Carlton Hudson, who turned 100 on Jan. 26, shows a model of a B-24 in 2012. Hudson was shot down over Germany in 1944. (Photo by Travis Spradling, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
By George Morris
Carlton Hudson believes in guardian angels. If he’s right, his worked overtime during World War II. And it’s still going strong.
Hudson, a longtime Central resident who turned 100 on Jan. 26, didn’t get through the war unscathed. Shot down over Germany, he was wounded by rifle fire and spent seven months as a prisoner of war.
But, brushes with death were part of Hudson’s entire war experience, even before he faced the enemy.
Born at Larto Lake in Catahoula Parish as one of 13 children, Hudson worked on his family’s farm and went to school through seventh grade, which was all the local school offered. He spent three teen years at a Civilian Conservation Corps project in Arcadia — manual labor by day, school by night — before rejoining his family after it moved to Deville and graduating from Buckeye High School.
Hudson was in his final year at Louisiana Tech University when, on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the United States into the war.
“I was sitting in my room studying for an engineering exam,” he said. “When I heard the news, I threw my book across the room — we all were expecting it — and said, ‘This is it.’ Went down the next morning and signed up for the (Army) Air Force.”
Hudson trained on a B-24 Liberator bomber as a pilot-navigator, who kept the plane on course to and from its mission, but could fly the airplane if the pilot was disabled.
Hudson said the first big test both of his navigating skill and his faith in divine protection came on the way to the British Isles. In Newfoundland, they were to fly to Iceland, even though their aircraft lacked the range to get there. They would have to locate the jet stream, which flows eastward, using the additional wind velocity to extend the aircraft’s range.
They found the jet stream, but at about midnight, another B-24 unexpectedly cut across the front of Hudson’s plane. In addition to nearly causing a disastrous midair collision, the other airplane’s radically different direction raised questions about whether they were on the right course.
“The whole crew just converged on me, (the pilot) particularly: ‘We ought to follow that plane,”‘ Hudson said.
Long before global positioning satellites, Hudson depended on the stars to determine direction. He stood his ground.
“I said, ‘No. I don’t know where that plane is going, but I know where this one is going, and it’s going to Iceland. I’m going to take you to Iceland.'”.
The crew relented, and the B-24 reached Iceland.
“I started finding out right then that I didn’t have control,” Hudson said. “Somebody else had control.”
Hudson spent several months flying reconnaissance missions along the southern coast of Ireland, a nation suspected of German sympathies due to its strained relations with England. One day, Hudson was playing solitaire in the barracks when his pilot began telling him how to play his cards. When Hudson told him to quit, the pilot revealed a warped sense of humor.
“I said, ‘Jim, don’t bother me,'” Hudson said. “He said, ‘I’ll just shoot you.'”
The pilot turned to the co-pilot, who carried a .45 caliber revolver. The co-pilot opened the cylinder and pointed the barrel up to empty the weapon, closed the cylinder and handed the gun to the pilot, who pointed it at Hudson’s face from less than two feet away and began pulling the trigger.
“One, two, three times,” Hudson said. “I got kind of peeved and said, ‘Jim, get that thing out of my face,’ and I took my hand and pushed it. The fourth time he pulled that thing, there was a live bullet in it that went right by my ear and knocked a pane out of the barracks window.
“If that’s not something watching over you, I don’t know what was.”
Hudson flew 28 bombing missions out of Tibenham, England. The targets included Berlin, which was ringed with antiaircraft batteries. As the war progressed, the number of German fighter planes diminished, which made antiaircraft fire the bombers’ biggest concern, so much so that the decision was made to remove the ball turrets that protected the B-24s from attack from below.
Aboard the cramped airplane, Hudson’s parachute, which was attached to chest straps, got in the way of his work, so he removed it while in flight, hoping he’d have time to put it on if needed. One day, Hudson heard that his base had received new parachutes. Although the quartermaster told him they were all assigned to other personnel, Hudson managed to get one, which he wore on his back and didn’t interfere with his work.
Two weeks later, it came in handy. On Sept. 27, 1944, after a bombing raid on Kassel, Germany, enemy fighter planes took advantage of the missing ball turrets and attacked Hudson’s squadron from below, shooting down 33 bombers, including his. Wearing the new parachute helped Hudson bail out in time.
“The Lord was getting ready for me to jump, wasn’t he?” Hudson said.
As Hudson neared the ground, members of the German Home Guard shot at him with rifles, hitting him in a foot. He fired back with his pistol, and was able to elude pursuers. After emptying the pistol of ammunition, he threw it away and hid in nearby woods before being captured.
“Every time they captured you … if you had a pistol they’d shoot you on the spot,” he said. “That saved my life.”
Hudson had an ordeal — being attacked by angry civilians, forced to pick up dead American airmen, having trains carrying him strafed — before reaching the prison camp, Stalag Luft 1, at the Baltic Sea coastal city of Barth. There, he and thousands of American and British airmen would remain until the Soviet army liberated them on April 30, 1945.
After returning home, Hudson completed his chemical engineering degree at Louisiana Tech, married and worked for Chevron Oil before moving to Baton Rouge in 1959 to take a job with the Department of Natural Resources.