Hodgdon man recalls time as WWII POW
HODGDON, Maine — Floyd W. Smith of Hodgdon is part of a declining population of American heroes who have served in the military.
A veteran of World War II, the 94-year-old Smith doesn’t really remember much about his time serving as an aerial gunner in Germany or his stint as a Prisoner of War in Turkey after his plane was shot down.
Time has a cruel way of taking away a person’s ability to communicate memories.
But fortunately, his incredible story has been preserved on the internet for all to see thanks to an interview conducted March 10, 2010, by John P. Schuller as part of the Veterans History Project for the Central Connecticut State University. That video was uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 30, 2013.
Details of his time in the military for this article were taken from that public video, conducted at his one-time home in Connecticut. Smith now resides in New Limerick with his second wife Louise, a high-school sweetheart from Ricker Institute.
Smith, who will turn 95 on Christmas day along with his twin sister Flora, served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and was a member of the 464th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force. His plane was severely damaged during one of his many bomber runs over Germany, with the plane making a crash landing in Turkey. That crash landing took place on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day.
“I enlisted because I was very patriotic,” Smith says in the video. “I wanted to be an aerial gunner. A friend of mine in Hodgdon sort of sold me on it.”
He did his first round of training at Fort Devens in Massachusetts before going to Florida and Colorado for training. It was during his time in Denver, at Buckley Field, that he learned the armaments of the B-24 aircraft and how to operate it.
Smith had to learn how to take a 50-caliber machine gun apart and put it back together blindfolded as part of his training.
“We had to learn how to operate all the guns and stations,” he said. “I was assigned to the ball turret underneath, but I couldn’t get my long legs into it, so I ended up as the waist gunner.”
His service took him to Havana Cuba for training missions, before going on to Morocco, where he says he ate “lots of bananas.” He next went to Brazil, where he spent two or three weeks flying training missions. From Brazil, he next was stationed at Dakar, Africa, for a short time before moving on to Algiers where he spent about a month flying practice missions over the Mediterranean Sea.
Smith recalled another plane crashing during a training exercise and the crew of his plane trying to rescue them. “There were two of them that survived (the crash) and we dropped them a life raft. The sharks got to them before they reached the life raft.”
He flew additional missions in Sicily and on Mother’s Day in 1944 he flew his first mission into northern Italy. “It was just an ordinary mission, but we got fired at but no fighter planes came in on us,” he recalled.
The Battle of Anzio, which was part of the Italian campaign for World War II, was a difficult assignment, he recalled. “Anzio was a tough place,” he said. “There were a lot of mixups there. They had us bomb a target and a lot of our boys were there. I don’t know how many of them got killed. That happened more than once.”
Smith recalled missions into Germany over the oil fields of Romania. On his 15th mission, his plane was attacked by German fighters. The fighter planes shot out his two outboard motors and his plane started to go down in flames.
“I thought, ‘This was it, I am getting out of here,’” he said. “I was in the waist and had one leg up over the window and just as I was about to jump, the pilot got control of the plane and brought us out of the dive.”
The pilot convinced him not to jump and the plane started for Turkey near the Black Sea.
“The plane was losing altitude, so we threw out everything we had,” Smith said. “We threw out all our guns … anything that had weight to keep us (in the air). A German fighter plane followed us and we figured he would be coming in. My gun was the only one operative at that time. The pilot said, ‘It’s up to you Smitty.’ I had a bead on him but he never came in. He stayed out of range so I never fired a shot.”
Smith said his plane had to land because they were low on fuel, so the pilot headed for an old army base in what Smith called Constantinople, but which had been renamed Istanbul a few years earlier. The pilot told them to prepare for a crash landing as the runway had been closed off with barricades.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he recalled. “We came to a halt and the plane was surrounded by 1,000 Turkish troops.
Turkey remained neutral for most of World War II and tried to stay on good terms with countries on both sides. It wasn’t until February 1945, that Turkey entered the war on the side of the Allies against Germany and Japan.
So Smith and his crew surrendered, but communication was an issue because of the language barrier. An interpreter was eventually brought in and the crew members were given some bread and beer. Smith, however, didn’t drink so he gave his share to his crewmates.
The crew was locked in an old barracks full of bed bugs. It was filthy, but he was exhausted and fell asleep. Smith and the rest of the crew were in that situation for about a week living on bread and water. “It was good bread though,” he said.
A U.S. ambassador finally found them and promised to get them out. He got them showers, a shave and a good meal. Next they were transferred to a hotel in Turkey that was being used as a holding facility for prisoners on both sides of the war. “Germans were in one corner, French in another,” he said. “We all ate in one dining room.”
Smith said he was there almost three months before his crew was smuggled out of the hotel. The Turks and Americans worked together to smuggle them out. The men were transported by rail and got picked up by a private plane in the southern part of Turkey. Eventually, they made their way to Cairo, Egypt, where they spent nearly a month. While there, Smith said he visited the pyramids and rode a camel.
The Egyptians liked to play tricks on the Americans by taking them to the pyramids and, after winding their way through several corridors, telling them they had to find their own way out, he said.
Eventually, the crew stayed at an American Red Cross station, and from there flew from Cairo to Libya and eventually back to their base in Barre, Italy. “All the fellas were surprised to see us,” he said.
He spent some time at the barracks in Italy and was eventually back to the United States. He was sent home for about two or three weeks to recuperate before reporting back to duty in New York. “I couldn’t go back to Europe because they wouldn’t let you serve if you had been a prisoner,” he said.
Smith was sent to B-29 school, where he was preparing for a trip to Japan, but while he was there the war come to an end. “So they sent me to a (forest) fire outfit up in Washington State,” he said. “There were about 50 of us assigned to fight forest fires. We had some pretty drastic experiences there.”
Smith also spent some time in Salt Lake City, Utah, stationed at an American POW camp. “I could type, so they had me type up the list of guys who had enough points to be discharged,” he said.
He also guarded up to 50 prisoners at a potato field in Idaho. He recalled having a conversation with the prisoners, who asked him what he did in the war. “I told them I was an aerial gunner and that I bombed Munich. I thought they were going to go after me, but they didn’t.”
He was finally discharged on October 1945.