On this date 71 years ago, Air Force B-17 bombers landed at Barth, Germany to evacuate English and American prisoners of war. One of these prisoners was Pershing Carlson from Minot.
Carlson had joined the service in 1942 and became a glider pilot, flying the Waco glider, a craft of light metal, wood and canvas that was pulled by a tow plane, usually a C-47, to transport troops and supplies behind enemy lines.
Carlson was shipped to England in 1944 and flew his first mission on D-day plus one (June 7th) flying a infantry communications unit into Normandy. He flew 2 more missions, Operation Dragoon in France and Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands where he was shot through the left hand from ground fire.
After his recovery, Pershing was picked to fly a supply mission into Bastogne on December 27, 944 during the Battle of the Bulge. Gliders had been flown into Bastogne the day before and had no trouble, but unknown to the pilots and planners, the Germans had subsequently moved in many antiaircraft guns.
Carlson was to fly a Waco loaded with artillery shells. When the C-47s with gliders in tow got close to Bastogne they came under withering fire. Pershing’s tow plane was hit in both engines and he was forced to release from the tow cable. The glider was also hit and Pershing was once again wounded. He put his glider down behind enemy lines and hid in the forest for several days. Finally, weak from cold, hunger and loss of blood, he tried to walk back to friendly lines but was captured by German soldiers. He was forced marched with hundreds of other American prisoners into Germany. Many died of cold, hunger and sickness during the march.
Pershing ended up at Stalag Luft I, a POW camp near Barth, just north of Berlin. He was very weak and sick with yellow jaundice, but withhelp from another prisoner, a British doctor, he slowly recovered. Carlson also credited a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, a gift from another POW from North Dakota. Smoking the cigarettes had helped him regain his appetite, allowing him to rebuild his strength.
Pershing Carlson finally made it home to Minot and his wife, Selma, in July of 1945.
Dakota Datebook written by Scott Nelson
SOURCES: Personal interview with Selma Carlson, taped interview of Pershing Carlson – KRIEGIELAND, Conversations with Ex-POWs – University of North Dakota. Books: Silent Wings by Gerard M. Devlin, A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan, The Last Escape by John Nichol and Tony Rennell, Untold Valor by Rob Morris.