After completing pilot training in July 1942, Lieutenant William Wheeler was assigned to a heavy bombardment group to be trained as a bomber pilot. In March 1943 he flew overseas as an aircraft commander of a B-17 combat replacement crew where they joined the 91st Bomb Group at Bassingborn in England for combat duty. Wheeler was held as a prisoner of war for 21 months in Stalag Luft III after being shot down on his 24th mission over Schweinfurt, Germany, in August 1943.
Shootdown brings the story of Wheeler and his crew to life as they are forced to abandon their blazing Fortress after failing to extinguish a fire caused by enemy aircraft. Describing the first horrible days of lost freedom, the author gives a vivid look at the despair and depression of captivity. He suffers the lonely wretchedness of solitary confinement, the relentless interrogation, and the trauma of being locked in a body-packed boxcar for three days. Determined to escape from the moment he hit the ground in Germany, Wheeler became involved in several escape attempts, but none were successful.
In April of 1944 the author joined a cadre of officers to set up a new POW compound, where he was selected to be a block commander responsible for 150 officers. This experience became the most challenging, yet rewarding, experience of his military career. His real test of leadership began on a cold wintry night in January 1945 when the Germans hurriedly evacuated 12,000 Allied POWs within the sound of the Russian guns.
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Shootdown is a candid portrayal of one of the many thousand American airmen shot down in World War II in the air battle over Europe and how they coped with captivity and adversity.About the Author:
William Wheeler, a native of Scarsdale, New York, was commissioned in the U.S. Army Air Force in July 1942. He remained in the air force until his retirement in 1965 as a colonel and deputy wing commander of the 100th Bomb Wing at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. He then accepted a position with General Electric’s Naval Ordnance Division in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Bill and his wife, Mary, now reside in Fairfax, Virginia.
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