Here Now - World War II vet recalls life as a prisoner of war
By Si Cantwell
Published: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 2:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 2:48 p.m.
Charles Patterson woke up around 5 a.m. on Jul. 15, 1944, in Giulia, Italy, where he was based with the 757th Squadron, 459th Bomb Group.
After breakfast, he went to the briefing room. The day's target was hidden under covers as the briefing started. When the covers came off, groans went up. The target was Ploesti, Romania.
Ploesti's oil refineries were vital to the German war effort, so the target was notoriously well-defended.
Patterson, who now lives in the Brunswick County's Longwood community, was 24. This would be his second bombing run. The first one had been easy, a milk run. He didn't know that by the end of his second day on the job, he would be a prisoner of war.
Patterson grew up in Ohio. He'd wanted to be a pilot since Charles Lindbergh's daring trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.
When the war broke out, Patterson interrupted a career selling farm equipment to enlist in the Army's Aviation Cadet Program.
Patterson got married on New Year's Eve 1942 and shipped out four days later. After a stint as a B-24 flight instructor, he went overseas in 1944.
The B-24 was a long-range heavy bomber with a wingspan of 110 feet and a crew of 10. It was easy to shoot down, Patterson said. Its thin, long wings couldn't take much punishment.
His crew dropped the lethal payload over Ploesti and headed for home. Halfway back, they flew over a four-gun, radar-operated flak battery.
He was hit. The No. 3 engine was blown off the wing.
I issued the order: Fellows, just jump out and good luck,' Patterson said.
On the ground, he was found by a group of Yugoslavians or Albanians who handed him to the Germans.
He was taken to a civilian prison in Budapest. After a week, he was went to Stalag Luft 3 near Sagan, Germany.
In his barracks, the prisoners pooled their Red Cross rations. As larder boss, Patterson stashed away fruit desserts and crackers for weeks. Grinding the hard crackers into flour and using soda from tooth powder, they baked a four-layer cake for Thanksgiving.
Boy was it good! he said.
The winter of 1944-'45 was harsh. As the Russians approached, Hitler ordered the camp evacuated. They marched the prisoners 40 or 50 miles. They slept in the snow. When a prisoner fell, the Germans shot him. Finally, they loaded the POWs into train cars. There wasn't room to sit so they took turns, half standing at one end of the car, the other half sitting.
They were taken to Stalag 7A near Moosburg. It was liberated by Patton's Army on April 29.
Soon Patterson was back home, settling into married life and roaming his territory selling farm equipment.
He retired to Calabash and moved to Longwood with his second wife.
Patterson called me to ask about the Honor Flight (honorflightsenc.org), which made its inaugural run Tuesday. He thought he might go to Washington on a subsequent flight. But he decided he'd rather take a train with family members.
This time, there'll be room for everyone to sit down.
2nd Lt. Charles A Patterson was assigned to the 459th BG 757th Squadron.
Military Occupational Specialty (MOS): Co-pilot.
Please contact us with any biographical data, pictures or other information regarding the service and life of Charles Patterson.