|Jack W. Stead|
|November 1, 2000|
Date of transcription:
|May 11, 2001|
|Yes, with written permission|
#Part 1 - At Home
#Part 2 - Basic Training
#Part 3 - On to England
#Part 4 - A Typical Day
#Part 5 - April 27th, 1944
#Part 6 - Connection with the Underground
#Part 7 - Over the Pyrenees
#Part 8 - Some Questions
Gregory: Mr. Stead, you do understand, sir, that this conversation is being recorded?
Stead: Oh, yes, that's fine with me.
Gregory: Very good, sir. Thank you so much. Let's begin please with some background information. Would you tell me please where and when you were born and where you grew up?
Stead: I was born right here in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age, grew up here, went to grade school, high school, two years of college right here. And then I got married and shortly got drafted in the service.
Gregory: Now you were drafted after you were married?
Stead: Yes, I was.
Gregory: And when would that have been?
Stead: I was drafted in the later part of 1942.
Gregory: What had you been doing prior to that as employment?
Stead: Originally I was studying to be a dentist, and then when the war came along, I dropped out of that and went to work at Chrysler factory. I was working there at the time that I was drafted. I'd completed two years of college.
Gregory: Was your employment at Chrysler related to the war effort at all?
Stead: Oh, yes, surely. Oh, yes. The entire auto industry swung over to that.
Gregory: What sort of things were you doing at Chrysler?
Stead: We were building parts for aircraft. I think it was the Martin bomber . . . we had so many plants that each one did one thing. The parts that we made though . . . but basically where I was was in the foundry building and they were building castings for tanks. And they had come out with the idea that they could have a huge casting upon which they would mount five engines and then in turn put these into a tank. Well, we completed them and were manufacturing the casting, but it didn't work out because with five engines it drove them crazy. There was one of them always going haywire, and had four engines dragging the tank plus a dead engine. And so they abandoned that. Gave that idea up. But in the meantime, before that it was given up, I was drafted.
Gregory: So you did not have a deferment based on your war . . .
Stead: Oh, no, no, no. I never had a deferment, no.
Gregory: Did you experience shortages of the rationing and so forth?
Stead: Oh, sure. We all had that. I mean they started that right away so we were rationed on fuel and meat and butter and all that stuff. Yes, we used to have ration books. The whole ball of wax.
Gregory: What was the biggest problem? Did you get enough gasoline or no?
Stead: Well, no, you didn't get enough gasoline to go anywhere, but everybody was . . . it's just like the Depression. It was a terrible thing, but everybody was in it, so it wasn't so bad because of that.
Gregory: So you got your notice from Uncle Sam . . .
Stead: Yes, he sent it to me one bright, shiny day, and my wife was very unhappy. I had told her that I wanted to enlist and she had a fit, so having had two years of college, I think if I had enlisted, I could have gotten an officer's commission. So anyway, if you're married, you know, you want to keep your wife happy, and so I did not enlist. And then I eventually got drafted. And they called me to actually go right after the end of `42. The beginning of 1943.
Gregory: And where did you report?
Stead: Well, I had to report here to Detroit and then I reported to . . . not Sheridan . . .oh, golly, what was that camp? Oh, Sheridan is over in Chicago. My golly, I've forgotten the name of it. That camp is no longer in existence here. That's something to forget that.
Gregory: And Mrs. Stead was not too happy?
Stead: Oh, no. Very unhappy. Well in the meantime she got pregnant which her folks said would happen. That we were foolish to get married and we said they were foolish to tell us that because we weren't [laughing].
Gregory: Nothing ever changes.
Stead: No, that's right. The camp is Camp Custer.
Gregory: And then where did you go for basic?
Stead: Well then from Custer, I got loaded on a train because they didn't ask me where I wanted to go, you did what they told you. I got loaded onto a train and got off two days later and got off and found myself in Florida. And they lined us up as we got off the train that morning and said we were all in the Air Corps. And we didn't ask for it, that's just where we were assigned. So we were then transferred to Clearwater, Florida. And there's a great big frame hotel there - it's a huge thing - and the Air Corps had taken that over. And we moved all the furniture and everything else and they put bunk beds in the rooms and we were billeted there. And then of course there were big golf courses there and we would work out on this golf course, did most of our calisthenics and so forth on the beach. So that was where we took our basic.
Gregory: And this would have been in the winter?
Stead: Yeah, uh huh.
Gregory: So that wasn't too too bad.
Stead: Oh, no, no. Not at all. In fact it was so good my wife came down and stayed for a week or two. But I couldn't get off base. I got off base with their permission, but during the day they kept us busy.
Gregory: What did you like about your basic training?
Stead: Well, you don't like much about your basic training. I don't think there is anything you could like about that. You're not in shape and they get you stiff and sore all the time, and you know, they were toughening us up. So, no, basic training is not enjoyable. You do it because you're told to do it and you do it.
Gregory: Were you a little older than you're . . .
Stead: Yes, a little bit. At that time I was twenty-one.
Gregory: Where did they send you when you finished up in Clearwater?
Stead: Well, when I finished up in Clearwater, I had elected . . . I met a guy there and I had qualified for any one of the schools and I asked him where he was going and he said he was going to go to armament school. So I said, "Well, let's stay together." We got along well, and he said, "Ok." So I signed up for armament school and to and behold don't you know, they took him away one day and not me. Which is par for the course. So he went on and I followed about two, three weeks later. I wound up then in Denver. Denver, Colorado. And went to armament school there. I was at Buckley Field. That was it. Lowery Field was the main field and that was a permanent field and down the road they built Buckley Field. And so I was at Buckley. And while I was there, a bulletin board went up and it said anyone that thinks they would like to fly - be a gunner - sign up. So I thought, gee, you know, that's interesting. Here I am married and with one child coming - show you how dumb I was - I hurried over and signed up my name. And I was accepted and then later then I was sent down to Florida again for gunnery school training to be a gunner.
Gregory: What appealed to you when you signed up for gunnery?
Stead: Oh, I love to fly. I love to fly. Not realizing that it was a whole different kind of flying. You know, when you're that age, everything was going to happen to the fellow next to you - not to you. I guess that's pretty universal, isn't it? So off I went and the fellow I wanted to go to gunnery school with, I lost track of him. I never did find him again. So then I went from there to the gunnery school, as I said, back down to Florida. And Kendall Field, as I recall, was one of the bases we were on in Florida. And then when we graduated from gunnery school, we were assigned to go to Washington. Walla Walla, Washington. I remember that. It was four days and nights on a train. And boy, was that miserable. The old coal-fire jobs. Oh, man, and all the windows leaked and you got coal-dust in your eyes and ears and nose and clothes. We were a real mess by the time we got there, if you can imagine. Because, you know, fast trains would come by and they would always kick us on a siding. But we finally got there. When we got there, then they assigned us to crews - air crews. And that was the first time that we all got together as a crew and then we started our training, our school-type training. And then when we were later issued an airplane, then we transitioned it to the plane and we started doing our air training. Air to air gunnery and air to ground gunnery and that sort of thing. We had had air to ground gunnery and air to air gunnery to learn down in Kendall Field. And so . . . Kendall Field. Then we went to a place called Apalachicola down in Florida when we were in training and that was firing out, firing live out over the Gulf of Mexico. But anyway, so when we were up there, then we started in serious training with the full crew for everything. We had missions we had to fly and then we started to practice flying in formation and that sort of thing.
Gregory: So you were a waist gunner?
Stead: I was, yes. Originally I was a right waist gunner.
Gregory: How was that decision made? Did somebody just look at you and say, "Well, we need a waist gunner?" Or did you want to be there?
Stead: No, they just said, "This is where you'll be. You're the right waist gunner." They just told you and that's what you were. Well it was alright with me, I didn't care. Later on, I could have kissed them because they could have assigned me . . . I have a very small stature. They could have put me in the ball turret and there's a . . . other than hell, there's no where else to go in the world to go that's worse than that thing.
Gregory: Well that was part of my question. You know, obviously you wouldn't want to be in the ball turret.
Stead: That's it, yeah.
Gregory: No matter how big you are - or little.
Stead: Well, there was a little guy. We had a guy named Shorty Hale. He was the ball turret guy. But I used to ride in it, you know, I'd get down there just for fun in training and stuff and run it around so I knew how to operate it. But no, to fly in combat, that's a very dangerous place to be.
Gregory: But basically you didn't mind being trained as a gunner?
Stead: Oh, no, no, no, no. No, that was my job and so I did it.
Gregory: Now had you been home since you left? Well, your wife came to visit you in Florida. Had you seen her then after that?
Stead: Yeah, before we went overseas, I got another furlough and then I went home and then reported back and then we were transferred to Nebraska. And in Nebraska, why we finished our training. We did some of the training up there in Washington then we finished our training at the base in Nebraska. Harvard. Harvard, Nebraska. And that was a little, tiny town and the next town a little bit larger was Hastings, Nebraska. And I remember the people there were so nice out there in that part of the country. Very nice.
Gregory: Would they invite you home for dinner and stuff like that?
Stead: Yeah. My wife came to visit me and she found a place to stay and they took her in and she would read the bible with them in the morning and then have breakfast with them and they did that. The people just took her in. It was just beautiful. Of course I wasn't allowed to stay overnight or anything. I had to be back at the base every night. But she was with me there for maybe a week.
Gregory: Tell me about shipping overseas.
Stead: Well, then when we finished our training there, we got orders to go overseas, so then we flew - we had our planes - then we flew . . . as they told us - something I forgot to tell you - back in Walla Walla, Washington when we were training there, we were on a night training flight and the pilot turned the plane over to the co-pilot and he put his feet up on the cross-bar above the pedals that actuate the rudder on the plane, and he was leaning back and all of a sudden, he looked out and there was a plane - a light from a plane - approaching. And it was dark. It was at night - I should have told you that - it was at night and he dropped his feet on the rudder and he pushed the yoke forward and we dove and I happened to be up in the nose talking to the bombardier and navigator and I was laying down on my parachute. I went up to the ceiling, slammed my nose into the ceiling and our crew chief was going through the plane and we had the window over the radio operator - there was hatch there - they had that out, they said that we had to take that out for these two flights. And the poor guy . . . they had to pull the gun down and the poor guy stopped to talk to the radio operator and just when we dove, he went out that hatch and we lost him.
Gregory: Oh, no.
Stead: Yeah, he fell from . . . God, I don't know what altitude we were at. We were probably at 10,000 or better. And we lost him. It took them almost a week to find him. Because it's so . . . well, there's nothing out there at that time. I doubt even now if it is. It's not that heavily, I don't think, inhabited. But anyway, that was the first shaking thing that we had happen to us. But we realized that airplanes, you know, you can get hurt fooling around with them. Well, anyway, then we got orders to go overseas and we flew over as a group. But not together as a group. We flew over all the planes one at a time. Then the ground personnel came over on boats and we flew up through Presque Isle, Maine and up into Labrador. And then from Labrador we took the northern route across. And the whole group got over safely. We only lost one plane, and they never did know what happened to that one, but that was lost over the Atlantic somewhere. So we all got over except one plane, safely, and then we landed in Prestwick, Scotland. And we were there just a matter of, I think, two days. And then we flew down to our base, which was a brand new base they had created and we took that over and put it in operation. And then we continued our education in formation flying and that sort of thing there for maybe two, three weeks. We flew our first combat mission, 1943, December the 24th - Christmas Eve. And that was the beginning of the fun.
Gregory: Now what was your squadron?
Stead: 447th. And we were stationed at a little town called Rattlesden - R-a-t-t-l-e-s-d-e-n. Rattlesden. And it was further down the line going north from . . .we were on the other side of a town called Ipswich. Which would be east to find on a map, but Rattlesden you'd never find it, it was so small. And that's where our field was and we flew out of there.
Gregory: What was your first mission like?
Stead: The first mission was like nothing. You know, we ran into a little bit of flack, no fighters, and you know, we're looking out the windows and saying, "Boy, this is fantastic!" You know, beautiful scenery and it was just fine. We came back and boy we were laughing and happy. I think that was the last time that we were that happy because at that time which we didn't know or think about or ever know what the score was, they really did not have fighter planes that could stay with us to protect us from the German fighters. And they had . . . the worst ones we contended with were ME-109s and the FW-190. Those were the two, they used to have another plane you called the 210 and those are the ones that we generally had to deal with. But then the second mission, and from then on, we began to come under attack by their planes and they really raised Ned with us. And it was . . . well, it was not a happy trip, let me put it that way.
Gregory: So you were busy as a waist gunner?
Stead: Yes, yes. I never . . .like somebody asked me, "How many planes did you hit?" And I said, "Well, if you could see us all in a formation there, and they had us stacked so we were stacked, you might say, away from the sun, and then the fighters always attacked us from the sun using that to kind of protect them and cover them up. And we were stacked so that we could see them and we were all on different levels although we were flying close together, packed in tight, so that when you were firing, I couldn't be sure that it was my bullets that hit a plane. And I just flatly refused to . . . I didn't need to be important. I didn't need to declare I'd gotten one, so I just let the guys that needed to be heroes. And there was always somebody that would say, "I got him, I got him." But it didn't matter to me.
Gregory: Now, as close as you were flying, did you have to be careful that you didn't hit your other planes?
Stead: No, we were stacked. Yeah, we were stacked. I don't know how I could . . .
Gregory: You weren't wing to wing?
Stead: Yeah, well we were wing-to-wing and tucked in pretty good, but we would be a little bit lower than the one next to us. And then the one next to us was a little bit lower yet. And we were stacked like that. So when you fired, the worst you might do is fire over the plane next to you, but we happened to, the one that I took, we were on the outside, so I had a pretty clear field of fire, but of course everybody above me was firing and everyone below me further back was firing. So you would never know who hit what. So anyhow, we fired at them anyway and I hope I got somebody. I hope I ripped him up a little. I fired enough bullets that I should have.
Gregory: Do you recall your first experience with flack?
Stead: Oh, yes. That we got right away. In the very first couple of missions that we flew, it wasn't too bad because we were up flying around oh, maybe 22,000 - 23,000 feet and that was about the limit of our height. They claimed that that plane would go to 30,000, and I think brand new it might have because we hadn't put super chargers on the engine, but never . . . to get 24,000 even was a struggle. And then don't forget, we had a full bay, we had a load on, and there were ten of us in the crew aboard. So, you know, it was quite heavily loaded. And so I'd say we were anywhere between 22,000 and 24,000 feet. And they just didn't have a way in the beginning of ascertaining just exactly what our altitude was. But as their radar improved and the English radar improved, too, then they began to find us. So our big loss in the beginning was at the tail end of `43 and the beginning of `44 was their fighter planes.
Gregory: Now how often would you fly?
Stead: Well, the weather was so bad over there - I don't know if you've ever been to England, but especially in the winter, it's not nice weather. So there were a lot of days that we couldn't fly, but when ever they could get anything up, we were up. So to answer you with some semblance of sense, I would say that there were times when we flew every day for maybe three or four days in a row, and then there might be a week when we couldn't get off the ground. And so that's pretty much the way it operated. But at that rate, if you were going to fly, they usually had you up about three or four o'clock in the morning to get everything ready so you could go. And you do that three or four days in a row, boy, you're a mess. You are talking to yourself because you don't get back until late, and you're just beat. Although I think the longest mission that I ever flew was seven hours.
Gregory: That's enough.
Stead: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gregory: Walk me through what a typical day might be like when you are flying. Somebody rolls you out?
Stead: Yeah, well, we knew the day before that you are listed. We'd go read the list and we knew we were on for the next day. So you prepared for it. Then you'd go to bed as early as you could. We were all in a Nissen hut. They had, I think we had three crews in a hut. And the officers weren't with us. The officers, you know, they were quartered by themselves. But they would bang in to get you at three thirty, four o'clock in the morning and shake you and get you up. And you would roll out and get dressed and we had to shave because wearing the oxygen mask, if you had a beard, it would just tear your face up something awful. So we had to make sure we shaved and then we'd go get something to eat. And we were really lucky because any day we flew, we got real eggs for breakfast. And then from there, we would go to briefing. And briefing, there is a stage and a big curtain in front of it. And we'd all sit down there, all the crews, and then they's pull the curtain back and they'd have a ribbon showing where we were and where we were going and the route we were going to fly. And a lot of times they'd pull that thing back and the groans would be something to behold if it was a bad one. And a lot of them we would take off, being towards the northern part there . . . see, we weren't that far, really, from the English Channel and we weren't that far from the North Sea. So, some of the missions, we'd take off and then angle over and go up into the North Sea and get up there and then come slant down and come in on the target. And then coming out, they would maybe come straight back, depending on how much fuel they had, but we had to be careful of the Ruhr, the Ruhr Valley, because that was heavily defended with flack guns. So there was no way that you could fly over it because they could get up there and get you in the end with that flack and so we had to fly around it or somehow we had to avoid it. And so it worked pretty well. It worked pretty well. But that flack, yeah, that was miserable stuff. See, those shells would come up there and then when they got up there, they would explode and it left a big, black cloud, like from the black powder. And it would throw shrapnel all over the place. So that could cut you up pretty good.
Gregory: Now would you wear a flack jacket?
Stead: Yes. Yeah. We didn't at first. Then later they came out with flack jackets towards the end. Well, I say the end for me was on the 27th of April. That's when I got shot down. So I guess we didn't get that far. Well, you know because you read the thing. Yeah, yeah. That was the day l got shot down. But we had had flack jackets for about, I guess maybe two or three months by the time I got shot down. But yes, I always wore one.
Gregory: Would it be common for part of the crew to get wounded in the arms and legs and so forth from the flack coming through?
Stead: Yes. It never happened on our crew, but yes, it was very, very likely to happen and as a matter of fact, it was quite a problem. Because you see, let's say you are at 20,000 feet, the air pressure up there of course is a lot lighter than it is down here. Were at what? 14.7 or something pounds per square inch at sea level. And up there, Lord, I don't know right off hand, I can't translate what it would be, but it's . . . let's say it's half that. This means that if you are hit, you're going to bleed like a stuck pig. And so what we would do is . . . we had Band-Aids and stuff, bandages and stuff aboard. And if a guy got hit very badly and he was bleeding profusely, what we would do is, we were instructed to take our fingers and dip it in his blood and then on his forehead, paint the time. And then we would drag him over, put his chute on him, drag him over to the door and then kick the door - you had to knock the door off to get anything out of it because otherwise the slip-stream would keep shutting it - and kick the door off and then tie the static line to the plane and heave him out. And so that when he fell, the static line would pull his rip cord and the Germans would pick him up and minister to him. And it did work, and they did pick people up and they did save their lives. But we couldn't take care of them. They would never have lasted for us to get back to our base in a million years.
Gregory: Now I understand that when you are going through the pre-flight procedure, there is a chaplain there available?
Stead: I never saw one. They are on the base, but there were too many of us and everything was timed, you know, you had to eat and you had to get out to the plane. You had to get . . . and you know, we started early in the morning and you had to make sure your guns were in and that your ammo was in the ammo case so it would come out properly. So you were busy and we really didn't have a chance to go near a chaplain. No, I never . . . now that you mention it, I never saw a chaplain prior to a mission. That's funny, I never thought of that, but you're right, no, I never did.
Gregory: Some airmen carried good luck charms or had little superstitions. Are you familiar with any of that?
Stead: I did.
Gregory: Did you?
Stead: I had a rosary. I can see it right now. It was a light blue rosary and I don't know why, I guess for the first mission I looked at it and put it around my neck so every mission after that, I wore it. But - this is hard to believe - but I had forgotten to put it on the day I got shot down. So, you know, I don't believe in that stuff, really, but it did work that way. I was shot down without it.
Gregory: Did that come to your mind at all when you were shot down?
Stead: No, I didn't blame it on that or say, "Oh, golly, if I'd had it, it would have been all right." No, I don't think it ever crossed my mind. Well, at that time I tell you, David, you're so busy . . . things happen so fast when you are in a mess, when you've been hit. Because see, it's problematical: are you going to be able to get out of that thing in time? Like the day we got hit, I was flying . . . well, explain this: backup a little. It got so bad, they were attacking us so heavily, they found that by flying directly at us in formation, they could get most of us down with one pass. Because there was no deflection shooting and it was a dead-shot. So they started doing that. Well this meant that the front of these planes were getting shot-up something terrible. And when they hit, when the shells would hit this plexi-glass nose, that stuff -- it was so cold up there, it would be about forty, forty-five degrees below zero up there. It was so cold and that plexiglass shattered, it would fly in small pieces. And a lot of these bombardiers and these navigators, their faces were just chopped all up pretty good, you know. And then we lost a lot of them with the frontal attacks just actually getting shot. So they had a shortage of bombardiers, so they pressed us gunners into being bombardiers. And the first flight I ever took was the one I got shot down on, and I was not flying with my own crew. I was flying with a crew that it was their first mission. And when a plane flew their first mission, they always put an experienced pilot in and they put an experienced bombardier in. And then they had the bombardier fly as navigator. So this is the way the configuration when I was flying with this crew, I didn't know them from a hole in the wall. And I met them that day that we went out to the plane, but then I haven't seen them since because they went to prison camp and I escaped. Evaded is a better word for it, I guess. Well, I did. I escaped the Germans from putting me in a prison camp and then I evaded capture.
Gregory: Well walk us through that. Start out with some . . . April 27th.
Stead: Well, that it was... I had completed twelve missions and I think the mission before the last one we had gone to Berlin. And no, no, it was more than that. It was a couple before that. And that was an interesting thing. We got over Berlin and it was cloudy underneath and when we were on the initial point that dropped the bomb, the lead plane announced that we should all drop below the clouds. And here we are in tight formation and traveling back to get down below the clouds and the planes are sliding back and forth and I can still remember our ball turret. He said, he called back, he called into on the intercom. He said, "There is a plane directly under us! There is a plane directly under us!" So our pilot slid . . . he originally slid to the right, he immediately then slid back to the left and as he did, the plane above us dropped their bombs. And that day the bombs were incendiary bombs bundled together to make 500 pound single bundles. And that bomb went through our left wing. And it tore off the aileron and the trim-tab which is on the aileron and the flap. Well, it didn't bother the end of the wing, but right after the aileron, that was gone, and then it gradually went up to the back of the engine and then back to the wing root. And the rest of it was flapping. And that B-17 flew in that condition and our pilot ordered us to throw everything overboard to lighten it and we headed for Switzerland because he said, "We'll never make it back." Because we were now a straggler and couldn't keep up with anybody and we headed for Switzerland. We got in sight of Lake Constance and he said, "I'm going to try and turn this thing and see if I can get it back." So he turned it which was a job in itself and he got that thing turned. Now why fighter planes didn't grab us, I don't under stand it, but they didn't. And he flew that thing back, and at that time, we were down below . . . around 10,000 feet or less, came all the way back across Germany. We didn't get shot up with flack or not a single fighter. We got all the way back to our base and we asked him if we could bail out because see he only had flaps on one wing. And when you try to land a plane without flaps . . . well, you know what the function of flaps are. It increases the lift. And you can slow down the speed, too, because you get greater lift. And that means you're not coming in what they call, "hot." Well, we knew that so we wanted to bail out and he said, "No, no, we'll all go in together." So we said, "Ok. You're the boss." You'd better believe he's the boss. And so he flew that airplane and landed it and he went all the way back to our base mind you now, and got us there and he landed it. And when we hit the end of the runway - and he set it down right on the very end of the runway - how he controlled it with no control [sources?] on that left side, I don't understand it. But he did, God love him. And he set that thing down, and we were going so fast he got about half way down the runway and he burned out the brakes, they were gone, they were no good. And so off the end of the runway we went into a sea of mud and that slowed us down. And then he was so present of mind that he threw the power to the engines again and by golly if he didn't keep that thing rolling and turned it and pulled it up in front of the repair hangar and that plane never flew again. They took it apart and used it for parts. So we thought we'd bought the farm that day, but we didn't. But back to the other when I was flying the bombardier position and I was right in the nose and the flack started to get so heavy that I said, "Well, I'm going to get back a little bit back out of the nose because I had everything set up in the bomb bays and I had all of the keys out of the bombs so they would detonate. See, you put cotter keys in there so they wouldn't detonate . . . what happened was the front one had a plunger in it and the back one had a spinner - like a propeller. And the front one would impact and that would explode it and the back one, the propeller, would spin off and it would arm it. It would make the back fuse active. And so one fuse was immediate and the other was a forty-five second delay. So anyway, I had the things all set - the bombs all set - and I crawled back out of the very nose of the plane because we weren't under fighter attack, and I could still reach the inner altimeter, which was the thing that triggered these and in doing it, I knocked my headset off. And when I moved over to get some protection over the front turret, the other guy up there, the officer tapped me - and this was his first mission, the poor guy - and he went to poke at his ear, headset, so I reached down, found mine and put it on and the first thing I heard was, "Bail Out! Bail Out! Bail Out!" But we had a bail out bell and then the communication through the intercom. So I never did hear a bail out bell. Anyhow, so at that point, why we all got busy and got ready to bail out. Which we did, but I was the last one out up front. I bailed out . . . there's a little door up in front and let me see . . . the pilot, co-pilot, engineer and the other fellow up front with me who was the flying navigator but was really the real bombardier, he and I . . . that would be one, two, three . . . five of us went out that little front door. And I noticed the altimeter as I . . . we were in a dive because we were full of smoke. And what I figured was that we must have had an oil line get hit because with 100 octane gas and all those bombs in the bay, had we got hit in a vital spot like that, the gas would have exploded or the bombs would have exploded. So I was sure that we'd got hit and created an oil rupture that created a fire. So I noticed that we were at 18,500 feet so by the time I got out, I figured we were somewhere around 17,500 or something like that. So I bailed out and then I delayed my drop for a long time because up that high, you know the oxygen isn't so good. And then when I did open the chute, then the Germans on the ground started shooting at us. And I could hear those bullets whizzing by and that's not a very happy feeling. Come to find out, which I later . . . they told me, the French people, that they had killed one. I later found out that they actually killed two of our crew. And they reported it differently than they had been killed by the bullets. And somebody said to me, "Well, the Germans really didn't want the word to get back that they would shoot at people in parachutes." But they were. And that's why, apparently reported that way. But I later found out that of the ten of us that two were killed coming down. And so I don't know about the . . . we were scattered all over. As you know when you bail out of an airplane, you're scattered all over the place. I could see the chutes, some of the chutes, and I could only count six chutes. And so I happened to land in an apple orchard that was on a side of a hill. And when I hit ground, I hit hard. Well, when you'd bail out with those chutes in those days, I don't know how it is now, you would hit the ground with about the equivalent of a fifteen foot free-fall jump. As though you jumped off of something fifteen foot high. And so when I stood up, I was shaking like a leaf. And the chute was draped over the tree. So I knew that was a dead giveaway, so I couldn't hold the shroud line in my hands, so I wrapped them around my arms and I kept running and throwing myself to the ground and I gradually pulled it off the tree. And then I gathered it up. And that's something, trying to gather up all that material. And I looked around and up the slope of the hill, and then there was like a little cliff there. Maybe six, seven foot high. And there was a big pile of tree prunings from these fruit trees. So I got down on the ground at one end of that and I kept pushing the chute ahead of me, and burrowed into that thing and then laid on top of it - the white chute. And sure enough, in about a half hour, I looked up and I could see fine. I look up and there, at the top of this little cliff, are two Germans with machine guns and they're looking right and looking left and then they went away. And then pretty soon, I'm sitting there wondering, well, you know, what am I going to do? And a fellow . . . I hear somebody say, "Reste la!" And I had had two years of French in college, so what he said was "Stay there!" And I looked and there's a French guy looking down the little tunnel I made when I burrowed myself in there. And I never said anything, he just then walked immediately away. So I stayed right there until dark. And then when it got dark he came back and got me. And he took me to their farm and gave me something to eat. And then he wanted to give me some clothes and I said - with my sign language because I couldn't speak French that well - were there any Germans around? And he said, "Yes. There was a base or a camp near there." And I said, "Well, if I put these clothes on and they catch me, what will happen?" And he ran his finger across his throat. Well, I didn't really need that, so I gave him the clothes back and I started off in my uniform - I had a green flight suit on - and I started out with that. And of course then it was dark and there's a curfew all through France, so I had to be careful of that. And I walked through whatever little towns I could, hiding when I had to, and then finally I walked - I guess it must have been about midnight - and I saw a little house that looked abandoned, and it was, and I broke . . . I didn't break in, the doors were open. I went in and attached to the side of it was a small stable. So I went in the stable and kicked a bunch of straw together and I laid down in that and fell asleep. So that's the way I spent my first day and my first night. It was kind of exciting. And not nice exciting, either.
Gregory: What goes through your mind?
Stead: All I kept thinking was, "I'm in my own world, but not in my own country." And here I am in a country I can't speak the language, I'm in with a bunch of the enemy, and the British planes were going over - because they bombed at night - and I thought, "Gee, they're going to be back home in the morning." And we were the only ship out of our group that got knocked down that day. So I just simply . . . well, finally, I was so damned exhausted, I just went to sleep. And the Frenchmen, when they fed me, when they let me go from the farm, they didn't give me any food to take with me, so I didn't have anything. What I did have is what they called an escape kit - I had that with me - and in that was some chocolate. So I ate some of that. And then we have some escape maps which are maps on silk because they folded up very small. And so I stayed there at night. And in the morning, somebody nudged me and woke me up and I thought I was going to die. And I looked up and there was a kid with a pitchfork. And I thought, "Is he going to run that through me? or what's he going to do?" So I said, made a motion like something to eat and I said, "Can you help me?" At that point I hadn't resurrected enough of my college French to know how to ask properly for help. And he just looked at me, turned around and walked out and he went back up in the field which I could see him, and he was breaking up cow patties and spreading them around for fertilizer. And then he'd stop and he'd look. I think he was trying to figure out what the heck to do with me. So after he did that a couple of times, the next time he bent over to do his work, I dove out one of the windows in this little shed that was next to the . . . it was open. And ran down . . . ran away from there. And then I walked until about noon. I guess it was noon, I don't know, and then by that time I had to get over on the highway, so I heard some trucks coming and I though, "Boy, I wonder what?" So I slid down in the ditch with my back to the road and by golly, about two or three lorries came by loaded with German soldiers
I think everything that were talking about is pretty much in the story, isn't it?
Gregory: Yes, sir. You are doing fine.
Stead: Stead: So then I thought, "Well, I better get out of here. And I heard somebody said. . .no, I saw a guy. That was it. I started to get up. Then I saw a guy come out of a . . . there was like a dead end road, on the other side of that, I saw a guy come out from between some trees with a bicycle, pushing a bicycle. So I turned around and slid back down. And I'm sitting there and I hear the bike set down in back of me and somebody slides down the hill. You know, because I was like in the . . . along side the road. And he just reached over and flipped my dog tags out and he looked at it and he said, " vous avez Tomber par avian?" And what he said to me was, "Is it that you have fallen from an airplane?" And I said, "Oui." And he said, "Allez! Allez! Yite! Allez avec moil " He said, "Come! Come! Come quickly with me!" And so he took me right back across that dead end road and where he came out of and there was a barn there and he stuffed me in the barn and then he went in the house and he pretty soon came back out and he had some clothes with him. So he gave me the clothes and he took my clothes and we ripped them up and he poured coal oil on them and dug a hole and we burned them right there in the barn yard and then he just covered up where we burned them. And the one outfit that I had on was a heated suit and he gathered up all those wires and he put those . . .I don't know where he put those, but he got rid of those, too. Then he took me in and he gave me something to eat and then he put a bunch of stuff in a . . .in two haversacks, and he took one and gave me the other and he said, "Allez! Allez!" And so we went down and we walked about a mile and there was a railroad track there and a train station. And so to make a long story short, that's where he caught the train with me to go somewhere. At that point, I didn't know where. And it turned out that he was going into Paris and he took me along. And it turned out that he was connected with the underground and he was taking contraband food in. So we . . . the train had to stop a couple of times for repairs from the bombing damage and other trains going by, and we got into Paris very late. Now I was shot down somewhere near a place called R-o-u-e-n. Rouen. And so we had quite a trip to get into Paris. And when we got there, it was after curfew again. But there was a woman there with a bicycle and a basket on the front of it, and she'd been waiting for this fellow, his name was John that picked me up. And, oh God, I'll never forget. On the train, I got so hungry and he pulled an egg out of his pocket and he indicated would I like one? And I said, "Yeah." I thought, "Here's a hard-boiled egg." And so he knocked the end out of it and then poked a little hole in the other end and he handed it to me. I took a look and it's a raw egg. And I thought, "I don't know what to do with this goofy thing." So he could see I shrugged, I didn't know what to do. So he . . . we were standing up, incidentally. There wasn't a place to sit down in the train, it was so packed. So he said, "Like this." So he did the same thing and he put it up and he sucked the egg out. So I did it, and I'll tell you, I've never done it since and I don't think I ever will. But when you're hungry, it was something. And then he had a little bit of cheese and he had a little bit of wine. So we had a nip of cheese and we had some wine and then everybody on . . . the Frenchmen were all singing and having a ball and he was singing with them. They were having a merry old time. Anyway, back to when we get there, she meets us and they put this stuff in the basket, the two haversacks that I was carrying one and he was carrying the other, and we're walking along. She was walking at the curb with the bike along the curb in the street and he . . . they were walking together. I was slightly behind them. Then out of the shadows walked two Gendarmes. Walked over to them and they said, "Give us your papers." And I knew what they were talking about because the papers were "papier." And I thought, "Oh boy. I have no papers." I thought "Well, what do I do?" So I kind of hung back a little and I thought, "Well, if I get in trouble, I'll just run like hell." I didn't know where I was going to go or what I was going to do. So he looked at both of their papers and he handed it back to them and then he turned to look at me and the woman said - her name was Paulette, it turned out - "and you?" And she said, "He's all right. He's with us." And the Gendarme says, "Ok." I tell you, David, I was wet clean down to my knees. Shaking and sweating. And so anyway we got by that and we got back to where she lived and it turned out that her husband was a gendarme himself and she . . . they had a little son and they called him Taggie. And I didn't find out until much later that his name was Marcel, which was his dad's name, and that's where they hid me - in Paris. And John explained to her who I was. I suppose walking back he was telling her that, and they said, "Yeah, fine." So I stayed with them. Well, boy if they'd have ever caught me with them, that would have been the ever living end of them. But they were in the resistence, too. And their job was to make identity cards. So they were caretakers in this boys and girls school. And in the boys school there was a little machine shop. And this is what their group needed. Because they would make stamps. They would fake these identity cards and they would make stamps so they could stamp it with, you know, and put . . . like the old printers that you used to load with individual type. They would put those in and it was ingenious the way they made these stamps. And they also then had identity cards printed up in blank. And so they printed one up for me and my name became John Pierre Martin [said with French accent] - John Pierre Martin [said with no accent]. It said that I was a machinist-helper and the reason . . . then they gave me an identity . . . I mean health papers - it was a piece of paper, a health paper, it said that I had syphilis. Because, see, all the able bodied young men were either in service or they were in France for labor. And they needed all the labor they could get. So, armed with that, why, that's all I had. If that didn't sell, nothing would. Oh, and then they had on there that I was deaf and dumb. Well, they pretty much worked that to death I found out later on [laughing], so I don't think that would have gone very far. I was fortunate in that I could . . . my ear got so that I could . . . it's amazing. I had been away from that French class for a year but then it started to come back to me, some of it. And so anyway, I stayed with them there at the school until . . . then one day, he came back all excited and what had happened was the Germans had, surrounded the street from us, circled a building and they got a guy there that was hiding a flyer. And so that was the end of him. They found out, the guy told us that . . . a connection came by and said they, the Germans actually killed the guy. They beat him on the kidneys with a rubber hose. They were great for these short rubber hoses, and they'd beat you on the kidneys. Anyway, it killed the guy. But we figured out what we were going to do - go up and go out and over the roof. And then they showed me where to go in case that happened. Who to go and what door to knock on hopefully to get some . . . to be able to be hidden there. Which we rehearsed and did. And then come to find out, that along with that, they had . . . see, the way this worked, one cell was only connected to another cell by one person. And that way, they couldn't get them all. And that's what happened. They got the people and then along the way, we lost our connection. And there we were - adrift. So they had no way to do anything with me, how to get rid of me. And so I was stuck there longer than I intended, but eventually, he made a reconnection of all things . . . you know, he would have to take a chance to reconnect. And he would carefully ask the people - I don't know how he went about it - but it turned out that the fellow that was over him in the police station was also involved in the resistence. And so we joined their group and then when that happened, things started to happen fast. Well, first thing they did was a guy came to their house or their apartment there in the school where we were living and he took one of my dog tags. And come to find out, he came back in a couple of days and he said that I was all right. And so I asked, I said, you know, "What was that all about?" And they said, "Well, a lot of Germans would" - and they did do this, too - they managed to finagle their way in and get picked up and worked their way all the way . . . some of them got as far as back to England before they found out who they were. So what they did was they, by radio, asked England if I was indeed who I said I was. Because they had my dog tag. And if there had been a mix up there and they would have said, "No," they would have probably just killed me because they had to defend themselves, you know. But I had no problem there. And so but they kept that one dog tag so I was down to . . . see, we carry two dog tags and I was down to one. And so then pretty soon after he made his reconnection, he connected up with what they call a voyager and he took me to a church. And in the church there were a group of people - there were fourteen of us all together. And seven were airmen and one Canadian airmen, some officers, enlisted men and seven Jewish people. And the Jewish people were paying to escape. And so this guy spoke English and French, of course, so he explained that he gave us all tickets and he paired us up. And he said, "Now this couple will walk out of here first and it will be followed by you and you and you. Then the next two, you will follow the pair that went out that way, and the next two will follow the pair ahead of them and whatever you do, don't get out of order. Because if you lose the people right in front of you, you're in big trouble." So that's what we did. And we marched down to the train station and got on a train and started our journey down to southern France. And we got on that train and it was packed. And I want to tell you, talk about a packed train, that thing . . . it was packed so tightly that it was all . . . the end - just like our trains - at the end was the restroom. And they even had two guys, one guy standing behind the door and another one sitting on the John inside the restroom. And we were standing there a couple of hours and finally a guy comes down the hall - he's got to go in there. Well, that meant we had to take two more people out in the corridor where we are, and there's no breathing room there hardly. So we finally got the guy off of the john out, and they got the guy behind the door out, and this fellow that went in, then he takes care of himself, then he goes back and about a half hour later, he comes back again! And as I said, my French wasn't that strong, so I still remember, the second time we were jockeying around trying to clear the place and somebody said in French as much as, "What's that's fellow's problem?" And some other nut says, " [??] un suppository." And I don't need to translate that for you, I don't think. And everybody laughed. We all got hysterical. I mean, how can you laugh in a mess like that? But we did. And I was paired with a guy by the name of John Katsaros which you have talked to, right?
Gregory: Yes, sir.
Stead: And John was only nineteen, I think, at the time. And horribly shot-up. And he didn't understand a word of French. He'd been there quite a while because he was shot pretty badly and he had been on the repair. And so he . . . as the train went along, as we got further in the day, it would stop along the way and people would get off. It thinned out so that we were still standing, but John and I were standing, then by that time, we'd moved up into nice corridor and we weren't packed in so tightly. And a woman there got up - she was sitting in one of the seats in one of the compartments, I guess she went off to use the ladies' room - and so John saw that and he goes in and he sits down. And pretty soon, a guy moved over and he motioned for me to come in and sit down. So I did. And so I'm sitting there thinking, "Oh, boy, how nice to sit down." The next thing you know, I look up and this woman is back and she goes over to John and she says, "You have taken my place! [same in French]." And John looks at her and he smiles. Everything is fine with him. And she started to get mad. So I thought, "Oh, boy." So I stood up and tapped her and I motioned. I said, "Assez vous." "You sit." And so I moved back in the corridor and she sat where I was and John, he didn't realize. He was still happy. And so that's the way we rode anyway, we rode that way until we got down into southern France to Mountebon, I think it was. And there then we were supposed to change trains. And the way that went, the two convoyers - convoyer [said with French accent] they called them - up-ended the suitcases. We were inside of a regular train station with glass all over it, you know, and up-ended the suitcases and said we were to watch and stay two and two [the disbursed?] and when the couple that came to relieve those two, they would pick the suitcases up and move off and you follow the ones that replace them. Well, nobody ever came to replace them. And so John and I, we didn't know what to do. So we moved one place and another, keeping our eye on this thing. Finally, we moved out and the fellow, the guy came up to me and in English he said, "Follow the man with a pipe." And boy! Can you imagine somebody speaking English to you like that? And I thought, "It's the Gestapo. Sure and the devil, I bet it's the Gestapo." So John said, "What was that? And I went over to him and I told him what happened. And I said, "I don't think we should do anything." He said, "Ok." So we waited there and waited there and a half hour later, the guy comes by again and he's mad! And he said, "Follow the man with the pipe!" So, at this point, John says, "What do we do?" And I said, "Let's follow the man with the pipe." I said, "We'll be here forever." So we started to walk out and sure enough, right by the door, going out from the station down a little tunnel, is a guy with the biggest pipe you ever saw in your life. So we followed him and he was our contact there. He took us back to his apartment and he fed us and we stayed there all night with him in a real bed, and he fed us again in the morning and took us back and gave us tickets for the new train and we started then on down to Toulouse and beyond. And I think that what had happened is that the group that were moving us had gotten caught. And the convoyers that were taking care of us could only dare to stay there for a certain length of time and then they just had to disappear because it was getting too obvious. And so they just pulled out and there we were. Well, in the mean time, the ones that were there apparently got wind or knew that this other group had gotten caught, so they subsequently told us that they were there every day looking for some people coming through. And I said, "Well . . ." I forgot to tell you, but when I flew, I always took my GI shoes with me and tied the laces together and then I would, if I had to bail out - which I did - I'd unbuckle the strap that went around my leg and put the shoelaces in that and buckle it up again. So I had my own shoes. And Marcel and Paulette had died them black and they had put black shoelaces in them. So the guy said, I said, "How in the world did you know that we were the shipment that came through?" He said well, you were the only one there that we recognized anything." And I said, "What was that?" He said, "Your shoes." I said, "You're kidding." He said, "Yes." He said, "We recognized yours as Army shoes." And I said, "Well, how come the Germans didn't? They're pretty sharp, you know." He said, "Oh, a bunch of stupid!" So if I hadn't had those shoes on, I wonder what would have happened to all of us? There were fourteen of us and by falling two and two and two, they got all of us. So anyway, we got up the next morning and they fed us and everything because everybody was scattered around. We got on the train again and then we went further south and we hit this little town in the middle of nowhere and we got off and a guy met us at the train. He said, "Follow me." and the whole bunch of us - fourteen of us - by twos strung out and casually marched off and he led us back up into the hills. And so we were down in the foothills of the Pyrenees. And he said, when we got together, he said, "You people stay here." And he said, "Tomorrow, someone will come and get you." And so and then he marched off. No food, no nothing. So from that point on . . . I'm on oxygen here. I don't know if I told you.
Gregory: You sound pretty good to me. How do you feel?
Stead: Oh, well, not too good. And so I said . . . what I started to say was, at that point, from that point on, it took us four days and four nights to go over the Pyrenees. And a Basque showed up the next morning. B-a-s-q-u-e. Have you ever heard of them?
Gregory: Yes, sir.
Stead: And then he lead us over the mountains. So, he led us over the mountains. And it took four days and four nights. And at night, we would break into barns and sleep, but we had nothing to eat and only the water that we could get from the streams. So we were in pretty sad shape by the time we got into Spain. But they captured us right away and locked us up and held us. And here's the odd thing: unbeknownst to us, we crossed the border, we got up that morning from the barn we'd broken into and crossed the border and went down into Spain. It was June 6. That's the day of the invasion. They took everything we had when they locked us up and later on in the day they came back and set up a table and an officer came and the policeman that apprehended us and they gave us everything we had back. We didn't know what was going on. And then later we found out that was the day of the invasion. So I guess the Spanish began to get a little nervous because they were pro-German. Anyhow, that's how we got over into Spain. And then we called Barcelona and Barcelona said - you look on a map and this is the natural place to call - they said, "We can't get to him because of those mountains." So, we had to call Madrid. No, he called Madrid. And they said, "We'll arrange to get you out, all of you." So they paid - I don't know what they paid - but anyway, they brought us out on top of a load of logs and down through a little town called Lerida. And then they locked us up again and then put us in a . . . what they did when they got us to Lerida, we got there quite late and they took us to a store and the store was open for us and we were able to get clothes. So, the stuff we had on was pretty bad. And we got a suit, one shirt, two changes of underwear, two changes of socks and a tie and so that's what we wore. So we were there . . . they moved us a couple of times from one spot to another. So we were there a couple of weeks. And they finally, then moved us into Madrid, and turned us over then to the Council in Madrid. And they interviewed us one at a time and then released us and put us on a train and ran us into the Rock of Gibralter. At the Rock of Gibralter, they re-interviewed us again, and satisfied themselves and then made arrangements and two or three days later, they flew a plane in and took us back to England. So, that was the story. And incidentally, the odd thing that happened, as harrowing as it all was, my own crew - I was shot down April 27 - my own crew was shot down May 12, I think it was. And they were all captured and they were all interned in a prison camp and the Russians started to come and they were all hauled out of there and marched and the radio operator, friend of mine, weighed about 180 pounds and by the time he got through that, he weighed about 85 pounds. And I've talked to him, he lives in Oregon now, by the time he got out of there and got back -- I told him I said, "You went through something far worse than I did." Because mine was over in a relatively short time, and I never was subjected to that. He had dysentery and he was wet and he was filthy dirty and bugs crawling all over him and they were pulling roots out of the gardens, whatever they could get to try and eat with the dirt and everything and he says, "I can't even tell you how bad it was." So if I hadn't got shot down then, I'd have been in a worse mess if I were with my own crew. Anyway, so that's the whole story, David, and I'm so glad you were able to lift it off of my son's spot on the internet.
Gregory: I've got some questions if I may . . .
Gregory: Was there ever a time when you gave up hope?
Stead: No. One thing . . . I almost surrendered thinking my wife then would know I was alive. But give up hope? No, never. Gee, I'd never thought . . . now that you ask, God, no, I never thought of that. I'll be darned. No, I never thought of it. No, no. Never did.
Gregory: Now you left out . . . I did have a question . . . I'm not clear on the shoes. When you bailed out and you tied the shoes . . .
Stead: Yeah, I tied the . . . see, they told us . . . we would have meetings in what to do if we got shot down, if you were going to try to escape, evade. And they said, "You know, shoes are hard to get there." And they were. Poor John, he . . . I don't know if he ever told you, but his feet were killing him. He didn't have shoes that fit him even. He was trying to walk over the Pyrenees with shoes that didn't fit. And he's a pretty good sized guy. And so they said, "So you take your shoes and tie the laces together." That way you've got both there and then I would just be . . . see, with a parachute, we had a harness that we wore. And then it was a chest chute and you would snap that onto the harness. So I guess I didn't explain that. No, I didn't. And so what I did was I released the one strap that went around your groin and I slipped the shoelaces in there and then I re-latched it so I had my shoes with me, see?
Gregory: What would you normally have had on your feet at that point?
Stead: Ali, yes. Well, see, it was, like I said, remember I said it was forty, forty-five degrees below zero? Ok. Well, we had a heated outfit which when I first went over we didn't have and then later they got it and we'd plug into the plane's heater . . .
Gregory: Your heater suit?
Stead: Electric. See, it was a twenty-four volt system and we'd plug into that and then the wires that ran through it and would keep you warm and then even for boots. So we had felt boots over which we'd put flying boots. And boy, you're toasty warm. But you couldn't walk in them, you couldn't go anywhere in them. And all that stuff, see, I left that right in the heap with my chute - parachute.
Gregory: Now you left out a part of that story. You didn't tell me about Louise.
Stead: Oh, God, yeah, well. That was when he was . . . yeah, after I'd been with him awhile. They were saying if I was married? "Yes." How long since you've seen your wife? And I told them. And they had jabbered together and the next morning they said, "Come with me." So I go with them and he takes me over - I didn't know where I was going - he takes me over to this apartment and he bangs on the door and the door opens and here's this gal. I don't know if I'm exaggerating to say she went about 250 pounds and he introduces her as "Louise." So I thought, I wonder what he must be going somewhere to leave me here with Louise. And so he closes the door and he goes to work and Louise starts coming to me all puckered up. She's going to get romantic. And I take a look and I start backing up and we are going around, around the dining room table [laughing] with me backwards and her forwards and finally she stopped and put her hands on her hips and she says, "Quesque vous voulez?" What do you want? And I said, "Faire le cafe!" I said, "Make some coffee!" And she started to laugh. So she made some coffee and spent the day as best we could chatting. We managed to communicate back and forth. Her husband was . . . had been taken to Germany as labor. And she didn't know whether he was alive or she never heard from him. I don't know whether she eventually did or not. But Louise is a good soul, kind soul. But I didn't need all her kind . . . if she'd ever gotten into a bed and she rolled on top of me, it would have been the end of me. Because at that time, soaking wet, I went for about 135 pounds. But she was a dear thing. Well, then when he came to pick me up that evening, she was . . . they were going at it and he was looking at me like I was nuts. And when he got back with Paulette he explained to Paulette that he had a weirdo on his hands. And boy, they would laugh. Another thing that happened was she came home one day with a rabbit and so she tied the rabbit's feet to the cupboard door and proceeded to skin it and cleaned it and then to cut it all up, and then she cooked it - head and all. And we sat down that night - and mind you, there was the three of us sitting there - four of us - and they took the head of the rabbit and put it on my plate and then they were beaming at me. That was supposed to be the piece de resistance. I took one look and I said, "Mais non, mais non." So I handed it to somebody, well they started to fight, the one who wanted it, whoever wanted it. And I can't remember who got it now, but whoever did - ugh. I won't even tell you how they ate the thing, but they ate every thing on the head they could get. And oof! I thought, "That's not for me." But the rabbit itself, the rest of it, was good.
Gregory: You said you eat the eyes first?
Stead: Yeah. How did you know? Did I say that in the story?
Gregory: Yes, sir.
Stead: Yeah, Ok. Well, I didn't want to make you sick. Yeah. Oh, boy. Yeah, that was funny. But they were very good. And then . . . did I tell you about the cigarettes? They shared their tobacco and we got two kind: a stringy kind and then a grainy kind and they mix it all together. And then they showed me how to run the cigarette machine. Gave me the papers and instructed me to turn them all into cigarettes. So I rolled my brains out one whole day. And when they came back, when Marcel came home, they sat down and they counted them out and they shared them with me. And so they instructed me when you were through smoking it, then put out the fire, don't throw it away. Put it in your pocket and then when you get back home if you're out, or if your not, take the paper off and put it back in the jar. Then we would re-roll them and reroll them and I want to tell you, the last cigarette that we rolled for each one of us out of that mess, you take one drag and hang on. My goodness it was hot. Well, it had a lot of nicotine in it. Makes your eyeballs twirl. Yeah, it was something.
Gregory: Now you had left your address with them.
Stead: Yes. That's right. I was trying to think because, see, I didn't want their address. I didn't even want to know what their name was. Because if they, the Germans caught you, they'd make you tell anything that they wanted. So I didn't want to know any of that. So that's right. Thank you. Gee, I'd forgotten that. No, I gave them my address which they apparently hid - which they obviously hid - and they wrote to us after the war.
Gregory: You did hear from them?
Stead: Oh, sure. I heard from them up through 1947. And at the end of it, all of a sudden in 1947 I had written and said, "I understand shoes are hard to get." And I said, "Draw your feet on a piece of paper and send it back to me and we'll translate it and get you some shoes here and I'll send them over to you." And they never answered. So, from then, I was busy raising a family and everything and we just never connected with them again until I retired in 1983 and my wife and I and another couple went back to France, but I couldn't locate them. And so then . . . let me see, that would be 1983. Well then I found out, well, I got a note one day from the AFEES that's the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society that I would be eligible to join. I didn't even know what it was. So I contacted them and I told them who I was and I said, "Well, we weren't supposed to talk about any of that." And they said, "Well, it's all been released now. You are free you can do whatever you like." So I joined it. And I went to a meeting. And at one of the meetings, I met a French guy who operated for them over in France down near the Spanish border. And I told him what I thought might be because I had uncovered a letter that we'd sent out to be translated back in `47 and my wife put it in a drawer and we forgot about it. I'd never even saw it. And she was cleaning out a drawer and found it. So I contacted this guy, and he said, "Yes. That's right. Marcel was my dad's cousin," or uncle I guess. Anyhow, so we got talking and he told me where Marcel might have gone and he said, "You know, he came from a little town in southern France called St. Julien de Cassagnas. Now we said it would be S-t. J-uI-i-e-n C-a-s-sa-g-n-a-s. So I couldn't find it on a map. So anyway, when we went to the meeting - we had a unit meeting for the AFEES, and I said, this French guy said, "Did you ever hear of St. Julien de Cassagnas?" He said, "No, but there are a lot of little towns there. Who are you looking for?" I told him. He said, "I'll find out." So about two weeks after the meeting, three weeks after the meeting, I got a letter from him. He said, "I've located Marcel and here's his phone number. Here's his address." And I'm trying to think what year that would be. That would be ninety . . . well, it would be forty-five years later, I think. So I immediately wrote Marcel. And of course he couldn't speak a word of English, and he wrote me back. And we, of course had to get somebody to translate it for me. And then a friend of mine says, "You know, if you don't go see him, you're crazy. You're getting older." And I was in my seventies then. So my wife and I decided that indeed we would do that. So we flew to . . . made arrangements with him to go. He said, "You're welcome to come." Flew to Nice, rented a car, and drove over boy, that was something driving there, but anyway, enough to make your hair stand up - and we drove over to . . . and found a little town. Had a terrible time finding him, but we did. And sure enough, there he was, the two of them. Now, he just died about maybe two months ago at ninety six. And his wife, Paulette, who really was very courageous woman, is still alive and she's about . . . she must be ninety. And she is in France somewhere, and she's in a Hospice. And she doesn't know who she is. You know, she's lost her memory. So, I've lost him because he died and I lost her because she's . . . I don't know whether she has . . .
Stead: Yeah, I'm not sure whether she has Alzheimer's or just what it is. But anyway, I had him for a good long time and we'd converse back and forth by letter. And he was a brave man and so was she.
Gregory: Now when you got back to England, were you debriefed? Did they . . .?
Stead: Yes, yes.
Gregory: What did they ask you? What was that like?
Stead: Well, they flew us back to Bristol, put us on a bus and from Bristol they ran us into London and they put us in this house and we were there under lock and key until they could interview us. Well, they said with me, "Well, we've got to have more than what you say." And they said, "Who was on your crew?" So I gave them a list of who was on the crew and as luck would have it, our tail gunner was the guy by the name of Chuck Pryne. P-r-y-n-e. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. And they called me up one day and they said, "Well, you're tail gunner is still there. You're crew has been shot down, but he wasn't with them. And so he's coming in tomorrow to identify you and if you are who you say you are, you'll be released. So he came in and of course he identified me and we then immediately were released and went out and got drunk. And had quite a time that day. Then subsequently I was able to . . . and I'll tell you a thing that happened. You can't figure why things happen, but I had to go back to the Eighth Air Force headquarters and get all my papers and everything. First I had to go . . . then I had to go back to the base and get my pay, then I had to come back and sign in to get home, on a plane to go home. They were going to fly us back home. And so I did. Well, I got back to town and it was late. So I went back to the house and they said, "Well, no, you're all through here. You can't stay here. You're on your own. Go get a hotel room or something." Well, the hotels were all filled, so I went to the Salvation Army and they had a place that the soldiers and stuff could stay at, but they said, "No, we're full." And they said, "Wait a minute," they said, "We've got an annex here." And they gave me the address. They said, "Go over to the annex and I'm sure they have room for you there." So I went to the annex and the gal said, "No, don't you know just about half an hour ago we gave the last bed up." And she says, "We don't have a spot here." I said, "Well, what shall I do?" Well, she said, "You better go to the underground because that's where people stay at night because they are bombing us pretty heavy." They were sending those buzz bombs over at that time. And so that's where I went and I spent the night there with the kids screaming and hollering and but the trains didn't run at night, so that was a blessing. And the next morning, I got up and don't you know that one of the bombs hit the annex. And it killed a whole bunch of our guys. So I could have gotten it there, too. Go figure it out. Go figure it out. Well, I know it, boy.
Gregory: Now your wife doesn't know where you are all this time . . .
Stead: No, no. As soon as I got back to England, they then notified her that I indeed was alive and that I was all right.
Gregory: She knew you had been shot down, did she?
Stead: She just got a mission in action report. Yeah. But somebody wrote her. One of the officers had written to her and said that they had seen the chutes come out, so they assumed I was alive and got out, but they didn't know what happened. So I was very lucky, very fortunate. But imagine of all the entire crew of ten, I was the only one that got away. I don't know whether the other people weren't thinking along those lines or, of course, if the Germans are right there, you can think all you like. It just happened that I . . . the chute was in a very small tree and there was a pile of debris that I could hide in, and it was just like the good lord set it all up for me. And if I didn't take advantage of it, shame on me, you know. But it worked out because we were told that that was our job to try and evade - to get back to our unit, which I luckily was able to do.
Gregory: So you were through flying after that? They shipped you home.
Stead: The reason they shipped us home . . . I never could understand it. I later found out that because I'd left so much stuff there with my name and serial number on it, they were afraid that if they flew me again, they'd know I had been there and they would take me to task to uncover who I was with. And, unwittingly, I might betray the people who helped me. And that was the reason they didn't send us back in the same theater. So I wasn't at home. The idea was that I would come home and re-train and then go to the South Pacific. So, when I came back, they said, "Well, because you were an evadee, if you like, would you like to become gunnery instructor?" And I said, "Yeah, but you can keep your blinking airplanes. I've had enough of that." And so they said, "Well, Ok." So I became a classroom gunnery instructor. They sent me through gunnery instructor school down in Texas. And then I came back to Sioux City, Iowa, and I was instructing at the air base there. And then that base closed down and they turned it into a B-29 base. So I went to the guy who was in charge of the thing. I said, "You know, when they put me here, they said I would be here for a year or better." And I said, "Now, everything is changing." I said, "I'd like to stay here." So they sent me back to Nebraska and I transitioned into B-29s. And that was a very interesting airplane. So, I was able to fly in the B-17 and the B 29. So when I came back, I thought we would be instructing in the B-29. Well, at that point, the war was winding down and they turned that base into a discharge base. And they said, "Were going to have to put you somewhere else because you're not eligible, you don't have enough points." But then they reneged and I guess maybe they gave me some points because of what happened to me. But at any rate, they changed their mind and they discharged me from right there. So instead of teaching B-29s, they made a civilian out of me again.
Gregory: When would that have been?
Stead: That was in 1945. 1945.
Gregory: Was it before or after V-J Day?
Stead: Oh, no. It was after everything was over. Yeah, it was after everything was over.
Gregory: Now were you decorated?
Stead: Air medal, but I never held with any of that stuff, you know. No, I wasn't boggled to go around telling I'd done some wonderful things. What did I do that was so wonderful? You know, I was told to be a gunner and I was a gunner. I was asked did I want to be an air crew, I said, "Yes," and I was in an air crew. I never paid attention to those things. I think that's a lot of malarkey. They do that, I guess, to get guys to stick their neck out and get it cut off, you know. I always regarded it as a lot of hoopla anyhow. So, I guess a lot of people looked at it differently. But that's their priority. That's nothing wrong with it, I just didn't go for it.
Gregory: Well, you did put your life on the line, though.
Stead: Well, yeah, yeah, I guess. I never thought about it that way, either. We had to do it and we were told to do it and we did it. I just never . . . that's why I could never understand what went on later with the Vietnamese War and all. But, you know, it was different times. Different war. And I never will get over what we did to our veterans of the Vietnamese war. I think that's terrible. I just think it's terrible. I actually cry when I see that wall. I really do. And then the whole country turns their back on these poor boys.