Bud Wilschke’s plane caught fire and the only way out was downstairs.
A 23-year-old Chicago boy emerged from the falling wreckage of his B-17 Flying Fortress and struggled with his parachute. This was his first real jump and he was going straight into Nazi-occupied France.
That leap of desperation was the start of a six-month trial in 1943 as Wilschke and another surviving friend hid in attics, barns and hay wagons, helping a network of Frenchmen across the country and the Pyrenees mountain range. Independence.
Wilschke survived the war (despite being declared KIA), married his waiting girlfriend and told his family about his ordeal. He closed it on occasion by sharing only a brief sentence, such as “I climbed the Pyrenees to escape the Nazis.”
a childhood memory
This was the bullet point that entered the mind of White Bear Lake resident Barbara Wojcick. During a book club meeting in 2015, a member’s comment on a World War II book about an airman who had fled France in the same way his uncle once revived a childhood memory.
“One of my book club members said[about the author]’Oh, he made it. Oh, it’s so extraordinary. It couldn’t have happened,'” Barbara recalled. All I could think about the rest of the book club was what that story was about?”
Getting the story, which she and her husband Jim recently published, turned out to be a five-year obsession with an unfortunate deadline. As she began researching what “Bud’s Jacket” would be, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given only a few years to live.
“I got to the point where I couldn’t really write or do anything anymore,” she said last week, sitting in her sun room and speaking with short, measured breaths. “Jim took over and I said, ‘We have to get this out the door. We have to get it done.’ “
The couple will do their first public book signing on Friday, August 6 from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the day the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, essentially ending WWII. they will be here Lake Country Booksellers at White Bear Lake. After that, he is booked for a few speaking engagements, at a Minnesota History Center group. Dr. Harold C. Deutsch World War II History Roundtable, a Zoom interview with Chicago Media and another with the Holocaust Museum in Illinois.
“I didn’t want Bud’s story to get so lost as many are,” she said. “They are put in a box and the box is not given to grandchildren or anyone or anything. Sometimes the cans are thrown out. And I didn’t want the story to get lost.”
Aside from the hazy memory, it was essentially a box of Bud’s old stuff that gave Barbara a place to begin.
Bud died in 2001. His wife, Rosemary, had also passed away. Barbara’s father, who was Rosemary’s brother, had also died. Bud and Rosemary’s children knew very little about Bud’s ordeal, telling Barbara that he rarely talked about it, and that if he did, it was just pieces and pieces.
Barbara, who worked as grant coordinators before retirement, and Jim, who is a psychologist, were no strangers to research projects, but the idea of piecing together a story without the benefit of talking to Bud was a bit daunting. Was.
see the story of the bud together
They soon learn that Bud may not have shared his story with his children, but he did share it with others. There were many newspaper stories in his trip to France to survive the Chicago Son of Bud, his marriage to Rosemary, and revisiting the villages of Brittany. Bud and his friend Bob Neill had handwritten letters that helped Barbara understand the feelings and thoughts of men. There were interviews of French villagers who helped him hide.
Barbara soon realized that WWII had been studied inside and out. If there is information on a particular bombing or battle, have someone write a book or put up a Facebook page on it. His dedication to getting the details can be seen all the way through the 166-page book with excerpts from maps, timelines, military movements, even the US military’s “classified escape and evasion instructions”. could.
And while she wanted to incorporate features, she also wanted the story to be told in a way that would interest the younger generation.
“I have two nephews who were in middle school at the time,” she said. “I was wondering, how can I write this so that they want to read this story about a young man who is not much older than me?”
Tracing the Steps of the Bud in France
Barbara soon came to a point in her research where she knew a lot about the American side of the story, but not as much about the French side. When she learned that there was a monument in France bearing her uncle’s name, she knew she had to see it in person.
“It was a little thought in which I said, I think we can go to France and visit the monument,” she said. “It just snowballed from there.”
A group of 11 family members followed in Bud’s footsteps for more than two weeks in 2017. He saw the mill where he had to change clothes with the workers in order for the Nazis to pass through and get into a waiting truck. They visited the barn where Bud’s first rescuer had hidden him under some grass, while the Nazis searched the area for American travelers they saw falling from the sky. They saw the church where Bud and Bob were hiding in the attic and frightened the caretaker’s daughter when they saw a lit match flickering in the attic window.
They drove to the Pyrenees where Bud and Bob nearly died while walking the mountains. He saw the Spanish prison where after crossing the border the men were kept until American diplomats took them home. And they meet some descendants of 27 families who risked their lives by helping Bud and Bob hide from the Nazis.
Along the way, they were greeted with celebrations and parades of grateful French citizens.
“It was an amazing journey,” Barbara said, even though she had been diagnosed with her cancer just before she left. That information inspired him to finish the book.
importance of jacket
So, why is it called the “Buds Jacket”?
In 1983, haunted by bad memories and the survivor’s guilt, Bud decides to travel to France to purge his good feelings so that he can remember the brave and friendly people who helped him survive.
As he approached the field where he had long ago landed, the family brought him a gift, which was wrapped like a sacred relic. It was the flying jacket he wore on that day in 1943 that he had to leave behind to mingle with the French. For so many years they kept it safe for him. Bud buried his face in the jacket and started crying.
That jacket, now a protected family heirloom, was a veritable reminder of Bud’s six-month escape and the people who guarded his escape.