It was 2004, and he had the attention of the class of eighth grade boys and girls as he told his story. I had hired Martin Andrews to come speak with them after raising some money from a PTA Book Fair. The students sat at the edge of their seats as Mr. Andrews’ story unfolded. He had wanted to pilot a fighter plane, but it was determined that he was too tall, so instead, he became the pilot of a B-17F Bomber with the 423rd Bomber Squadron in World War II. The words he had painted on his plane were “Est Nulla Via in Via Virtuti,” Latin for, “There is no way impossible to courage.” He told us about his mission to strike some targets in Stuttgart, Germany. It was September of 1943 and the mission hadn’t gone as planned. They had been met by heavy fire and had taken on some damage, because of this they couldn’t fly as fast as the rest of the unit. When they finally made it to their target the weather didn’t allow them a clear view, so they decided to take a second run at it before dropping the bombs. They were successful at hitting their target, but now they were dangerously low on fuel. Knowing that they could not possibly make it back to England, they decided to head for Switzerland, but maps and navigation equipment were not as exact as they are now. When he saw a clearing, he hoped it was within the borders of Switzerland as he made his landing. But within moments, his plane was surrounded.
He told his men to carefully exit the plane. As he did so, he set up these canisters that were meant to explode the plane after the men left it. This was so that the plane, and its technology, did not land in the hands of the enemy. He exited the plane then, expecting the plane to explode behind him . . . but it didn’t. The canisters didn’t work.
As it turned out, they had made it to Switzerland, a neutral country during the war. The men were taken to Adelboden, a work camp where they were held. During his time there, he was brought to a man named Mr. Allen Dulles. Under the guise of fulfilling his work assignment for the work camp, he came to be chosen by Mr. Dulles for a very important mission. Mr. Dulles was the Swiss Director of the Office of Strategic Services and as such, his job was to collect intelligence on the Germans during the war. After the war, Mr. Dulles became an American Diplomat, and later the Head of the CIA. Mr. Dulles asked Mr. Andrews to memorize some information that he wanted to get back to Washington D.C. Mr. Andrews was not allowed to write anything down, he had to memorize it in his head. He agreed to accept this mission.
(Lt. Andrews and his co-pilot, Keith Rich in Switzerland)
After months of memorization, he was set up to be traded for German prisoners. He remembered how terrified he was on the train to meet the Germans, not sure if he would then be discovered as a spy and turned over to them or if he would, indeed, be sent home as promised. To his relief, he was sent home after the exchange. Upon his return to Washington D.C., he met with authorities and gave them the information he had memorized. It was the layout of where the Germans were stationed along the coast of France. With the information that he had memorized, the decision was made as to where to land the invasion on D-Day.
I had hoped that he would come back the following year, when my daughter would have been in eighth grade, so that she could have met him. But the following year he had a triple or quadruple bypass operation for his heart and he wasn’t strong enough to come back to visit the school. Instead, he sent me a DVD he had made in which he explained his World War II experience. A few years ago, I received a call from him out of the blue, in 2011. He had remembered how interested I was in his story and he wanted me to know that his story was published in a book, To Kingdom Come by Robert J. Mrazek. He told me that he was living in a Veteran’s Home and that he was now blind. It was so important to him to keep his story alive, and I hope that this blog will have a small part in doing that. Unfortunately, I lost track of him after that, but I will never forget him.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy