In November 2010, Scott Frederick contacted me from California asking for any details I might have on three servicemen who had evaded with his father in France. With the help of John Howes here in England, I was able to fill in a few details and this is the resulting story that Scott sent me :
Daisy in the Sky
2nd Lieutenant James S Frederick, Jr. or “Jimmie” as he was called, was a P-38 pilot in the 428th Fighter Squadron, 474th Fighter Group. The 474th had arrived and stationed at Warmwell, near Dorchester in England, on 12 March 1944. Warmwell was a British fighter base that had been turned over the Army Air Forces as the United States built up its military in preparation for the invasion of Europe. The 428th went operational in April 1944, initially flying cover over convoys in the English Channel or escorting bombers to or from Europe. This changed in late May as the 428th began attacking strategic targets such as railroads and bridges in France. On 5 June the 428th flew cover over the invasion fleet as it made its way across the Channel.
Missions intensified as the 428th continued its attacks on German transportation routes helping to stop the reinforcements that were heading for the beach-heads. 6 July 1944 found the 428th flying two missions as top cover for its sister squadrons, the 429th and 430th. The second mission started late in the afternoon and covered the area north-west of Le Mans. Now a 1st Lieutenant, Jimmie was in Blue Flight with his friend 2/Lt Robert J Rubel flying as his wingman. Jimmie had met Robert at Santa Ana Air Base in Santa Ana, CA during basic training. While Jimmie went on to be assigned to the 428th when it was formed, Robert was assigned elsewhere until he showed up in Warmwell in May.
The weather was CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited) over the target area as Jimmie and Robert provided cover when, at 4:15 p.m. four Fw190s burst onto the scene. Before they could react, Lt. Ruble's P-38 burst into flames. Jimmie watched, horrified as his friend's plane nosed over and plummeted toward the earth. He had but a moment to think of his friend as he took immediate evasive action as an Fw190 tried to get on his tail. Frantic radio calls brought the 429th Fighter Squadron up into the fight. German Ace, Oblt Wolfgang Ernst pulled in behind Jimmie and fired. Bullets tore into Jimmie's left engine and ignited the inboard gas tanks. Flames swept in to the cockpit as Jimmie struggled to undue his harness. He managed to roll the P-38 on its back, but hesitated a moment in order to get away from the combat zone before bailing out.
Lt Robert Milliken of the 429th FS entered the fray and immediately engaged one of the Fw190s. One Fw190 was shot down as the Milliken was following his first plane. He turned inside the Fw190 and began to pull his sites through the enemy but had to break off as another Fw190 came in at 5 o'clock. Milliken turned to the right in a 360 degree turn, pulled his sites through the plane and fired a short burst. The Fw190 dove to the left and Milliken followed in a near vertical dive following. Looking to his left he saw the individual in his chute.
Just west of the French village of Montmerrei, Suzanne Schneider, a member of the French Secret Army was in a wagon with three of her countrymen when the air battle broke out above their heads. They watched as Lt Rubel's plane exploded before hitting the ground. They ran into the nearby trees to avoid the bullets and shells hitting the earth around them, watching as a pilot parachuted toward the ground.
Oblt Ernst brought his plane back around with the intent of strafing Jimmie as he swung helpless beneath his chute. Ernst missed and as he passed Jimmie he started to turn again. On the ground the French watched as the German plane started to turn again. Suddenly, another P-38 hidden by the trees appeared firing at the German. Lt Milliken turned into Ernst and fired a burst cutting him off and forcing him into a dive. Milliken followed firing shorts bursts hitting the German. Ernst then jettisoned his canopy, slid onto the left wing where the force of the wind blew him off and into the plane's rudder breaking his right arm. He managed to pull the ripcord and his chute opened.
West of Suzanne Schneider and her compatriots, three year-old Jean Claude Clouet watched as Jimmie slowly drifted toward a field to the north of their farmhouse. Bullets were still hitting the ground nearby as Jean Claude's mother rushed out to bring him inside. As she reached him he called out, “Look at that big daisy up there!” as Jimmie disappeared behind some trees.
Jimmie landed in a field near some blackberry bushes. Hitting the ground Jimmie quickly shed his chute, Mae West, helmet, gloves, and goggles shoving them as deep into the brambles as possible. Looking up he saw Ernst coming down in a field to the north. Pulling his service revolver he found he could not pull the slide to arm it as his hands were too badly burnt. Instead he took off running east, towards a forest. He pushed through the trees and brambles for several minutes before stopping for a moment to assess his injuries. Second and third degree burns circled his wrists. The crystal on his watch had melted away. The burns on his ankles were the worst and the laces on his boots were ashes. His face felt hot and swollen.
Pushing on he spied a small cottage. Hiding in some bushes he waited, watching, and let his racing heart slow. Jimmie waited for some time looking for any sign of life but the forest remained quiet. Slowly, quietly, painfully, he crawled through the underbrush keeping himself hidden as much as possible. Finally, close to the door he got up and tried it but it was locked. Walking around the building he found a window that he was able to open and crawl inside. The cottage was small, consisting of a single room with a stove and table at one end and a bed at the other. A curtain served as a separator between the bed and the rest of the sparse room. Hurting, Jimmie crawled onto the bed, pulled the curtain and wondered what would happen next.
He didn't have to wait for long when he heard a key enter the lock and the door open. Suzanne Schneider entered the cottage. She was sure the window had been closed when she left and the door locked. Thinking someone from the Resistance, the Maquis, had entered she called out that all was clear. The curtain before the bed moved as Jimmie pulled the curtain aside and stretched out his hands. His heart sank as the woman stepped back and walked to the door but breathed a sigh of relief as she locked the door and pulled the curtains over the window.
Taking his hands Suzanne led Jimmie to the table, helped him take his flying suit off and dress his wounds. Never had she seen such burns. Suzanne made some food for Jimmie and gave him some cider. It was hard cider and the first alcohol Jimmie had ever tasted. They attempted to talk for about an hour and then Suzanne had Jimmie lie down on the bed. She could see that Jimmie's eyes were beginning to swell.
Robert Pottier, who owned the cottage and had been with Suzanne earlier that day, arrived. He was somewhat drunk but pleased to see Jimmie. Suzanne sent him off to the Maquis camp to get a Canadian infantry captain who had parachuted down for some sort of mission. Pottier returned with the Canadian Captain, a Captain in the Maquis, and a local farmer. The Canadian had been talking to Jimmie for a few minutes when the farmer, who had been standing at the door, turned pale and announced, “The Germans are outside”. A German patrol was approaching in a truck along the road to the cottage. Closing the curtain in front of the bed where Jimmie lay, Suzanne sent Pottier and the farmer to tend to her cows while she stepped outside and started picking up firewood.
The German truck stopped short of the cottage and ten soldiers got out. They approached and started questioning Suzanne about the air battle that had taken place earlier. Feigning ignorance about the whereabouts of the downed pilot Suzanne answered their questions persuasively while at the same time leading the Germans away from the cottage. Finally satisfied the Germans departed though said they would be back.
Jimmie could not stay at the cottage so he was moved to a shack in the woods that evening. By the next day his eyes had swollen shut. Several times each day Suzanne would visit bringing Jimmie food and milk and to change his dressings.
On Sunday 9 July, Jimmie was joined by others who were being hidden by the Maquis. They were 1st Lt. Richard Reid, an American P-47 Thunderbolt pilot with the 48FG/493FS, Canadian F/Lt George Murray (a Spitfire pilot) and Private James MacPherson, a Canadian parachutist who had been dropped in the wrong drop zone on D-Day.
Word came that the Germans have brought in dogs to search for them. The swelling around Jimmie's eyes had diminished enough for him to see so the four allied soldiers left the shack. A fine rain was falling that afternoon as members of the resistance guided the four men to a home just south of Montmerrei. They determine that they could not safely stay there and continued to move on foot toward the village of St. Hilaire-la-Gérard some seven miles away through stands of forest, across fields and roads.
Twice they are almost caught by the Germans. Once they had thrown themselves behind a hedgerow alongside the road they were traveling on when a German patrol approached and questioned their guide who had bravely stayed on the road to sidetrack the Germans. Their next close call was when they dashed across a road only to have a German motorcycle patrol roar past a few seconds later. Jimmie's right leg was causing him serious pain when they were finally taken to a large isolated barn near St. Hilaire-la-Gérard.
On Monday 10 July, Jimmie turned 23 years old. He was seriously disappointed to hear that Richard Reid and the two Canadians had decided to leave him the next day as he was unable to travel far and try to make their way to the Allied lines. The pain in Jimmie's legs had increased from the trip the night before. He worried about infection in the dirty, dusty barn with no prospect of medical attention. His depression worsened and he seriously thought about surrendering to the Germans.
While he was fed by the farmer during his stay in the barn Jimmie's resolve strengthened and the thought of giving up faded. Finally, on 13 July, Jimmie was taken south to another farm house owned by the Tancray family, a farmer, his wife and eighteen year-old daughter Jeanne.
At the Tancray's Jimmie was afforded a small room next to their barn. One of the biggest drawbacks was that the farm lay right alongside a major east-west road that was frequently used by the Germans. The Germans were constantly stopping at the farmhouse looking for food or cider. But at the Tancray's Jimmie got what had been lacking since he was shot down, medical care, and excellent at that. Every day a Dr. Lemeunie, who was a member of the Resistance, stopped by to change his dressings.
The biggest threat came one day when a German tank with a six-man crew stalled outside the Tancray farm. They were able to get the tank into the barn where they worked on it for the next four days. This was an incredibly stressful time for Jimmie stuck in his little room. He was afraid to leave the room for fear of being caught and afraid to sleep for fear of snoring and giving away his presence. On the other side of the thin wall of his room was a workbench where the Germans frequently worked. He could hear them talk, even breathe. Another problem was keeping Jimmie fed. Jeanne Tancray would bring Jimmie his meals though had to sneak them in so the Nazis would not see any extra dishes lying about. It was with a sigh of relief when the Germans finally repaired the tank and left.
On 25 July 1944, the United States First Army launched Operation Cobra from St-Lô, the breakout offensive from the Normandy beachheads and hedgerow (bocage) country. The attack was successful in tearing a gap in the German lines allowing the Allies to start their race for the borders of the Third Reich. By now Jimmie's burns had improved to the point that he could again travel. Unknown to him different factions in the Resistance were arguing over his fate. One group wanted to put him on the road to Spain while the other saw no sense in this as the Allies were not too far off and Jimmie's injuries would not allow for much travel. Fortunately the latter group won out. Suzanne Schneider had taken a strong interest in Jimmie and visited him a number of times as he was moved from place to place. She was a moving force in keeping Jimmie from having to travel to Spain. To get him further from this other faction Suzanne took Jimmie back to the cottage where he had first met her. There he met up again with a number of his new French friends.
On 28 July, Jimmie was taken to the home of the Bru family about two miles away and a little over a half mile south of Montmerrei. It was a large family with ten children including five year-old Andre Bru.
The following morning, a rumor of “Gestapo” in the area made the rounds and Jimmie was moved to a nearby forest by what he called self-styled Resistance members. There he was reunited with Murray, Reid, and MacPherson. Their attempt to get to the American lines had ended in failure and now they were back in the Montmerrei area. The four soldiers felt these Resistance members were extremely inefficient and so returned to the Bru's farm that same day. There was little they could do to help the family except peel potatoes and clean string beans which they did willingly enough to help pay a little of their board.
Each night they slept in the family's barn, but during the days they confined their activities to a little shed between the house and barn which had one door and a very small hole in the wall that served as a window. Fortunately, one of the other three had a pack of cards so they played “Knock Rummy” to pass the long hours. Jimmie estimated they played some 2,000 games during their stay.
Here too, the Nazis kept paying the family informal visits for food, cider, and other things. During each of these visits the men were constantly on the alert for fear that one of the children would allow the Germans to discover them. But not a one of them ever opened their mouth about the men hidden in the little shed. The Germans had set up headquarters in a chateau less than a quarter mile from the Bru's and were inspecting the power lines running by the farm to see if they could be fixed to provide electricity for the chateau.
One day the soldiers again gathered in the shed to kill time playing cards. The weather was clear and warm and they left the door to the shed open to catch whatever breezes came their way. As they played and talked amongst themselves a group of five Nazis walked onto the farm, around the corner of the shed, and stood before the open door, looking up at the power lines, talking all the while. Another hand of cards was being dealt when a shadow fell across the doorway. The four men looked up and froze as they stared at the backs of the enemy discussing the lines. Just as one of the Germans was turning to speak to another, little Andre Bru, rounded the corner of the shed and unobtrusively pulled the door shut. For some time the men remained as statues until the voices and footsteps of the Germans receded. It took them some time to recover from this experience and they never left the door fully open again.
The Brus had a hidden radio that allowed the men to keep up with the current news. The news of the St-Lô break through and the heart-warming details of the swift and steady advance of the Allies were gratefully received. Upon hearing that the Allied armies were only fifty miles south of Montmerrei, Murray and Reid left on 10 August, going south in an attempt to find US troops. MacPherson stayed with Jimmie as he was suffering from secondary infections around his ankles and could not walk very far. Murray and Reid had identified a likely route the Allies would take toward Paris and upon reaching the road headed south but soon had to hide as thousands of Germans headed north in disarray. The flood dwindled to a trickle and then stopped. After some time they again saw troops advancing north along the road but saw they were Americans. They hailed the advancing troops and then spent some time proving who they were.
That evening MacPherson and Jimmie could hear the distant rumble of artillery coming up from the south. The following day brought the sighting of an Army observation plane which heightened Jimmie's excitement that the Allies would soon be there. That afternoon they could hear American artillery shelling a village about five miles away. They waited anxiously throughout the day of 12 August for some sign of the Allies. Growing impatient they decided to go out to try and contact American troops that evening, but the French urged them to stay one day longer which they reluctantly did.
The next day, 13 August, brought another day of tension and barely contained excitement. The sound of artillery grew distinct as the day progressed. At 5:30 that evening the sounds of heavy tracked vehicles could be heard passing by the farm. Peering out of the windows of the barn they grew excited as elements of the Free French 2nd Armored Division passed on the road below them. Walking out they stopped a vehicle and identified themselves as Allied soldiers. They were directed to go to the town of Mortrée where American forces could be found. Later that evening Macpherson and Jimmie walked the one and one-half miles to Mortrée where they found elements of Patton's third Army, the 5th Armored Division. In Mortrée Jimmie received medical attention, was able to get his fill of food, and got his first chance to use a toothbrush since he had been shot down six weeks earlier.
On 14 August, Jimmie was debriefed and completed his Escape and Evasion Report. 15 August was a day of celebration as Jimmie was joyously reunited with his squadron at Air Base A11 in France. Later that day Jimmie was flown back to England. His personal effects had been left at RAF Warmwell and he returned there to retrieve them. In England Jimmie learned that he would not be able to rejoin the 428th in combat operations as he had been hidden by the Resistance and could endanger them should he be shot down again. His only choice was to return home. After nine days of rest and further medical attention to his ankles Jimmie returned to his squadron in France to say good-bye.
While he was there he went over to the 429th Fighter Squadron to look up Bob Milliken to thank him for saving his life. Jimmie located Bob's tent and entered only to find that Bob was on leave for a few days and unfortunately they never met.
Jimmie was returned to England and in mid-September was flown to La Guardia Field in New York. His first evening in New York was spent walking down Broadway looking at American girls and eating ice cream. He had only one scoop while overseas but tried to make up for it by spending $1.50 (at 5¢ a scoop this amounted to 30 cones) on various ice cream concoctions in his first five hours of freedom in New York.
From New York he went home to visit his parents in Alhambra, California. Jimmie had sent them a cable saying he was O.K. shortly after being rescued. Three hours later they received word via the War Department that there wasn't much hope for him any longer.
From California Jimmie was reassigned to Portland Air Force Base in Oregon where he was a Flight Operations Officer and eventually made the rank of Captain before leaving the service in 1946.
For the six weeks Jimmie had been behind enemy lines he experienced severe pain, extremely stressful situations and an uncertain immediate future that could have ended with the blast from a muzzle of a gun. Through his own perseverance, will to survive, and the help of some incredible French patriots, whose actions could have resulted in a bullet behind the ear, Jimmie survived.
Scott Frederick - November 2010