Downed WWII Airman Trekked 300 Miles on Broken Foot to Safety


A World War II veteran miraculously survived getting shot down by Nazis, and he told his story to author Carole Engle Avriett in her new book “Coffin Corner Boys: One Bomber, Ten Men, and Their Harrowing Escape from Nazi-Occupied France.”

Avriett, a former editor of Southern Living, spent over three years working on the story, published by Regnery, which recalls the story of 94-year-old World War II veteran Capt. George W. Starks.

She compiled information from journals, interviews and tape recordings to learn more about Starks’ experience escaping from Nazis and hiding in France during World War II.

Avriett first heard of Starks after he accompanied her husband on a fishing trip.

Her husband later told her that she needed to hear his story, especially since she was looking for her next writing project. After all, “fishermen are known for their stories,” Avriett said to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

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The two then met for breakfast, where Starks brought a folder full of his war mementos and retold his personal tale as a World War II soldier.

At 19 years old, Avriett said, Starks was “in great shape physically — he was just a string bean.” He was at first too thin to be accepted into the force. However, the patriotic Starks begged the sergeant to let him. The sergeant finally told him to eat a lot of bananas and drink milkshakes to gain weight, and he would be weighed again in the afternoon. However, Starks gained only two pounds from his morning weigh-in. The sergeant reluctantly agreed to let him in anyway, especially since he was pressed with many other people to examine.

His failed weigh-in proved the least of his struggles upon getting drafted.

Starks was assigned an airman position nicknamed the “coffin corner” due to planes being easily shot down by Germans.

Starks’ plane was shot down one day, and he ended up parachuting 25,000 feet and arriving at Vitry-en-Perthois in France. He then began a strenuous 300-mile trek to neutral Switzerland, despite having a foot fracture and a 20mm shell fragment in his thigh.

Despite so many hardships, Starks met many people along the way who helped him on his journey.

Avriett described one Polish mother and daughter who risked their lives to host Starks. The author explained that the host’s husband was a prisoner of war and they too would have been easily shot down or sent to a concentration camp if caught. Nonetheless, the mother and daughter gave the young Starks food, clothes and shelter during his trek.

Following this family’s sacrifice among a number of other French families’ help, Starks made a promise to keep in touch and return to France to thank them after the war.

“The other remarkable thing about this particular man is that he loves to keep in touch with people and felt such a responsibility toward his crew,” Avriett told TheDCNF.

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He has made several trips back to France to find the people who risked their lives to help him while he was a soldier and to thank them, and he even welcomed one family to the U.S.

The mayor of Orlando, Florida, even made 12 brass keys to the city to make all the French families honorary citizens of Orlando.

Avriett’s praise of Starks does not stop there. The two formed an incredibly close friendship, the author told TheDCNF.

“Coffin Corner Boys” went on sale May 14.

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