Over 16 million Americans served in World War II, and over 90,000 were captured by the Nazis in the European theater. These prisoners of war spent the rest of the war “waiting on winning.” Today we hear from one such American. He shares the incredible story of how he was captured, interrogated, and eventually freed.
Warren (Wayne) McCoy was a B-17 bombardier during World War II. His plane was shot down over Italy, where he was captured by German troops. He spent the rest of the war in camps as a prisoner of war.
Enlisting in World War II
Wayne McCoy enlisted in July of 1942 when he was 22 years old, leaving his bread delivery route in Minnesota for the battlefield.
Mr. McCoy: I knew I was going to be drafted, so I was checking out if I couldn’t enlist and get something better. So my buddy and I, we decided the Air Corps was one of the better ways. So we went to St. Cloud and talked with a recruiter. I found out that in order to get in the Air Force, I had to have two years of college or pass an equivalency test. So I did pass the equivalency, that’s how I ended up in the Army.
Becoming a Bombardier
Mr. McCoy: I started out as an aviation cadet. You go through all kinds of training, it’s similar to West Point. Everybody, myself included, wanted to be a pilot, but they only had so much room. They tested everybody, but somehow or other I didn’t test out with the coordination enough to qualify as a pilot. But they needed a bombardier. So I went to school as a bombardier and had the training.
When he finished training, he was assigned to a crew. They picked up a brand new B-17 and were sent to Italy.
Mr. McCoy: With the crew I went overseas with, I flew about 12 missions. But they were short on bombardiers, so I was flying more than the rest of the crew was. I even got a promotion before the pilot that I went overseas with. After we got 20 missions in, we were sent for rest and relaxation to the Island of Capri, so we got to spend a week on the Island of Capri.
On the 21st mission, when we got back, I was put on a flight line with this brand-new crew. They had just come over and had flown over one the latest B-17s, which had the nose cone on for the new radar bombing, which I had never had any connection with, which would be a problem for me when I was shot down. — Wayne McCoy
Captured by the Enemy
Mr. McCoy: On that 21st mission, we were flying at 21,000 feet, bombing a bridge at Bologna, Italy. We had just dropped bombs, and we got a direct hit that set the plane on fire. And we had to bail out. Everybody got out of the plane, I found out later. I had what they call a flak jacket on over my parachute. So as I was falling down, I had to take that off to open the parachute. I was probably down about 5,000 feet when I got that chute open.
They were waiting for us on the ground because we were bombing front lines. This one German, he says, “For you, the war is over.” That was October 12th, 1944 about 12 noon. — Wayne McCoy
Mr. McCoy: After the Germans captured me, we were taken up into Germany, Frankfurt, where they had a distribution center. Anyway, because I was flying in that brand-new B-17, they thought I knew everything about the radar bombing. So they decided to send me to this interrogation center in Oberursel.
They used every method they could to try to get me to tell them about that radar bombing–I was waterboarded twice–for 28 days. Then they decided that I didn’t know anything or I wasn’t going to tell them. I don’t know if I had known whether I could have avoided telling them. But anyway, I got treated a little rougher because I didn’t say anything. — Wayne McCoy
A Memory That’s Hard to Forget
After his 28 days in the interrogation center, Wayne was sent to a POW camp. On the way there, they passed a couple trains full of men, women, and children who were being hauled like livestock.
There’s so many people who still believe that the Holocaust never happened. When I was being moved from that interrogation center to the POW camp, we were going east to the camp. We were just a short distance from Oberursel, where they had the crematorium and everything. We met a couple trains full of people that were being sent there. It’s hard to forget. — Wayne McCoy
Life in the POW Camp
Wayne was sent to Stalag Luft III, the famous camp that “The Great Escape” was based on. It was one of the only camps where anyone was able to escape.
What was it like in the POW camp?
Mr. McCoy: Because of the Geneva Convention, they weren’t allowed to work anyone over a master sergeant. So they didn’t want to feed us enough to have energy enough to cause them any problems. The ones that they could work, well, they got better fed… as far as the German food, you can imagine what dehydrated Sauerkraut soup would taste like, and black bread… I went from about 165 down to 135 in weight.
Press play at the top to hear the rest of Wayne’s story and how he was liberated by none other than General George Patton.