LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - In a World War II bombing mission over Austria, his plane was blown in half by enemy fire. He found himself tangled in cables drifting toward the ground beneath the tail section of the plane.
Puett Willcox was taken prisoner, and is still with us today. He's about to receive some well-deserved medals for his service.
Willcox lives at Buckner Westminster Place in Longview now, but in May of 1944, he was manning a gun turret on one of many B-24s when an explosion tore the plane apart. When he came to, he got free of the tail section cables, did a free-fall, and opened his 'chute.
"I saw my group turning, going home, and I said out loud, 'you guys are leaving me,'" Willcox recalled.
He landed amidst 30 German soldiers.
"When I saw them shooting at me I pulled my .45 out and took it apart in two pieces and threw it," Willcox said.
He didn't have enough ammo to fight.
"Lots and lots of bad things happened to me while I was a prisoner," Willcox revealed.
He says he went from about 160 pounds to 73. They had very little to eat each day.
"Dehydrated sauerkraut soup," Willcox said, and only about a cup of it.
And maybe some bread. He and others would move around during the day.
"We recovered quicker, us guys moving, than the guys that didn't," Willcox stated.
During his year in captivity through a miserable winter, 17,000 marched 700 of miles to other camps to escape the Russians. On the way they were beaten and stabbed with bayonets. If someone couldn't keep up, a guard would take him aside.
Willcox said, "In a little while we'd hear a shot, and the guard would catch up."
And the guard would be alone.
While still marching, the war ended and prisoners were told to keep going and they would be picked up. On the way, Willcox ran into a group of Germans with tanks. One held a white flag.
"I'll accept your surrender. He says, 'General', I says 'kriegsgefangener', prisoner of war," Willcox revealed.
At that point he took the general's car and he and a buddy drove it to meet up with the British a few miles ahead.
He entered Austria on a B-24's tail section, and drove to freedom in a German staff car, leaving the general on the side of the road.