I Got Shot Down

Seven airmen talk about the event none wants to experience.

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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.


NAME: Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Maslowski (U.S. Army)
CONFLICT: Vietnam War
SHOT DOWN OVER: the Parrot's Beak region of Cambodia, west of Tay-Ninh, Vietnam

I graduated flight school in February 1970, got into Vietnam April 1, 1970, and got shot down May 2, 1970, the day after the U.S. invaded Cambodia. As a new guy in-country, they put me with an experienced pilot who'd fly in the left seat. Near the end of that day, at around 1600 hours, we took on a load of parts, mail, and four passengers.

We were supposed to fly to a fire support base by the name of Bruiser, right over the Cambodian border. After we got in the air 20 to 25 minutes, a monsoon came in. We had to plunge into the squall. Initially we heard something hit the aircraft. I looked down to my right front and saw what appeared to be red basketballs. It turned out to be radar-controlled .51-caliber fire.

I had been flying the aircraft, but the pilot, Mike Varnado, grabbed the controls immediately, and he's trying to make S-turns to break the lock from the radar-controlled gun. We lost the hydraulics, and the tracers caught the hydraulic fluid on fire. The back is on fire. The guys, I see them choking and pushing stuff out the doors. I hear “Oh shit.” All this hydraulic liquid filled up the chin bubble on the pilot's side, and within a couple of seconds fire is engulfing the whole [port] side. I take the controls while he tries to get away from the fire and puts out “mayday” calls.

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