My Grandfather, Carl “Tex” Lanier, was a Staff Sergent with the United States Army Air Force in WWII. He never talked about his service, he didn’t talk much actually, he was a very quiet man, small in stature but bound with incredible dignity. As a young girl, I lived with my grandparents on and off during my childhood, every now and then he would pull out his medals, uniform, photos or other such memorabilia, but he never explained what they meant to him. One time when I was about 13 years old, I noticed a scar in his neck and I asked him about it, my grandmother was standing nearby and tried to brush it away, but I was persistent. Once grandma left the room, he pulled up his pant leg and showed me the scars up and down his leg and told me his story. I don’t remember word for word of it, but now decades later, I have his story from a newspaper clipping that my mother gave me before she died. I have been reluctant to even go through some of these papers, it breaks my heart, I miss him VERY much-he was a wonderful person.
Here is his story, in his own words…entitled My Last Mission;
We were awakened in the early hours of the morning of March 19 and were told to dress, eat breakfast and be ready to go to briefing at 6a.m. Crowding into the cold cellar room with the rest of the crews of the group, we soon learned our target was in Austria and we began to sweat as it looked like we were in for trouble. Briefing over, we all lined out to catch the trucks to go to our planes and prepare for the takeoff. Everything was checked and plans re-briefed among our crew, we climbed aboard and we were soon in formation and on our course toward Austria. We expected to hit a few fighters when we crossed the Yugoslavian coastline and were prepared for them, but nothing happened. We soon began to pick up another group now and then until, at the Austrian line, we were four groups strong. As we crossed over into Austria, we picked up a light P38 escort and also a few enemy fighters off to each side.
Upon reaching our initial point, a group of enemy 210’s engaged our P38’s in a dog fight and the small 109’s began to pick at our formation, but doing no damage. Upon reaching the target we discovered it was closed in by a layer of cloud and could not be bombed from our height. The formation made a large 180 degree turn to the right and seemed to be heading toward home, when the enemy fighters hit our side of the formation in full force. The fight went on for about twenty minutes until they knocked out one of our motors and also our right aileron, then our trouble started in earnest.
The loss of one motor made us drop out of formation with loss of speed and then the fighters really bored in. I counted 17 fighters on my side, I was firing the right waist gun, and no one knows how many were on the other side. They were making passes at us so fast that I could only get a small burst of fire at each plane before it was out of range again. I turned to see how my left waist gunner was doing and found him lying on the floor dead. I found my ball gunner standing by the ball braces holding one hand over his right eye. I found out later that a twenty-millimeter shell from one of the fighters had exploded in his gun sight and had burned his face a little.
Well, the fight went on for a while at the same tempo until it seems the German pilots thought we were all dead, as one of their planes came in flying parallel with us and not over 150 feet from us to look us over and see just why we didn’t go down. Anyway, that was his bad mistake, because I was still very much alive. I held him in my sights and held the trigger down until he dropped out of sight with flames from his motor going back over the cockpit. That made me feel a little better, so I turned to the next fighter coming in. He didn’t make that mistake and I got a small burst at him, but the next one made the same mistake. He did exactly as the first one, so I held my fire on on him until I ran out of ammunition. His motor caught on fire and also his long range belly tank caught on fire. I watched him for a moment and saw him drop the extra tank, but by that time the bottom of the ship and motor was on fire and he dropped out of my sight.
I started to turn around to get more ammunition from an extra can we had along, when I found myself sitting on the floor with my back against the wall. I looked around in the plane and saw our photographer standing on my left by the escape hatch and our ball gunner standing on my right by the ball turret braces. The ball gunner kicked a parachute pack to me and I started to hook it on my harness. I got the left hook fastened and was trying to get the other one hooked when I felt the plane start into a dive. I folded my arms over my parachute pack and started tumbling from one end of the plane to the other. I could only catch a glimpse now and then, and I remember seeing fire in the plane once.
The next I knew, I felt wind on my face and knew that I was out of the plane. I will never know just how I got out. Anyway, I pulled the rip cord on my chute and found myself floating earthward under the silk. As I got closer to the ground, I could feel the concussions from the anti-aircraft guns shooting at our planes from the ground. I started to look around to determine where I would land and found myself staring at a snow-covered mountain top studded with leafless trees. They seemed to be too thick to try to guide my way through them, so I just covered my face with my arms and trusted to luck. I went down through the trees without touching a one and my parachute caught in a tree and set me in the snow with hardly a jar.
I sat there for a few minutes to get my bearings and looked around. I got my harness off and discovered my right leg was broken and shot up some, and that I couldn’t walk. I thought to myself that I had gotten out of the frying pan and into the fire, as I would probably freeze to death. I finally decided I would have to work my way down into the valley if I expected to get any help, so I started to slide down hill, holding my right leg off the ground with my right hand. I went about six or seven hundred yards in this manner and then had to stop from weakness. I decided to stay there all night and get a fresh start in the morning. It was too cold to do more than doze for a few minutes at a time, so I had a rather bad night of it.
Dawn finally came so I decided to start. Then I got another shock. My leg was too sore to move so I began to think. I finally decided that my only chance left was to keep hollering “Help” until someone heard and found me. I had even decided that I didn’t care whether it was the Germans or Tito’s Partisans that found me, just so that I was found. The fist time I hollered I discovered that I had a hole in my neck and couldn’t holler loud. I kept hollering all morning and had about given up hope of being found, when I heard the brush rattle farther down the hill. I kept my eyes glued to that spot until I saw a young fellow step out in plain sight, then I knew my luck was good again. I could see his hat with the Partisan red star on it, so I knew I was with friends.
They made a stretcher and carried me around the mountain to a small dugout hospital of theirs. As they brought me in the door my ball gunner stepped into my view with tears in his eyes to greet me, and I knew then that everything was going to be OK. The doctor set my leg and fixed up the flak wounds the best he could, I only had fourteen holes in my right leg, one in my left side and one in my neck on the left side, also got me under some warm blankets and I began to feel better. I looked around to see what sort of place I was in. They had selected a small swale between two ridges, leveled the floor, built a pole roof and covered it with sod and leaves to make it blend with the surrounding country.
There were 17 patients counting myself, besides the guards, cook and doctor. He wasn’t a real doctor, but was doing a swell job of it. My buddy, the ball gunner and an engineer of a ship from our group but a different squadron that had also been shot down, stayed there three days and then started on their way back to Italy. I was kept there until the first part of April, then we had to move to another bunker of the same type as the Germans had found the location of the first one. I heard later that they had torn that bunker up about two days after we left. I stayed in this second bunker until about the middle of May.
We got word that the Germans knew of that bunker so we packed up and moved to an open camp about three hours’ walk away. The distance is measured by the number of hours it takes to walk from camp to camp as there is no means of telling how many miles you travel in the mountains. We stayed in this cave for 6 days and then moved 2 nights to another final camp. One of their battalions carried six stretchers those two nights, five hours each night, to get us moved.
This camp was an open camp too, but the tents were set up in good order and it was fairly comfortable. I stayed there until Sept. 20th and on that day, started walking my way back to Italy. It took me eleven days to walk south to an airfield controlled by the Partisans and catch a plane back to Italy. The first day I started at one o’clock in the afternoon, walked up hill for an hour to the home of the Partisan commanders and spent the rest of the night and the next day and night there….
My grandfather keeps writing on about the journey that carried him through the underground Partisan country-sides over the next few weeks and finally arriving at a mission, a mission for the sole purpose of evacuating the escaped prisoners and airmen of the Allies. He had to wait there for another 10 days before he could get a plane back to Italy. He finally landed in Italy the night of October 11, being flown out in a Russian transport plane.
Over that period of time-seven months-my grandmother believed him dead, he was MIA, his plane had been shot down, no sign of life. I have all the telegrams she received and you can actually see the tear stains on them, some crumpled up, but the last one that says…”We have some excellent news for you Mrs. Lanier, we have located your husband.” is in a frame. Tear stained.
This is his Purple Heart that he earned…
I thank goddess often for getting him out of that place, if he hadn’t, I would not be here! My mother was born about 10 months after his return!
Happy Veterans Day to all those whom have fought so bravely for our country, without a thought for their own lives. Thank you for my freedoms, I promise I will keep up the good fight so that we will, one day, return to those freedoms that are so easily taken away.
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