James Pascoe

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Born and raised in Sacramento, California, James D. Pascoe grew up there and in Riverside, near Los Angeles. After the war, Pascoe worked as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Nuclear Testing Program on operations IVY and CASTLE at Enewetok and Bikini in the South Pacific. Married and a USC graduate, he became a computer programmer for the Federal Government in the late 1950s. Now retired, he lives near Sacramento.

 

What were you doing when the war started?

The war started just days before graduating from then Riverside Junior College where I had been taking a collection of courses in search of a career,  In a matter of days all was traded for basic training in Utah a part of the state that was cold, rock struan, some 20 miles from Salt Lake City, a patch of ground so desolate no one could find a use for it up to that time. It proved perfect for a basic training camp for the Infantry.

What did the army train you to do?

Basic training is just that. You are trained to recognize and obey your superiors. And while learning that important fact you are given physical exercise so you can do it quicker and better.

Depending on your inclination and the Air Force’s needs, Gunnery School training was quite different. You were there to learn how to fill a certain position in a bomber regardless of your duties in that crew.

For instance in our bomber (B26) the radio man was closest to the radio station by being the waist gunner. Since there is little for the engineer to do that the co-pilot couldn’t do he was less available in the upper gun turret, where he can see both engines and over-flow ports if fuel is being transferred to trim up the plane. The duty of the armorer gunner is to guard the tail of the plane He is the most isolated (with the exception of the bombardier in the nose). The armorer gunner is also supposed to oversee the loading of the bombs but to do it correctly he had to get up two hours ahead of the rest of the crew. I never bothered to do so as the ground crew knew their job better than I.

What happened when you were shot down?

You are well aware you are coming down in a friendly land filled with French people pulling for your safety. But also watching are equally attentive Germans who hope to get to you before the friendly French and at the beginning of the race the French cannot display their intentions to the Germans in any way. That is why Mr. Bernard and I ignored each other during our first encounter in his field. I didn’t stop him from harrowing and he didn’t stop his horse to aid me. I wanted to escape where even he didn’t know where I was.

How did you get captured?

Don’t think of a military surrender if you are in civilian clothing.
My capture was orchestrated by Germans in civilian clothing posing as French. Instead of being taken to our next promised safety house in Paris it was to the local clearing station run by the Gestapo, a garage attached to Gestapo offices in what appeared to be a private two story house..

 

What was life like in the barracks at the Prison Camp? 

Crowded, and it does help to have a sense of humor. It also helps that you know that your side is winning the war in spite of German protestations from the German camp leaders. The Guards were well aware of it some six months before the end of the war.

 

Were the guards mean?  

The guards were individuals mostly from towards the bottom of the manpower barrel. Many were confirmed Nazis but they changed through the months. As the war drew to an end they stopped quoting to us the latest news releases from their papers.

 

What did you eat?  

 It depended a great deal on Red Cross parcels and they weren’t always available, especially at the beginning when our camp was in Poland. The trip the food parcels had to travel was quite long and mostly by rail, an open constant target of our own people. When we moved closer into Germany the parcels were delivered from Switzerland by trucks, painted white.

How were you liberated?

Our guards left their guard stations and fled or waited in their barracks until relieved by American soldiers. In the book I tell how I left the camp. That was our liberation. I went to the guard barracks and watched these mostly over-aged men packing and while packing passing around a schnapps bottle. They ignored me completely as if I wasn’t there. My cronies were in town or in private homes being treated to the best of food.I think I chose the right place for a wannabe historian.