On July 7 1944, Charles “Chuck” Walker vividly remembers being sent on a long-range bomber escort mission over Hungary. Just as the young pilot was focusing on driving off German Messerschmitt 109s, his plane was hit in the left engine. Mistakenly, Walker separated from his squadron, which left him weakly in the midst of a number of German aircrafts.
Nearly instantaneously, one of the Messerschmitt 109s shot the tail of Walker’s plane and finished him off. The next thing Walker remembers is regaining consciousness on the ground.
Despite the crash, Walker credits his relatively safe landing to the prayers of someone at home. It was not until later that Walker discovered that his church was having a prayer meeting specifically for the young pilot the week that he was shot down.
“I firmly believe in prayer and the need for prayer,” said Walker.
Walker’s story does not end there, however, as he stumbled into some farmers near his crash site. Optimistically hoping that the men would help him escape, he was proven wrong as the men attacked him with their fists and tools, knocking him unconscious yet again.
Shortly after, Walker was transported to a cell in Budapest. At 50 square feet, his cell consisted of a straw tick in one corner and a paint bucket that would serve as his toilet in the other corner. There, Walker spent approximately 30 days in solitary confinement.
“Hitler had this idea that if you kept a prisoner in solitary confinement without much to eat, they would talk,” said Walker. “He thought we would do anything just to get someone to talk to, but he found out that Americans were tougher than he thought.”
The pilot was moved to another cell at an interrogation center in Frankfurt, Germany. For ten days Walker was interrogated, sometimes with a gun pointed to his head and always without a decent source of food or water.
After departing Frankfurt, Walker traveled with hopes of being liberated. Without decent winter clothes, the pilot noticed at one point that he was beginning to freeze to death due to harsh snowfall. Additionally on top of unsavory weather conditions, the travelers also lacked sufficient water, food, and sleep.
Walker recalls the joyous feeling he experienced when he saw tanks making their way through the camp where he was staying. His group was the first to be taken to the airstrip, which would then transport them to Reims, France.
Once in Reims, Walker and the other men were de-loused and put on a ship to America. When he was enlisted, the pilot reportedly weighed 155 pounds. After his time spent in solitary confinement and at the interrogation center, he weighed approximately 120 pounds.
Despite his experience as a Prisoner of War, Walker has never abandoned his love for flying. Just last month, the 93 year old took to the skies of Fresno as part of Ageless Aviation Dream Flights.