Bill Curry, Sgt. Major US Army (Ret)
Wilson Elliott was 18 when he was shot down while on his 23rd mission in Germany during WWII.
There were 10 crewmen aboard the B-17 Bomber “Banshee”; five of them lost their lives on this day, April 17, 1943. The rest became Prisoners of War. This was the aircraft and crew which got worldwide attention after destroying 6 German planes in 12 minutes in an air battle on its 6th mission over German targets in 1942.
After three months in a German hospital in Emden with a broken back, Elliott was transferred to a British and American POW camp.
Christmas is also Elliott’s birthday and he has had quite a few since, but one stands out in his mind more clearly than the rest. Here is the story in Elliott’s own words...
Christmas morning, wartime.
No roll call this morning. It’s Christmas Day 1944.
This was my second Noel as a POW in the Fatherland. Looking out the window, I could see the barbed-wire fences and the shivering German soldiers on guard. As usual, everything seemed the same.
No snow, although it had been forecast. Rumors are a dime a dozen in this place. The day was overcast. Temperature in the 30s and the air was heavy. I would have given almost anything to be home, hovering around a hot stove or fireplace.
I could almost smell Mother’s cooking. I was a little down, because everyone thought we would be home for this Christmas. At least we heard we would. Also it is one of my family’s special days. And after today, I am no longer a teenager. I am an old man of 20.
About the same time each morning, Sargent Schultz, the number one security officer, would come into our little combine and have his hot cup of English tea that Sgt. Davis -- a British aerial gunner shot down in 1940 -- would make for him. Sgt. Schultz, a man in his 60s, who had served in WWI, wished us a Merry Christmas.
We asked about his family and what he had planned for the day.
“To be with my family, attend church, and then back to my duties,” he said.
As Sgt. Schultz started to leave to make his morning rounds of the POW camp, he hesitated for a moment.
Looking at me with a slight smile on his face, the Sgt. reached inside his long winter uniform coat and pulled out a bottle of wine and an apple. I hadn’t seen an apple since I left the States. “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday,” he said as he handed me the gifts and disappeared the door into a cold outside winter day. This was a time that I probably will remember forever.
Elliott, who joined the Army Air Corps as a young man, thinking the war would be over before he even had time to serve, was finally home in July of 1945. He says he can’t really remember much about his first Christmas back in the United States. He said the last one in Germany would probably be the one he will never forget because it came when he needed the thought that someone remembered and cared, regardless of where they were from.
He said the relationship with Schultz developed because Sgt. Davis and Elliott were allowed to communicate with each other. Their superiors hoped they would gather information that would result in giving advance warning that could affect the POWs.
Elliott went from camp to camp each Sunday to give prisoners a little concert. The wind-up record player and the 78 rpm recording of famous German composers were furnished by the Germans. Sgt. Schultz would accompany him. These visits to other camps also allowed one to relay information back to the Americans as to condition and information that might be helpful to other POWs.
“It was good to just get outside,” Elliott recalled. “It even seemed like the air smelled better.”
“Sgt. Schultz was in charge of roll call, three times a day, and searches of our barracks.” Schultz was not liked, he said. “He was hated. He had no friends, no one to talk to, he was resented because he was the enemy,” Elliott said. “We had developed an odd sort of friendship; there were no unkind words or animosity towards each other. Later this relationship paid off when information of a pending charge of moving to a new location gave our leaders time to prepare for a long winter march.”
Once Schultz, who had married late in life, brought his young son to the compound. He had him standing outside of the fence so Elliott could see him. Elliott said that Schultz held his son’s hand and waved as if he knew what the future was for his family.
For many years now, Elliott said he has always remembered those who are lonely and away from home, especially the service men and women. “It can be very lonely out there. At least they have a home for a day and a friend for life.”
I ask Wilson Elliott why he does what he does. “Well I’m a little selfish about that. I probably enjoy it more than they do. MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone.”