Paul  Kengor
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I recently took my two teenage sons to a talk by Frank Kravetz, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who survived Hitler’s Nuremberg prisons. Frank published his story in a memoir, Eleven Two: One WWII Airman’s Story of Capture, Survival and Freedom.

Frank’s ordeal began in November 1944 during a bomb-run over Germany. He took his regular position, crammed into the tail of a B-17. The target was Merseberg, a major industrial area. He flew amid an air armada of 500 heavy bombers—each carrying eighteen 250-pound bombs—escorted by 900 fighter planes.

While the Americans were ready for business, so was the Luftwaffe, which set aside every aircraft to defend Merseberg. Frank’s plane came under hot pursuit by German fighters. Frank took them on with a twin .50 caliber machine gun. It was a dogfight, and Frank was shot badly. His B-17 was filled with holes. The crew had to bail.

Frank was bleeding profusely. His buddies tried to get a parachute on him, but it opened inside the plane. They wrapped it around him, trying not to cross the chords, and tossed him out. To Frank’s great relief, the chute opened. Instantly, the deafening chaos quieted, and Frank floated like on angels’ wings.

The tranquility halted with a rude thump as Frank hit the ground and tumbled like a shot jackrabbit. German soldiers seized him.

Thus began “a lousy existence,” or, as Frank dubbed it—“Hell’s journey.” Destination: Stalag 13-D. In the end, Frank’s weight dropped to 125 pounds.

Frank’s liberation came April 29, 1945, by Gen. Patton’s Third Army. For any fan of Patton, Frank’s account will bring a lump to your throat: “After the flag was raised, and within a few hours of our troops arriving in camp, Gen. Patton rolled in, sitting high in a command car. His very presence was awe-inspiring. I stood there staring at Gen. Patton, our liberator, appearing larger than life.” Thousands of emaciated, ecstatic POWs chanted, “Patton! Patton! Patton!” Some fell to their knees, overcome with emotion. Standing in the car, Patton seized a bullhorn and spoke: “Gentlemen—you’re now liberated and under Allied control. … We’re going to get you out of here.”

Embracing Patton’s every word, it finally hit Frank: “I’m going home. I’m really going home!”

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