The price of freedom cannot be measured monetarily. It is measured by the sacrifice of the lives of the men and women who defend it.
Today is Veterans Day. The day we thank all of those who have served and are currently serving in our military. Their bravery and dedication to duty is not appreciated nearly enough.
My father served in the Army during World War II, however, because of a bad knee that he had originally injured playing football in college, he was sent home with an honorable discharge and a knee brace.
My uncle also served, however, he did not get home until the war ended. He was quite fortunate. Although I do not know his entire story, I will relate what I know of it, because in my eyes, he was one of the heroes.
Fowler Cottingham joined the Army as a young man barely 18 years old. He was trained as a crewman on the fighter planes, and consequently sent to Germany, where he flew in several successful missions with his crew.
The morning of the day he flew his final mission was most likely just another day. Clear skies; light wind; a perfect day for flying. I can imagine the crew loading the plane, going through their pre-flight checklist, making sure their parachutes were ready, and most likely cracking jokes and talking about what they’d do when they came back from their mission.
Flying over enemy territory was never safe. Most of us have probably seen movies of the allied war planes heading out for missions over Germany. What the movies don’t adequately show is the danger our men faced during each of these missions.
They didn’t have all of the sophisticated equipment in 1945 that our armed forces have now. There were no computers, no GPS; only a navigator with paper maps showing where they were supposed to be flying. There were gunners who fired their weapons without fancy electronics to assist them. They had to judge where to aim, and when to pull the trigger, based on what knowledge the officers and ground troops had been able to discern. It was much different than today. But they had courage, and a sense of duty. They had volunteered to serve, and knew the risks involved.
I’m not sure exactly what happened, but my uncle’s plane took a hit from a German warplane. Fortunately they were all able to parachute out, and landed in a wooded area somewhere behind enemy lines. They had only a few supplies, and had no idea where they were. And no idea whether anyone else had any idea where they were, or even if they were alive.
Shortly afterwards they were captured by German soldiers and marched to one of the POW concentration camps. Capture was certainly better than being shot, which I’m sure they were all afraid, would happen. As brave as these men were, just remember, they were all in their early 20’s, the beginning of their lives. They all wondered if they’d ever see home and family again.
Over 93,000 men were held as prisoners in the German POW camps in World War II. They were held in drafty wooden buildings, with uncomfortable cots, and only a thin blanket for warmth. They were fed one or two meals a day, usually some type of thin soup and stale bread. Their only utensils were a tin spoon, and a tin cup for water. One day they were given a treat…candy bars which they quickly bit into. And then saw the worms inside.
My Uncle Fowler and his crew spent six months in that camp, guarded by armed soldiers and German shepherds. They never knew when or if the guards would come for some of them to question them, torture them, or kill them.
There are some experiences that are just too terrible to discuss because they bring back too many nightmares. My uncle would never discuss any of what happened, other than what I have written here; not with his parents, his wife, or his two sons. After his return, and until the day he died, he was scared of German shepherds because he had seen them tear hands and arms off of prisoners who were trying to escape.
How did these men survive this ordeal? And where was the Lord in this? I’m sure the men wondered many times where He was. Even at the young age of 20, when he was captured, my uncle was a man of faith, and I’m certain his faith helped sustain him.
Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” The Lord was watching over them the entire time.
Yes, their plane was shot down, but the crew survived. The Lord directed the German bullets away from the fuselage so that the plane didn’t explode, which would have killed them all. When they landed in the woods, they had no idea where they were, and no idea where to go. The German soldiers could have killed them, but instead they were captured and allowed to live. Many other soldiers spent years in these concentration camps before being freed; these men only had to endure for six months. Many died in these camps, but these men all survived, because the Lord had plans for them. My uncle had a young woman, my aunt, waiting to meet him, fall in love, and marry. The Lord had plans for all of them and made sure those plans were carried out. Prayers for safety were answered; just not the way that was expected.
I wish I knew the names of my uncle’s crew members, but I never had the opportunity to find out. I would love to thank them as well for serving with him, and being part of his support system while in the camp.