When I was a little girl, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, told me the most incredible story. This was not a story from a children’s book, and I found it so much more interesting than the usual kids’ tales. He told the story over and over, but in a way that was captivating to a child and not overly frightening. He was in a war and the plane in which he was flying was hit by another plane and split in half, spilling him out. He was the only one of the nine boys on his plane who lived.
He was knocked out in the mid-air collision, but came to when he heard his mother calling his name, finding himself free falling from the plane. He had fallen 25,000 feet before he woke up, but managed to hook up his chute in time and landed on the ground. He lost consciousness again, and when he woke up the second time, an old German woman was beating him with a stick. He was unable to walk and was carried to a house. From there, he was transferred to a German hospital by train, where the guards let him sleep in one of their bunks. He was in the hospital for several months, and was then transferred to a regular barracks in a prison camp. He had to learn to walk again, and at first he was only able to shuffle his feet.
Several months later, he and the other prisoners were moved out of the prison camp and were forced to march across Germany. The prisoners would have to march all day, and sleep in the hay in barns or sometimes out in the open at night. They had very little food.
He showed his war medals and told his story to my young cousins and neighborhood friends, too. We would all ask the same questions. “Why didn’t you tunnel out of the prison camp? Why didn’t you escape on the march when the guards weren’t looking?”
His answers were simple so we children could understand. The prison camp barracks were up on stilts and guard dogs roamed there at night. The prisoners were safer in a group on the march. Survival chances were lower for a man alone. He and other prisoners stole a chicken one night while on the march, and he had to trade his watch for some bread.
Those stories not only stuck with me all these years, but with all of them, too.
In May 2011, I received an e-mail from my cousin, Terry. She was living in the Netherlands at the time and she and her husband had been touring American military cemeteries in Europe. That made her think of my father and the stories he told of being in the war. She started doing some internet research and found my dad’s information on the 384thbombgroup.com website.
She also found Wallace Storey’s account of the September 28, 1944 mission to Magdeburg where he described watching the planes collide. Here was someone who had actually seen the collision that my dad had told me about so many times so very many years ago. I found Mr. Storey’s account on the internet and read and reread the story over and over again, not really believing it was possible that someone else was telling me my father’s story.
I contacted Mr. Storey and in June 2011 visited him at his home in South Carolina. Hearing Mr. Storey recount what he saw took me back to my childhood, listening to my dad tell the tale, but this time from a different perspective. It added another dimension to the story. Now, in my mind, I could see the collision itself, not just the consequences of my dad’s plane breaking in half, and him tumbling unconscious toward the earth.
It also added another angle for me, one I had never considered before. What happened to the plane that collided with my dad’s plane? I had always assumed everyone on the other plane had died, but I was to learn through Mr. Storey that three of the other plane’s crew survived the collision. And I learned that two of the crew were placed in the same German prison camp as my dad. I wonder if he ever knew they were there or met them. Since my dad was hospitalized for a couple of months, I’m sure he wasn’t placed in the same barracks as those men, so he may not have had any contact with them.
Relatives of crew members on both planes involved in the collision have contacted Mr. Storey, and he, in turn, has given me their contact information. I have connected with nephews of both the pilot and top turret gunner on my dad’s plane, and the son of the waist gunner on the other plane. We are not related, but we are a family of sorts. We are all the next generation, or Nexgens as I have heard us called, of these brave boys who were as close as brothers in WWII. We all have the same questions and all spend an unordinary amount of time thinking the same thoughts. Is there anyone out there that knew my dad/granddad/uncle in the war and could you tell me about him? What was it like to live through those times? And what would the boys’ lives have been like if the planes hadn’t collided, and they hadn’t been killed or become prisoners of war?
We Nexgens may not ever know the entire story, but it’s an interesting journey, and one we seem to have no choice but to take. We learn something new every day about our relatives that were in the war, and somehow that knowledge is a comforting thing.
Thank you, Terry, for starting me on this journey to discover as much as possible about my dad’s and our grandparents’ lives during this not-so-pleasant time in history.
And thank you, Wallace, for sharing your WWII memories with me. It is my pleasure and an honor to connect with men like you, who lived through this moment in history and are willing to share their tales.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2013