When US Army Air Corps Cpl Leo Wojciechowski jumped out of his plane during a WWII bombing mission and became a POW, it was an experience that led to a deepening faith in Catholicism.
- Catholic News Service
US Army Air Corps Cpl Leo Wojciechowski had just unloaded bombs targeting the Blechhammer synthetic oil refinery on the Nazi-occupied Czech-Polish border when he felt his B-24 shudder. Anti-aircraft fire had struck the nose gunner's plane during the 1944, mission, causing it to lose speed and altitude as gasoline flooded the rear of the compromised aircraft.
Wojciechowski and the nine other crew members had only one option: jump. It was a fateful step that would ultimately lead to more than a year of harrowing experiences inside prisoner of war camps for Wojciechowski -- and, ultimately, a deepening of his Catholic faith. In an interview with The Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan newspaper at his home in Dundalk, he reflected on his memories of war and redemption.
When he launched himself out of his plane so many decades ago, Wojciechowski hit his head -- briefly getting knocked out. The then-parishioner of Holy Rosary in Fells Point awakened to discover himself floating beneath a parachute toward a large clover patch in Czechoslovakia, 400 miles inside enemy lines.
'I was terrified,' said Wojciechowski, now a white-haired parishioner of Sacred Heart of Mary in Graceland Park. 'I had a 45 (.45-calibre revolver) with me, and I thought that if anyone saw me with a gun, they're going to shoot me. You are at their mercy.'
The airman tossed his weapon in a ditch before an angry farmer approached him with a pitchfork and spoke in German. 'He looked at my dog tags and saw that I was Catholic,' Wojciechowski told the Review a few weeks before he was honored with other POWs at the Pentagon in September. 'He took my holster off and smacked me across the face with it. He said he couldn't understand Catholics bombing Catholics.'
Wojciechowski's bombardier landed nearby and was soon standing alongside the nose gunner when two Gestapo agents appeared to interrogate them. Although Wojciechowski spoke Polish, he pretended not to understand when questioned in the language.
One of the agents tied the Americans' hands behind their backs and laid them side-by-side in a field. 'He got in the Volkswagen and started driving real fast like they were going to ride over us,' Wojciechowski remembered. 'I started screaming and hollering and kicking my feet, and they stopped within a foot of us.'
FULL STORY WWII vet says time as POW deepened his faith