Kirkland's Joseph E. Regan, a ball turret gunner in a Boeing-built B-17 bomber during World War II, told a harrowing tale at the May meeting of the Kirkland Heritage Society Wednesday night of being shot down over Germany and captured.
Regan and several other World War II veterans attended the meeting, which was dedicated to all vets. Afterwards, society president Loita Hawkinson recorded some of their stories.
Regan, 88, was drafted while working at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and joined the Army Air Corps. By late 1944 he was based at Podington, England, with the Eighth Air Force, 92nd Bomb Group, a 50-caliber machine gunner in the belly turret of a B-17 "Flying Fortress."
In matter-of-fact fashion, Regan told of how, on his 15th mission, the B-17 took a direct hit over Berlin from a German 88-millimeter anti-aircraft gun.
"We got hit at 27,000 feet and the No. 4 engine caught fire," Regan recalled.
The pilot dove the plane in an attempt to put out the fire. But the plane was hit by more ground fire, including three direct hits. Two more engines went out, forcing the crew to bail.
"I landed in some trees and walked for four days before I got captured," he said, recalling how he walked east in an attempt to find advancing allied Russian troops. Extremely hungry and tired, he was finally captured by "a great big German."
Regan was marched to a house, where two German soldiers "stuck a Luger (pistol) in my ribs. I think they were more scared of me than I was of them," he said.
Another German soldier in the house spoke English well--he had grown up in Vancouver, Wash. Regan was fed and treated well, but that night two more German soldiers arrived.
"They stuck a Luger in my ribs again and took me to a car, and I thought, 'Man, this is going to be a short ride.' It felt like it was the darkest night in history."
He was taken to Berlin for interrogation, then Frankfurt and through several prison camps, ending in Stalag 7A in Munich when he was liberated by American soldiers under the famous Gen. George Patton.
"It was a great day," Regan said. "Patton came through on a tank. He was a pretty happy camper."
The day was April 29, 1945. Later, in France, Regan met the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who went on to become a U.S. president.
"We talked for a little bit," Regan said. "He asked how long I'd been a prisoner. I told him four or five months. He said, "One day is long enough.'"
The entire crew of the plane survived; Regan said the pilot lives near Tacoma. Regan went on to a 35-year career at Boeing.
Society president Hawkinson said it was important to hear and record the stories of World War II veterans now, because they are all in their late 70s or older.
"Their stories are an important part of American history," she said.