If you got into trouble…
George McKown has a number of mementoes from his months in Europe during World War II.
Among them are several pieces of standard-issue paperwork.
Leadership knew not every plane would make it back to base.
In the event of a landing in a foreign land – allied or enemy – he said, “You were supposed to communicate with people in their own language – Dutch, German, and all that.”
McKown still has papers that tell him how to do that.
For example, he was told to say, ‘Kamerad’ – the accepted term for ‘surrender’ – if he fell into German hands.
On the back of each card is a picture of an American flag to help clear up any uncertainty.
Pilots with the ability to make it out of German territory were better off. But there were risks everywhere.
On one trip to Berlin, the crews were told to fly east if they could not make it back to base. “That was the plan, McKown said. “If you got into trouble head over into Poland, go down and let the Russians have you.”
“They gave us a print-out that showed us how to identify yourself to the Russian troops,” he said.
“You’re supposed to hold this up,” McKown said, holding up the tattered, 70-year-old piece of paper, “but not reach for it. They never exactly trusted us.”
The Russian phrase was ‘Ya Amerikanets.’ The rest of the card, to be read by the Russian in question, said, “Please communicate my particulars to American military in Moscow.”
McKown didn’t like the idea of dealing with the Russians. He’d heard of bad encounters.
“One of our guys got shot up,” he said. “One of them called us and said they were going to try to go into Poland.”
The next contact relayed worse news.
“He wasn’t gone very long when he said these Russian fighters came up and shot him down,” McKown said.
The crew returned to England the next week, but McKown remembered the Russian involvement. “You couldn’t trust them.”
Some Americans who had to land in Russian territory returned with a tale of a better greeting. “Those guys went down, they said the first thing they offered them was a girl,” McKown said. “The second thing was soup.”