This story was sent to us by Puett L. (Cauble) Willcox Jr. who was a Christmas Prisoner of War during World War II
“Seventeen days prior to my twentieth birthday I was in a B24 ball turret flying out of Italy heading for a bombing mission over Weiner Neaustatd Austria. On the take-off roll I saw Jesus, He informed me that something bad was going to happen but He would take care of me. Six hours later and 29 minutes of flack our B24 was hit and burning. The fire drove me from the turret, while I was snapping my chest parachute to my harness the plane blew in half and knocked me unconscious. I woke up hanging from the place that my turret had been with control cables around my legs. The tail of the plane was trying to fly but was falling and I kicked loose and fell from 25,000 feet to about 3,000 feet when I opened my parachute. There was a welcoming committee of 30 soldiers shooting hole in my parachute.
Oh! I forgot to mention that this was our radio operator’s 21st birthday and he didn’t get a party for his birthday, we told him that we thought that’s what all the fireworks was about. The Austrians kelp almost 1,000 American Airmen that they had shot down that day, May 10 1944, for 5 days before putting us in box cars and moving us to Frankfurt Germany. After being interrogated in Frankfurt for six days they put us plus some 600 more airmen in box cars with 100 prisoners per car and sent us to a new prison camp in Poland. The camp was about 20 miles from the Russian border and 5 miles from the North Sea. The camp was named Stalagluft IV and had only 5 barracks for prisoners finished. They kept us outside until we were processed which was only about 50 prisoners a day. I was the 436th prisoner to be processed so my POW number was 1436. They added a thousand to our number to tell Berlin that they had more prisoners than they really had so as to get more food. That didn’t work because there were no supply trains coming to that part of Poland. I weighted 160 on May 10th and on June 22nd I weighed 92 pounds. This was typical of every prisoner in camp.
Now. Let us fast forward to Christmas Eve December 24 1944 and the camp had grown to more than 15,000+ American and British Airmen as prisoners. Every day the German guards would run us into our barracks at 5:00 PM and put the shutters on the windows and the bars on the doors until 7:00 AM. Christmas eve they surprised the more than 15,000+ of us and turned on all of the outside lights and let us stay outside until 9:00 PM. The sky was clear and full of stars; the ground was covered with snow, a sight that we had not seen since our capture. About 7:30 one of the prisoners started singing “Silent Night” and without a prompt all 15,000+ prisoners joined in. At the end of the first verse we all stopped and the German guards sang the first in their language. We continued in this manner from on Christmas carol to the other until 9:00 when the guards politely ask us to return to our barracks. No one has convinced me that our Lord Jesus wasn’t there that night. “
Footnote by Puett Willcox, Jr:
I was raised in Longview Texas from 1930 until entering the Army Air Corps in 1942. My dear mother, Ruby Bernice (Cauble) Willcox moved to Memphis, Tennessee the same time that I enlisted. She received a telegram telling her that I was a prisoner of war and sent the information to our church and friends in Longview. One of these advised the Longview news paper and somehow in the transmission the paper printed that I was killed in action. This error was only corrected after I returned to Longview and knocked on a few doors and had a few women faint. I went to the paper and they took a picture of me and wrote an apology stating that I was very much alive. I have had 69 very wonderful Christmases since the one in Stalagluft IV, Praise The Lord!