Missing in Action

RemiDelouche052.jpg
Remi DeLouche (Photo by Patrick Dennis, published Nov. 10, 2013, used by permission of The Advocate.)

By George Morris

Considering that Remi DeLouche was captured not once, but twice — and by the armies of two different nations, no less — he thought somebody would have told his family of his circumstances.

It was only when he was reunited with them that he found out otherwise.

“When I got home, my mother and my dad came out and man, they were crying. It was like I was dead,” DeLouche said. “They said, ‘You’ve been missing.’ Apparently no one noticed that I’d been captured.”

“Missing in action” was a designation that gave families a shred of hope for a short time. But when 21 months pass, it takes supernatural faith or pathological denial to conclude anything other than that this airman isn’t coming home, that his bomber had done down over water or that nothing identifiable remained of his body.

DeLouche, however, was completely intact. Somehow, he fell through the paperwork crack. But that’s not to say he didn’t have a story to tell.

On Aug. 27, 1943, DeLouche’s B-25 took off from its base in  North Africa. By this time, Allied forces had swept the Germans and Italian military out of Sicily and were preparing to invade Italy when DeLouche, a co-pilot, took off on his 16th mission to bomb a marshaling yard at Benevento. A German fighter shot down his plane. The crew bailed out.

DeLouche landed in a vineyard and almost immediately encountered Italian civilians. He mistook their apparent friendliness for support.

“An old man came out with a jug of wine, and my immediate reaction was, ‘That’s got to be the Underground. He’s bringing me a jug of wine,’” he said. “So, I said I’ve got to get rid of this .45 automatic. I’ve got to get rid of this parachute.’ When I got to the sheriff’s office — about a two-mile walk — my parachute and .45 were on the table.”

DeLouche was now a prisoner of the Italians. He was taken to a prisoner of war facility at Poggio Mirteto, north-northeast of Rome. He wasn’t there long.

In late July, with their war going badly, the Italians deposed Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, and the new government began talks with the Allies for a secret armistice, which was signed on Sept. 3 — the same day Allied forces invaded at Salerno and two other locations — and announced on Sept. 8. Officially, Italy was no longer at war.

“Man, the church bells started ringing all over the place,” DeLouche said. “Nobody knew why. Somebody asked the guard, and he said it was a wedding. I said, ‘Man, that’s got to be bullcrap.’ You’ve got a wedding here, a wedding there, a wedding there. Then, they left. The guards and everybody took off in buses, took out walking, went out into the mountains.”

The prisoners were free, but German forces still held virtually all of the country. DeLouche and other prisoners escaped to the mountains to await liberation. But forces from the September invasion were far away, and later  landings produced no breakthroughs.

“We didn’t leave the area because the military says ‘stay where you are and the military will overrun you,’” he said. “So, we stayed there until spring and found out that the Anzio beachhead that we were relying upon was still the Anzio beachhead.”

Eventually, German forces captured DeLouche and about a half-dozen other escaped prisoners, and he was sent to Stalag Luft III, a POW camp for captured Allied airmen about 100 miles southeast of Berlin. But DeLouche, whose military insignia had been removed from his uniform by the civilians who found him, was housed in the British section of the prison.

About six weeks before DeLouche arrived, 76 British POWS had exited Stalag Loft III through a tunnel in what became famous as The Great Escape. The escapees had civilian clothes and forged papers. Seventy-three were re-captured, 50 of whom were executed by the Germans.

“They had an escape council,” DeLouche said. “In this compound, you applied, and they’d tell you what they have, and they’d furnish you with everything you need, papers and everything made right there in that compound.

“One of the things you had to have is conversational German. So, a couple of days I’d walk over to the place where they teach conversational German. The guy says, ‘Sure, I’ll sign you up. It’ll be about two years before you can get in.’ Everybody there wants to learn conversational German. That’s one of the requirements to escape.”

On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet Union’s army approached. The German guards, under orders from Berlin, marched the prisoners westward, and they were taken to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg. Elements of the U.S. 3rd Army liberated the camp on April 29. DeLouche soon headed home to a surprised reunion.

“I’ve been lucky all my life,” he said.

 

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