Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas



1922 - 2015



Patriot, Chapter 1919

 (ARMY AIR FORCES, WWII, Europe) Article Oct 2000


Ray McKee is an Army Air Forces veteran and an Ex-­POW who, for an extended period, endured tremendous torture and mental cruelty in addition to his painful FLAK and bomb wounds that went untreated for many days between his capture and the time he reached the relative safety of a German STALAG, POW camp.  At one of our chapter monthly breakfasts he related a small part of that experience which we share with you here, told in his own words.


“On March 18, 1944, I was the bombardier for Lt Magneson's B­17 in the 429th Bomb Squadron, 2nd Bomb Group, 5th Bomb Wing, of the 15th Air Force at Foggia, Italy. The bombing mission that day was to hit military installations at Villarba in the Italian Alps of NE Italy.  Our plane was badly damaged by FLAK over Trieste and Udine, and then riddled by German fighter planes. It was obvious that we were going down. We had taken a hit from a FLAK burst to my left that had put numerous wounds in my side, but I was able to jump from the forward hatch of the aircraft.  My chute opened normally and at first I thought I was going to gently float down to safety.  But then, a German ME-109 fighter made a firing pass at me and the burst from its guns put holes in my parachute canopy that speeded up my descent. I came in hard but landed in the middle of a deep snowbank and that probably saved me from further serious injury.  I crawled out of the snowbank with great difficulty, dragged myself to a sunny spot on the mountain, and collapsed into unconsciousness.


German SS Troops were surrounding me when I regained consciousness.  They prodded me up, and beat me as I slipped and slid downhill to a farmhouse.  When we reached the open area of the farmyard, they stood me up in front of a fence, lined up 10 yards from me and aimed their rifles at me.  There was no doubt in my mind that I was only seconds away from being shot, but, just then the farmwife sent her son up to me with a glass of milk. This embarrassed the German troops and after some brief indecision they moved me on down to a village where, among other abuse, I was bayoneted in the stomach (permanent damage to the duodenum is still a major medical problem for me today).  From there a car took me to the rail station in Trieste, Italy.  American bombers were approaching overhead so my guards hastily locked me up in the switching house and headed for the bomb shelter, leaving me alone there to be a part of the target as the railyard was about to be bombed.  I managed to turn over two heavy concrete benches and then lay down between them and covered up as best I could.  The bombardment was terrifying.  Bombs completely blasted away the switch house.  I lay exposed in the wreckage, open to the sky, but; there was no danger of my escaping.  I was stunned, semi-conscious, totally deafened, and barely able to see; all in addition to having some new fragmentation wounds.  The SS came back for me with a vengeance, as if the bombing was part of my doing.  Angry to find me still alive, they beat me again.


Later, I was moved from Trieste to the SS Headquarters in Verona.  The next morning after my arrival in Verona, at about 9AM, I was taken before a judge in a courtroom.  He sentenced me to be shot the next morning!  I  then had all day to think about it, and naturally did not sleep at all that night.  It was a most terrible feeling, knowing that I was about to be executed. They came for me the next morning, but not to be shot.  They immediately put me through a series of interrogations and brutal torture.  They knocked out several of my jaw teeth and damn near blinded my left eye.  Finally an Italian military doctor (Major) gave me medical treatment for the first time.  He removed 65 fragments from the FLAK and bombing.  It was amazing how much better I felt next day   


Later, a guard of SS troops took me on a train headed for Germany.  As we neared Munich the U.S. Air Force began a bombing strike on the railyard (is this beginning to sound familiar?).  Our train held up overnight outside Munich because of the bombing.  The train started out again next morning and continued on to Berlin.  Coming into Berlin, I could see the bodies of Allied air crewmen, still in their flying suits, hanged from the streetlamp posts.  I remember counting sixteen airmen hanging, but; those were just the ones that I could see from my side of the railcar and I couldn’t see very far from the train.  We pulled into the Berlin station just as (you guessed it) a bombing strike came in on the railyard (I was 3 for 3).   The guards tied me up and left me outside in the open.  Then, they went into the bomb shelter.  Again the bombing was terrific, indescribable, all I can say is I was incredibly lucky to still be alive when it was over.  The Germans urgently wanted to get through Berlin.  We re-boarded the train quickly and headed north.  Without further incident, I was soon in the relative security in a POW Camp, a STALAG near Barth, Germany.


At long last, I received good attention to my wounds, which soon healed, thank God!  But, it was only one slice of sawdust bread per day and everything else Ersatz! I weighed no more than 100 lbs by the time Soviet troops overran the area in 1945.


As soon as we came under their control, the Soviets ordered us to march to the Russian interior.  If that had happened, in all probability none of us would have ever been heard from again.  In desperation, we managed to send out a radio message informing the U.S. Forces about the urgency of our situation.  Our message was received and acknowledged. General Jimmy Doolittle acted immediately, and without clearance, ordered in the planes that flew all of us American POW's out of there to freedom in Le Havre, France.”



Raymond McKee represented The Military Order of the Purple Heart Austin Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas in the Memorial Day Remembrance Celebration at Auditorium Shores May 31, 2004. Raymond McKee recounted his experience as a prisoner of war after his capture in March 1944. The Order and Chapter 1919 are proud to have Raymond with our patriots. He gave an outstanding and inspiring presentation on this scorching hot day in Austin. 

B-17 Flying Fortress

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