As Brainerd resident U.S. Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Bo Cline looks at a photo of a B-26 aircraft similar to what he flew in World War II, he speaks about the events leading up to his being imprisoned by the Germans during that war.
As a former POW, Cline is a walking miracle, since most prisoners of war are remembered by black and white flags flown in their memory.
At age 92 his memory of the intense flight missions with shrapnel flying and hitting his aircraft and the rough conditions in the German prison camp is still very vivid. He recounted details of his miraculous story of survival to Cloverdale Neighborhood Association residents in Hixson at one of their recent meetings. The Hixson residents wore red, white and blue to honor him.
Cline said he flew nine missions as a replacement bombardier in World War II before his world came crashing down. He was flying from France into Germany toward the target when shrapnel began flying at his aircraft.
"There were 33 planes in our flight," said Cline. "We were halfway to our target 30 miles away. Our tail gunner said, 'I see our escort group,' but it was fighter planes. They cut us to pieces. We lost 16 planes out of 33. I was up in the nose."
He said when the aircraft was hit Dec. 23, 1944, shrapnel went between the pilot and the co-pilot and knocked out instruments. The right engine was burning and the aircraft began dropping out of formation. He opted to parachute out to safety below, landing on railroad tracks. As he was gathering up his chute, two German infantry soldiers captured him and took his weapons.
While en route to the prison camp, German trucks were ambushed by P-47s, so Cline jumped into a ditch with the German soldiers. He recalls arriving in Bonn, Germany, and then walking across the Rhine River into Frankfurt and ending up in Berlin. He remembers the prison camp sign reading "Stalog Group One."
He said the airmen shot down early in WWII received Red Cross parcels containing food, tobacco and personal hygiene items, but by the time he got there the parcels were gone.
"We were in a 14-by 12-barracks with 24 guys on wood shelves," said Cline. "We were given a mattress like a toe sack. The food was getting pretty scarce, so everyone had to share food. We were hungry and cold all the time. I had two cold showers in seven months. We had one blanket each. We did not have heat. We used briquets to heat our food."
The POWs ate bread, rutabagas and potato soup. He said each POW had a chore. His chore was to climb up in the rafters and cut wood to burn.
Cline weighed 152 pounds at the start of his imprisonment and 128 pounds when he was released.
"We knew the war was going badly for the Germans [seven months later] and we woke up the next day to find the guard dogs and the Germans were gone," said Cline. "Then Russian guerillas came in and brought food and cattle."
He said one of the POWs spoke Polish and negotiated with the Russians to release the prisoners, so they did.
"Negotiations were made to bring planes in to pick us up," said Cline. "They brought in a troop carrier. I arrived in Norfolk. I was back on American land. It was a blessing."