I Got Shot Down

Seven airmen talk about the event none wants to experience.

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I was shot down by a MiG-15 in February 1953. We were on air surveillance, flying high CAP [combat air patrol] for fighter-bombers. All the -86s used to patrol up there to make sure nothing was going to shoot down our fighter-bombers. I parachuted into a village and the Korean Home Guard captured me and took care of my wounds. I got shrapnel in my back and left shoulder and a piece in my left wrist, and when I landed in a frozen rice paddy it busted my knees open. It was about 30 degrees below zero.

They turned me over to the Chinese, who had me blindfolded. The Chinese ate a lot of garlic so I could smell it on their faces when they came close to look at me. They hit me and kicked me, and they took me up to an air base in Manchuria, and there I met the Chinese pilot who said he'd shot me down. He shook my hand and thanked me. [The Chinese] trucked me blindfolded to an interrogation center and interrogated me eight, 10, 12, 15 hours a day for the first 30 days or so. They sentenced me to 100 years in solitary.

They were transferring me a week at a time or so to different parts of North Korea and had me isolated. Every so often I'd get interrogated. I faced three or more firing squads, and I dug my own grave about three times. I just took my time—it kept me away from interrogation. They pointed their rifles at me and they just went click, click, click—there were no bullets in them.

After they sentenced me, they put me in a box long enough to stretch my legs out. I had to lie down in it—there wasn't much room. I was in there for a week with no food or water, and then they'd take me out again to interrogate me and I wouldn't submit so they put me in there again. One guard seemed sympathetic. He sneaked me water every so often.

The war was over in July. They didn't tell me until August. They put me in a truck and drove me to a train station and put me in [a train for] Panmunjom. The last day they released prisoners was August 6th. I got out on August 5th.

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
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.

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