John R. Hodgson, born May 13, 1924 in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, enlisted in the 8th Air on September 2, 1942. Assigned to Gunnery School at Harlingen, Texas; Arament School, Salt Lake City; Airplane Mechanic School, Amarillo, Texas; crew make-up training in Walla Walla, WA and Moses Lake. Assigned to the 390th Bomb Group -- 570th Bomb Squadron in Framlingham.
Flew with Lt. William Stacy Branum in The Heavenly Body. Completed 25 missions; ordered to complete five more. On his 26th mission in a B-17 over Liege, Belgium with Lt. William Corkrean, flak hit two engines which burst into flames, followed by a direct hit to the cockpit. Injured in the left leg and hip by flak. His clothes ignited as he moved through the plane alerting other crew members to bail out. Parachuting down he was circled three times by an ME109 fighter. Before losing consciousness, he saw the pilot's face as he smiled, saluted and veered off.
John landed on a Luftwaffe airstrip, suffering third degree burns on his face, around his eyes, neck, back, arms, buttocks and down the backs of his legs. He awoke several days later in Hertogenbosh, (Amsterdam, Holland). A German doctor pulled a sheet over his face declaring, "Kaput!" Lee T. Jenks, another wounded soldier, saved his life by jerking the sheet down and screaming, "He is like Hell dead! No kaput!"
German doctors treated his burns daily with no pain medication, scraping the dead, burned flesh off his body and dumping iodine on the wounds as hospital personnel held him down. A captured English doctor performed plastic surgery around his eyes. Other English doctors provided therapy at Menningen Orthopedic Hospital by laying him on a table on his stomach and forced his legs down the opposite way to break the calcification in his knee joints.
Before being sent to POW Camp, he was held in an insane asylum and a granary where he would awake to find rats chewing on the bandages of his infected legs. He was in nine POW Camps: 9-C, Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VI & IV, and Stalag Luft I. Conditions were deplorable. They ate garbage, rats or any animal that strayed into Camp. He saw men have their throats torn out by attack dogs or shot for the slightest infraction. They were transported for nine days by boxcars packed so tightly that it was impossible to move. He saw Jews taken off boxcars, mercilessly gunned down and buried in trenches. Liberated by the Russians on May 8, 1945, he was flown to Camp Lucky Strike where he celebrated his 21st birthday weighing 90 pounds. He was discharged on November 5, 1945 as a T/Sergeant.
Upon returning home, John married, Margaret Samchuck of Freedom, Pennsylvania. They have three children, William Stacy, Larry Gail, and Cynthia Kaye (Hodgson) McClain; thirteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. As a retired carpenter, he enjoys woodworking and his country home in Darlington, PA. A Life Member of the Disabled American Veterans and Ex-POW Association, Inc.