By Chuck Woodbury
Harvey E. Gann, age 97, was sitting at a table at the Fredricksburg, Texas Trade Days, a monthly event that’s basically a big flea market. Before him were several dozen copies of his book “Escape I Must.”
Like most veterans who saw combat in any war, you cannot tell looking at them what they endured in serving their country. At age 97 it’s hard to imagine them as heroic young men.
Harvey’s story, which he tells in his book, is more fascinating than any work of fiction.
He was stationed in southern Italy. On his 14th mission as a gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator, the bomber was shot down by a German Me-109 fighter. Of the 10 crew members, Harvey was the only survivor. Like most of his fellow aviators, Harvey had never been trained to parachute from a plane to save himself. But that he did. As he fell to earth, two German fighters headed straight toward him “I just hung there expecting the German planes to start shooting at my helplessly dangling body,” he wrote. They got so close “I felt their slipstream. I could see the pilots, each in his one-man cockpit. To my surprise and relief they threw me salutes and flew on their way.”
ON THE GROUND, Harvey was immediately captured and spent the next 15 months in POW camps. But what makes Harvey’s story so compelling is that he escaped four times, the last time without being recaptured. He simply would not be denied his freedom. A Hollywood movie producer should buy the rights to Harvey’s story.
My father flew a B-24 in Europe, and I am forever intrigued and in awe of all those men who flew these four-engine sitting ducks to protect America from madman Hitler and the Japanese.
I bought a copy of Harvey’s book. I’m sorry to say that I did not get his current address, where you could order your own copy. The address in the book I believe is no longer good. Amazon has a couple of used copies for around $7, but others are in the $30 and up range. You can check here and maybe grab one.
If you are in the Fredricksburg area, the next Trade Days will be February 16th, 17th and 18th. Look for Harvey. He told me he’ll be there.