World War II Hero Captured, Escapes
August 29, 2008
<b> FORT STEWART, GA </b> -- It was May 14, 1942. The U.S. Army Air Corps Medium Bombardment Group was in Bury St. Edmonds, England. Second Lt. Anthony Alaimo was given his first mission for World War II, which was to bomb a power plant in Holland. Eleven planes, each having six crew members, flew over the North Sea.
"We were flying as low as possible to be under the German radar with hopes of surprising them," said Alaimo.
When they crossed the border, it was like flying over a sea of bullets as there was instant fire. Alaimo recalled seeing one plane abort completely. Suddenly the plane's engine was on fire.
"I turned around to pull the fire extinguisher cable and couldn't reach it, so I unhooked my safety belt," said Alaimo. "I was able to reach the cable, but, of course, it didn't function properly."
Moments after, Alaimo and his crew hit the water. Alaimo was completely knocked out and didn't wake up until he was under water. He had been shot through the leg and into the hip.
He inflated his "May West", or life jacket and was floating around.
"My nose and collar bone were broken, and I had a bunch of scratches," Alaimo said.
He gave himself a shot of morphine from his escape kit, which brought him some comfort.
There were German patrol boats along the water. Luckily, there was a police whistle tied to the life jacket.
"I was trying to attract some attention to get saved, and I blew the hell out of that whistle!"
The Germans rescued Alaimo. They gave him first aid and a shot of brandy. He recalled one of them saying, "For you the war is over."
"The only reason I felt I survived was because I didn't have a safety belt on and somehow was ejected from the plane and the others were not."
Although all 11 planes were shot down, a third of the group miraculously survived. They were taken to a hospital in Amsterdam.
"We all eventually ended up at a prison camp called Stalag Luft III."
The camp housed about 10,000 Air Corps Officers. Alaimo was placed in a compound where he had to pump fresh air down into the tunnel. The compound was surrounded by double barbed wire fences some twelve feet high. According to Alaimo, there was a wooden fence about three feet high about 30 feet from the fences.
"If you crossed this fence, you would get shot," he explained.
"Every four or five hundred feet there would be a guard house with a tower and machine gun on a swivel with a guard up there."
There was also a search light that would run all night long.
"They didn't mistreat us," he said. "They tried to follow the Geneva Convention, but we didn't get enough food."
In spite of that, Alaimo, like many others, was not willing to settle for being a prisoner.
One day he noticed a gate that didn't have any barbed wire around it.
"I thought we'd be able to go under it and get out."
He discussed this with a few others, and they presented this plan to the senior American officer. The officer gave his approval.
"We had an elaborate plan that included a countdown, signals, and even a snow fight to create a diversion as it was a cold, snowy winter," explained Alaimo.
The plan did not go as scheduled and was called off.
"The plan was called off because there were some guards near the outer compound, and some of us didn't know that."
Alaimo managed to crawl under one gate.
"It was not as generous of a space as I thought."
He began to shake the fence desperately trying to break free. A guard in one the towers noticed him and went to open fire.
"Fortunately the gun jammed when he attempted to shoot, and I put my hands up to surrender."
Although this attempt to escape failed, Alaimo would not give up.
When the Russians were making their way to the camp one cold winter, the prisoners of war were marched about 64 miles. They were put into box cars and taken to a place called Mooseberg, Germany to a camp with over 300,000 prisoners of war.
"Officers didn't work but enlisted men were used for labor and taken into town to do whatever needed to be done," stated Alaimo.
With this in mind, he convinced one of the enlisted Soldiers to switch with him one day.
"The Germans took us to Munich in box cars, and I was able to get away from the working party and walk south."
Alaimo had directions to the French commando camps, which were hidden on German, state farms. He disguised his clothes to look civilian by using coffee grounds to die them. He traveled to the camp closest to Munich.
They put me up for the night and gave me bread."
He then went to the next camp further south. The chief Frenchmen got a train ticket for Alaimo to Innsbruck, Austria. Unexpectedly, the Gestapo was checking all the passengers boarding.
"While they were checking the others, I was able to sneak on the train."
He ended up in Milan, which was helpful because he blend in to Italian culture, being a native of Sicily. Still, he found his escape to be very uncomfortable.
"It was very difficult to walk down the highway and not be turning around to see if you were being followed."
A partisan put Alaimo up for about two weeks.
"I asked him to help me get to Switzerland."
The partisan took him to a Turkish woman. The woman then had a friend of hers to take Alaimo to the Switzerland border.
"I crawled under the wire fence and turned myself into the police and made it to Geneva to the American Embassy."
Alaimo was discharged in February 1946. He had spent 23 months as a prisoner of war and successfully escaped.
Alaimo had already received his bachelor's degree from Ohio Northern University prior to enlisting. He went on to obtain his Juris Doctorate from Emory University School of Law in 1948. He is now a senior United States District Judge in Brunswick. He and his wife, Jeanne, have been married for over 60 years.
"Attempting to escape was part of my oath, and I want Soldiers today to be reminded of their obligation to escape should they become a POW," Alaimo insisted.
Judge Alaimo is a great example to the idea that anything is possible, especially escaping from being a prisoner of war.