Frazier highlights evasion, escape aids

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Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
During World War II about 31,600 U.S., planes were lost and about 80,600 aircrew members were killed or reported missing, according to www.tsj.net/avstats/losses.
But, American Airmen had a slight advantage over other countries because they were trained in evasion and escape techniques.
The Frazier History Museum is highlighting these techniques through its Behind Enemy Lines—The Evasion and Escape Aids of World War II exhibit.
The escape and evasion aids were modeled after the British military’s which had a program of evasion and escape aids in the 1930s.
“They had an empire in India, (it) kind of started the language aids. That’s where evasion and escape aids of World War II evolved,” said Kelly Williams, the museum’s curator of collections. “The British made the Per Aróua Libertas for (an)American head of state. Not more than 15 (copies) exist (because they were secret).”
According to the museum, Soldiers often found themselves lost in a foreign land with no connection to the outside world. The danger of becoming isolated in enemy territory has threatened Soldiers since the beginning of warfare, but during World War II, Soldiers
carried a new and innovative ‘secret weapon’ unlike anything seen before—evasion and escape aids. Using these techniques saved about 35,000 Soldiers from harm’s way during the war.
The exhibit documents how items such as playing cards were used as a map or a battle dress buckle was used as a compass to evade the enemy.
“The (exhibit) documents the U.S. attempt to provide pilots and other Airmen with tools and survival equipment to help them evade enemy captivity should they be downed in foreign territory,” explained Williams. “(The exhibit) also (showcases) the escape portion (which shows the) secret tools and supplies hidden (on the Airmen) in the event they were captured they would be able to utilize these in an attempt to escape.”
The Soldiers also had blood chits, which carried booklets containing cultural information and instructions that were used if the pilot was forced down in a foreign land.
“Blood chits (were) small flags and insignia the pilot would wear visibly (so) the people would see he was an American Soldier,” said Williams.
The pilots also carried pouches which fit in a pocket and inside the pouch would be a small compass, a small hacksaw blade, a map and survival kits which contained water purification tablets, explained Williams.
She pointed out that the pouch also included safety pins which were a hot commodity in Asia during World War II.
“You could barter and trade for a meal,” Williams said about safety pins. “Matches were (also) a popular bartering item in Asia.”
She pointed out that evasion aids included a language aid which had a column of English on one side and the foreign language on the other side. These helped Soldiers communicate. But the language aids were most effective in Europe. Williams said it wasn’t effective in Japan because citizens were united against helping Americans. It was also ineffective because many lived in remote and isolated areas.
“Areas in China had probably never seen an American,” she said. “They didn’t know how to interact.”
Williams said the escape aids would also be hidden in some of the most unusual places.
“A tiny compass would be hidden in seams of jackets,” she said, “laces of boots had a wire cord.”
She said when Soldiers were captured by the Germans many used the escape aids which were hidden in soap and combs because the Germans allowed them to use these items.
Shaving brushes were unscrewed and the base held a compass, said Williams.
“Some maps were made out of tissue (which) detail escape routes dissolved in water,” Williams said of tissue maps which were used as a last resort.
Pilots were taught evasion and escape methods because Williams said they had an obligation to attempt an escape if caught.
But, she said, that changed when the rules of escape changed to assassination and killing of escapees. It became, “Escape is not a sport and you will be killed.”
Williams said there was a pilot who went down in unfriendly territory and was thankful he had his survival kit.
She said that when they tell the stories about the exhibit they tell the story of the Lady Be Good, a plane that crashed. The B-24D bomber took off from an airstrip in Libya en route to a bombing mission in Naples, Italy. The crew got off track and didn’t realize where they were. They were low on fuel and the crew bailed out thinking they were near the camp, but they were 400 miles south. They began walking north and all of the crew on the plane perished.
“One died on bail out,” explained Williams. “It wasn’t until the 1950s when a British oil company found the wreckage. Until that time the plane and crew were missing in action. (They) made it about 70 miles (before they perished).”
Although the U.S., has been a melting pot and accepted immigrants, Williams said during the 1920s and 1930s Chinese-Americans were interested in being pilots, but were denied because of their race. Many went to China and joined the Chinese military.
“They were born in America (and) denied careers because of race,” said Williams. “They became the first flying aces of World War II. One of the first American casualties fought for a country (which) denied them rights and freedoms.”
Williams said the escape aids are probably the most comprehensive that can be found in a museum.
“(I’m) thrilled to tell the story (about) the way these American Soldiers persevered in bleakest (of situations) to fight their way back,” she said.