Archive for Wednesday, February 23, 2000

World War II pilot gives lesson on freedom

February 23, 2000

Baldwin High School students were given a living history lesson Thursday morning from a World War II bomber pilot and ex-prisoner of war.

Lee Lamar, Overland Park, condensed his experiences as a B-24 bomber pilot into less than an hour for three history classes.

He talked about flying a new B-24 plane from the United States to Italy, bombing missions, and being shot down and captured by German forces.

"I could talk all day on this," Lamar said between classes. "I never know what is most important to a group like this."

Lamar has talked to several Kansas City-area classes as a member of the Heart of America American Ex-POWs. Thursday was his first time in front of Baldwin students.

During missions, up to 1,000 B-24s bombed factories that supported the war efforts, bridges and airfields.

"It's quite a sight seeing 1,000 B-24s," Lamar said. "It was a little bit nerve-racking. The Germans made every mission to keep you from doing the bombing."

Anti-aircraft fire accompanied the missions, and that was what hit Lamar's plane during an airfield bombing mission.

"There wasn't a burst of anti-aircraft fire," Lamar recalls. "Then we got hit between the inboard engine and the fuselage.

"I knew we were hit and hit very badly."

The plane had a hole in its left wing "big enough to drive a Buick through," and was losing altitude fast.

"We had some decisions to make," he said. "We didn't know how much gas we were losing. We didn't know how much longer we could keep it in the air."

Then, there was more anti-aircraft fire, and the injured B-24 was the sole target of the attack.

"At 5,000 feet, they can almost hit you with a 22-rifle," Lamar said. "They kept hitting us and hitting us."

It was time for the crew to get off, which wasn't easy. The plane was so damaged, they had to find an alternative way out. They found an opening, but it was small, and Lamar's parachute got caught as he attempted to escape. He fixed his parachute, and as he somersaulted out of the plane, it hit the treetops and he hit the ground. He estimates he spent less than 7 seconds in the air.

"I know what a jump is. I know what a hard landing is. I have no idea what a parachute ride is," Lamar said of his quick ride.

On the ground, he was immediately captured along with other crew members. As they were transported from train to train on a war-torn route, they were given Italian bread and what he deemed inedible meat paste in cans.

"It was the last good bread I would see in quite a long while," Lamar said. "If I would have known what was coming, I would have licked those cans clean."

At the final destination, Lamar was put into solitary confinement. He resided in cell block 88 a cold, storage room at best. His bed was a sack of wood shavings. Meals were a thin piece of bread with a dab of oleo.

Soon, he was interrogated for information he refused to give.

"I realized that the purpose of the place was to intimidate us as much as possible," he said. "I didn't like the food and I wasn't going to tell them anything."

And he didn't. Lamar and the other prisoners were liberated by the Russians and rode to France aboard a B-17.

"It was the most enjoyable ride of my life," Lamar said.

After his diet of 800 calories or less a day, he filled up on half a chicken leg and half a glass of milk from the fried chicken meal his mother prepared him upon his return home.

"Life has been much more pleasant since then," he said of his World War II experiences.

He left the students with a message he learned from the war.

"World War II was the last war our freedom was really at stake," he said. "From one who has lost his freedom for a time, it's a valuable thing."

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