My uncle Ralph Lavoie war story is among those told in the book "Boys at War, Men at Peace," by Ed McKenzie.
He had joined the 384th Bombardment Group in 1942, and became a ball turret gunner, a technical sergeant, on a B-17. He was shot down over Germany on June 25, 1943, and spent 15 months as a prisoner of war at Stalag 7-S and Stalag 17, the prison that inspired a movie of the same name. Within six months, he tried to escape. In the Hollywood version of the escape attempt, both Ralph and his buddy were killed. In truth, he miraculously survived.
On a snowy night, December 3, 1943, Ralph and a fellow prisoner at Stalag 17 obtained wire cutters and made for the fence. They thought they were part of a larger group of 10 men who had bribed a prison guard into aiding them. But the other guards caught wind of the plan and the escape was scuttled.
Ralph and Jim Proakis of New York, didn't get word. They successfully made it from their barracks to the wire, where they were caught in the lights of the guard tower.
Machine gunfire tore over them as they crawled on their bellies, trying to make it to the safety of an air raid trench. Proakis told Ralph he was going to stand and make a run for it. He told him no, the bullets were firing over them.
Proakis stood to run and was cut down. A bullet smashed through Rafph's left knee, shattering it for the rest of his life. The force flipped him over. As he laied there on the ground a German officer and an enlisted man stood over him.
The officer aimed his pistol at Proakis and shot him in the head. Then the officer pointed the gun at Ralph.
Ralph shouted at him not to shoot and twisted his body to avoid the bullets.One struck him in the right shoulder, another in the neck, one went into his ribs, one went through his left cheek and came out of his wide open mouth, while he was screaming at the officer. The officer had emptied his pistol.
The other prisoners in the barracks banged on the walls, shouting for him to be given medical aid. Ralph was carried to the first-aid station and later to a hospital. He didn't emerge for three years.
A prisoner exchange in July 1944 brought him home to the states to a hospital on Staten Island in New York City. His wounded leg never completely healed.