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Verne Woods was a young pilot for the U.S. Army Air Corps when he was shot down over the French countryside on New Year’s Eve in 1943. Browse his photos and read excerpts from his interview with AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.

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A young cadet in 1942. Four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Verne Woods was sworn in to the Army Air Corps where he trained for a year to earn his wings.

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Depression-era films such as “Hell’s Angels” and “Dawn Patrol” influenced Verne Woods’ desire to become a pilot. Here, Woods pilots an AT-6 in 1942.

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The Vultee BT-13 was used to train some American pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

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A U.S. AT-6 fighter plane. In flight school, Woods says he was “trained in fighters — B-51s, 47s, 38s … however once I was in the B-17s I came to love that plane and I would have it no other way.”

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As a cadet, Woods describes widespread feelings of enthusiasm and invulnerability in his division. He was more afraid of takeoff than of being shot at.

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Onie and Verne Woods in 1943. After knowing each other since childhood, the two married the previous year when Verne was 21 and Odie had been 18 for all of one week.

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Onie and Verne (left) enjoy a night out at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis in the summer of 1943. Verne was still in training in Dyersburg, TN.

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Before leaving for England, Verne waited a week in Grand Island, Nebraska to find out where he would be assigned for duty — either Europe or the Pacific. Sitting on a bench outside the Officer’s Club, Onie was proud of Verne, but also nervous.

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The Mendelsohn crew in Bassingborn, UK. Woods (fourth from the left, rear) was co-pilot to his friend Stuart Mendelsohn (third from the left, rear), who would be killed in action on their final mission.

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The Mendelsohn crew’s regular plane was the Duke of Paducah. On the night of their last mission, Paducah was being serviced for flak hole repairs.

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On December 31, 1943 the Mendelsohn crew was assigned the Black Swan to fly to the Bordeaux-Cognac area of France. They caught flak immediately after reaching the coast and eventually went down. Stuart Mendelsohn was killed by shells that destroyed the entire right side of the cockpit, and Woods snapped on a parachute and dove through the Black Swan’s escape hatch.

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After landing in the French countryside, Woods relied on help from French farmers who gave him food, shelter, civilian clothing and false papers.

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Two weeks after the crash, Woods’ wife Onie received this telegram notifying her of his status as Missing in Action.

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Woods had given his address to a French farmer who wrote to Onie one year later describing their encounter. In the letter, the Frenchman — by this time in the Army — asks about Verne’s whereabouts.

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Woods made it to the south of France before the German authorities found him. He was interrogated for a month at Fresnes Prison before being transferred to Germany.

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On April 20, the Army sent this telegram to Onie Woods stating that the International Red Cross had discovered Verne was a prisoner of war.

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Stag Luft I war camp was Verne Woods’ home for more than a year. The 16 men who shared Woods’ room always had a game of chess going to help pass the time.

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Stag Luft I war camp was Verne Woods’ home for more than a year.

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Stag Luft I war camp was Verne Woods’ home for more than a year.

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Onie Woods continued to correspond with the Frenchman who had saved her husband. This letter dates from March 1945.

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A final telegram to Onie Woods from the Secretary of War on May 8, 1945 informed her that Verne was no longer a prisoner of war. He had walked out of the deserted camp three days earlier in the dark of night and arrived at British lines on VE-day. Still, Onie and Verne would not reunite until late June.

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In September, Onie and Verne Woods celebrated with Verne’s former POW roommate K.D. Smith (right), whom Verne remembered as his toughest chess companion in the prison camp.

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Onie and Verne Woods in March 2007. At the 8th Air Force Museum in Savannah, GA, the Woods’ sponsored a plaque commemorating the Mendelsohn Crew.

|Verne Woods

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