomes airborne. The wheels fold back into the engine nacelles. Almost immediately the right engine cuts out. Major Judy radios the control tower: Judy making emergency landing. Prepare for emergency. Judy making emergency landing. Over. He feathers the prop and turns to the southwest to return to the field. Then, the left engine begins sputtering and loses power. Unable to gain altitude, the plane limps along at 300 feet.
Major Judy fights the controls attempting to keep the wobbling plane in the air, as the tail
Major Judys brief flight this early September morning had its beginnings 30 years ago on the opposite side of the country, on another island, Mercer Island, near another large city, Seattle, Washington.
It was there on 1st Hill that Don lived with his mother and father, Clara and Walter, along with his younger sister, Ann, and younger brother, Raymond. The family had moved to Mercer Island in 1925 when Don was five years old. Don attended East Seattle Grade School and Garfield High School where he was one of the more popular, well-liked students. Among his friends, with whom he skied, hiked, camped and went sailing were Dick George, Jack Waymire, Dwight Smith, Eustace Sunny Vynne, Bob Kummer, Bill Hathaway, Henry Runkel, George Albee, Reidar Gjolme, Huncley Gordon, Bob Hemion, and Huston Riley. He was also popular with the girls, dating among others Vernita Murphy and Connie Shaw.
Don was a member of the High School track and ski teams, secretary-treasurer of the Boys Club, a member of the Boys Advisory Board, and chair of the Finance Committee. Don also played violin in the school orchestra. During his senior year he was a member of the Ambassadors, an elite group of seniors from each of the eleven high schools in Seattle. During two summers he served as a crew member of the tour boat, The Star. An excellent skier, Don took part in the Silver Ski Races during the winters and was a member of a Search and Rescue ski unit that assisted skiers in trouble. Don graduated from Garfield High in the spring of 1938.
Dons father was the first Scoutmaster of Mercer Island Boy Scout Troop 56 so it was natural that Don was active in scouting. He rose to the rank of Eagle Scout. For his final merit badge, Don climbed to the highest point on Mt. Rainier in June of 1936 when only 16 years old, no small feat even for an adult in those days. Don and his father were
Shortly after Walter passed away in December 1936 the family moved into Seattle, but the children longed for the Island. Mercer Island in those days presented a rather isolated, rugged atmosphere. Those who lived there had sort of an adventuresome pioneer spirit about them. It was that spirit the children missed. Clara and the children moved back to the house on 1st Hill six months later. Don continued to be active in scouting after his father died and John Beaufort became scoutmaster
In the fall of 1938 Don enrolled at Washington State College in Pullman to major in Agronomy. He joined the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. During the spring semester he met Yvonne Cummings, a student in his English l class who was dating one of Dons fraternity brothers. Their first meeting was a Hello, glad to meet you, see you around. The only times they saw each other the rest of the semester were in class and at dances in Dons fraternity. In the meantime, his Mother had fixed up the second floor of the family home to rent out for extra income. Shortly thereafter Don received a letter from his Mother telling him she had rented the apartment to a Mrs. Cummings, who has a daughter who is also a student at WSC.
It was at Washington State College that Don took his first flying lesson, on the 5th of December 1941, in a Porterfield LP 65 at the Pullman Airport. He continued taking lessons in the WSC pilot program through the 19th of February, 1942. By this time Don was hooked on flying and began making plans to become a military pilot
Don and Yvonne continued their casual friendship until they knew he was going into the service. Then, their friendship became a little more personal and Yvonne promised to write him. In May of 1942 Don enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was assigned to the Ryan Primary Flight School at Santa Ana, California. He took his first military flying lesson on the 29th of July in a Ryan PT 22. He soloed on the 7th of August and continued on at Ryan through September. In October, Don was sent to Minter Field at Hemet, California for advanced flight training. He remained there through November. Then, it was on to La Junta, Colorado for additional training until the 2nd of February 1943. Next came Blythe Army Air Base, California where he took his first flight in a B-17 on the 13th of February. The 3rd of March he started checking out as a first pilot. Don stayed on at Blythe, receiving heavy bomber training through the 12th of April, at which time he was transferred to Walla Walla, Washington to begin crew training. It was there that his crew was put together. They included: 2Lt Roger W. Layn, copilot; 2Lt Edward J. DeCoster, navigator; 2Lt Lewis M. Allen, bombardier; T/Sgt Earl M. Cherry, engineer/top turret gunner; T/Sgt Virgil G. Faust, radio operator; S/Sgt Vincent P. Lala, left waist gunner; S/Sgt Ray C. Tarbell, right waist gunner; S/Sgt Charles A. Baiano, ball turret gunner; S/Sgt Paul F. Burton, tail gunner.
During all this time Yvonne was writing to Don. She must have been a good correspondent. The next thing Yvonne knew they were planning to get married after he received his wings. His wings and commission as 2Lt in the Army Air Corps were awarded the 6th of February. Don and Yvonne became formally engaged shortly afterwards and were married in Walla Walla the 22nd of April.
Don and crew remained at Walla Walla until the 3rd of June. They then flew down to Redmond, Oregon where they flew training missions until the 13th. On that day Don and his crew began their trip to England and VIII Bomber Command (later to be designated the 8th Air Force). The first leg of their journey they flew a B-17 to Grand Island, Nebraska. The crew remained there until the 25th, when they went on to Dow Field at Bangor, Maine. The following day they made the flight to Gander, Newfoundland and the next day to Prestwick, Scotland. England at last!, Don entered in his pilots log book on the 29th, upon arriving at Little Staughton. The crew moved to Bovington, where they remained until sent on to their Bomb Group.
Don and his crew were ordered to the 91st Bomb Group, which was flying out of Station No. 121, Bassingbourn, about 12 miles from Cambridge, in the East Anglia region northeast of London. They joined the 91st on the 14th of July and were assigned to the 322nd Squadron. Don flew a practice mission on the 19th. On the 25th he flew his first combat mission, to the Aero Engine Plant at Hamburg, as copilot with Cpt James D. Bairds crew in No. 178, The Old Standby. They flew Lead of the High Squadron. Flak over the target was intense and the formation was attacked by more than 100 enemy fighters. On one pass, five Me 109s came in at The Old Standby from 12 oclock high. In spite of all the action, the plane received no serious damage.
The next day Lt Judy ferried a B-17 to Bovington, returning the same day. On the 29th Lt Judy was to fly as copilot with Lt Baird in No. 453, The Bearded Beauty--Mizpah, to Kiel. However, after three and a half hours in the air, but before they had crossed over onto the continent, Lt Baird became too ill to continue and they had to return to Bassingbourn. On the 30th Don got in his second mission, to an aircraft factory at Kassel. Again he flew as copilot, this time with Cpt Robert Geralds crew in No. 947, Wabash Cannon Ball. They flew left wing in the Lead Element of the High Squadron. Again, flak over the target was intense and more than 150 German fighters, most of them FW 190s and Me 109s, dogged the formation. At least two Ju 88s also harassed the bombers. The fighters came at the formation mainly from the left side. A gunner in the lead plane of their element kept firing directly across the nose of Wabash Cannon Ball, causing Cpt Gerald and Lt Judy almost as much concern as did the enemy aircraft. The left side of the plane was hit especially hard by the fighters. There also were flak holes in the No. 2 engine and vertical stabilizer. In spite of the damage to Wabash Cannon Ball, the pilots were able to get her safely back to Bassingbourn.
Two-hour practice missions were flown on the 3rd and 4th of August. These were followed by another aborted mission to Gelsenkirchen on the 12th. He was to fly as copilot, again with Lt Gerald, this time in No. 511, Wheel N Deal. Lt Gerald became ill an hour and a half after take off and they had to return to Bassingbourn. Lt Gerald was favorably impressed by Judys flying abilities and interactive personality. Lt Judy was especially adept at holding his wing tip close up to the fuselage of the lead plane in his element. Cpt Gerald requested that Judy be assigned his permanent copilot. However, Judy was needed as a first pilot.
On the 15th of August Lt Judy flew his first combat mission as command pilot with his own crew, to the Flushing Airfield at Vlissingen. Their plane this day was No. 712, My Prayer. No. 712 had been recently renamed from Heavyweight Annihilators No. 2. She had been flying with the 91st Bomb Group since January. The Tony Starcer (nose artist for the 91st Group) painting of a provocative, reclining girl with yellowish-brown hair, attired in a filmy, silky blue gown that had adorned the nose of No. 712 had been painted over. In her place Tony painted a scroll inscribed with the words Yea thou I fly through the shadow of the valley of death I fear no evil for thou art with me. My Prayer flew on the right wing of the Second Element of the Lead Squadron. On the way to the target the ball turret shorted out and was not operative. There was little flak over the target, but a number of enemy fighters attacked the formation. Upon returning there was a hole in the No. 1 engine and several holes in the right wing and left tail.
On the 17th of August VIII Bomber Command mounted its most ambitious undertaking of the war to date, a double mission deep into Germany. One was to the Messerschmidt fighter plane factory at Regensburg, the other, the main force, to the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt. The 91st was the lead Group of the Schweinfurt Strike Force. Four of the 322nd Squadron planes, including My Prayer, flew in the High Squadron. Lt Judy started the mission flying in the No. 2 position, on the right wing, of the Lead Element. The bomber stream came under almost constant fighter attack from the moment they crossed over onto the continent. Planes began going down immediately. The first to go down was No. 225, V-Packette, of the 323rd Squadron of the 91st Group. One of the two survivors, the Navigator, 2Lt Edgar J. Yelle, had arrived at Bassingbourn only the night before and was on his first combat mission--20 minutes over enemy territory.
The fighter support turned back at about 1410 hours. With no American fighters to contend with, the German Me 109s and FW 190s had a field day. Bombers were dropping like flies. Twenty-two of the B-17s in the Schweinfurt Strike Force had gone down by the time the bomber stream had reached Frankfurt and turned to the east, to head for Schweinfurt. By this time My Prayer was flying on the right wing of No. 511, Wheel N Deal, with 1Lt LeRoy E. Everetts crew aboard. The surviving planes were shifting positions to tightened up the formation for better defense against the attacking German fighters.
At 1430 hours, about 15-20 miles southwest of Frankfurt, a fighter came directly at My Prayer in a head-on attack. Three 20 mm cannon shells struck the base of the left wing, just below the pilots compartment, causing a large explosion. The hydraulic and oxygen systems were set ablaze, engulfing the cockpit with fire and smoke which blinded Lts Judy and Layn. The control cables to the elevators and rudder and all the controls to the tail were severed by the cannon fire, as were many of the electrical wires. The batteries were hit, knocking out much of the electrical system. Lt Judy lost control of the aircraft and My Prayer went into a slow downward spin.
Lt Judy rang the bail-out bell and ordered the crew out. Lts DeCoster and Allen, opened the bottom hatch in their forward compartment and bailed out. The opening caused a rush of fresh air through the plane that cleared the smoke from the pilots compartment. However, the wind also provided a good draft for the fire, which became a blazing inferno engulfing the interior of the fuselage. As Lt Judy fought to regain control of the downward spinning plane, Lt Layn went aft to help the remaining crew with their parachute harnesses and to assist them in bailing out before the plane exploded. Lt Judy was able to bring My Prayer out of her spin after falling about 6,000 feet. He jettisoned the bomb load by pulling the emergency bomb release handle in the cockpit. At this time they were attacked once again by enemy fighters, taking hits that caused the oxygen system to explode and severed the remaining electrical connections to the instrument panel. Most of the instruments were now nonfunctional. When all but Sgt Cherry were out, Lt Layn saw that Sgt Cherrys chute was too badly burned for him to bail out. In addition, Sgt Cherry had been hit six times by shrapnel, with especially bad leg and chest wounds. He also had pieces of Plexiglas imbedded in an eye.
Lt Judy refused to abandon the plane when he learned Sgt Cherry had no means with which to save himself. Lts Judy and Layn made a quick decision to remain with My Prayer. Since all four engines were still running, they decided to try to take her back to England. While Lt Judy flew the plane, Lt Layn and Sgt Cherry fought the fires. With the smoke cleared from the aircraft, they could locate and attack the source of the fires. In spite of his injuries, Sgt Cherry put out the fire in the cockpit with a fire extinguisher. Then he went after the large fire behind the cockpit, beating it out with his gloves, in the process seriously burning his hands. In the meantime, Lt Layn worked on the other fires, eventually bringing them under control.
While Sgt Cherry and Lt Layn were fighting the fires Lt Judy dropped My Prayer down to within 50-100 feet of the ground to make her a more difficult target for the German fighters still coming at them. Two fighters followed them down. Sgt Cherry, who also was manning the nose guns in between fighting fires, and Lt Layn, who was on the waist guns, fired short bursts at them. The fighters broke away without firing, either they were out of ammunition or low on fuel. My Prayer was not bothered again by German fighters.
Lt Judy took evasive actions in an attempt to avoid ground fire as he headed for England. Still, My Prayer was hit several more times, resulting in additional damage. Since his navigator had bailed out, Lt Judy had to set his own course for England, all the while fighting the almost control-less plane to keep it in the air and attempting to avoid anti-aircraft batteries. Short-circuits in the electrical system and smoldering fires in the insulation combined to cause an additional 10-12 fires to flare up on the return trip. The smoke from these fires resulted in Lt Judy being blinded much of the time. Sgt Cherry and Lt Layn fought and put out the fires, then returning to their guns in case additional German fighters should appear. Lt Judy would relate later We came home at 210 miles per hour, buzzing cities, factories and airfields in Germany. It was the first legal buzzing I had ever done.
The Manston Airbase was partially under repair, with many holes in the main runway. By this time My Prayer was barely staying in the air. There was no time to search for another airfield. After the gear were locked in position, Judy managed to put My Prayer down in a skidding landing on the grass at 1610 hours. It had been just an hour and forty minutes since My Prayer began her solitary flight back from Frankfurt. There were over 500 holes in the aircraft. She would never fly again. But, Lt Judy had brought his two remaining crewmen home safely. For their actions on this mission, all three crew members were put in for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lt Judy eventually was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award for valor. Lt Layn and Sgt Cherry were awarded Silver Stars, the nations third highest award. Sgt Cherry was also credited with one Me 109 shot down.
Sgt Cherry was taken to the hospital at Manston, where he remained until he was able to be moved back to the base hospital at Bassingbourn. Lt Judy was given time off from flying missions and Lt Layn was assigned as a fill-in copilot on other planes while waiting for Lt Judy to be assigned a new crew. On the 22nd of August Lt Judy flew down to Manston to visit Sgt Cherry and to let him know he would not put together another crew until he, Sgt Cherry, was able to return to flight status and be a part of his new crew. Lt Judy flew almost daily training flights of one half to three hours duration through the 26th of September.
When Sgt Cherry once again was ready for combat flying, Lt Judys new crew was assembled. The other members of the crew were: Lt Layn, again copilot; 1Lt Capen R. Simons, navigator; S/Sgt George R. ODea, bombardier; T/Sgt Lloyd A. Johnson, radio operator; Sgt John M. Yatsko, ball turret gunner; S/Sgt Linwood W. White, right waist gunner; Sgt William V. Williams, left waist gunner; Sgt Niles H. Withers, tail gunner.
Lt Judy flew as a Spare with this crew in No. 794 on the 26th of September to Meulan, France. They met the formation at the English coast and followed it all the way to the target. Unfortunately, the target was clouded over and the entire Strike Force was recalled without dropping its bombs. No enemy fighters were sighted and only meagre flak was encountered as they went over Dieppe. The next mission was on the 2nd of October, to the industrial areas at Emden. Again they flew in No. 794. The formation encountered a number of German fighters and Lt Judys plane received several 20 mm cannon fire hits in the wing and tail. The top turret was hit by .30 caliber machine gun slugs and one of the tires was shot out. However, Lt Judy brought the plane in safely. None of the crew was wounded. On the 4th, they started for Frankfurt in No. 711, Chief Sly III, with 1Lt Sidney Mantman as copilot, but had to abort one minute after crossing the Enemy Coast. The oxygen system went out in the ball turret causing Sgt Yatsko to pass out. His electric suit also shorted out resulting in electrical burns.
On the 9th the crew was assigned to No. 178, The Old Standby. This was the same plane in which Lt Judy had flown his first combat mission, as copilot with Lt James Bairds crew, back in July. On this day, 2Lt John K. Carter filled in for Lt Layn as copilot. Lt Carter had only recently arrived at Bassingbourn and was flying his first combat mission. The Old Standby started out flying on the left wing of Lt Geralds plane, No. 511, Wheel N Deal. Lt Gerald was Lead of the Second Element of the Lead Squadron. 1Lt Charles B. Pinnings crew was in No. 711, Chief Sly III, on Lt Geralds right wing.
The 91st was one of six Groups flying in the 1st Air Division that day. The target for the 1st Division was the Arade Fluggenwarke at Anklam, 75 miles north of Berlin. This factory built component parts, primarily wing and tail assemblies, for the FW 190 German fighter. The Anklam strike force was a part of a three-mission maximum effort by VIII Bomber Command that day. The other two targets were Marienburg and Danzig/Gdynia. The Anklam mission was, in part, a diversionary effort to draw the German fighters from the other two forces that were striking farther east. Accordingly, the 91st arrived at the enemy coast one hour before the other two Strike Forces crossed over onto the continent. The Anklam Strike Force flew at 13,000 ft to present a more enticing target for the German fighters. The formation first headed towards Berlin, then turned sharply to drop on the target at Anklam. This approach was done to pin down the fighters defending Berlin long enough that they would not be able to catch up with the 1st Division formation after it turned away from Anklam.
The diversionary plan was a success. The 91st formation was attacked by more than 300 enemy aircraft, including Me 109s, FW 190s, Me 110s, Me 410s, and Ju 88s, as soon as the planes crossed the Danish coast. The Me 110s fired rockets into the bomber formation while the other planes, singles, pairs and flights of four, came roaring through the formation in head-on attacks. Chief Sly III, the plane Judy and his crew had flown in five days earlier, took hits and dropped out of the formation. Lt Pinning tried to make it to the safety of Sweden, but had to ditch in the Baltic. None of the 10 crewmen aboard survived.
At about 1000 hours, Sgt Williams was killed by a single round of 7.8 mm machine gun fire. Just before the IP, No. 778, Green Fury, flown by 2Lt Alexander W. Stewart, flying on the left wing of the Group Lead, No. 804, Hells Halo, with 1Lt Leroy E. Everrett, Jr. as pilot (the Group Leader, Maj Don Sheeler, was flying as his copilot) went down. Lt Judy moved The Old Standby up into his place to tighten up the formation. As the strike force approached Anklam, flak became heavy. An explosion below The Old Standby disabled the bomb bay doors such that they would not lower on the bomb run. Lt Judy ordered that the doors not be cranked open and the bombs, three 1,000 pound general purpose bombs and five 100 pound incendiaries, be held. He was afraid that the doors could not be closed, which would cause the plane to drop behind the formation to become an easy target for the German fighters. On the way back from the target the formation was jumped by 200-300 fighters. Sgt Withers was wounded by a 20 mm cannon shell that left a gaping hole in his left leg. The right ball turret gun was knocked out of commission by a 7.8 mm armor penetrating round; then the left gun ran out of ammunition. Sgt Yatsko continued to operate the turret as a decoy.
Within sight of the North Sea, another pass by the fighters put the top turret out of commission and started a fire. Sgt Cherry put the fire out and remained in the turret calling out positions of fighter attacks to Lt Judy. A minute or so later, at 1225 hours, an 88 mm flak burst cut the control cables causing The Old Standby to go into a diving right turn. Lt Judy switched on the autopilot to help in regaining partial control of the plane. Another fighter pass resulted in more 20 mm hits in the cockpit causing an oxygen tank to explode, filling the cockpit with a flash fire and smoke. This fighter, a Me 110, was flown by Lt Gunther Wegmann. Lt Judy ordered the crew to bail out as he struggled to hold the plane level. Only after he presumed all the crew were out, did Lt Judy jump.
Sgt Yatsko in the ball turret had not heard the bail-out bell and remained in the turret moving the guns as if they were functional. As The Old Standby was spiraling down, the ball turret mechanism was hit by cannon shells causing it to rotate to the exit position. Sgt Yatsko looked up into the plane and saw Sgt Johnson bailing out and Sgts Withers and Williams lying on the floor. He got out of the turret, put a chute on Sgt Withers, who could not do so himself because of his wounds, and helped him jump. After seeing that Sgt Williams was beyond help, Sgt Yatsko jumped. A few seconds later, at 1230 hours, The Old Standby went into the ground at a 45 degree angle and exploded. Sgt Yatskos chute opened just in time.
The Old Standby came down near the village of Kragstedt, on the Johannes Carstens family farm, whose eight-year-old son, Uwe, witnessed the crash. Sgt Williams body and seven of the crew were brought to the Carstens farmhouse by the nearby farmers where the Luftwaffe picked them up a short while later. Lt Carter was met by a Home Guardsman who turned him over to the Luftwaffe. He was put in a truck and driven to the Carstens farmhouse where the rest of the crew was loaded into the truck and taken to the Luftwaffe air base near Flensburg.
Lt Judy landed apart from the rest of the crew. Once on the ground, he reckoned he was close to the Danish border, but not having a compass was not certain in which direction. He walked a while and then took refuge in a barn for the night. When the farmer came out to tend his livestock in the morning Lt Judy listened to what he said to the animals. Lt Judy recognized from his three years of high school German that he had traveled the wrong direction. Lt Judy turned himself in to the farmer, Heinrich Fuhrer, who told Lt Judy that he would have to turn him over to the village burgomaster or he himself would be in trouble. They went to the police station at Wanderup. From there Lt Judy was taken to the Flensburg Luftwaffe air base, where he was united with the other survivors of The Old Standby. Thus, Lt Judy began his life as a POW.
Late afternoon of the 10th the crew was transported by bus to the main rail station at Flensburg and sent to the Luftwaffe interrogation center, Dulag Luft Lager, at Oberusel, near Frankfurt. After interrogation at Oberusel, Lt Judy was sent by box car, along with the other officers, to Stalag Luft III Sagan, in Silesia. He was housed in Barracks No. 43 in the Center Compound. There, he was reunited with the officers from My Prayer who had bailed out on the Schweinfurt mission. Also in the barracks was 1Lt Joel Gatewood, a fellow pilot in the 322nd Squadron, whose plane, No. 139, Chief Sly II, had been the sixth 91st Bomb Group plane shot down on the Schweinfurt mission. Only three others of Lt Gatewoods crew had survived.
At Stalag Luft III Judy tolerated the usual harsh living conditions encountered by POWs, especially the deteriorating food situation as the war progressed. Without the distribution of Red Cross packages, many would not have survived. In general, however, the prisoners were treated well by the camp guards. The main physical harassment came when the Gestapo or SS visited the camp. During those visits the regular guards would have to be more strict, requiring roll calls in which the prisoners had to stand in formation outside the barracks for long periods regardless of the weather.
The American prisoners in the Center Compound dug a 150 foot-long escape tunnel that began under a furnace in Lt Judys barracks. The occupants of the barracks supplied slats from their bunks to shore up the walls of the tunnel. Soon, there were few slats left to support the bedding. The day before the break-out was to take place, the Germans discovered the tunnel and filled it with water, bringing to a halt the escape attempt. The Germans obviously knew of the existence of the tunnel in advance as they probed in precisely the correct place when locating it. The only repercussion the prisoners received was an extra long formation in the courtyard to ensure no one had escaped. Soon afterwards, the British prisoners attempted an escape from the adjacent North Compound, as depicted in the movie The Great Escape. The following morning, the American prisoners were witnesses to beatings of British prisoners that had been caught in the tunnel before escaping.
Upon approach of the Russian army, the Germans rousted out all the prisoners in Stalag Luft III late the night of 27 January 1945 to depart the camp. They were allowed to take no more than what they could carry and the clothes on their back, including only one coat. Some took slats from their bunks to make sleds, but soon had to discard them as there was not enough snow in places for a sled. The prisoners were marched for five days in bitter cold and snow, sleeping nights in unheated churches, barns and other out buildings. The prisoners finally were loaded on railroad cars at Spremberg, 55 miles west of Sagan. Conditions in the cars were little better. The prisoners were packed into the cars with no room to lie down. It was bitter cold with almost no food and very poor sanitation facilities.
After several days the train reached Stalag Luft VII at Moosburg, near Vienna. Conditions there were almost intolerable. Far too many prisoners were packed into the camp. For most, the only cover was provided by tents. Food was essentially nonexistent. What rations the prisoners did get were basically slop--soup made of rotten vegetables. General Pattons Third Army finally liberated Moosburg on 29 April. About a week later Lt Judy was moved by truck to Ingolstadt where, after a two-day wait, he was placed on a C-47, Gooney Bird, and flown to Rheims, France. After delousing, processing and getting shots Lt Judy was moved to Camp Lucky Strike near Le Havre. From there he returned by ship to the United States.
Don arrived in Seattle the 11th of June 1945. He was given a R and R leave, following which he left the service and worked for the Shorn Paint Company while awaiting orders into the Regular Air Force. A daughter, Janet, was born to Yvonne and Don in March 1946. His regular Air Force commission came through in September 1947. Don was first assigned to the 15th Air Force Command, 327th Bomb Squadron, at what is now Fairchild Air Base at Spokane, to fly B-29s. In January 1948 he was assigned to the 20th Air Force Command at Anderson Air Base on Guam. Once again he flew B-17s as part of a Search and Rescue Unit. Later Don was sent to Isley Field on Saipan as Commanding Officer in charge of closing the base. That task accomplished, he returned to Anderson to finish out his tour. Yvonne and Janet accompanied Don on these assignments.
Upon completion of the Pacific tour, Don was assigned to Vance Air Force Base at Enid Oklahoma as Base Executive Officer and to train new recruits. While there he was sent on TDY to Tyndal Air Force Base in Florida to attend Command Officer School. A son, Don, was born in May 1952. In January 1953 Don was assigned to Recruiting duties at Sampson Air Force Base, Geneva, New York, with responsibilities for the state of New York. When Sampson closed in June of 1954, Don was transferred to Mitchel Field at Hempstead, Long Island. He continued recruiting duties with periodic flights to maintain his flight status.
The B-25 settles quickly to earth in the open space in the Cemetery, exploding upon impact with the ground. There is no fire, only twisted wreckage strewn about the cemetery..
Just 1,500 feet away, the 500 students at the Uniondale Grand Avenue School continue their studies unaware of what has just happened. Although they may read about the plane crash in the evening newspapers, in the diverting excitement of their youthful lives, the students will never realize the magnitude of sacrifice made for them. The school bus stops. Twenty-seven giggling, pushing students skip happily to the front door. They are too young ever to comprehend fully the price that was paid to keep them out of harms way. In the nearby homes the housewives continue their morning activities. They, too, will remain oblivious to the sacrifices that had been made to ensure their safety.
Today, for the third time, Don Judy risked his own life that others might live. There was not the ear-shattering din of a multitude of bombers taking off on their missions of destruction. There were no red flashes of exploding anti-aircraft shells buffeting the plane about. There was no gravely clatter of jagged flak tearing apart the aluminum skin of the plane. There were no screaming Focke-Wulf 190s or Messerschmidt 109s spitting out their deadly 20 mm cannon shells in screaming head-on frontal attacks. There were no exploding oxygen tanks or fiery infernos incinerating the plane in flight. There was only the simple malfunctioning of an aging engine of a plane on a routine solitary flight. Today, was a pleasantly cool, sunny late summer morning with a balmy breeze blowing over a city at peace. That peace was broken by a gentle knock on a door. Yvonne Judy opened the door to two officers, one was a Chaplain.
Today was the final time Don Judy would be asked to risk his life that others might live.
My Prayer crew. Kneeling, from the left: James Don Judy, pilot; Roger W. Layn, copilot; Edward J. DeCoster, navigator; Lewis M. Allen, bombardier. Standing, from the left: Vincent P. Lala, left waist gunner; Paul F. Burton, tail gunner; Earl M. Cherry, flight engineer/top turret gunner; Ray C. Tarbell, right waist gunner; Charles A. Baiano, ball turret gunner; Virgil G. Faust, radio operator. (Yvonne Peck)
Contrails. Contrails formed over Germany by the 91st Bomb Group on a mission to Zeitz, Germany on 30 November 1944. The bomber appearing over the edge of the No. 2 engine is No. 880, Little Miss Mischief. (Dale Darling)
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