I Got Shot Down
Seven airmen talk about the event none wants to experience.
- By Phil Scott
- Air & Space magazine, May 2004
(Page 5 of 8)
My daughter-in-law got on Google.com [in 2002] and happened to type my name in. It came up with a list of Russian aces, with their stories on how many people they'd knocked down. At the end of this thing there was this one Russian ace that claimed I was his victim and he explained exactly how it happened in excruciating detail. It wasn't that Chinese. That was a surprise to me.
NAME: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Jefferson (U.S. Army)
AIRCRAFT: P-51C Mustang
CONFLICT: World War II
SHOT DOWN OVER: Toulon, France
I was strafing a radar station in southern France—Toulon. Right across the top of the target a damn anti-aircraft shell—20 or 30 millimeters—came right up through the floor and out through the top of the canopy. If it hadn't come up in front of the stick, the family jewels would have been in jeopardy.
I pulled up off the deck at 400 miles per hour maximum and reached an altitude of 800 feet. I pulled a red knob on the panel and the canopy goes off. I hit the trim tab with my left hand and the nose went down. I hit the seatbelt buckle and all the straps came loose and I went flying out of the cockpit. I remember the tail going by—I pulled the D-ring—and going down through the trees. I got bruises and contusions. I hit the ground and rolled over. I landed right in the middle of the guys who shot me down. The damn Germans said, “Ach so,” I guess to mean “Look at this.” I was captured immediately. August 12, 1944. Number one and three in the flight got through. They didn't see me get out and told [the unit] that I was killed in action.
I went through the interrogation process in Frankfurt, then to Stalag Luft 3. They treated us as officers and gentlemen per the Geneva Convention. In the interrogation they knew more about me than I knew about myself. They had my January '44 Tuskegee Army Airfield graduation picture. The German said, “Lieutenant, is that you?"
I was the fourth black guy in the camp. Three other guys came out of my group, the Tuskegee Airmen. We were like specks of pepper in buttermilk. Many of the prisoners in camp had been there two, three years. They didn't know blacks were trained to fly. Some of the guys thought I might be a South African. There was still military discipline in the camp. There might have been prejudice, but they never expressed it. We were all in the same bucket.
In the camp, the crew of a B-17 that got shot down arrived, and the word spread that the Red Tails [the Tuskegee Airmen painted the tails of their P-51s red] never lost a bomber while we were in Italy. After that my esteem went up a thousand percent. There was still occasional segregation in U.S. forces on the ground in Italy, but no segregation in the camp. We spread out in different rooms in the barracks, never together. In the end 32 blacks had been captured.
When the Russians started pushing through in January '45, the Germans put us on a road in 20-degree-below weather and we walked 80 kilometers, then they put us in forty-and-eights [railroad freight cars that could hold 40 men or eight horses] and took us to Stalag 7A near Munich, and Patton's army liberated us on April 29, '45.