392nd Bomb Group

2nd lt. David Purner, Navigator, Ofenstein crew

Down on 29 April 1944 - Mission: Berlin

When we were hit, I knew where we were - I had just logged a position report because it was a good pinpoint - the weather was clearing up but I couldn't see Hanover. I actually always worked pretty hard at navigating. In a situation like this, the lead navigator was the fellow who would make any heading corrections, so in essence, you were following the pilot - which is a rather tough way to navigate. You're not calling the shots; you have to follow the pilot. You're constantly working; if there's a wind change, then you have to pick it up and that's not easy to do under the circumstances. I had my pin point position, so I knew where we were. We were in good shape (if you get into trouble and the pilot calls a heading for Sweden, the navigators got to know where he is to get a heading). When we got hit, they were reporting fires all over the aircraft: "Fire in the bombay; fire in the engine". Buzz was the first one to call: "Fighters high - 11 o'clock" .He was in the nose turret and these fighters came in from the left.

Soon after we were hit, the plane went into a flat spin. We lost altitude pretty rapidly, but the floor of that aircraft seemed pretty solid, you know. We lost two engines on the left; the third engine was on fire apparently! It was in a flat spin to the left. I don't think there was any collision with other aircraft. I think if you got hit that hard with something that would knock the tail assembly off, you'd know it. From that initial impact when we got hit, the damage was done, boom - right there! We fell right out of formation. You know that!

You've had to crawl through to get from the bombay into the nose. The navigator and bombardier's compartments are up there. You actually had to climb up this little tunnel which curves up and around, to get to the flight deck where the pilot and co-pilot are. We're in an isolated situation there; you can't see much, you can hear what comes over the intercom (but I've been disconnected from the intercom for quite a while). I pointed to the nose wheel door. "Come on Buzz! (Lt. H. Buzzi) We're done!" He shook his head and said "No!". He wanted to crash land with Offy! If Offy (the pilot) was going to bring it in; he wanted to crash land.

We had talked about this situation before; what would happen if and when.... So he sat on the ammunition box about three feet away. I put my desk up (situated just over the nose wheel door) and there's our escape hatch. It hooks up and I sit on the edge of the nose wheel door. Buzz was right there on the ammunition box.

We drop through the cloud cover at 15,000 feet and shortly after that we kicked into a tight spin. The airplane started winding up like a two-story house. At that exact moment, the same instant...the thing you heard was the bail out bell. Johnny Wall (co-pilot) hit that thing and then...wham! At that moment, I slipped off the door and wound up on the nose wheel. I was going nowhere; the slipstream got me.

Offy had dropped the landing gear as a sign of surrender, so the nose wheel is sticking down. Since the nose wheel door is your only escape hatch, this is detrimental to your bailing out! I wound up immediately astride the mudguard above the wheel.

I didn't anymore but hit the slipstream when both pairs of my boots got ripped off. That was a little frightening, because this is quite a force you know. There was some pain with it because I'd been hit in the left leg and foot with a 20 mm shell. I had on those felt boots with the wires that plugged into your heated suit; and then the fur lined zipper boots over them. Well, the wind took them both. These fit snug and it requires quite a force to grab both and send them flying off. It's hard for me to sit here now and believe it! And then of course, the centrifugal force pins you against the side of the aircraft.

All this time, I've got to get off that wheel. All I've got to do is lay back and fall off. I can't see Buzz...I can't see anything. I'm assuming that Buzz is thrown up in the nose, around the bomb sight someplace. I know he never came through the nose wheel doors. Once that thing starts winding up, why, it's got you - I tried and tried to lay back - I wanted to lay back but I couldn't move my arms...so I gave up! I'm sitting over a hole and everytime that airplane goes around, I can see the ground; I can see the trees coming up.

I used to log aircraft on bombing missions; when they'd get hit. It was always amazing to me when we'd watch for chutes coming down and report how many came out. I could never understand why we didn't get more chutes out. Man...they had all kinds of time to get out of there - 2 minutes or more. You knew there'd be ten men in there and you'd see three, four, maybe none. Why not six, eight? Well I found out, it's a lot of force!

I was convinced I was going in...I knew I was going' in with that aircraft and there wasn't anything I could do about it. The trees were there, just below me. I was a trained navigator and observer and I estimate 500 feet. Could have been 600 or 700 feet; but there wasn't much there. Suddenly, there was an explosion and I felt my self free. I remember thinking; "I'm gonna see Louise again!" The first thing I thought about - I started scratching for my rip chord with both hands and I couldn't find it. I didn't know which side it was on...you see, you can put that pack on either way.

I've lived with this, thoroughly convinced that the Lord pulled me out of that airplane and opened the chute. I don't know why! But He did and there must be a purpose. I didn't pull the rip chord and I was panicked until I saw the chute: "It's open". It's really violent...I don't know why it didn't spill...all this billowing black smoke, dust and pieces of flying debris. I remember seeing numbers. I hit the ground without seeing it:" I'm down!". I hit my butt and my head.

I remember a briefing somewhere in our training: first thing you do is bury your chute and head the other way! Which I did. I could see German troops and they had troop carriers; big work horse army trucks. Quite a few troops on this particular one - I can see it right now! Pulling up, stopping, unloading, scouring ... searching. You can see the Germans, not close enough to see the color of his eyes, but maybe 50 yards away. So, I crawled towards the edge of a little wooded area I had landed near.

I headed into the woods, buried my chute, retraced my steps and headed back out to the edge of the field. From there, I crawled slowly into the center of this good-sized grain field. I'm lying there and I begin to get real depressed; despondent! "Shit...Things don't look so good." I'm concerned about my foot; I'd lost my escape kit; the zipper on my suit couldn't close and it was gone.

I was alone for about thirty minutes until I saw someone moving towards me. I called out "Smitty" (Sgt. A. Smith, waist gunner) and he crawled over. We lay there in that field and watched the Eighth Air Force go home. Finally we walked toward a creek and followed that thing for a while. We had to duck for cover several times. People were walking by and there were troops. All that first night we walked.

We made pretty good progress, Smitty and I; better than I would have guessed under the circumstances, because we walked from dusk 'till dawn. We had to since my wounds were of great concern. They were causing problems and I was in my sock feet. There were so many irrigation ditches, as we'd tried to head North, that we just kept hitting them. I'd try to jump, but I couldn't land on my feet; I'd have to jump and land on my side. Often I'd land in the mud and water, or what have you. So we would detour; it seemed like we were forever detouring because of obstacles.

The dogs were a constant problem - barking and rousing people in the farmhouses. Everyone had a dog, I think. Travelling by day, we encountered many military vehicles or motorcycles. It wasn't easy at night, not knowing where you were going except north. We just thought our best bet would be to go up to the Baltic and catch a boat to Sweden. I tried to get Smitty to go ahead because I was holding him back, I felt. He probably could have made better time alone, but he didn't want any part of that so he decided to stay. He wanted some company.

We had talked while we lay in that field and decided to head North. We started to run into these streams as we headed across country. You're not doing very well if you follow a stream because it winds around, back and forth...but, it's a lot more secure and you have more coverage. As it got dark, we moved out into open country and hit these irrigation ditches. They were too much for me to jump, so we'd have to detour. This went on all night long. It got a little discouraging and I told Smitty to go along, but he didn't want to leave ...wanted some company I guess.

I had taken out the white lining in the cuffs and the collar of my khaki shirt to use for bandages. Smitty had his escape kit, so we chlorinated some water and tried to purify it. My wounds became a top priority, because my foot began to swell. By the time I was captured, it had become pretty gross and multi-colored. I was quite concerned now; it was not comfortable and it was hard to travel.

Smitty and I kept making what plans we could. We were walking around this kimona. It looked like a child's sleeper ...a blue union suit with that chord hanging out .I said: "Well, we haven't a snowball's chance walking around like this (somebody would see you a half a mile away). We've got to get in a barn or an out building and try to find old pants or old jackets." We had that in mind and we also knew we'd have to get something to eat.

The only thing we ate during that three days was a D bar. It was in the escape kit and it had three sections. We took one of those sections each day and broke it in half. There was nothing in the fields; it was April 29th.By the second night, we were pretty hungry.

Well, we found this hen house next to a farmhouse, just adjacent to it. It was maybe 30 feet away and there was a window part way open. You could hear people snoring.

I said, "Smitty, I'm gonna try to get into that hen house! We got to get something! We'll have to eat it raw. If I get a chicken, well, we can't build a fire. If we get eggs, we'll have to suck 'em! Whatever. We'll go over to that hen house, and you watch-out!" So, quietly, I went into that hen house and the chickens are there roosting...it's dark...and all I want to do is find a nice quiet hen, see. And take a few...I want eggs...I want something...I want to eat.

Well, I knocked the hen off her nest! She went cackle, cackle, cackle - buc, buc, buc, buc. Then they all cut loose! Man, that's a hell of a lot of noise! I'm sure it wasn't as loud as it sounded to me, but I'm sure it was enough to wake up that old man! So I panicked and started grabbing for a chicken. Then I stirred up the nest looking' for eggs. Well, I didn't get a damn thing! Come out empty handed and said: "Smitty, let's get out of here!"

We took off, you know. I had a pretty good size walking stick and learned how to use; not graceful, you know, but mobile. So we made some distance and Smitty turned to me and said: "What'd ya get?...What'd ya get?"

I said: "Not a damn thing!" He was disappointed all right; not anymore than I was. Actually we laughed about it later. A little humor in spite of everything. Not much of a thief! That night we hid in the hayloft of a barn. Now this barn is very close to the house...there's a walk behind the house up to it. Well, we got up into the hayloft and we dug in. It was cold, so Smitty and I snuggled up together to keep warm and it made a lot of difference. It was fairly comfortable under that straw. We had got there before daylight, and intended to stay the day. That morning, bright and early, the guy comes out and goes up into the hayloft. He's got a pitchfork. He starts dragging down hay for his stock, to feed them.

"My God, he's gonna get me with that pitchfork." I can't move. Smitty wasn't snoring loud, but was breathing hard. I'm trying to get him awake without making a lot of noise: "Bub - Bub - Bub". I got him awake and we lay there afraid that the guy was gonna stick us or what ever...but he didn't. He left and we looked out of the cracks between the boards in the barn. We were awful close to that house and I whispered: "Smitty, I don't believe this is the best place for us to be! They're gonna be comin' in and outta this place." There was a shed of some kind across the road. "Let's try to see what's in there! Maybe we can get into the darn thing. Here there's nothing' for us to wear - no old clothes, nothing' to eat - maybe we can find us something over there!"

We got out of the hayloft, slipped out the side of the barn and watched that road. It was one of those small little dirt jobs and we got over to that shed. There was some machinery in it, but we decided against staying there. We thought, "Well, what if he wants to use some of this stuff. There's no place to hide." It's on the edge of this little woods. "Lets just go out into this little woods, find a place to hide, lay down and wait for tonight."

So, we found this hollowed out place. He lay one way and I lay the other way; we could see both directions in the woods. We could see the whole thing. Water for drinking...that was another problem. We had found some water. It seemed to me that we had little plastic bags of some kind in the escape kit. We used that to purify water in. It didn't taste good but it was wet.

I got up and there was a pump...some kind of little shed out there. We thought enough of that pump to drink out of it. We got us some water and laid in that place the rest of the day, waiting for dark.

At some point, kids came up and started to play. They were there for quite a while, but then finally they came quite close to us. The kids were playing hide and go seek, and a little girl hid behind this tree. She got the urge to go to the bathroom and was standing right near me. Well...she looked down and saw me. We were dirty and unshaven...of course we were younger then and with our hair messed and heavy beards...quite a sight.

We had seen those propaganda posters about "terror fliegers." They had pictures of us fliers with fangs for teeth; black faced pilots swooping down on "frau and kinder"...bombing the cities and all that. Goebbles and Hitler said there was nothing worse than a terror flieger. Remember now, we had no ground troops at this time. It was all air war and we did a lot of damage to cities all over Germany. We took off from there and tried to make some distance.

This was a cleaned out woods, but within half a mile we hit a thicket - which was very unusual. Their woods were so clean; it looked like you had swept it with a broom. Now this was like a rabbit thicket and we crawled in there panting, like a couple of dogs. Smitty and I dug in and got covered pretty well; layed there for quite a long time. We heard voices talking as they combed the woods for us. Men and women of all ages criss-crossed...civilians armed with everything. They would go by; then we'd move over where they'd been. Then they'd come the other way. "Well," I says, "this ain't gonna last long!" There were an awful lot of people out there.

We were close to a fire path, maybe 10 or 12 feet wide. I said: "Let's crawl out to that fire path" and we did. We got out there, looked down that thing and didn't spot anybody. "Let's just get up and calmly walk away...get across these woods here...we'll try to get over that stream and lay low for dark." It was almost the end of a long afternoon.

We didn't see a soul, got across the fire path and back into the woods. Just then, one little old man, dressed like a World War One vintage Wermacht, came along on a bicycle...with a Lugar in his hand. He looked at us then gave us a double take. There I am with that damn chord hanging out of my sleepy-time-pajamas flight suit. He laid that Luger on us and said: "Als-kaput." Dropped his bicycle.. He meant business. Well, we put our hands up. I smiled at him, he smiled back; and he says: "Als-kaput! For you der krieg ist over!" Well I knew that, yes sir. I had an awful gut feeling about that time.

He took us out on that road. He's got the bicycle in one hand and the luger in the other. He started yelling and these people came out from both sides...I thought they'd never stop. I've often estimated two hundred of them...just gobs of them.

Maybe 11 days before, the Bucholz vicinity had been hit during a Berlin raid and the populace was just looking for a parachutist. We didn't have forty five's or side arms on us because we were advised against it (not ordered). There'd been many reports of guns being turned on the fliers when they hit the ground. The civilians would pick up their .45's and kill them. You'd only get one clip with eight slugs. So what good was it anyway?

There's this mob now, and the old man lost control of his prisoners. Little loudmouths took over, young guys. One guy with a club had a dog on a chain. It was a German police dog and he put his nose right up against my wounded foot. It was covered with bandages and dried blood. Every step I'd take, he was right with me. I knew what he wanted to do!

The little guy was really vocal; he'd give his recitation, then he'd rear back with that club. It was a pretty good size 2 by 4 looking weapon. I knew if he hit me, I'd have to roll with it. What can you do, you know. One time, he convinced me it was coming and I ducked. That made him really mad and he reared back and kicked me. I mean he lifted me off the ground!

Things went from bad to worse. We got the spit and the stones ...we got hit. Now, they started in on me, because I had those little bars. Smitty became a vocal, at this point. They hadn't paid any attention to him up to that point. We got roughed up pretty good and it seems they were going to hang us. They had their rope and picked out a tree. Now, it's a mob. Lot of them were circling us... milling around but moving in one direction...towards that tree.

The little old man with the luger, well he'd found another fellow !! About the same age, also with a Luger. He finally convinced that crowd to hold us for interrogation. I thought sure, we were going to be hung.

They took us down to some town. I remember a middle aged lady ( a motherly type) was crying openly. She probably had a son in service or something. We went down to what looked like a converted barn; the village town hall, I think. We got more interrogation and more of the kicking around. They were still looking for other parachutists and asking about our crew...this and that.

They wanted information and we couldn't give any so they didn't like that. This went on and on and on until finally, about 3 o'clock in the morning, they turned us over to the military. I didn't think that would ever happen. At one point, a guy came down on my foot with his rifle butt and said: "Futzen-cranken! Ha-ha."

We couldn't speak any German at this point, but some of them spoke broken English. In fact, one fellow kept talking about Detroit!

Finally, they gave us over to these Luftwaffe boys, who came after us with two bicycles. I was holding them up; we couldn't walk too fast, so they put me on one of them. Smitty and I laughed about that later, it was a good deal. We went to a slave labor camp, not too far along and spent the night there. The next morning those slave laborers were going out to work. It couldn't have been a big operation because there weren't that many laborers. They lined up and as they walked by, shook our hands; one guy slipped me a pair of bedroom slippers. Same as giving me a fortune...I had those until I finally got some Red Cross shoes, way up the line.

Some German sergeant took us into Celle. I remember, at the depot there, this guy forever getting him a crowd. Always stirring them up. You got a lot of the spit and the jeers and the cuffs, what have you. This didn't do your nerves any good, I'II tell you. They put us on a train.

That night, we stayed in a holding cell at Heidleburg. We were in a cell with bars, and I started yelling for medical attention, but couldn't get any. The next morning, we were put on a train again, headed for Dulag Luft, Frankfort. It was a German troop train with combat troops heading for the Western front; full pack, gear and so ...anticipating the invasion. It's May 2nd. You can imagine, they're not too happy with that assignment. They're doing a lot of thinking and Smitty and I are not too popular! It's like those continental trains we had in Ireland; you have a compartment with three troops seated on each side. The sergeant showed us into one of those and we're standing between their feet.

As we approach Frankfort, the train went through these black, dark tunnels... I just knew we were gonna get cold steel. I looked for it every time we went into those tunnels. They made it obvious that we were lower than low. As we rolled into Frankfort Smitty was looking out one way and I was looking out the other. Later, when we compared notes, we had trouble finding a whole building. It was just rubble - walls and rubble for as far as you could see from those train windows. Frankfort was pretty well demolished. Today of course, it's all rebuilt with glass skyscrapers and such. All the cities in the Ruhr were decimated.

At any rate, we went into Dulag Luft and had our interrogation. We stayed, as I recall, about 10 days. Maybe a week of that was solitary, with interrogation. They gave us very little to eat; a slice of bread in the morning with water. They wanted to call it tea, but it was made with rose leaves; bread and water by any other name. You had plenty of time to think...worry...and they'd pay you a visit with a so-called Red Cross fellow. Came in and wanted to know this and that...who to notify?...your folks? "Who's your crew"..."Name rank and serial number"..."Your crew - your crew." They'd shout, then they'd keep saying: "You know, you haven't been reported yet as a POW!"

Well, this sort of thing goes on and they've got volumes on us. You're interrogating officer comes in, he says: "Ah - Good morning! Welcome to Germany. Here, take a couple of these back to your cell (hands me some American cigarettes - a real nice Joe). Ah, now lets see, where were you parked? What redoubt? The morning you took off."..."Name rank and serial number... I can't give you more!"... "Well then...look here - I'II give it to you. Here's where you were parked." At one point in time I said to him: "Now look, those are bars, not stars."

Then, he says to me: "Oh, by the way, Captain Lowell got his promotion. He's now a major." Captain Lowell was our squadron commander. Now this German told me that! Anyway, we got out of Dulag Luft and they put us in a holding area for a while. I was put in a group that went off to Stalag III.