Prewar, Training, and Overseas Deployment

Overseas and Final Mission

Capture and Prisoner of War Experience


Burnia Martin grew up in Bogalusa, Louisiana where the major industry was the local sawmill. He has fond memories of his youth, describing it as going to school and having plenty of time to play in the summer. He had three sisters and discusses the fact that the Depression hit his family hard with his father traveling the country in search of work, often returning home having not found any. Martin joined the U. S. Army Air Forces, and when asked why that over any of the other services he said that he was told it was due to the fact that his IQ was above average. He was very happy in the air force and enjoyed the environment where his aircrew was much like a family. He went through his initial training at Keesler Field, Mississippi, with follow-on gunnery training in Harlingen, Texas. He joined his crew in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they began to start their routine working together as a crew. They were sent to Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho for their first phase training before being sent overseas. He recalls telling his father just before going overseas that he may not return, but that that was how he had been raised. "That's my job," he told his father.


Burnia Martin's unit [Annotator's Note: 547th Bombardment Squadron, 384th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force] was based at Grafton Underwood in England. He describes that while his normal billeting was in a hut, he had met a girl in nearby Kettering, England and her family set him up a room and he oftentimes slept there. He completed 13 missions before his plane was shot down on the 14th. He recounts that they were flying a different B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] than usual, one named "Hell's Bells II." Their aircraft had been damaged on a mission over Stuttgart, Germany and it had not been repaired in time. Martin's 14th mission was over a target in France south of Paris. Martin cannot recall the exact name but describes it as an area on a peninsula and the target had something to do with submarine tenders. His formation was escorted by three squadrons of British Spitfires [Annotator's Note: British Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft] and three squadrons of P-47 Thunderbolts [Annotator's Note: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft], but German aircraft still broke into the formation and his plane was hit. When they were hit, the number two engine was shot out and three crew members were killed. The rest of the crew bailed out over southern France. Martin later learned that one of the pilots and the flight engineer had escaped back to England, but the remaining crew were all captured.


After his B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] was shot down over Occupied France, Burnia Martin walked up to some German soldiers sitting on a truck and surrendered to them. When he bailed out he injured his back. He did not see any of the other crew leaving the airplane. He was met when he landed by some French civilians, but he saw a German observation plane, a Stork [Annotator's Note: Fieseler Fi-156 Storch observation and liasion aircraft], so he knew that his location was being passed to German troops. He essentially stumbled into a group of eight to ten Germans who were standing by a truck. He had never seen German uniforms and he was the first American they had seen. An argument amongst the Germans ensued as to who would take custody of their prisoner, the Luftwaffe [Annotator's Note: German Air Force] or the Wehrmacht [Annotator's Note: Wehrmacht refers to the German military as a whole]. Ultimately, the Luftwaffe took him to a nearby location. He was interrogated for about four hours. He describes the Germans as "good people." At the end of his interrogation he told them he needed some rest. He had been resting for just a few minutes when four Gestapo officers entered his room. Martin described them as being dressed immaculately with somber countenances. He was sure he was going to be shot and says that it wasn't death he feared, but rather the anticipated torture beforehand. The Gestapo troops took him to a nearby civilian prison, and he relates that he's not entirely sure how he got away. About one to two days later, a person he describes as "a German" came and they went for a drive. The German turned out to be a salesman who had worked in New York City prior to the war and who told him he would do what he could to get Martin moved from that location. He then was returned to the prison, where over the next few days he witnessed several civilians, including women, being shot by the Germans. He was even lined up against a fence with a Frenchman on either side; they were each shot while he was left untouched. Later, he was taken to another room accompanied by a German who had what he describes as a rubber baseball bat. Having witnessed others being shot and expecting the same, when the German wasn't looking, he took the chair that was in the room and hit him over the head, killing him. He was discovered and returned to his cell, to be visited later by a chaplain who he assumed was sent to comfort him prior to his eventual execution. That night, the German who had taken him out in the car returned, and they drove to a train station and boarded a train to Paris. Upon arrival, the German was arrested and he was taken to a French prison outside of Paris, where he was placed in an underground cell with no lights. After 14 days he was put on a train in the company of four Germans who were heading on furlough. After a few days, he was loaded into a box car along with some other prisoners of war for an eventual trip to Stalag XVII. Martin spent 18 months in that camp but speaks very little of it during the interview. As the war was ending, the Germans released them and the prisoners walked west so that they would be repatriated by Americans, not the Russians. They eventually ran across troops of the 9th Armored Division, Third Army, and they were taken to a camp in France for return home. He initially thought he'd reconnect with his British girlfriend [Annotator's Note: Martin had an English girlfriend in Kettering, England], but decided against it. He returned to the United States and used his G.I. Bill to go to welding school then became an electrician at the paper mill in his hometown [Annotator's Note: Bogalusa, Louisiana] and worked there for 31 years.

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