My meeting, in awe, with a 97-year-old World War II hero

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By Chuck Woodbury
Harvey E. Gann, age 97, was sitting at a table at the Fredricksburg, Texas Trade Days, a monthly event that’s basically a big flea market. Before him were several dozen copies of his book “Escape I Must.”

Like most veterans who saw combat in any war, you cannot tell looking at them what they endured in serving their country. At age 97 it’s hard to imagine them as heroic young men.

Harvey’s story, which he tells in his book, is more fascinating than any work of fiction.

He was stationed in southern Italy. On his 14th mission as a gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator, the bomber was shot down by a German Me-109 fighter. Of the 10 crew members, Harvey was the only survivor. Like most of his fellow aviators, Harvey had never been trained to parachute from a plane to save himself. But that he did. As he fell to earth, two German fighters headed straight toward him “I just hung there expecting the German planes to start shooting at my helplessly dangling body,” he wrote. They got so close “I felt their slipstream. I could see the pilots, each in his one-man cockpit. To my surprise and relief they threw me salutes and flew on their way.”

ON THE GROUND, Harvey was immediately captured and spent the next 15 months in POW camps. But what makes Harvey’s story so compelling is that he escaped four times, the last time without being recaptured. He simply would not be denied his freedom. A Hollywood movie producer should buy the rights to Harvey’s story.


My father flew a B-24 in Europe, and I am forever intrigued and in awe of all those men who flew these four-engine sitting ducks to protect America from madman Hitler and the Japanese.

I bought a copy of Harvey’s book. I’m sorry to say that I did not get his current address, where you could order your own copy. The address in the book I believe is no longer good. Amazon has a couple of used copies for around $7, but others are in the $30 and up range. You can check here and maybe grab one.

If you are in the Fredricksburg area, the next Trade Days will be February 16th, 17th and 18th. Look for Harvey. He told me he’ll be there.

 

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Henry Blosser
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Henry Blosser

I can’t thank you enough for your article on Mr. Gann. I ordered his book. When it came, my wife quickly disappeared with it. Her father was also a POW in Germany during World War II. The book is very well written and tells many of the kind of stories her father used tell. It has been a great comfort to read and has given us a better understanding of her father’s ordeal.

Hannah
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Hannah

29 years ago I took my sons on a cross country camping trip. One of our stops was The Museum of the Pacific War in Fredricksburg. There was a group of WW2 Vets there. They took my sons (ages 9 and 15) through the museum pointing out to my boys where they served and telling them about it. This was a highlight experience that my sons still talk about. Thank you to all our vets for your service!

Hannah
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Hannah

No Ordinary Life by Sue Johnpeter. Available on Amazon and at the 8th Airforce Museum in Savannah, Ga.

Lee Ensminger
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Lee Ensminger

Chuck, that’s a great story about an amazing man. There is something that needs editing, however: “a flight engineer and top current tail gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator” He could have been a tail gunner, or he could have been a top turret gunner. Current would have nothing to do with either. Typically, the flight engineer was also the top turret gunner, as he would be in close proximity to the pilots on the flight deck. The tail gunner was usually just that, and spent his time at that station to watch for attacks from the rear. May I recommend… Read more »

Hank Smith
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Hank Smith

My wife’s step Dad was a flight engineer on a C-109 and flew in the CBI, THE China, Burma, India theater. In the latter part of the war supplying the Chinese. They would often send delegation to the Hump Pilots Assoc reunions. You did not have to be a pilot, just flew in that theater. We attend 3 of them with him. No better group of men!

Paul Schwengel
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Paul Schwengel

Any more details from Kerrville area, going to be there month of April
THANKS

Chuck Woodbury
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Chuck Woodbury

Paul, we will be gone from the area by then. Headed northwest to somewhere yet to be determined.

Charles Howard
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Charles Howard

I’ve met a lot of old folks and vets at the many Flea Markets and RV Park Craft Shows here in the RGV, but not an author with such a great story!
We like the RGV as its warmer and we can go to Shows/Performances or Dances EVERY day of the week. Parks are not as Bucolic as yours, but games and activities are available much of almost every day if you enjoy that. May want to check it out someday.
Thanks for your Newsletter and contributions to to RVings!

Bob Godfrey
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Bob Godfrey

Chuck,
You may already be aware of this but Fredricksburg has the “Museum of the Pacific War” which is excellent and the price of admission gets you 2 days at the museum. Well worth the price of admission. Fredricksburg is also home to Chester Nimitz, the famous Admiral who helped to win the war with his strategies in the Pacific. Enjoy!

Chuck Woodbury
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Chuck Woodbury

Bob, we’re headed over there soon. Everyone we have talked to raves about it. I’m excited!

Tonya Bray
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Tonya Bray

Great article on Harvey! Met him last winter at the Trade Days too.
Hill Country is a great area. While you are there and you like classic (think Bob Mills) country music, be sure to check out Albert Ice House on Wednesday nights. The band ‘Lost Sounds of Texas Honky Tonks’ plays every Wednesday and is worth the drive. It is mostly a ‘local’ hangout – not like Lukenbach. Great fiddle music.
Love your website and newsletter. Thank you for what you do!