At 35, TSgt. Earl M. Cherry of Cabot was the “old man” of his B-17 crew. He flew in WWII during the time of heaviest bomber losses before fighter escort was available. In 1981, writer Lamar B. Dodson detailed Cherry’s experiences in a two-part article in the Cabot Star-Herald and Lonoke Democrat, which is the source for this article.
On August 17, 1943, Cherry and his crew flew a raid on Schweinfurt, considered one of the most violent missions of the war. Target was a ball bearing factory city that made 85 percent of Germany’s supply. They came under attack by fighters and, despite the bomber’s defenses, the plane was heavily damaged and was on fire.
The pilot called for the crew to bail out, but when Cherry reached for his parachute he discovered it, too, was burning. Seeing that Cherry was trapped, the pilot remained with him and, together, they not only extinguished the fires but also nursed the bomber back to England where they crash landed at a fighter base.
Cherry was wounded with six shell fragments; after about six weeks recovery, he volunteered to resume missions.
On Oct. 9, Cherry, along with two members of his original crew, flew his 11th mission, to Anklam, Germany. About 85 miles north of Berlin, this was to be the deepest penetration yet without fighter escort. They survived heavy fighter attacks to make their bomb run, but then luck ran out and they were shot down.
This time, Cherry said, he was wounded in five places by shrapnel.
“I still have the leather flight jacket I was wearing on both flights,” he said.
He was knocked out by the parachute landing; when he “came to,” he saw German soldiers, holding guns, running towards him.
After capture, Cherry said he was interrogated along with large number of other captured aircrew.
“At any rate,” Cherry continued, “[the interrogator] finally gave up in disgust trying to learn anything from any of us, and that’s when we were loaded into box cars and sent to Krems prison, via Frankfurt.”
Despite attempts to keep each other’s morale up, over months they all became “wire happy” or “Stalaggy,” terms the prisoners coined for their troubles, Cherry said. Cases of hate arose from the way one man smoked a cigarette, or pronounced a word, and some developed acute homesickness.
However, Cherry said that in only one area did he feel that his captors showed disregard for the rights of prisoners under the Geneva Convention rules the hindering of prisoners from receiving the medical care and treatment to which they were entitled.
Cherry said that in the spring of 1945, news reached the prisoners of the approach of Russian forces from the east and American forces from the west. The camp commander chose “the lesser of two evils,” and led the prisoners on a march to meet the Americans “ about 175 miles, with no transportation, “and practically no food.”
“We marched north of the [Danube River] until we reached Linz, crossed the river there, and marched along the south bank of the Danube until 28 days later we reached Braunau, located on the Inn River, a distance of about 175 miles.
“On this march, during the 28 days we received six bowls of soup each, during the entire journey. The rest “we managed for ourselves,” as the guards allowed prisoners to forage or trade for food. “We survived, somehow.”
The end of the war came for them came went they linked with American forces about eight kilometers south of Braunau.
“The next day, we were fed a chicken dinner prepared by the American cooks; it made us all very, very sick about a month later, I arrived at Adams Field by air.”
In October 1943, Cherry’s mother, Jennie Cherry, was presented medals awarded Cherry, a Silver Star, and Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for his actions in his first shoot down. Cherry’s father, James, died week before the ceremony.