Tulsan Bill Mildren's exploits as WWII bomber pilot, former POW are filmworthy
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
10/17/12 at 3:50 AM
His train having just screeched to an unplanned stop, Bill Mildren suddenly wished he were in anybody's shoes but his own.
And it only got worse from there for the future shoe salesman from Tulsa.
Word spread quickly that the Gestapo were boarding.
A B-26 bomber pilot with the Army Air Forces who weeks earlier had been shot down over Nazi-occupied France, Mildren was on the train as part of a French Resistance plot to smuggle him and other fugitive Allied troops out of the country.
But that plan had just hit a snag. Discovered on the train and arrested with the other troops, Mildren would be leaving France all right, but not for England.
Instead, he was taken to Germany, where he spent the rest of World War II as a German prisoner of war.
William E. "Bill" Mildren died Oct. 10. He was 93. A memorial service was held Sunday at Freeman Harris Funeral Home.
Held at Stalag Luft 1, a camp for captured Allied airmen, Mildren kept a diary while he was a POW, and it's now one of his family's prized possessions.
"I've read it through and through several times," said Mildren's son Bill H. Mildren. "It's fascinating."
He said one of his father's buddies was Col. Ross Greening, who had participated in the famous Doolittle Raid over Tokyo.
The men in the prison camp tried their best to keep spirits up, forming a choir and a baseball team. But nothing could prompt enthusiasm like the arrival of American Red Cross packages, which usually brought letters from home.
It was through one of those precious letters that Mildren learned that his wife, Dorothy Mildren, had given birth to Bill, their first child. By the time Mildren saw his son for the first time, the boy was a little more than a year old.
Mildren, a first lieutenant with the Army's Ninth Air Force, had completed 18 missions when he was shot down. It happened in November 1943 over Normandy, France.
Instructing his crew members to bail out of the damaged plane, Mildren saw them all clear, and then he bailed out, too. He was found by a young woman from a nearby village, and for the next six weeks, he hid out in a farmhouse with a family whose father was a leader in the French Resistance.
Once, when the Gestapo came to the house to search it, the family hid Mildren in their cellar under a pile of apples from their bountiful orchard.
Grateful for their help, he stayed in touch with the family for the rest of his life.
After his subsequent capture on the train, Mildren was interrogated by the Gestapo.
He was held at Fresne Prison for 90 days in solitary confinement before he was transferred to Stalag Luft I near Barth, Germany, on the northern border with Poland.
By the time the camp was liberated on April 30, 1945, by Russian troops, Mildren had been a prisoner for a year and a half.
After the war, Mildren attended the University of Tulsa on the GI Bill. He received a degree in education but went to work for International Shoe Co., starting out as a traveling salesman and later becoming a regional sales manager.
The family lived all over the country. He and his wife retired to Springfield, Mo., before moving back to Tulsa five years ago.
Mildren returned to Normandy for a visit in 1995 with his wife. They stayed with the family in the same farmhouse where he had been rescued. While there, Mildren was presented a medal for his service in the country's liberation.
One of the planes Mildren briefly flew during the war became famous. Dubbed "Flak Bait" because of all the holes in it - but despite which it kept on flying - the B-26 is now in the Smithsonian Institution. A plaque records the names of its pilots, Mildren's among them.
"There are just so many stories from his war experience," his son said. "You could make a movie out of it."
Mildren's survivors include his wife of 70 years, Dorothy Mildren; two sons, Bill H. Mildren and Mark Mildren; a sister, Charlene White; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Original Print Headline: Exploits of WWII bomber pilot, ex-POW filmworthy
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Bill Mildren: One of the planes Mildren briefly flew during the war became famous. Dubbed "Flak Bait" because of all the holes in it - but despite which it kept on flying - the B-26 is now in the Smithsonian Institution. A plaque records the names of its pilots, Mildren's among them