Posted: May 16, 2013 8:57 PM by Judy Slate
Updated: May 17, 2013 9:32 AM
BOZEMAN - This weekend, the fourth Honor Flight will take Montana World War II vets to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial. On the flight will be Lester Crouse, a prisoner of war who was born and raised on a ranch in Springhill.
Lester is 90 years old. When he was a cadet back in 1943. By 1945, he was a bombardier on a B-24.
"When I first saw it, I thought, ‘Wow that's big. It had four engines, twin tails," Crouse said.??Lester was deployed to Europe and flew two missions successfully. The third time, he wasn't so lucky.
"Our plane got shot up. The engine stopped, so we had to bail out," he said.
He landed in Albania and was taken prisoner by villagers who eventually turned him over to the Germans. After several stops, he was brought to the same prison camp in Germany that the famous movie ‘The Great Escape' is based on.
"We weren't abused or beaten. We were cold and hungry," he said.
After about five months, they were forced to march in the dead of winter for days to a train station where they traveled by cattle car to a prison camp near Munich.
"We were there until Patton tanks broke through the gate," he remembers.
Lester was liberated on April 29, 1945. He spent 10 months as a POW.?He made it home, back to the ranch. Waiting for him was a son, born while he was in captivity. Two more children followed, then seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
But his time as a POW is always in his mind.
"Oh, sometimes I forget my neighbor's name, but those times I spent there, I'll never forget," he said.