Veteran Profile: George Wall
Madison’s Wall faced hardship
He was shot down on his sixth mission
and taken prisoner
(November 2015) – George Arthur Wall Jr. has deep roots in England, and after enlisting in the U.S. Army, those roots became even deeper.
Wall’s father, George Arthur Wall Sr., was originally from Kimbotan, England. He immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. In 1943, his son volunteered to be in the U.S. Air Force. “There were two things they couldn’t make you do – fly or go on a submarine. You had to volunteer for it, and I sure didn’t want to walk,” said George Jr., 94.
Wall sailed overseas to England on board the Queen Elizabeth and became a waist gunner on a B-17 in the U.S. Army Air Force, 8th Air Force. He was stationed in Kimbolton, England, a large village about two hours northwest of London and four hours from New Castle upon Tyne, from where his father had immigrated years earlier.
On his first flight, Wall and his crew crash landed in an area in rural England. They shaved off the chimney of a house as they came down but left the house standing. As they emerged from the plane, with all crew members uninjured, a group of kids came running toward them, including a boy 14 or 15, named Frank. The kids were yelling that there was a dead man in the house.
“We’d thought we’d killed him,” Wall recalled. “We later found out it was just a corpse waiting to be buried.”
George Wall is pictured above left during his time in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
Wall stayed in touch with Frank and the two were later reunited, along with several of his crew members, in Savannah, Ga. They exchanged letters for more than 60 years. Eventually, Wall’s letters went unanswered.
Wall missed out on two missions following the crash because of suffering from frost bite after making several flights at 60 below zero and no windows in the plane.
On Jan. 30, 1944, his sixth mission, Wall and his crew were shot down behind German lines. After the plane hit, the Germans continued to fire on the plane. Wall was shot in the leg.
He was taken to Frankfurt, Germany, and placed in solitary confinement and interrogated, then taken to a German military hospital near Bocholt, where he was treated for his wounds. “They shot at us after we crash landed. You aren’t supposed to do that,” said Wall.
Wall spent six weeks in the hospital, which was operated by nuns. The care was good, but the Germans were experiencing too many casualties, so Wall was taken up the Baltic Sea to a hospital prison camp, where he met an English doctor named Dr. Pollak. “He’s the one who saved my leg,” Wall recalled. Dr. Pollak had been captured by German forces in Africa.
Wall spent one year and three months in several different prison camps. Instead of staying in one place, they were constantly marching. They would move up and down the Baltic Sea, and when the Germans started losing the war, they were moved farther into Germany. “We were never in typical prison camps. We would march. They’d keep us in barns,” said Wall. As the war went on, Wall began noticing the guards in the camps were getting older and older. “There were guys who were 45 to 50 years old.”
The prison camps were organized by the British because they were the first to get into the war. Although the Germans were in charge and guarded the outside, the British organized a lot of the inside of the prison camps. They had separate camps for airmen and infantry. According to Wall, the head of the German Air Force insisted on that. There were six prisoners in the camp who would march and walk together. “They were called your combat buddy. If you needed anything, you had your combat buddy,” said Wall.
In Wall’s research on POWs, he was able to locate his entire crew. After contacting them all, most were able to come together in Pennsylvania and became close friends.
One day while marching, Wall was chained to a man who was about seven feet tall. An older man in front of them had fallen, and Wall fell over the man to the ground. The German officers began beating Wall to get up. Two of his combat buddies began holding up the German officers. Luckily, the German colonel had seen what happened and came and stopped the officers, saving Wall’s life. “When you get into this radical bunch, the young ones, you just survived,” said Wall.
Despite the difficult conditions, Wall said he made some lasting friendships in the prison camp. He got to know a Canadian airman, who later became the Canadian Postmaster General, and even visited him in Montreal. He also ran into a friend he had grown up with in Linton, Ind., who had been shot down after flying out of Africa. “We called him Peewee. We ran around together, hung out at the same places, dated the same girls,” said Wall.
Wall also remembers a trumpet player in the camp who would play his music most nights. “They finally made him quit that. They wouldn’t let him do it anymore.” He remembers a prisoner who had been in the camp the longest. “They made a medal for him out of a tin can lid because he had been in the prison camp five years. He was shot down on the first day of the war,” Wall recalled.
Wall and the other members of his flight crew were liberated on April 26, 1945. Wall and his entire crew returned safely to the United States, with Wall returning to his hometown of Linton. “I remember my father saying, ‘Don’t you think you better get out and get a job?’ ”
Wall got a job at a furniture store, where he met his wife, Rosalie. They married in 1946 and moved to the Columbus, Ind., area, where Wall started a lumberyard business and later became a woodworker. They had one son, Robert, now a dentist in downtown Madison.
Wall did not speak about the war for a long time, despite his mother trying to help him deal with what had happened. “When I got back from overseas, people were tired of the war. I was tired of it,” said Wall.
“I can remember as a kid he would not talk about it, and if the subject came up he would leave the dinner table,” said Robert Wall. “I was about 20 or 21 when he started telling some of these stories. Then he got more active in the POW thing and did a lot of research.”
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