I wanted to get this down on paper before I forget the specifics, in which case I have no idea if the contents will ever get told.
It was over 30 years ago and my and I were stationed at an Air Base in Germany during the Cold War. The job I did was pretty exciting, even if it was a desk job (for the most part), so I wanted to get a hobby that I could pursue in my off time (we had no children yet, so we had some time to take on a hobby). I had heard about a watercolor painting course, so I decided to sign up for the course since I always wanted to paint in watercolor. It seemed challenging to have to plan the paint around the paper, using the paper as the “white” of the picture.
The instructor of the course was an outstanding artist. He once drew a rose on a chalkboard with white chalk and I swear that the flower was real! His instruction was excellent, even though at times his thick German accent made him sound like something out of World War II movie.
Once, while teaching shadows, he started to refer to the direction of the shadows as “clock” directions. For instance, he would say that the light is coming from the “9 o’clock” position or the “3 o’clock” position. After the class, I approached the instructor; I believe his name was Hans, and asked him about the references. I then asked him if he was ever a pilot.
We both sat down (the rest of the class had left) and he told me that he was a pilot in the Luftwaffe, flying Focke-Wulf 190s (FW-190s), probably one of the most powerful fighter planes in the War at that time. I then was bold (probably bordering on presumptuous) to ask him if he had ever shot anyone down. He then became very pensive and told me a story as if he was telling it to a student pilot. He was ferrying aircraft as part of a “two ship” between Munich and Frankfurt toward the end of the war as a Luftwaffe Cadet. He told me that the Americans were referred to as “Indians” on the radio; the German pilots were the “Cowboys” and that a number of “Indians” were located on their ferry route. As Hans heard this on the radio, he saw that a number of US Army Air Corps P-47 Thunderbolts bombing and strafing a railway station. The American aircraft were flying in a circle above the railway station and taking turns diving on the target. Hans and his wing man mixed in with the P-47s as if they were part of the American group, he later telling me that the P-47 and the FW-190 had a similar silhouette. It was working when one of the US pilots detected the two enemy aircraft and the pursuit was on. Both Hans and his wing man were pursued separately by two P-47s. Hans was trying to outrun his pursuer, including taking a dive into a nearby town, where he jinked and janked through streets. I thought to ask him was his greatest fear was, but I thought he would probably say a “one-way street.”
He was still being pursued when he went into a climb, knowing that an FW-190 could out climb a P-47. It worked and he was able to turn his pursuer into the pursued. He then grew a little less vocal and told me that he fired just one burst into the P-47 and it exploded. Hans paused for a moment and explained that he probably hit the fuel tank. He then said that one of other US Aircraft shot and disabled his aircraft, but he was able to bail out, and looked over and saw his wingman’s parachute a little distance off. They both landed in a field and were picked up by an US Army officer who took them prisoner and then were later released after the war was over.
I then asked him if he was a Nazi (again, I was getting a little carried away and becoming too curious for my own good). He looked at me and stated he was, but that everyone was even if they did not believe in the cause because otherwise they were considered enemies of the state. He did tell me that he wanted to be a doctor, but because he was a member of the Nazi party, he was not allowed to become a doctor. He chose to become an artist and has lived that life ever since.
Like I said in the beginning of this article, this is a story worth telling not because it was something extraordinary, or because it was so unique, but it showed how this man became a part of my life. Every time I do something in watercolor, whether it is a landscape, a character for my books, anything that involves art or drawing, I think of Hans. Hans was a member of an armed force that was hated through its defeat, but somehow talking with him made me understand a little of what it was like from his perspective. I felt so sorry for the US pilot whose life was taken that day, but also for the man who took that life. Even 40 years after the incident, the Luftwaffe Cadet had regret. I wanted to tell the story that he hopefully has told others, but told me in the privacy of a room on an US Air Base in Germany, something of an irony. And it is something that I remembered from over 30 years ago; it had that big an impact on me.
Pass this story on as you see fit, to whomever you want. This story was a part of my life and something I remember and wanted to share it if for nothing else than to put it in writing as a part of who I am. I hope that Hans told the story to people he cared about, as I am telling it to you.
Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)