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George T. Hebbel’s heroic survival

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By Giovanni Maiorano

After a week of hiding during the daytime, Henri and George left early one morning for Belford.

“I hope nobody wants to talk to me or looks at my shoes,” he thought. Taking a very circuitous route and looking around every corner before moving on, the two of them arrived at a house on the edge of the city. George remained outside as Henri went into the house. Within minutes Henri returned along with two other American airmen.

En route back to Delle, it was a pleasure for George to hear American English and news about the war. The two were part of a bomber crew and were shot down in the Alsace. The leader was the co-pilot and the other was the gunner. They had escaped from a prison train and were found by the French resistance.

The four of them arrived back at Henri’s home after the children were asleep. Having eaten a small dinner,  the two airmen and George went up to his small room. “Well, looks like we are gonna get to know each other,” said George to the three. “Guess that we can turn the mattress sideways. It ain’t home but it’s safe.”

A long week went by before they were told that they would be moving early the next morning.

No explanation was given other than they were to be prepared to run and move quickly.

The following morning an English-speaking 18-year-old youth, named Gilbert, led them from the house. It was a beautiful fall day. “Well, gentlemen, this is the day we have been awaitin,’ ” George said with some trepidation as they left the house.

Their instructions from Henri were clear: “Do exactly as the boy tells you when he tells you.”

Gilbert led them down the road from the house, along the hedgerow which serpentined toward the Swiss border. About 25 yards from the fenced and guarded border, the hedgerow stopped and the men did as well. Looking through the hedge, Gilbert watched the Swiss sentry marching back and forth between the little guard house and to where the fence made a sharp bend toward the south. Gilbert whispered, “Remember, if Germans see you running, they will shoot you. If the guard sees you before you are over the fence, he will shoot you to stop you.”

After studying the sentry’s movement for about 15 minutes, Gilbert gave the command, “Run like hell and jump the fence!”

Twenty-five yards never seemed so long. George heard shouts.

“What?” he huffed. “Do we have half the town out as our cheering section!” They kept running and jumped the border fence into Switzerland. The co-pilot caught his pant leg on the barbed wire and ripped it free in an instant without feeling the cuts and the blood running down his calf as he landed in Switzerland.

The sentry, alerted by all the cheering, turned and ran toward the four men, rifle at the ready.

Gilbert put up his hands as did George and the others. They walked toward the armed sentry who at first did not appear happy but nervous and afraid.

Gilbert and he had a lively conversation with all the hand motions of an experienced haggler. The sentry lowered his rifle and went into the guardhouse. The men put down their hands and relaxed to the continued applause of the townspeople. They could see the sentry pick up the phone and talk.

Five minutes later, the sentry returned and spoke with Gilbert. “You are free to go,” reported Gilbert with a large smile. “My uncle is this guard’s captain and we will not be arrested. Good, n’est-ce pas? Also, my uncle will arrange for you to go to the French Army for help.”

The crowd from Delle applauded as the airmen sat down to wait for what would come next.

EPILOGUE

The three airmen and George spent the night in Switzerland before bicycling to the French Seventh Army and eventually transferred to the advancing U.S. Infantry. George received orders to report back to a stateside unit.

His stay in the small rooms in Delle prepared George for his crossing the Atlantic on a troop transport. The bunks were five high and packed closely together. George did not mind at all. He had no worries of a German patrol.

During the weeks that George was finding his way out of France, the Army declared him missing in action. A telegram was sent to George’s mother notifying her that he was MIA. He went home to visit her. She had never given up on him. They shared many tears followed by family hugs, family visitors and many laughs. George went by train to his next duty station at what is now Luke Air Force Base near Glendale, Ariz.

George was assigned to instruct former bomber pilots to fly single-engine attack planes using just the control stick. These pilots were called “truck drivers” as the bombers had a “steering wheel” and not a joystick to pilot the plane. Flying a single-engine plane with a stick control and not a steering wheel required a good sense of touch which was lacking in the bomber pilots. 


Giovanni Maiorano is the president of the Giuseppe Verdi Lodge, Sons of Italy No. 2457, in Wilmington, Del

JellyKelly
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