This week’s annual “Blue and Gold Banquet” for a Columbia, S.C.-area Cub Scout group was only scheduled to run for an hour (and if you’ve ever tried to hold the attention of a group of elementary school kids for much longer than five seconds … you understand why).
But this banquet would up being quite different. More than two-and-a-half hours after the event began, a crowd of scouts (and their parents) stood in a tightly packed semi-circle around the guest speaker – literally under his spell.
The speaker? Louis Blanding Fowler, 88, a retired IBM executive from Fountain Inn, S.C. But it wasn’t Fowler’s four-decade career with a computer company which had this crowd transfixed, it was the story he told of the thirteen months he spent behind enemy lines in the deciding months of World War II.
Fowler, who volunteered and was assigned to the 15th Air Force based in Italy, was the right-waist gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber which was shot down over Austria on March 19, 1944. Miraculously, the 20-year-old not only survived the initial attack on his aircraft – sustaining shrapnel wounds in his side, shoulder and neck – but also lived to tell of a fall from 18,000 feet in a bullet-riddled parachute.
“I heard a voice telling me ‘Fear Not,’” the devout Presbyterian said.
On the ground, Fowler’s adventure was only just beginning. After regaining consciousness, he joined a band of underground guerilla resistance fighters – at least until the rag-tage group was captured by German soldiers.
For the next thirteen months Fowler was a prisoner of war – beaten, berated, humiliated and nearly starved to death. The final two months were the worst, he says, as the Germans led the prisoners on a 500-mile death march through occupied Poland and (eventually) the Fatherland itself.
This was no march to lose time on, either, as stragglers were gunned down by soldiers of the Waffen SS.
“We lost hundreds of American soldiers that way,” Fowler recalls.
He also recalls the smell of the crematoriums at the Auschwitz extermination camps – and the faces on the train cars he saw heading toward the notorious facility.
Eventually, Fowler and three fellow allied soldiers were able to escape captivity during the Battle of Berlin in April 1945 – and fight their way to the lines of the 104th “Timber Wolf” Infantry division, which around that time was linking up with divisions of the Soviet Red Army.
His liberation date? April 26, 1945 – exactly four days prior to Adolf Hitler’s suicide and eleven days prior to the unconditional surrender of Germany.
This website prides itself on supporting non-interventionist foreign policy – and you’ll never be able to convince us America didn’t goad the empire of Japan into launching its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 (thus dragging us into this conflict). But revisionist history aside, there is nothing – literally nothing – we can say to detract from the story Louis Fowler shared with an incredibly fortunate group of children and parents this week.
The guy is a hero of the first order … as evidenced by a chest full of medals and the Nazi flag he took from a Tiger tank during the Battle of Berlin (a flag which still contains traces of dried German blood on it).
“I’ll be if you took the DNA you could find out who it belongs to,” he joked.
It’s been estimated that 1,500 World War II veterans die every single day in this country … and at some point they’ll all be gone. In fact two years ago Frank Buckles, the last surviving veteran of World War I, died at the age of 110.
In other words we need to honor and cherish these heroes – and learn as much as we can from their stories – while we still can.
Anyway, thanks to Louis Fowler not only for his sacrifice, but for sharing his remarkable story with a group of children and parents who could have literally sat and listened to him all night.