'I may not make it out'

George William Truman Waters at his summer home in Folsom. He was a WW2 POW. Waters is looking at a photo of his wife, Mavis, in his book he wrote about his POW days. Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

George William Truman Waters vividly remembers when his plane was hit by German fire on Feb. 2, 1944.

“I was on my 25th mission when I got shot down,” Waters said recently on the front porch of his Randolph County home. Waters was the ball turret gunner on a B-17G Flying Fortress named “Little Chum,” which was on a mission to bomb a ball bearing factory in Regensburg, Germany.

“This was really a long mission, it was going to be 11 hours,” Waters said.

Waters was one of 10 crew members aboard the bomber when it took off from Italy. Six survived.

Today, he lives mainly in Texas, but returns each summer to his home in Folsom, in rural northern Randolph County.

Waters and his wife of 75 years, Mavis, traveled north from there this week, touring the White House on Thursday and on Friday watching their great-grandson graduate from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

Before that trip, he spent time on the front porch of his Folsom home, recalling his experience of the war with a reporter. He thought back to the B-17G crew’s mission that February day.

“Right in the bend of the river was where the ball bearing factory was that we was supposed to bomb and we hit that target. I mean we tore that thing up,” Waters said.

“When we circled back to go back to base, we was in formation ready to hightail it back to Italy and I saw planes coming off a field down there,” Waters said. He was sure, though, that everything would be fine.

That confidence soon faded when engine trouble sealed their fate.

“’Bout that time that plane began to vibrate like it’s going to shake my teeth out,” he said. An engine had malfunctioned, and the B-17G fell behind the rest of the formation.

“About that time two planes hit us, one came in from the tail and shot the tail completely off that plane, the other one was from 12 o’clock high and came in and just tore the plane up,” Water said.

Waters was the only one on the crew who wore no parachute, because it would not fit in the confined space of the ball turret compartment.

“I looked out and there were parachutes by me and I thought ‘My gosh I’ve stayed in too late, I may not make it out,’” Waters said.

Waters had incentive to get out alive, he thought about his wife and family. He’d married Mavis the week of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Waters appealed to Heaven.

“Oh Lord get me out of here, any second I’m going to be gone,” Waters recalled saying.

With the plane coming apart, Waters scrambled to get out of his turret.

“I just kinda fell across my chute and got it fastened in and by that time I was up in the air and couldn’t even touch the deck,” Waters said.

“I held my hand over the chute, I didn’t even know the tail had been shot off at the time, man, I knew something was going wrong,” Waters said.

He jumped, then pulled his chute open.

“That chute came out, I mean it was folded, you can’t imagine how beautiful it was, and that little pilot chute was open,” Waters said.  

One of the German pilots who’d shot his plane down circled Waters as he descended.

“He came in, he rocked my chute but not much, he threw up his hand and I threw up mine, I thought, well he ain’t gonna shoot me down,” Waters said.

Waters looked down and noticed that he was going to land in a stand of trees. He pulled on one side of the chute to avoid the trees and landed in open country.

Once he hit the ground he was the center of attention.

“I looked around and man, you talk about a bunch of people coming out of a little ol’ town, it was like a street parade,” Water said.

“I looked around and saw two men at a farmhouse and they were looking my direction,” Waters said. He decided to take his chances with the two older men.

“They said ‘English?’ I did not know a bit of German and they didn’t seem to know much English. I said ‘American,’ and one of them said ‘Americano,’” Waters recalled.

Waters was taken to town and processed, and his 15 months as a prisoner of war began. He said he never gave his various interrogators any information but his rank, name and serial number.

“I don’t give a damn what they do to me, I’m not going to talk,” Waters remembered saying to himself as he faced a German officer at desk flanked by an armed guard with a bayonet on his rifle.

“They had me stripped off, naked,” said Waters. Finally the officer gave up trying to make him talk. The guard told him to dress and get out. After Waters left he realized he’d forgotten a towel the Red Cross had given him.

“I stuck my head back in the door and said ‘I want my towel,’” Waters recalled. The guard threw it at him.

During his time as a POW, Waters said, he marched 500 miles across Europe until the end of the war, sleeping in leaky barns and scavenging for food. But the day finally came. After Hitler’s suicide, as German forces began surrendering, a British unit liberated Waters and his fellow POWs.

Sitting in the shade on his front porch last week, Waters reflected on his fellow crewmen who did not make it off the bomber.

“As far as the ones that made it and didn't make it, runs through my mind,” said Waters.