"Roosevelt Made Me"
by Lt. C. L. Reeder
On March 8, 1944, we were on an
escort mission, escorting B-17's from the 8th Air Force into Berlin. My
flight of four P-47's was the left flight of the three flights flying
Escorting fighters meet the
"heavies" at prearranged rendezvous points, giving protection to the extent
of their gas consumption, at which time they leave, and the other fighters
replace the departing cover.
As our Squadron pulled up on the
"heavies" - from their rear and to the right - eight FW-190's, followed by
more, came at the bombers in a tail attack. This was at 22,000 feet.
I gave the order for a bounce
(sudden surprise attack on enemy aircraft) and broke to the left.
However, before we could get in range, the two I'd selected as targets went
into a gliding dive, ending in a split S. Endeavoring to stay on their
tail caused my ship to reach such a terrific speed (550 mph) that my
controls froze. It meant temporary loss of control, but hitting the
denser air around 10,000 feet I regained control and went into a half-loop,
gaining altitude and heading for the bombers and the fight still raging.
Two 190's saw my approach and
attacked me head on , the three of us firing simultaneously. None of
my shots hit them, but my plane jarred from two bad hits. They passed
on my left, going down in a steep dive. Spiraling to the left and
down, I was able to get on their tail, though from a distance. A P-47
is tops in a dive, however, so my speed when the three of us hit the deck
was sufficient to assure my catching them. While diving, I checked
over the ship carefully, finding everything in order - so I thought.
On my left near the ground an FW-190
was being chased by a P-47. Direct hits by the P-47 caused the 190 to
explode and crash into ruins. A similar scene met my eye on the right.
(I learned later that thirty victories were recorded that day in our Group -
a record performance!)
After about two minutes, the two
FW-190's I was chasing came just within firing range. Knowing that the
lead pilot of the two could not accurately gauge my proximity and wouldn't
"break" until I fired, I withheld my fire until they were only about 150
yards away. A five-second blast of my eight guns finished one of the
Jerries. He exploded and splattered into a small clump of trees below.
Simultaneously with this attack,
the remaining Jerry (300-400 yards away ) chaundelled to the right for a
complete circle and an attack on my tail. As he swung up, I met
him in my sights and let go. He disintegrated!
I started climbing and my engine
missed, causing me to level off. A slow climb to 9,000 feet, in
which I alternately checked the instruments and looked for my squadron,
ended when I spotted the Squadron Leader. Via radio, he learned of my
trouble and swung off to escort me home; but the loss of altitude and air
speed from then on convinced me I couldn't make it back to the Base.
At 3,000 feet, with a dead
engine, I pulled the nose up to lessen the speed, jerked off helmet and
headgear, opened the canopy and tried to leave. The nose had dropped,
and the consequent speed and pressure held me in. Pulling up again, I
turned the ship over and left it around 900 feet. The thought of
delaying the pull of the rip cord was dispelled when I heard the ship crash
and realized how low I was. Swinging only once, I landed on the
outskirts of a small German town.
The crash, and my parachuting,
had drawn a small mob, composed primarily of middle aged men. Man,
were they mad! They attacked me with anything and everything available
- rocks, fists, clubs. One particular "character" had the darnedest
knack of waiting until my left ear was unguarded --and then smack!
I thought his fist would eventually deafen me. I caught him off guard
and was able to knock him down, but this urged the others on.
One of the group sent for more
weapons. A lad ran up with a rope, and then the fun began. After
wearing it smooth by beating me, they tied my arms and made me run, walk or
crawl in a southerly direction toward a small forest a mile or so away.
Every time I wavered they started their tattoo of clubbing and beating.
One favorite stunt, practiced by two cyclists, was that of gathering speed
and literally riding me down. As I'd fall, the kicking would start
During the entire procedure
there was a nicely dressed elderly man, seemingly of local importance, who
endeavored to quiet the mob. About a quarter of a mile from the forest
-after a cycling episode - he was able to ask a direct question of me.
"Why you bomb Germany?"
By that time, I was desperate,
tired and ready for anything, so I replied, "Roosevelt made me!"
That quieted things down a bit,
but again we marched off- headed for the trees. I could occasionally
hear, "Roosevelt! Ya! Ya!" I began to hope. The mob had lost some of
its violence by then, the cyclists had stopped, and it was possible for the
elderly man to induce them to stop and discuss the situation. The same
question was asked again, with the same answer. With gestures and loud
guttural noises, the impromptu meeting carried on for a few minutes, at the
end of which time my protector approached me, smiling. We altered our
course and marched off in the direction of the village.
The relief I felt is impossible to
describe. Even the sight of German uniforms worn by the local military
authorities didn't bother me. Lynching wouldn't be a pleasant way to
* From the book "Behind Barbed Wire" by Morris J. Roy
Per Cal's son Craig Reeder: " My dad did have a
great sense of humor, he was always very cheerful, but I
suspect his story about Roosevelt was motivated more by fear and survival
than by humor. My friend Mike Quirk (also a POW at Stalag Luft I) told me
something that I found very interesting. He said that when the Americans
encountered the German people, the Germans were mystified as to why
Americans were involved in their European war. The Roosevelt story might
have been an attempt to come up with a simple answer to that question."
He also wrote : "He was known in the prison camp as "Whitey" and
participated in the boxing matches there. One story I had heard as a
child from my mom was that the prisoners, having lots of cabbage in their
diet, entertained themselves with farting contests, and that my dad was a
keen competitor, but in later years when I asked Col. Quirk about it, he
said he'd never heard of anything like that at all." Did any of you
hear of these contests?