Vet re­calls be­ing shot down and cap­tured in Ger­many

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUDY WAL­TON STAFF WRITER

Ho­race Feezell re­mem­bers how it felt, fly­ing at 30,000 feet and man­ning twin .50-cal­iber tur­ret guns as tons of bombs rained down from his B-17 Fly­ing Fortress onto the shat­tered land­scape of Ger­many.

A tech­ni­cal sergeant and the plane’s flight en­gi­neer, he re­mem­bers the heated flight suit and the in­su­lated boots that kept him from freez­ing to death. He re­mem­bers the sight of a thou­sand air­craft fly­ing across the North Sea and the Bel­gian coun­try­side in a mas­sive mis­sion against a fuel re­fin­ery in Merse­burg, about 120 miles south­west of Ber­lin.

“The world is out there but you’re not part of it. You’re just fly­ing a mis­sion,” Feezell said.

That all changed in just mo­ments on Nov. 30, 1944, on the way back from the bomb­ing run that was Feezell’s 18th mis­sion. Heavy flak from an­ti­air­craft guns on the ground knocked out three of the B-17’s four en­gines and set the air­craft ablaze. The nine men aboard parachuted to the ground and were taken pris­oner by Ger­man sol­diers.

For six months, Feezell, then 19, sur­vived beat­ings, star­va­tion, freez­ing cold, epi­demic dis­ease and three months of forced marches, stay­ing just ahead of the Russian Army. He lost 50 pounds. His feet froze. And he still is ter­ri­fied of Ger­man shep­herd dogs, which re­mind him of the ones used as weapons against POWs who tried to fight back or es­cape.

“I don’t know how I ever got this far,” said Feezell, now 94 and liv­ing in ru­ral McMinn County, Ten­nessee. “It was not all my own do­ings — my God Almighty was in charge.”

The Kingston, Ten­nessee, na­tive had grad­u­ated high school in 1942 and gone to work at Al­coa Alu­minum mak­ing 36 cents an hour — “that was pretty good pay,” he says — when he was drafted in 1943 into what was then the U.S. Army Air Corps.

He trained in Fort Oglethorpe, Ge­or­gia, and was sent to join the 390th Bomb Group, 370th Squadron of the Eighth Air Force in Fram­ling­ham, Suf­folk, Eng­land.

“I was drafted to do a job and that’s what we were do­ing,” he said.

Af­ter their cap­ture, the crew was split up by rank and sent to dif­fer­ent pri­son camps. His was Sta­lag Luft IV, near the Baltic Sea. More than 8,000 pris­on­ers, mostly air crew, lived

in wooden bar­racks with no heat or show­ers. Freezell said the guards looted their Red Cross pack­ages of food and cig­a­rettes and the pris­on­ers sub­sisted on po­tato soup and bread made with saw­dust.

But Ger­many was run­ning out of time, caught be­tween U.S. and al­lied forces on the west and the Russian Army to the east. Be­tween Jan­uary and April 1945, the Nazis emp­tied their POW camps of about 30,000 pris­on­ers to keep them out of the Rus­sians’ hands. Thou­sands died of star­va­tion, dis­ease and cold.

Feezell and his fel­low pris­on­ers were marched out of Sta­lag Luft IV on Feb. 6, 1945. He said they had no food or reg­u­lar shel­ter, mostly sleep­ing on road­sides. They walked for three months, “mostly around in cir­cles,” un­til May 12.

The ragged, starved and sick POWs didn’t know it but Ger­many had stopped fight­ing four days ear­lier.

That morn­ing, the pris­on­ers awoke to find the Ger­man guards and dogs gone and Bri­tish sol­diers coming to their res­cue. Feezell soon was on a ship to the States and was sent to Mi­ami for med­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

His ser­vice earned him five medals, in­clud­ing the Air Medal for com­bat mis­sions and the Pris­oner of War medal.

Feezell was re­called in 1950-53 for the Korean War but wasn’t sent over­seas. He had a ca­reer in com­mer­cial avi­a­tion, mar­ried and be­came a fa­ther, grand­fa­ther and great-grand­fa­ther. He farmed for a while in McMinn County and now lives in re­tire­ment with his sec­ond wife.

“Some­where along the road I got old,” he said. “That’s all out of my sys­tem. I don’t look back.”

In these frac­tious times, does he be­lieve the na­tion would re­spond to a grave threat the way it did in World War II?

“Just like they did in ’43,” Feezell said. “We’re still Amer­i­cans and we’re go­ing to do what we have to do.”

STAFF PHOTO BY DOUG STRICK­LAND

World War II vet­eran Ho­race Feezell poses for a por­trait in his home last month. Feezell served in the U.S. Army Air Forces and was a pris­oner of war in Europe af­ter his air­craft was shot down.

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