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Reunited with his mother and his brother Klaus, both just arrived from Germany, Dengler recently appeared fully restored to health. His weight has virtually doubled since rescue. and that would stop it a little bit, but some guys still had to defecate 20 or 30 times a night. Ants and bugs were crawling all around, and I can't describe the smell. There were times now when I didn't want to wake up. I figured the war would last another five years; I'd probably die anyway, so it wouldn't make any difference. I knew I'd never get home. I'd never see my fiancée, Marina Adamich, again. I'd never see my mother or my brothers, Klaus and Martin. I knew I'd never fly again either. Mother says I've wanted to be a pilot since I was seven years old. Whenever I asked for a toy, it was always a plane, and the walls of my room were plastered with pictures of Stukas and Messerschmitts. She tells me also that my father was a wonderful man, an excellent bookbinder and photographer before he joined the Wehrmacht. I never really knew him, because he was killed on the Russian front in 1942. During the war we lived in the city of Wildberg, which isn't far from the Black Forest. My brothers and I used to play in the streets until the fighters came and shot at us. Then the bombing started. I remember going down into the cellars and hearing the women cry. I remember later how the French Moroccans burned our houses down, and that after the war we had to steal our food from other people's garbage cans. In 1956 an American bookmobile drove through Wildberg. I picked up a flying magazine and read an article that said there was a need for pilots in the United States. I applied for a visa right away. Within a month after my arrival in New York in May, 1957, I joined the Air Force. I didn't understand English very well then, so I assumed that everyone who joins the Air Force has a chance to fly. They sent me to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and I spent the next 18 months in the motor pool polishing cars and trucks. Then they transferred me to Albany, Ga., where I did the same. By 1960, I was pretty sure that I didn't have much of a future in that motor pool. I had already become a U.S. citizen, but I still couldn't qualify as a pilot until I'd had at least two years of college. When my four-year hitch was up, I drove to California. My brother Martin was living in the Bay Area, so I stayed with him while attending San Francisco City College. Then someone told me that San Mateo Junior College had a fine aeronautical school. In January, 1962, I transferred over there. And this is where I met Marina. Boy, did she ever keep me at arm's length. At the time, I was living in a battered old Volkswagen bus; I didn't have any money, and she thought I was a bum. She'd always wanted to marry a rich doctor's son. I was doing well in my studies, but I didn't take them too seriously. I was much more interested in skiing and surf boarding. As soon as I'd finished that year at San Mateo, I drove to Alameda and took the test to qualify as a naval air cadet. A few days later they called me to say "You've passed. Come on over and sign on the dotted line." Man, I was already packed. I didn't even go back to San Francisco— just kept driving all the way across the country to Pensacola, Fla. In 18 months I won my wings. In February, 1965, I joined our squadron—VA 145—back in Alameda and started flying Skyraiders. I saw a good deal of Marina, and we talked about getting married. Then, last December, our squadron left on the Ranger for the South China Sea. Marina kissed me good-bye at the pier and said, "Take care of yourself." I told her not to worry. Nothing could ever happen to me. We sailed to our station at Point Dixie—off the coast of South Vietnam. Then, at the end of Janu- ary, we headed for Point Yankee. I could feel the excitement all over the ship: Now we were going to fly over North Vietnam. I had thought about the possibility of getting shot down, but I had flown about 20 missions over South Vietnam, and I had gotten used to flak. Still, as we approached Point Yankee, I wrote a letter to my roommate. Lt. (j.g.) Dan Farkas, and asked him to call Marina if I didn't return. I was sure he'd never have to open the letter. On the morning of February 1, I got up at 5:30 and went straight to breakfast: three eggs, steak, some rolls, a couple of glasses of milk, an apple and an orange. Even before we got the call to man our aircraft, I was up on deck, pretty excited. Other members of the squadron were also busy checking their planes. We had 22 pilots, and most of us flew Douglas Skyraiders— a plane nicknamed the Spad. Essentially it's a fighter-bomber. It has machine guns, four 20-mm cannons, and it can carry a heavier bomb load than a World War II B-25. I know this will probably sound crazy, but I've had a love affair with the Spad ever since I joined the Navy. There were times when I was stationed in San Francisco that I'd be very upset. I'd drive over to the Naval Air Station at Alameda, climb in a parked Spad and spend the night there. This was my home—my world. And now that world was almost too far away from my miserable surroundings for me to be able to imagine it. From the beginning we all talked about escape. I remember the first day I came into the prison camp. I said, "How long have you guys been here?" A few guys said, "Two years." "Well," I said, "nice knowing you. I'll be gone in the morning." Then Duane straightened me out. "Don't go now. You won't have any water," he said. "You'll dehydrate; they'll catch you at a water hole and shoot you." I realized that he was right. So we decided to wait for the rains which would begin in May. One of the guys made a crude calendar and scratched off the days with a piece of charcoal. D-Day was to be my birthday—May 22. That planning gave us hope and kept us alive. 31


1966_12_03--27-33--I_Escaped_From_a_Red_Prison
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