Kirby Cowan, the Airmen of Buchenwald, and the KLB Club; A Cautionary Tale

Submitted by Charlton Stanley (Otteray Scribe), Guest Blogger

ImageThis is not going to be easy to read. It was not easy to write. This story is about Frank Kirby Cowan, and 167 other allied airmen from World War II.  Their story is unique in a way that the stories of all the other thousands of fliers from both sides of the conflict are not.  Our paths first crossed on August 23, 1946, but that is a story for another day.

Kirby was a young man from Harrison, Arkansas. His father was an engineer for the railroad, and Kirby planned to follow in Joe Cowan’s footsteps. Then a war happened. Like so many thousands of other Americans, Kirby joined the service following the attack at Pearl Harbor. Kirby joined the Army Air Corps, and was assigned to B-17 bombers as a radio operator.  He said he had never flown in an airplane until he joined the Air Corps. He remembered his first experience flying in an airplane very well. The Air Corps did not waste time with orientation flights or sightseeing. Kirby’s first experience in an airplane had him standing up in the back seat of an AT-6 Texan, shooting a machine gun at a practice target being towed by another AT-6.

After finishing his training, he was assigned to the 339th Bomb Squadron, 96th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.  Their B-17 was called Horn’s Hornets, because the pilot was named Horn. In those days, losses were high, and Horn’s Hornets ran out of luck in 1944. Their B-17 was cut in half by an anti-aircraft shell. There are no known photos of what happened to their airplane, but this image of similar damage to a B-24 illustrates it. Image

Kirby said, “When the engines unloaded they made a sound I had never heard an airplane engine make before. With no load on them, they started screaming. We started tumbling end over end. I was pinned to the inside of the plane by the G forces. I got a glimpse of the tail section falling away. The tail gunner didn’t have a chance.  For a second, we stopped tumbling, so I took a Brody out the back where we were cut half in two. There were three of us that got out.”  The remaining six crew members either were killed by the flak shell, or could not get out. The pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and flight engineer were trapped in the nose of the plane.

Kirby went on, “Of the three of us that got out, one guy was shot in his parachute. He didn’t make it to the ground alive.”

Jacques Desoubrie traitor
The only known photo of Jaques Desoubrie, from his ‘Wanted’ poster.

After he landed, Kirby was alone, not knowing where the other surviving crew member was. He knew the Germans would be searching for him, so he began looking to hook up with the French Resistance.  Eventually he made what he thought was a good contact. Unfortunately it wasn’t. His contact was this man, Jacques Desoubrie, French traitor and double agent for the Gestapo. Desoubrie was paid 10,000 francs for each allied airman he turned over to the Gestapo.  

Kirby was sent to several prison camps and wound up at Fresnes Prison with the others where they expected to be shot.  The German Foreign Office expressed concern about shooting prisoners of war. Instead, they suggested that enemy airmen accused of being terrorists not be given the legal status of POWs.  Since they were no longer considered prisoners of war, they were shipped from Fresnes, just outside Paris, to Buchenwald concentration camp by train.  After five days in the crowded boxcars, they arrived at Buchenwald on August 20, 1944. When the men were marched through the front gate at Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the guards pointed at the huge chimney nearby.  Kirby was told when he went in the gate; the only way he was going to leave was up the big chimney.

A total of 168 Allied airmen were sent to Buchenwald. All the airmen sent to Buchenwald were classified as a “Terrorflieger” (terror flier).  This meant they were not accorded a trial or hearing, and were deemed to not fall under the rules of the Geneva Convention. Kirby was not accorded prisoner-of-war (POW) status, but instead treated as a criminal and spy, as were all the other airmen held there, and sentenced to death.

The “terror fliers” heads were shaved, they were denied shoes, and forced to sleep outside without shelter for about three weeks. They were given one thin blanket for three men.  They were assigned to a section of the camp called, “Little Camp,” which was a quarantine area.  Prisoners in the Little Camp received the least food and the harshest treatment.

After a short time, the men figured out who was the ranking officer of all the prisoners. Squadron Leader Phil Lamason, a Lancaster bomber pilot from New Zealand, was the most senior officer. Lamason called everyone together after their first meal together and made a speech, saying,

“Attention!… Gentlemen, we have ourselves in a very fine fix indeed. The goons have completely violated the Geneva Convention and are treating us as common thieves and criminals. However, we are soldiers. From this time on, we will also conduct ourselves as our training has taught us and as our countries would expect from us. We will march as a unit to roll call and we will follow all reasonable commands as a single unit.”

Kirby said they all marched together to “appells” (roll calls) in military drill formation, which angered the guards.  They maintained military discipline under the worst conditions imaginable.  Two of their number died. They were subjected to mock executions, and never knew when one of the trigger-happy Gestapo guards might mow them down.  They had been advised hanging would be the method of their execution, and to expect to be hung using music wire instead of a rope for a noose.

Image
Hermann Pister, Commandant
Buchenwald Concentration Camp

Phil Lamason and the leaders of the prisoner’s tried to negotiate with the Buchenwald commandant, Hermann Pister, for a transfer to a POW camp. Pister refused to budge off the position the men were terrorists, would not get a trial, would not get more humane treatment, and would be executed with a few weeks.

At great personal risk, Phil Lamason managed to smuggle a note to a trusted Russian prisoner, who routed the note to the Luftwaffe. They felt the Luftwaffe would be more sympathetic to their situation than the Gestapo and SS.  The Luftwaffe would not want their downed fliers treated in a similar fashion; and moreover, had the political connections to get them taken to a camp run by the German air force, despite the fact all the airmen’s papers were stamped “DIKAL” (Darf in kein anderes Lager), which meant, “Not to be transferred to another camp.”

Two Luftwaffe officers appeared at Buchenwald, ostensibly to inspect recent bomb damage.  One of the prisoners spoke fluent German. When the Luftwaffe officers approached the prisoners, their representatives stood at attention and saluted smartly. After a brief conversation about flying and other details, the Luftwaffe officers were convinced the men were fellow aviators.  They sent messages up the chain of command, until it reached Hermann Goering’s desk. By all accounts, he was beyond enraged.  Goering was a former airman himself, an ace fighter pilot in WWI. He was concerned that his own Luftwaffe airmen should be treated well if they became POWs. He was also one of the few officers who had the political and military clout to take on the Gestapo and SS.  Goering forced Himmler to release the 166 surviving prisoners to custody of the Luftwaffe. They were taken to Stalag Luft III, run by the Luftwaffe.  156 airmen were released at once, on October 19.  Ten were too ill to move immediately and were taken to Stalag Luft III over a period of several weeks.

Lamason had kept a secret to himself in order to keep morale up, but had learned they men were scheduled to be executed at Buchenwald on October 26, only seven days after the Luftwaffe rescued them from Buchenwald.

Kirby told me, simply, “Hermann Goering saved my life.”

After the war, the Buchenwald survivors were questioned by the military, and some were accused of lying.  They were ordered to never talk about their experiences, and most never did. Some who did tell after they got home were accused of lying, so they quit talking about it. Most of the airmen kept in touch with each other as best they could.

After the war, and all the POWs were liberated and returned home, Kirby Cowan resumed life in the quiet northwest Arkansas town of Harrison.  He followed in his father’s footsteps and went to work for the railroad. There is more to the story. When Kirby graduated from Harrison High School in 1941, his dad gave him a ring with a red stone in it. He was wearing it the day he was shot down.  German guards took his ring, coins and other personal possessions when he was processed into prison.

Kirby married his sweetheart, Cloteen, in 1945. They had been married about a year when a box came from the War Department. It was his ring. The young couple had it appraised, learning the red stone was a ruby. Kirby wore it until it no longer fit his finger. He had it attached to a necklace chain, which Cloteen still wears.

The Airmen of Buchenwald had meetings and it was decided they needed a pin as the emblem of their KLB_Cluborganization, which they called the KLB Club. One of the men, Bob Taylor of the RAF, created a design depicting a naked, winged foot, representing the barefoot condition of the airmen while in the concentration camp. The foot is chained to a ball bearing the letters KLB (Konzentrations lager Buchenwald). There is a white star surround, the symbol of the Allied invasion forces.  KLB Club members used their Buchenwald prisoner number as their club member numbers.

I talked with Kirby and Cloteen’s son, Joe, a few days ago. He searched for the KLB Club pin but could not find it. Cloteen remembered he had a KLB Club windbreaker with the design on it, but it was given away several years ago.

Kirby 2006 Harrison
Kirby Cowan
August 2006

Frank Kirby Cowan, KLB 78271, died on December 23, 2009 at the age of 87.

Phillip John (Phil) Lamason, KLB 78407, died May 12, 2012 at the age of 93.

Jacques Desoubrie was executed for his crimes in 1949

Hermann Pister, SS #29892, was arrested in 1945. He was tried for war crimes by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, along with 30 other defendants. The charges were, “..participation in a ‘common plan’ to violate the Laws and Usages of war of the Hague Convention of 1907 and the third Geneva Convention of 1929, in regard to the rights of Prisoners of War.”  He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Pister died in Landsberg Prison of a heart attack on September 28, 1948 while awaiting execution.

Willie Walderam, Royal Canadian Air Force, KLB 78402, wrote a poem about the experience.

A Reflection

I’ll think of you dear KLB
Again some future day,
When the world is gay and free
And I am so far away.

Of those long appells in pouring rain
With neither boots nor shoes,
And the SS guards who counted us
Hitting whom they choose.

When I bounce my children on my knee
I’ll think of the Gypsy kids,
Who, instead of wearing ball and chain,
Should have been wearing bibs.

When I Lay in my cosy bed at night
I’ll think of your hard boards,
With a single blanket to cover us,
And fleas and lice in hordes.

Ironically, I’ll think of how
You took our dog-tags from us,
‘Nix soldat-civil’ you said,
Smiling fanatically at us.

Yes, you gave us soup and enough black bread
To etch out a mere existence,
Enough to keep us wanting more
And weaken our resistance

How two of our number lost their lives
For lack of medical aid;
You wouldn’t even give them food
To help save them from the grave

And then: after eight weeks spent in your filthy soul,
Which seemed to me like years,
The Luftwaffe came, took us away,
I felt like shedding tears

And so to all you Konzentrators,
A toast I offer thee;
Here’s wishing you a happy life,
And to Hell with KLB

An award-winning documentary was made about the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald. It aired last December on the Military Channel, but was edited to fit the TV time slot. A DVD of the full-length documentary Is available for purchase from the producers.

Chasten “Chat” Bowen, KLB 78336, one of the airmen interviewed for the documentary, went back and took his grandchildren.

I wrote this for Kirby, all his fellow airmen, and all those who died in the horror of the camps whose names we will never know. Kirby was my friend.

57 thoughts on “Kirby Cowan, the Airmen of Buchenwald, and the KLB Club; A Cautionary Tale

  1. Excellent Charlton…. Excellent…. Recently, I read a book titled “An Honorable German”…. That was a Uboat commander… Based off the coast of Florida…. Sunk a passenger ship… Gave up his location to save them….

    Needless to say…. I hope we figured out what and how we want our service people treated…. Then we should do the same….

  2. So many sad, horrible stories. Too many of them are dying untold, thank you for relaying this one. There are so many important lessons to be learned

  3. Don’t read one word of this, or one paragraph, rather, read each and every word and each and every paragraph.

    It reminded me of the movie Schindler’s List (If you have not seen that movie you should … but be careful).

    After seeing that movie I could not speak for a time, but when I finally could get some words out through my system that has somehow shut down with emotion, I told my son in a voice I have never experienced since: “Now you know what greatness is.”

    Among all nations, peoples, races, religions, and societies are human sensibilities mixed with human senselessness.

    Treating with dignity, those who have become weaker than yourself and thereby have come under your control, is greatness.

  4. Great post. Refreshing to read interesting, straight, nonpolitical posts, well written and inspiring. You’re a superb addition to the lineup. I don’t know if I would bat you leadoff or cleanup? I think leadoff to set the tone.

  5. “A total of 168 Allied airmen were sent to Buchenwald. All the airmen sent to Buchenwald were classified as a “Terrorflieger” (terror flier). This meant they were not accorded a trial or hearing, and were deemed to not fall under the rules of the Geneva Convention. Kirby was not accorded prisoner-of-war (POW) status, but instead treated as a criminal and spy, as were all the other airmen held there, and sentenced to death.”

    Chuck,

    This is a wonderfully moving story and it is masterfully written. That quote from above is so pertinent in this era after 9/11 and the Bush/Cheney shredding of the Geneva Accords and even U.S. citizenship. It seems we are behaving like the……………….NAZI’s. Who’d have thought it?

  6. Mike,
    That is exactly why I titled this as a cautionary tale. As you know, I am a student of how history can instruct us in the present day. I don’t like what I am seeing.

    On the other hand, we can hope to find some glimmer of good in even the worst situations and the worst persons.

  7. What an outstanding tribute to your friend Kirby Cowan, Chuck. It is unbelievable that these words would have been uttered by an American:

    “Hermann Goering saved my life.”

    Indeed this is a cautionary tale as just this week, before bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was even captured, Sen Lindsay Graham was calling for the president to designate him as an enemy combatant with a one way ticket to Gitmo. I believe it was Churchill who said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

  8. nick spinelli 1, April 21, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Some folks just can’t help themselves. C’est la vie.
    ========================================
    A cautionary tale.

  9. OS,
    this case reminds me of all the US airmen who were captured and sent to gulags throughout the USSR empire from WWII through the early periods of the Cold War. Eisenhower knew about them, but didn’t want to start another war. Their fate may never be known.

  10. Good story well told.

    Today, the Laws and Usages of war of the Hague Convention of 1907 and the third Geneva Convention of 1929 and similar agreements are “quaint”, as is our Bill of Rights, just pieces of paper to be ignored.

    Those in Gitmo and other CIA detention centers aren’t airmen, but is there no Goering to stand for them?

  11. Never forget that Obomber and his friends (Rahm) were habituees of Man’s Country on Chicago’s North Side. The owner, Chuck Renslow, my neighbor in the 1980s, founded the aforementioned club along with the world’s foremost BDSM gay club, “The Gold Coast”. Sorry boys and girls, but BDSM follows along with power. The SS and their concentration camps were forebearers of today’s BDSM clubs. Sieg Heil! Torture? Nein, sex!
    Just sayin’. Over and out.

  12. Thanks OS. It is hard to realize that a year has gone by since that ceremony. My question was related to my personal experiences, but there are hundreds and maybe thousands unaccounted for military personnel from that era. They were abandoned for political and military reasons, but none of them were good enough reasons. The lost airmen of Buchenwald is an amazing story of survival and as you suggest, that many die hard Nazi’s were cognizant that they wanted there own personnel to be treated properly if captured. I wonder if the pro-torture crowd ever read the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald story?

  13. Yes, this from Dredd: “Treating with dignity, those who have become weaker than yourself and thereby have come under your control, is greatness.”

    Well done, OS.

  14. There is a difference between soldiers and non-soldiers who take up arms. Only soldiers in uniform are covered under the Geneva Convention. Irregular forces clothed as civilians are treated as “franc-tireurs” and not entitled to treaty protections. During WWI the Germans executed Belgian civilians who took up hunting rifles and sniped at uniformed soldiers. This caused a furore in Allied countries but was permissible under the Convention. You may also recall the motorcycle escape in “The Great Escape.” When the character portrayed by Steve McQueen is finally trapped at the Swiss frontier, he flashes his captain’s bars and is taken captive again, but eventually illegally executed. The story above related by OS is a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.

  15. Here is another Kirby Cowan story.

    The B-17 Aluminum Overcast, which is owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), made a stop in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Aluminum Overcast tours the country every year. They sell rides, but former B-17 crew members are given their rides for free. Kirby went down to Little Rock to get his free ride and to meet the EAA crew. He showed me an 8×10 photograph taken that day. It is a group photo of him with the crew and several other veterans gathered under the nose of the airplane.

    Kirby walked around the Aluminum Overcast, giving it a careful look. He said, “The number three engine was dripping more oil than I like to see, so I turned them down on the ride. I told them I had to jump out of one B-17 already, and that was enough for me.”

    Here is more about the EAA’s B-17, with some videos and a schedule of its tour appearances. Although radial engines are known for leaking oil, by now they have certainly checked the seals and gaskets. The joke about radial engines is they are actually sentient beings. They know when somebody nearby is wearing a white shirt, because one can get an oil drip on you from fifteen yards away.
    http://www.b17.org/

  16. Excellent article Charleton.

    Simply excellent.

    As Mike S. alluded to earlier, this piece reminded me of Bush/Cheney administration ignoring the Geneva Convention. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought up the Luftwaffe regarding the humane treatment of prisoners of war; as illustrated in films like Stalag 17 and The Great Escape. Funny how people so allegedly concerned with protecting this country from terrorism abhor being compared to hard core Nazis.

  17. OS Once again, a home run, thanks! One observation about our so called leaders who sanctioned torture is that they are all chickenhawks and never served on active duty in wartime. I think that is the difference between those who blithely sanction such horrors and people like Sen. McCain and others who were actually combatants.

    I loved your joke about radials since I flew a AT-6 for awhile as a flight instructor. We used one gallon of oil per hour and I told the school owner that in a couple of years I was coming back with an oil drilling rig to drill for oil where it had been parked.

    I just got back from our local bookstore and bought a book written by a possible neighbor of yours, or at least he lives in the area. If you like William Manchester and Churchill, I discovered that the last volume of his Last Lion series has been completed by Paul Reid and Manchester. I had given up all hope of ever seeing the final volume when Manchester died. It is out now, and I am just beginning it. So far it is very good, and I recommend it highly as I do all of Manchesters works.

  18. One of the reasons for my writing about the 1933 Parallels is so that we “Exceptional Americans” do not fail to see the slippery slope that a so called terrorist act might lead a fine nation into perdition. Germany was still on the civilized footing until the Reichstag Fire Decree.
    I like this article very much.
    What amazes me is the role of Hermann Goering here in this situtation. It was Goering who admitted at the Nuremburg Trials, while locked up, that it was he who set the Reichstag on fire. He soon thereafter committed suicide in his cell with the help of some poison. Perhaps an airman kindly gave it to him.
    Some members of the Grand Old Gophers want to treat the Tsar Kid as a foreign combatant. He is a naturalized citizen and tho foreign born, an American now. He is not a combatant in uniform. He may be a terrorist and he may have been gorwn into one back in his native land but all the Gopher apCray is a bit much. I guess the Gophers want to treat him the same way the Krauts did these airmen back in WWII. All the BS about Carmen Miranda Warnings are simply off cookie. The international human rights laws require us to not torture Tsar Boy. We can question him without Miranda warnings but that only prevents the use of his replies at his own trial as evidence against him. He can be tried on the evidence available. There are witnesses to him running over his own brother in the commission of the numerous felonies and he can be charged with Felony Murder. How is that for Muslim Brotherhood?

    I like this article. It is well written. I did not know about these fliers and what the Germans almost did to them. Hats off to Hermann for saving them.

  19. ARE,
    Thanks for the literary tip. As for local authors, Sharyn McCrumb will be coming out with her next book in September. It is about the Overmountain Men and the Battle of King’s Mountain. I worked some with her on her last novel, The Ballad of Tom Dooley. Practically every person in it is a psychopath, and the sad thing is, it is about real people and real events.

    http://www.sharynmccrumb.com/index.html

    I am planning a future story about the Troop of Overmountain Men. I have a personal interest in that. Here is a photo of my ggg-grandfather’s stone.

  20. Amazing article.
    I am a history buff and I love finding hidden jewels like this story.
    History is not simply the vast sweep of events, it is the millions of people doing things that contribute to the vast sweep of events.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  21. BarkinDog,
    There is indeed credible evidence that some folks at the prison looked the other way when Goering asked for his personal grooming kit, and gave it to him.

    Pilots and airmen are a funny bunch. When the shooting stops, they are brothers. See mespo’s story from last week. Probably the only group of warriors that still live by the code of chivalry. The Gestapo and SS were just street thugs for whom chivalry is just a word in the dictionary. We have some elected officials and at least one Federal judge who would have been right at home with both organizations.

  22. OS It sure looks like your ggg grandfather was a young un when he did his fighting. He sure managed to get into the big ones when he could, and I see he only missed Cowpen’s which was an even bigger victory because we defeated British regulars and the cream of Cornwallis’s force. The movie The Patriot was loosely based on Cowpen’s and unfortunately Tarlton was not killed as he was in the movie.

    I have not heard of this writer before, but I have read Sen. James Webb’s book, Born Fighting which dealt with that Kings mountain battle a bit. Since I was born in Virginia and I have visited many of the Civil War and Revolutionary war battlefields, I am quite interested in the history of your area. In fact, not too long ago, I was able to go to Cowpens. So thank you for this tip.

  23. ARE,
    He was a 16 y/o private at the time of the King’s Mountain. We do have records of him being at Beatties Creek and Cowan’s Ford, but the VA only gives you so much room on a memorial stone. His father, my gggg-grandfather was a Captain in the troop.

    Samuel’s son, Sampson, fought at New Orleans in the War of 1812. He was a private at the time. I doubt anyone would dare call that branch of the family chickenhawks.

  24. OS,

    In re chivalry: Don’t forget divers and submariners. They may be Navy, but they’ve got a bond that goes beyond that as well. The Silent Service breeds it’s own kind of code.

  25. Back when I was a human in my last incarnation, I knew a guy named Charles Shaw. Charlie was a real life escapee from a German Prison and his story was one of the escape stories behind the movie The Great Escape. Charlie went to law school and was one of the best trial attorneys to ever practice in Missouri. I also knew Whitney Harris who was a prosecutor at the Nuremburg Trials. The three of us had a conversation one time with me mostly listening to those two characters talk about the war and prison camps. Whitney wrote the book: Tyranny On Trial. Charlie was interested in the facts as to how Goerring committed suicide and Whitney had no knowledge. I could not understand why Charlie had any empathy for Goering until now. He must have heard something about the release of the fellow airmen. Charlie and Whitney kibitzed on the use of adverse witnesses in a civil rights trial against a mental institution that erred on the wrong side of “treating” patients. This dog was grateful. The adverse witness is your friend. His or her statements are admissible as hearsay exceptions under the Federal Rules of Evidence. See 801(d)2 or thereabouts, as I am quoting it from memory from 1977. So, if the guard said to another guard that the prison boss wanted all the inmates fed strong anti psychotic drugs to keep em quite irregardless of their illness, then the boss’ evil statements get into evidence. If some of the human rights crimes are ever prosecuted, some of the Quantico or Gitmo lessor employees can be important witnesses. We need to know why Bradley Manning was forced to sleep in a cold cell naked with no covers. We need Whitney.

  26. Gene,
    I have not forgotten them. In fact, last Saturday I was talking with a former submariner about writing this story. He was enthusiastic and encourage me to post it. Even during wartime, sailors on deck will turn their backs so they do not have to watch a ship they have just hit slip beneath the waves. Even when it is a wartime enemy, it is painful. As you know, our family is made up of aviators, and seafarers as well.

    I have a theory about that. Sailors and aviators work in a realm that is totally foreign to landlings. It is normal to grow up and live your entire life never getting your feet higher off the ground than you can jump, or in water over your head.

    Aviators know things that others can never know and understand. It is one thing to ride in an aluminum sardine can peeking out a tiny porthole. It is quite another to sit in the front seat, seeing the sky and feeling the air alive in your feet and the palm of your hand.

    Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. wrote High Flight shortly before he was killed on December 11, 1941. He got the inspiration for it while test flying a new version of the Spitfire, taking it to 30,000 feet, which was very high in 1941. He was killed when he had a mid-air collision while in instrument conditions. He was only 19 years old.

    I have a print of the picture that appears in the first few seconds of this piece. It is a Spitfire flying through a corridor of light, between darkening clouds. It hangs near my desk; a huge print that dominates the wall, as it should.

  27. I was most pleased to see this story of Kirby Cowan, one of the Buchenwald survivors. I am the author of “Fighter Pilot in Buchenwald: the Joe Moser Story” and the executive producer of the film mentioned here. I am touch with the remaining survivors that we know about–six of them, all now in their 90s and wonderful men. The story of Herman Goering’s involvement is most intriguing as we have recently found out who the German Luftwaffe officer was who discovered the men in the camp. A Colonel Hannes Trautloft who was inspector of day fighter forces at the time. The historian who interviewed Trautloft after the war (he became a 3 star general for West German Luftwaffe after the war) indicated that it was Erhard Milch who went to bat for the men, and that Heinrich Himmler was furious over their release.
    Thanks to Charlton Stanley for this contribution and I encourage anyone interested in the story to view the film which features interviews with the men–several of whom have since left us.

  28. Gerald,
    Thank you for stopping in. Your kind words mean a lot to me. It is important to keep the memories alive. They deserve no less.

    Thanks especially for your moving and powerful documentary. It is a “must see” for anyone who wants to understand what really happened.
    Chuck

  29. Only those who have experienced these events truly know the full tragedy suffered by themselves and one another.

    Mr. Rene’ Psarolis – who at 7 1/2 years witnessed Kirby’s B-17G crash near his home, and I, age 5, who lost my Father in the other 96th B.G. B-17G crash nearby just 3 minutes earlier, have been privileged to learn just a little less.

    I contacted Tech Sgt. Frank Kirby Cowan and 2nd Lt. Stephen John Manzek on June 22nd 1990 – the only living survivors of 4 P.O.W.’s and 16 K.I.A aboard Martin’s and Horn’s B-17G’s shot down 46 years ago that day.

    They welcomed me as a long lost Nephew, treated me as if I were a Crewmate and we were having such a “Homecoming” time of it with research, reunions, honorary ceremonies, get-together’s etc. and then… in 1996 Rene’ joined us and inspired what I can only describe as “The Adventure of My Life”.

    First we lost Steve on Nov. 22, 2003 and then Kirby on Dec.23. 2009 and then it was that we realized how much they had given us, enriched our lives, what Giants of men these guys all have been….my God, what a loss.

    How else I can’t imagine, could each and every one of their Crewmates been brought to life for Rene’ and I, and the Proper Honoring Ceremonies held, Plaque’s installed, Families of Crewmen been hosted in France and the tremendous number of French Witnesses pouring out of the locations with photos etc. to put the puzzle of the stories together.

    I was tormented by my inner-child, A.K.A. “Darrel the Terrible” for 46 years with nightmares, being unable to speak or think about my Dad……and then there was “TAPS”, Parades, and running out of movies like “The 4th of July”.

    All have become nearly forgotten, vague half-memories since we all walked together and did our best to honor those deserving, “World Class Heroes” – and now as you see, about them all, well you just can’t shut me up!

    S/Sgt Carl Edwin Carlson’s, proud “survivor22jun44”

  30. Darrel,
    Thank you, more than you know. We honor them by remembering. As Gerald Byron said upthread, there are only a few left, all of them now in their 90s.

    Since this was posted, more information has come to light about just who got the guys out of Buchenwald. It is a convoluted tale of military and racist politics. I hope to have more information in a few days to flesh out the story.

    And never shut up. Talking about what you remember, and what you learn, helps.

  31. OS:

    great story, really interesting. I love WWII history. Those men really were giants, I am glad I am old enough to have had them for coaches and teachers and boy scout troop leaders.

  32. Darrell,
    I enjoyed reading about your journey to learn more about your Father who was a true American hero. I am glad that the knowledge you gained about S/Sgt Carlson has brought you some peace about your loss.

  33. To all who have been moved by those of the Greatest Generation, who did nothing less than save our entire world – you may want to consider something similar to this, our annual reverence paid to “OUR CREWS”

    Our mission has been aided by and drawn interest from a very large following.

    Since 22 June 1991, those of us so compelled, have held an annual “Toast of Remembrance” at the moment the B-17G’s actually crashed with compensation for time zones, thereby in unison.

    Each of us, and several times some, also in large ceremonial graveside gatherings, in unison at 7:24pm and 7:27pm Paris France time,(12:24pm and 12:27pm CDST) pay homage to each of the individual Airmen involved.

    Included is homage for the crew of a dear “Fellow Traveler”, who’s book “Incendiary Mary and Beyond” documents it all about her Father’s
    B-26 crashing on the same day………..22 June 1944.

    S/Sgt Carl Edwin Carlson’s, proud “survivor22jun44″

  34. I believe the commanding officer, Phil Lamason, also deserves special mention here, the way he stood up to the Germans and risked his own life to get the 168 airmen out of Buchenwald. I have seend the award winning documentary, very moving and well worth the watch.

  35. Jimmy Bond,
    I agree that Phil Lamason was instrumental in figuring out a way to get the guys out. I wish he had received more recognition while still alive. We can all be grateful to Gerald Baron for getting his story on record in his own words before he passed away. As you may have noticed, I featured his role in my story. Now one of my own regrets is that I never got to meet him and shake his hand myself. I am glad Kirby Cowan was able to stay in touch with him after the war.

  36. I am Kirby’s Niece and this is a really good story. I have all his paper clippings, his “Missing in Action” letter to my grandmother and pictures of him before he left for the military in his uniform with a huge smile. I miss you Uncle Kirby-I love you
    Christie

  37. My father, Capt. V L Ettredge was a B-17 pilot that was also held at Buchenwald. He spoke very little about his experience there. He did say he was kept in a closet size space where there was a lightbulb at the ceiling, it was never turned on. He was claustrophobic. If there is any info regarding him please let me know. Alli

  38. Allison,
    Your father is not on the official list of KLB Club members. That list has all 168 airmen held at Buchenwald who formed the KLB club. I will be looking into this for you, and if you will check your email, I have a couple of questions for you for additional information which you may not want to share with the whole world.

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