George Carruthers was born in Dallas, Texas in 1923. His family moved to Tyler shortly after the Stock Market Crash in 1929, at the beginning of the Great Depression, and George attended Public Schools there. Before December 7, 1941, as a freshman at Tyler Junior College, he had joined the Civilian Pilot Training Program flying Piper Cub aircraft. When America entered WWII, he volunteered for the aviation cadet program and was called to active duty in June 1942.
Expecting to enter pilot training, George was extremely disappointed when he was assigned to bombardier and aerial gunnery courses. After completing training, Second Lieutenant Carruthers was assigned to Colonel Reeds Provisional Group for B-17 crew training. After crew training at Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, and at Walla Walla, Washington, in mid-May 1943 the crew proceeded to the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kansas, picked up a new B-17 and started out for England, flying in stages along the northern route. With weather delays their passage took about ten days before finally reaching their new home at Chelveston, England. On May 28, 1943 they were assigned to the 8th Air Force, 305th Bomb Group (H), 422nd Bomb Squadron and soon after were flying combat missions over the continent.
George has a photo of his aircraft and crew, taken on July 10th, that he shares with readers here. The plane bears nose art identifying it as the Windy City Challenger and markings showing that it had been credited with nine bombing missions and four German planes destroyed at that time. Four days later Windy City Challenger was lost on a mission over Occupied France. Lt. George Carruthers, wounded in the air, was taken prisoner almost immediately upon parachuting to the ground, and he spent the remainder of the war as a POW. What follows are excerpts from an account, in his own words, of his experiences that has been published in VFW Magazine.
He said, The target on Bastille Day, July 14, 1943, was Villacoublay Air Field near Paris I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower, a perfect landmark fix, as we approached the target on a southeast heading The target area was clear and I saw a good bomb pattern impacting As we turned right off the bomb run, a Focke-Wulf 190 closed in on us at lightning speed from twelve oclock level He got us ! I felt the sting of shrapnel on my head, neck, and buttocks heard the splattering of 20mm cannon fragments and smoke began to fill the nose of our B-17 There was silence from the cockpit except for the long continuous bail out signal of the alarm I believe that John Perkins, Pilot, and Arthur Lewis, Co-Pilot, most likely took a direct hit A blast had ripped off the right wing and a tight spiral set in, making movement toward the escape hatch virtually impossible. I struggled in vain to reach the exit I felt my oxygen mask being ripped from my face. I had not taken the time to disconnect it This is the last thing I remember, I apparently passed out from lack of oxygen Regaining consciousness, I found myself amid several burning pieces of the aircraft. There probably was a second explosion that propelled me out into space and caused the final breakup of the aircraft I pulled the D ring and my parachute canopy and the risers deployed but failed to blossom. They remained tightly matted together as if packed with glue. Frantically I tugged and yanked at individual risers as I watched objects on the ground grow larger. After free falling to about 1,000 feet the bullet riddled canopy finally opened to reveal large gaping holes. Microseconds later I crashed to the ground, landing on my back. Badly stunned by the fall, I was not able to move for some time. About 100 yards away, I observed the largest part of 049 (aircraft identification number) burning profusely. On the other side, heading down the road toward the burning wreckage and me, was a truck loaded with gray uniformed Luftwaffe
Lt. Carruthers escape from the plane was near miraculous. Centrifugal forces made it impossible for him to move to jump from inside the bomber spiraling down out of control, even if he had not also been unconscious at the time. Had the plane not come apart in the air and thrown him clear he could not possibly have survived. As it was, seven in the eleven-man crew died with the loss of the plane. Also, today George maintains that his parachute had saved his life twice. First, it absorbed deadly German 20mm shell fragments that otherwise would have gone into his torso and would almost certainly have been fatal. Then in descent, the canopy of the badly damaged parachute only partially deployed a brief instant before he hit the ground, barely slowing his rate of fall enough so the impact did not kill him. Against all odds, he had lived through the loss of Windy City Challenger. He was taken prisoner only minutes after the plane was shot down at approximately 8:20 a.m.
Before noon his wounds had been treated at a nearby military hospital. Under guard, he was then put on the evening train from Paris to Frankfurt, Germany, where he was held for a week in solitary confinement in the Dulag Luft Interrogation Center. After seven days there, he was among a large number of prisoners transported by train to Stalag Luft III in Lower Silesia, about 100 miles southeast of Berlin. He arrived July 22, 1943 and remained one of the thousands held POW there for the next year and a half. On January 27, 1945 the prisoners were evacuated; moved westward by forced march to escape capture by the advancing Russian Army. They arrived, February 5, 1945 at Stalag 7-A about 20 miles northeast of Munich in Bavaria. More prisoners were coming in and soon there were 100,000 POWs in the overcrowded camp that had an intended capacity of 30,000. Conditions were deplorable, so as soon as U.S. troops arrived in the area George crawled through the barbed wire fence, took possession of a bicycle and headed west.. He found a U.S. Army Field Kitchen where he was welcomed with open arms and fed all he could eat. George says, It was time to head for Camp Lucky Strike at Le Harve, France, for my trip home. A very speedy processing at Lucky Strike put me on the Marine Panther, a Henry Kaiser type of concrete troop transport. After a short 9-day cruise, I arrived at Camp Kilmer, NJ and then home to Tyler, Texas. I gained some weight during my trip home since I spent most of my time in the ships mess. Consequently, I did not get a lot of sympathy when I told the story about my hunger during almost two years in a POW camp.
George Carruthers remained in the service after the war and completed a career of almost thirty-one years. He was assigned to the Strategic Air Command when SAC was re-activated in 1948 under the command of its previous commander, General Curtis E. LeMay. Stationed at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, from 1948-1960, he flew in B-29, B-50, and B-47 bombers of the 43rd Bomb Wing. He benefited from General LeMays Spot Promotion Program when he and his pilot advanced from Captain in December 1949 to Lieutenant Colonel in November 1952. In 1960 he was reassigned to the 9th Bomb Wing, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. B-47s were phased out in 1966 and he was transferred to Military Airlift Command in Charleston, South Carolina, but only briefly, and then was sent for a year in Viet Nam. Beginning in November 1966, he flew 100 combat missions in the 361st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron. After returning home in 1967, Carruthers served as Staff Navigator in the 60th Military Airlift Wing at Travis Air Force Base, California.
Lieutenant Colonel George Carruthers retired from active duty on November 1, 1972 and moved to Central Texas where he and his wife, Marilyn, reside as of this writing. He has been a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart since August 2000, and this month Chapter 1919 proudly salutes Patriot George C. Carruthers.