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Max Wilson B-17 bomber pilot: Shot down, plan to escape almost foiled

Discussion in 'A Soldier's Story' started by Tipnring, Aug 12, 2019.

  1. Tipnring

    Tipnring Member

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    World War II veteran Max Wilson, a B-17 bomber pilot, was shot down by German fighters and landed in Switzerland, then escaped to return to the American army in France.

    FRANCIS GARDLER/Lincoln Journal Star

    For six months, Max Wilson lived in a Swiss internment camp and, every day, he planned his escape.

    The Germans shot down his B-17 bomber in 1944, and the 22-year-old belly-landed in a Swiss pasture and then was taken to the camp near Davos, Switzerland. He and a friend nicknamed Sam Houston were assigned to fingerprint each American entering the camp -- alive, wounded or dead.

    They plotted their escape, first from the camp, then from the country, which was surrounded by the Germans.

    One day, Wilson and Houston fingerprinted a dead soldier before he was shipped off to a cemetery in Bern. Americans were allowed to send members from the deceased's crew to bury their own, and Wilson persuaded this man's fellow soldiers to let him and Houston take the body to Bern instead.

    They buried the body, changed into civilian clothes and fled, taking a train to Switzerland's Lake Geneva in search of the French Resistance.

    They nearly ruined their escape by getting a little rambunctious in a bar one night, but some friendly Polish officers noticed them and correctly assumed they were American.

    The Poles connected them with the French Underground, which promised to smuggle them out of Switzerland "as long as they kept their mouth shut."

    Houston and Wilson, who was born in Hordville and lives in Lincoln, hid for two days in a hay-filled loft above a restaurant before the resistance said it was time.

    "'You're leaving tonight,'" the 93-year-old Wilson recalled being told.

    Wearing civilian clothes, they obeyed orders and followed "a lady in the white coat” to the outskirts of town, where they jumped into a waiting vehicle. That was the only time they ever saw the woman in white Wilson said. They didn't even know her name.

    Members of the resistance waiting near the shore of Lake Geneva guided the two Americans into the darkness of the Swiss Alps, where they spent the night.

    The next morning, Wilson and Houston hiked down the mountain and into France. They made it to Grenoble, where, he said, they met "the whole damn army."

    Wilson and Houston hopped American trucks and trains to the southern coast, and then flew to an Air Force base in Italy. His friend returned to Foggia, Italy, where he was stationed.

    Wilson plane-hopped from Italy across northern Africa and eventually back to his base in London.

    It took about a month, but he was free again.
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