By Jennifer Martin - email
Henry Laird enlisted in the Army Air Corp when he was 22 years-old. He wanted to fly, although he never had before.
"First flying was in Jackson, TN and that was a big thrill to fly for the first time," Laird recalled.
He was a B17 combat pilot in Europe. "I did 17 missions. The 17th mission, I got shot down, over German occupied country. Regansburg's where I got, anti-aircraft guns knocked out three of my engines. I had one engine left. After bombs away, we headed west back toward England. We had some P51 fighter planes in the vicinity and they took care of me," Laird said.
"One P51 fighter pilot followed me all the way till we jumped out of the airplane. We bailed out at 5,000 feet. As I was coming down the parachute, everything was quiet, nice you know, but the ground was coming up pretty quickly. I hit the ground with my feet, my butt, my head and I jumped up then I took off for the woods," Laird said.
He landed in Luxemborg. Enemy troops searched for him with dogs, but they were unsuccessful. He hid until dark.
"I knew the woods were probably full of German soldiers because the invasion had started. I crossed to this field, dig up some nice potatoes, put them in my pocket. I was so exhausted. I piled up some leaves on that big old tree there and slept until morning," added Laird.
At daybreak, he started walking again. He took refuge from the driving rain in a shed, until he spotted two women out hunting for mushrooms. They promised they would send him help.
"Sure enough this guy comes up through the pasture at 11 o'clock that night and he said, 'friend, friend, come, come.' We went on toward the village and I started to run, but he held on to my hand and said 'friend, friend.' They led me on into their house there. A bunch a people there to see me. They were all happy to see me, smiling and hugging me and all that stuff. They took care of me for a few months there until I was liberated by the troops coming through," Laird recalled.
He briefly reunited with his old unit, then returned stateside.
"A lot of people prayed for me and that's what brought me home and took care of me since that time and I'm grateful for that," Laird said.
After the war was over he went back and visited the family that took care of him. "Their government gave them a plaque recognizing them as people who took care of me. And when I went back it's one of the first things they wanted to show me," Laird added.
Laird decided to make a career out the military.
"They offered me a regular commission which was something to be proud of and I decided to stay in the military," Laird added.
He would go on to serve in Korea and Vietnam before he retired in 1972.
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