Calvin Garrison, B-17 Radio Operator, ex-POW

 
Calvin G. Garrison, B-17 Radio Operator, United States Army Air Forces, Eighth Air Force, 306th Bomb Group,  368th Bomb Squadron,
based at Bedford, England. First mission: November 1943. Shot down in the area of the France-Belgium border: February, 1944. Purple heart, Ex-POW.
 
Calvin wrote a well written, unpublished, 92 page account, in his own hand (written Oct. 1945) shortly after his liberation describing his time in service, including his time as a POW. See an excerpt at the bottom of this webpage.
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(The following information comes from an 8th AFHS-Mn luncheon conversation with Calvin on April 13, 2011.)
 
Calvin was a radio operator and manned a gun on top of the B-17. He was shot in the leg by fighter rounds during the attack that brought down the plane. Two pieces of metal are still in his leg. One time the pieces set off an airport metal detector.

One of Calvin’s crew evaded capture and got to Switzerland and got back into the war again--ending up later fighting in the Pacific also. Calvin said that even though he had been shot in the leg (He got a Purple Heart), it wasn’t too bad because he took off running when he landed in his parachute. There were others ahead of him who left with two parachutes riddled from holes caused by a 20 mm cannon explosion inside the plane. A couple of chutes were open inside the plane due to the round exploding inside the fuselage and they were wadding them up and holding them even though they had holes. The guys who used the parachutes with holes got to the ground faster and safer than the others.

He said it was very cold, -50 degrees in the radio operator’s gun position. The whipping winds from the open waist gun windows blew the cold air around inside. He said they plugged in the heated flight suits above about 14 or 18,000 feet. Earlier, before the heated suits were introduced, the 8th AF aircrews were just using sheep lined clothing that was not heated. Calvin said his position at the radio operator’s gun was called “the peashooter” since it had only one 50 caliber gun, but he got pretty good at shooting at fighters even though the position had a limited area the gun could maneuver through. Calvin went to gunnery school at Kingman.

They were told that after bailing out they should fall for awhile before opening their parachute but Calvin opened his chute right away. When Calvin bailed out and was going down in the chute, the fighter circled and he waived at the fighter pilot and the fighter pilot waived back and did not shoot at him. A couple of Calvin’s crew made it to Paris and stayed (hid out) in a brothel.

All ten of Calvin’s crew bailed out at 18,000 feet and all survived the war. There was a fire in the plane and Calvin’s eyebrows were singed but the oxygen mask protected his face. Another member of his crew had more severe burns on his face. Another had spinal problems from the fighter attack and the bail out. Calvin used a portable bottle as a radio operator at times. He said he had a Navigator who was Hispanic-American who was very smart and who eluded capture. He bailed out and landed on the Rhiems to Paris railroad tracks and then headed up a hill and was dropping his equipment as fast as he could. Some kids came after him and picked up the equipment and gave it to him. The Underground helped him to stayed concealed from the Germans for several months and helped him get back to England via Switzerland.

Calvin was in three POW camps. The first camp was in Lithuania. While using the outhouse there one day he discovered, after a “Goon” alert was called (a German guard was passing by), that there was on ongoing project to build an escape tunnel there. Sand was a problem in Lithuania. A Russian worker stepped through into the tunnel by accident, which caused it to be discovered. There was a warning fence and an outer fence. The Germans had the Russian prisoners work but not the American prisoners.

At the second camp, the buildings were on stilts. After The Great Escape occurred and fifty prisoners were shot by the Germans on Hitler‘s orders, they were told not to try to escape any more by the American leaders in his camp.

Calvin knew who the prison guard Big Stoop was. He said Big Stoop, the notorious prison guard, had his head cut off after the liberation of the POWs. Calvin described a number of other guards. One “Chico” was called that because he had lived in Chicago. Another had lived in New York and worked at a restaurant. The older WWI aged guards were mellower. Calvin described one American POW who regularly got in the Germans’ face about the Geneva convention to try to shame them into following it. British prisoners who had been there longer and who had more experience with confusing the guards and the “ferrets” just froze in place when one came in. They froze in place in order to keep the “ferrets” from finding out what was going on in the buildings and because they were less memorable to the ferrets who were supposed to check on the prisoners. The Americans tended to make fun of the guards which made them more memorable to the ferrets. Calvin was in Stalag Luft IV and he knew Earl Joswick (later) He wasn‘t sure if he knew him at the time or not.

Calvin was on The Black March (winter 1944-45) and some prisoners estimated it was under 500 miles and others estimated over 500 miles. It was hard to tell. The worst prisoner of war camp Calvin was in he said had French Senegalese and other black troops in it and was the dirtiest camp that he was in. He got lice while in there. On The Black March the Germans kept them walking ahead of the Russians. It was almost to the very end of the war before they were liberated. The Soviet army and American army had already met and shook hands (at the Elbe) before they were liberated. Calvin said he was not personally abused by Big Stoop but he knew about that guard. One of the older German guards told the POWs that eventually the Americans would be fighting the Russians like the Germans. The German guards who had been in the US before the war all claimed they had been back visiting a relative and were grabbed by the German army. They spoke English.

One of Calvin’s crew died not too long after the war ended. His B-17 pilot died recently. There is only one other member of his crew besides himself left. He never went to the reunions of his Bomb Group much and was busy with work and family. He hasn’t been back to Bedford, England. Calvin said that he thought the movie Twelve O’clock High was based on the 306th. They had had a problem, like in the movie, with morale and had a new leader come in. He said their number was the 306th and for the movie, Hollywood just reversed and turned the number upside down to make it the fictional 903rd.
 
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The following is a short example of an excerpt from Calvin Garrison’s 93 page handwritten manuscript about his experiences during  WWII. It is the section where he describes being shot down over France (MS, 1945, pp. 31-36). The handwritten document has never been typed up.
By Calvin Garrison
“About the time I was ready to sign off, a message started coming through, and I decided to take down some of it. Coleman and O. B. said something about someone pushing us out of formation. Snyder said on the last oxygen check that we were at 18,000 feet and gaining altitude.
Then everything seemed to happen at once. I felt the ship shudder and shake, and I knew we had been hit. I turned to my gun, but a Jerry, who was on top of us, had already done his damage and had peeled off. He had filled the radio room like a sieve, and one of his slugs had found their mark in my left leg. My first reaction was, “nothing serious.”
I smelled smoke almost immediately and heard O. B. over the intercom say, “Somebody get an extinguisher!”
That is just what I started to do when the intercom went dead, and I heard a tinkle from the bailout bell. Was it something I heard, or was it real? I was confused. I looked at Buckley and Fred. Fred was still shooting and Buckley’s chute was open and laying in the waist.
I looked at the oxygen gauge and saw a sickening zero. This convinced me we were done. Off went my flak suit and on went my chute. I opened the door into the bomb bay to bail out and was greeted with a wall of flame. It was impossible to even see the twelve 500 pounders.
So off I headed for the rear exit. On the way I stopped to kick the ball turret a few times to signal Vought that it was time to leave. Buckley was doing likewise.
Then I headed for the open door. Buck and Fred were still standing there. I balked once, but then, out I went, all fours flying. It felt like I did a couple of backward somersaults before I was laying on my back. “No delayed jump for me,” I thought, and while laying flat on my back pulled the rip cord, and there I was, with a jerk, floating through a very, very silent space.
There was my formation going away, and there were four vapor trail marks from fighters. Then I counted chutes and discovered five besides my own. Two of them were full of holes. They weren’t too far below me, and over there was our ship--or rather a cloud of smoke coming up from it.
It was pretty sickening to think that four of my buddies went down with the ship, but search as I did, I could count no more than five chutes. Then, while searching, I spotted a Jerry plane above me, and down he was coming, my way. My reaction was one of horror, but he didn’t shoot. Instead he banked off to one side above me and looked down. He was evidently calling out our position to his base. It was a relief when he left.
Then I thought that it was time to cool off and figure a way to go after hitting the ground. In the meantime I’d thrown away my oxygen mask and throat mike. There was one large town to my right, and I figured that’s where they will be coming from. It was clear and visible for miles. All the way down there was something warm trickling down my leg, which I found to be blood.
Getting closer to the ground, I was horrified by the sight of something new under me: high tension wires. Luckily, I drifted and missed them. Then I sailed over the top of one of the crewmembers who had already reached his destination. Then the ground came up fast, and into an orchard I sailed and hit in a cherry or plum tree. I became very panicky and tried to get the chute down to bury it, but it was tangled in thorns, so I gave it up as a bum job and ran like a jackrabbit for my closest crewmember.
When I met Buckley he was coming down a slope with his parachute in his arms. The first thing I asked him was where we were--he didn’t know-- while I tried to convince him to drop the chute and run, but he seemed dazed. Then, seemingly from nowhere, a German stuck his head over a hill and spotted us. He was riding a motorcycle. We really started to run then. We ended up in a clump of trees a couple hundred feet away when I heard the Germans shouting from every direction, “Hello.”
Buckley still had his chute under his arm when we ducked into some bushes. We heard them shoot a rifle shot down towards where some of the others had landed. We also heard a bomb or gas tank explode in our fallen ship.
Then as the voices grew closer, I saw my first German close up and then another. They spotted us and pointed their machine guns at us. We both put our hands up, and they jabbered German at us.
“Nein sprechen Deutsch” was the only German I knew, and I used it. It means “No speak German. They searched me for a gun, but instead found oranges and pictures I had for escape and evasion purposes. In another pocket they took French money and escape equipment such as compasses and maps.
One took my flying helmet and one took my goggles. Buckley asked them if they could speak English and one said “Yes.” Then he asked him where we were, and he said, “Yes.” Then he demonstrated how our Mae West inflated when CO2 was turned loose in it.
They walked us down a road, and there I met Bill Wiersma and Snyder. Snyder was badly beaten up and was practically out. The back of his head was a bloody mess and one leg looked like it had been broken. Bill was O.K.
Then we all took our first ride in a German jeep to the French town of Sedan, where I found the people lined up along the streets as if a big parade was in progress. They were very curious.
We were taken to some kind of a Gestapo Headquarters or some such thing. Snyder had to be helped as he could hardly walk. There we met a German who lived in New York at one time, and he started to ask us questions pertaining to what time we took off and where we were headed. We told him we couldn‘t tell him and he said “Ah yes, you are bad boys.”
He took our name, rank, and serial number and took a look at our dog tags. We then had another ride to the outskirts of town to an abandoned school the Germans were using for a garrison. . . . “
 

 One interesting detail Calvin mentioned in a conversation on March 6, 2013 was that when he was on the POW Black March, the POWs were walking in the vicinity of an airfield where a  German ME 262 jet was taking off. He said the exhaust fumes from the jet smelled like kerosene. 
 
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St. Paul Pioneer Press
Age 93 of Roseville Passed away peacefully on Sept. 23, 2015. Survived by loving wife of 67 years, Virginia; children Ray, Bonnie, Robin; grandchildren Kimberly (David) Mattson, Michelle (Bob) Noha, Mark (fiancée Cathryn), and Kelly. Great-grandchildren Emma, Anders, Audrey, Ingrid, Calvin, and Ben; sister Barbara Davis; many nieces nephews and friends. Served in the 8th Airforce during WWII as a B-17 radio operator and was a former POW. Retired from the US Postal Service, and was a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch 28, he also worked at McGill. Cal loved to bowl, golf, fish, go to the cabin and tell great stories. He also loved to listen to music, travel and especially to make people laugh. He will be greatly missed. We will gather for a Celebration of Life at a future date to be announced.
Published in Pioneer Press on Oct. 4, 2015- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/twincities/obituary.aspx?pid=176007982#sthash.foLO6boQ.dpuf
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K Callahan,
Nov 3, 2011, 11:31 AM
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K Callahan,
Nov 3, 2011, 11:31 AM
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K Callahan,
Jun 25, 2011, 7:34 AM
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