A sliver of light slipped in from the cracks on the blackened shutters. Marc pulled his tattered blanket tighter around is drawn and bony body. It was blistering cold outside. He was stiff from the hard concrete he had been sleeping on for the last eighteen months.
Marc has been here in Stalag Luft 3, Sagan, Germany since his plane was shot down. Marc was the pilot for the Royal Flush. On June 22, 1943, they were headed out on their third mission to the synthetic chemical plant at Huls, Germany. The Group was making its turn onto the bomb run when gunfire from the enemy knocked out the No. 3 engine. The No. 2 engine was also hit and started spewing oil back across the entire left wing. Marc was forced to leave his position in the formation, leaving them unprotected from the enemy aircraft. He told the crew, “I can't keep the nose up. We've got to get out of here!”
When they dropped to 2,000 feet seven of the crewmen bailed out, leaving only Marc, the copilot, Oscar, and the flight engineer, Fred, aboard the wounded aircraft. It seemed that the skeleton crew could keep the plane in the air, so they stayed aboard and headed towards England. As they approached the coast, they took more hits. About 15 miles off the shore, they floundered down onto the English Channel waters. The Royal Flush was riddled with holes, but remained afloat long enough for the three crewmen to escape.
They pulled the release handle on the dingy and only shredded fabric came out. The three crewmen inflated their life jackets to remain afloat. They soon were picked up by French fishermen, who turned them over to the Germans. The three of them joined the rest of the crew as “German Guests” at the prison camp.
As light began to fill the tiny room, Marc called out to his roommates, “Merry Christmas everyone.”
“What’s so merry about it?” Oscar grumbled.
“We woke up didn’t we?”
“Yeah, that just means God didn’t answer my prayer last night.” Oscar shivered from the cold damp air.
“God’s not finished with you, Oscar. We may not be home for Christmas, but God hasn’t left us.”
Fred rolled over on his worn mat. “I can assume we lost the bet since I woke up here again.”
“You would be correct.” Oscar answered him sarcastically.
“We could always start a new one for next Christmas. Our odds should be better. Surely we won’t be here a third one.” Fred tried to hide his lack of confidence with a short laugh.
They bundled up in their worn jackets and scarves and headed outside for the morning roll call. Standing out in the frigid snow, the bitter wind burned their faces. It seemed like an eternity, as the German guards slowly counted. They were dismissed back to the barracks after everyone was accounted for. As they marched back their thoughts were on the dreaded evening count, when it would be even colder.
Back at the barrack, Marc nibbled on a tiny piece of black bread as he started his daily chore of getting the fire going in the make-shift stove. Their Christmas dinner would be a stew made with the food rations they had been stashing away for the past couple of weeks. The Red Cross food delivers were very slim the last couple of months. It was not turkey and dressing, but they would be thankful for what they had. When they gathered for their meal, Marc prayed that the next Christmas day would be different.
This story is dedicated to my grandfather, Col. Marcell Emery Fountain, US Air Force. He was the pilot on the “Royal Flush” and was in Stalag Luft 3 from June 22, 1943 until forced to march to Mooseburg, Germany on January 27, 1945. He was at Stalag 7A, in Mooseburg, until freed by the Americans, April 29, 1945.
I don't know the fate of 1Lt Oscar E. Diedering, the copilot or T/Sgt Fred E. Sneed, the flight engineer.
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