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"He says, 'Boy, you speak pretty good English for a Frog.' And I says, "I'm not a Frog; I'm an American pilot.'" (Audio Interview, 1:26:45)

   Robert Joseph Grace
Collection image
Robert Grace in his airman gear [1943]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army Air Forces/Corps
Unit: 411th Squadron, 373rd Fighter Group
Service Location: Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama; Carlstrom Field and Eglin Army Airfield, Florida; Bainbridge, Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; Millville Army Airfield, New Jersey; Woodchurch, Kent, England; Belgium; Hillsgrove Army Air Base, Rhode Island
Rank: Captain
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After the U.S. entered World War II, recent high school graduate Robert Grace wasn't eligible to enter the air cadet program without a college degree--unless he passed a test, which he did. During training, trying to have a mock dogfight with another pilot, he dove at the wrong plane, carrying an instructor, and almost washed out, but he was given a second chance. So it could not have come as a surprise that, when he was shot down over Belgium on his 11th mission, he managed for months to evade capture by the Germans, even with a broken leg. Sheltered by families, by monks, and by the Underground (who mistook his Midwestern response, "Yeah" for the German "Ja"), Grace lived up to his name and was finally taken in by Allied forces pushing inland after D-Day.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (12 clips)
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 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (12 items)
Volunteered out of high school; had to pass test to get in air cadet program; sent to Nashville to be classified as pilot/navigator/bombardier; made pilot and sent to preflight school in Maxwell Field. (03:11) Two classes of cadets; upperclassmen ruled hard over the underclass; punishments handed out frequently; discipline: learning to control your temper, learning to obey orders and admit wrongdoing. (09:21) Almost washed out for incident involving a mock dogfight; called in on carpet; his instructor vouched for him, pointing out how skillful he was trying to maneuver away from being caught. (02:45)
Plenty of training accidents, especially in basic training; practicing parachute jumps and difficult landings; went by boat to England; one of the two ships was alleged to be carrying nurses, so he volunteered for that one; no nurses, but African American service troops; nurses on other ship; rampant seasickness, except for pilots, who could not be susceptible to motion sickness; he did get sick watching other guys getting ill; on way to Scotland, saw evidence of transport ship being sunk: thousands of bottles of Scotch floating, being picked up by fishermen; several men missing when they docked, presumed tossed overboard, for winning too much or cheating at cards. (07:34) Shot down on May 29, on his 11th mission, dive-bombing marshalling yard near border of Luxembourg, Belgium, and France; pulling up off target, got hit; shrapnel in his leg; had not practiced bailing out of an airplane; difficulty opening canopy; forgot to unplug his earphones and oxygen mask; broke his nose; hit wing, rolled off; landed in clearing of forest; broke his leg when he hit the ground; buried identifying aspects of his uniform. (04:32) Shows off compass he was carrying at time; describes contents of escape kit in his flight jacket pocket. (04:10)
Stopped at farm house; elderly couple living there; wife greeted him warmly; on wall in house, a picture of Clark Gable; they fetched a doctor. (04:35) Hidden in forest by two girls; had a tarp and blanket; they brought him food and water every night; close encounter with a group of wild boars; joined by Russian POW who had escaped from work detail in coal mine; he had built an underground dugout; 26 years after war, got a letter from the Russian, Dmitry; two FBI agents questioned him about getting the letter. (11:46) Stopped along road by two German sympathizers; escaped from them, stealing one of their bikes; met a priest in charge of monastery who came over to the U.S. in 1954 to baptize Grace's first grandchild; became regular visitor to Grace's home in Cleveland. (05:49)
Interrogated by the Underground; one of them had lived in Cleveland, too; language misunderstanding; he was a Belgian who had married a girl from Belgium and came back there to live; Underground knew that Germans donned US uniforms to infiltrate their ranks, so Grace could have been executed. (03:43) Hiding in bell tower of abbey on D-Day; close call with Gestapo officers looking for Russian fugitives hiding in abbey; executed them; priest told him he had to leave because the Germans might come back; hidden in home with adjacent shop frequented by Germans and sympathizers; had to move on, not stay in one place too long. (06:34) Americans on move after D-Day; artillery fire indicating how close they were; 9th Infantry Division liberated his village; he hollered to guy in tank for an American cigarette; taken to the commander, Col. Brill; near village, a chateau contained 5 British and Canadian airmen hiding out; given a vehicle to drive to Paris, flew to England, where he was debriefed; could not fly missions over Europe because if he were captured again, he might be executed as a spy. (05:51)

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  October 26, 2011
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