Bill Caldwell, 90, of Sand Springs
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2012
It’s been 67 years since World War II ended
and the Greatest Generation returned
home, but their memories survive. Read
stories about Oklahoma’s World War II
veterans from the Tulsa World.
was shot down and taken prisoner, but survived along with his four brothers who all fought in the war.
Bill Caldwell had to stretch his age the first time he joined the military.
The youngest of seven children, including five boys, he wanted to experience what his brothers were doing and get the $1 for signing up. So at 14 in 1936, Caldwell said, he signed up for the Oklahoma National Guard.
"I was wanting to get that dollar," he said. "I wasn't making a career."
He got out after more than three years and before America became involved in the war. He went to the University of Oklahoma and then to Marquette University, but he still felt he needed to serve. In 1942, he signed up for the Army Air Corps. He graduated in 1943 as the top cadet and a trained bomber pilot.
In November 1944, he was part of a B-17 crew and started making bombing runs over Europe.
"There were two flights of any consequence to me: the first one and the last one," Caldwell said.
His first was over Hamburg, Germany. Looking down, he could see the thick clouds of flak fire that would take him down if it were any higher.
"There was a feeling of apprehension," he said. "When are they going to get us?"
His 22nd and last mission was when he was shot down. Several members of his crew were killed, but he parachuted to the ground, where he was captured by the Germans in March 1945.
He was taken to a nearby village, where the German soldiers lined him up against a wall with some of the other crew who survived the plane crash.
"We just knew we were in a big-time firing squad," Caldwell said. "After a few minutes, they relaxed and turned us around. They were just trying to scare us, and it made us mad. So we were going to give them trouble."
He was taken to a small makeshift prison near Munich, where he saw how much the war had taken its toll on Germany. The only soldiers there to guard him and the other prisoners were in their 50s, and one was blind in one eye, he said. He wasn't mistreated by the Germans while in the prison and even had some fun with them.
"We decided it was the minority (of Germans) who wanted that war," Caldwell said. "We never did feel too unkind from the rank and file of the German people."
Caldwell said he was liberated on April 29, 1945, by Gen. George Patton's forces.
"We were up close enough to see his weathered complexion," Caldwell said.
All of his brothers served at different places during the war, and they didn't see each other until after the war. But their shared experience fighting across the world matured them and brought them together.
"It made us closer together, I'm sure," Caldwell said. "I'm proud of the fact there were five of us brothers, five blood brothers. And we all came back."
CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World