The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Robert E. Derrington

"It's amazing at what the human body can do to survive; there's a real education there, because you get a greater respect for a lot of things." (Video Interview 38:15)

   Robert E. Derrington
Collection image
Robert Derrington in flight gear
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army Air Forces/Corps
Unit: 40th Bomb Group, 58th Air Wing, 20th Air Force
Service Location: United States; India
Rank: Captain
POW: Yes
View Full Description

Growing up in Depression-era Detroit, Robert Derrington developed a fascination for airplanes. After he graduated from high school, he took flying lessons and on December 7, 1941, he was on his way to the airport for a flight when he heard the news about Pearl Harbor. In March 1942, he enlisted in an aviation cadet program and eventually his prewar experience qualified him as a pilot with enough flight time to fly bombing missions over Burma. In December 1944, on his first flight, serving only as an observer, his dangerously loaded plane went down over Burma, and he became a prisoner of the Japanese for the duration of the war. Held in Rangoon, he learned survival techniques from longtime POWs. Abandoned by their guards on a forced march outside the city as the British approached, he and his fellow prisoners were mistaken for enemy soldiers and were strafed from the air by friendly fire.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (6 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (63 min.)
»Photo Album  (3 photos)
»14 December 1944
More like this
»China, Burma, India
»PTSD: A Lasting Impact of War
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (6 items)
B-29 pilots picking their own crews; the only place B-29s were flying was in India; leaving from West Palm Beach and opening his orders to find he was on his way to India; running into two Detroit friends in India. (06:19) His first flight; plane loaded with bombs with instantaneous fuses; bombs collided after being dropped and the flak brought down many planes in the formation; he and crew bailing out; captured by the Burmese, who turned him over to the Japanese. (09:28) Early days of captivity in Rangoon; interviews alternating with beatings; one of their interrogators had been educated at the U. of Washington; giving false information; how his fate might have been worse. (10:25)
He and fellow POWs listed as MIAs; after one year, they were officially recorded as dead; surviving on little food; rations were half of those on work crews, but Japanese refused to put them on work crews because they had dropped bombs. (03:16) Moved in June 1945 with 400 prisoners because of the advancing British Army; trying to signal British planes with a mirror, which they mistook for ground fire and strafed them, killing one British general. (09:33) Lessons learned from captivity. (01:22)

Home » Robert E. Derrington
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us