James (Jim) Fall was a freshman pre-veterinary student at Manchester College when Word War II began for the United States on December 7, 1941.
“That very day I came home to enlist in the military, I was only 17 years old, so I needed my parent’s signature,” Fall said. “I made an agreement with my dad to finish.” Fall kept his promise to his dad and finished his first year of college and in the summer of 1942, he hitchhiked to Fort Wayne, Indiana and enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an aviator cadet. By November 1943, Jim successfully earned his pilot’s Silver Wings and a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) 1055, Fighter Pilot, single engine with unlimited horsepower.
“After completing transition flight training, we were pronounced combat ready and now we just waited for our oversea orders.”
Assigned to the 366th Fighter Group out of Thruxton, England
After arriving in Europe, Fall was assigned to the 9th Air Force, 366th Fighter Group in the 391st Fighter Squadron out of Thruxton, England. On June 10, 1944, Jim was flying his 21st mission when his aircraft took a hit in the left wing resulting in a fire.
“I had to bail from the plane,” he said. “From the air I could see the English Channel and I hoped to come down in friendly territory. As I slammed into earth, my left leg bone snapped right above my ankle.”
Jim was soon greeted by Germans rifles and would spend the next 10 and half months as a German Prisoner of War (POW).
German Prisoner of War
For two weeks Jim was passed from one German group to another until he arrived at Dulag Luft, which was the first stop for most United States Army Air Force personnel captured by the Germans.
“The first night in solitary was a long one, I was cold, and my leg hurt. I worried about how my family would react when they got word that I was missing.”
Stalag Luft 3
After 7 days of solitary confinement Fall was escorted to the train station and boarded for Stalag Luft 3 in Sagan, Poland, a camp specifically selected because the soil made it difficult for POWs to escape. Fall explains the camp as a working family, as they pooled their food, cooked together, and the older POWs would counsel the newcomers.
“After a month of breaking my leg, I finally received treatment at Stalag Luft 3. The “doctor” was a sophomore medical student POW with no medical equipment. He suggested we cast my leg and pray for healing.”
By mid-January 1945 the Soviet Union was advancing on the eastern front. To prevent the Soviets from liberating the POWs, the German’s started marching the prisoners to Germany.
“There was six inches of snow, blizzard conditions, and temperatures around 18 degrees below zero. We marched for 8 days and 65 miles from Sagan, Poland to Spremberg, Germany. We were all fatigued. You felt like you couldn’t keep going but you knew you would die if you didn’t.”
Jim and the other men arrived at Moosburg VII-A. Unlike Stalag Luft 3, Moosburg had no order and was very disorganized, food was very limited and sporadic. In 10 months, Jim had lost 100 pounds, half of his body weight.
“The Germans could not supply us with food and water, there were no bathing facilities, no sick call, no laundry, no cooking facilities, the camp was filthy, and vermin infested,” he said.
April 29, 1945, the men’s mental state was rapidly declining but there were rumors that sparked excitement, rumors that American troops were nearby.
Jim and the other POWs men anxiously watched American P-47s and P-51s attack nearby targets. Soon after the battle, an American tank came barreling through the barbed wire, liberating over 100,000 POWs.
“We arrived in New York City and within a few days I was headed to Indiana for a ninety-day convalescent leave, and I sort of felt like I earned it.”
While on leave Jim married his high school sweetheart Ethel Mae Swank on June 28, 1945. Jim (99) and Ethel (97) have been married for 77 years.
“On September 2, 1945, the Japanese’s surrendered aboard the USS Missouri. This surrender changed my life. They would no longer need me as a fighter pilot. My military career was over.”