“After a few more hours of walking, the air was suddenly filled with the whine of plane engines. We all glanced skyward, trying to spot the source of the sound. Remember, up until that point the sound of planes always meant dive-bombers. If you heard those propellers approaching, you knew to find cover quickly. I’d already had my own near-death experience with German planes when that building collapsed on me, so I didn’t even think before I acted. The moment I saw the plane approaching from the west, Alex and I made a beautiful, synchronized dive into the ditch at the edge of the road. Without a word, everyone scattered.
“We all lay there in the ditches beside the road, some of us praying, all of us holding our breath to see what would happen next. I watched the plane as it approached. It didn’t look like a bomber, but that was no guarantee of safety. The German pilots had a nasty habit of circling around enemy infantry and when they spotted them, broadcasting their coordinates back to base. If your location was reported you knew that it wouldn’t be too long before bombers arrived. We had no idea what to expect.”
“Did the pilot see you?” I ask.
“He did,” my dad answers.
“As the plane approached again I saw the sun glint off a window opening in the canopy, and the pilot dropped something out. It landed in the road ahead of us. ‘Grenade!’ somebody shouted, and we all dove again into the ditches and braced ourselves for the explosion. The plane buzzed over our heads and as it passed one of the guys noticed a star painted on the underside of its wing. ‘Nazi planes don’t have stars,’ I thought to myself. After a few seconds there was no explosion, and the sergeant said, ‘That’s not a grenade!’ We all stood up and dusted ourselves off, trying to make out what it was that had been tossed out of the plane.”
“What was it?” I ask.
He smiles. “It was a chocolate bar,” he says. “A chocolate bar with a note tied to it with red ribbon. The sergeant untied the ribbon and opened the note, but the whole thing was written in English. It had been an American plane! ‘Quickly,’ the sergeant shouted to us as we gathered around him, ‘I need someone who can read English.’ Stalag IV B had its fair share of American and British prisoners of war, and a few of us had picked up some English. One of the Poles came forward and read the note.”
“What did it say?”
It said ‘Welcome. You are safe to walk now during daytime. There are no troops between you and our lines. You have fifteen miles to walk and you’re free.’ He gets visibly choked up. He struggles to hold back his tears. “There’s no way to describe the happiness I felt. Everyone was overjoyed. Right there in the dusty road we all started shouting and dancing. We were fifteen miles from freedom.
It seemed almost impossible that we had come this far. I hugged Alex and said to him, ‘We are free men! The whole world is open to us.’ He nodded. ‘I’m almost twenty years old, Alex,’ I said to him. ‘There’s no limit to what we can accomplish. We’re finally going to be free men. We can live; we can travel! We can go to England or Canada or . . . America.’ ”