Les Amundson

18 Months in Captivity

We had periods of starvation. You’d chew [one stale slice of black bread] with your front teeth like a chipmunk, and with your saliva you could build up a kind of slurry. You’d swallow that. Then you’d do that with another little piece. You’d try and make that last.

2d Lt. Les Amundson, U.S. Army Air Forces

Les Amundson’s doomed B-17 bomber sped toward a turnip field in The Netherlands. A woman on the family farm watched openmouthed as the Flying Fortress skidded the length of a football field before groaning to a halt. It was November 26, 1943, the day of Amundson’s first and last bombing mission.

The Dutch Resistance led the pilot to a hayloft. Traveling with the Underground in Holland for a month, he eluded capture. But the Gestapo finally caught up to Amundson in Amsterdam. He was taken to Stalag Luft 1, a POW camp 100 miles north of Berlin.

Amundson survived 18 months in captivity before Operation Revival evacuated him and 9,000 other prisoners.

Les Amundson

Amundson’s official mugshot as a POW. His compound, Stalag Luft 1, north of Berlin, was surrounded by barbed wire with guard towers at each corner. The men were under 24-hour surveillance. At roll call each morning, a guard verified to see that no prisoner had escaped or died overnight. Amundson Family Collection

Les Amundson

Top: Amundson (top left), and his 10-man crew train on the B-17 in Walla Walla in 1943. Amundson Family Collection

Right: Amundson Family Collection

Les Amundson