PRICEVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – 70 years ago today as 150-thousand allied troops stormed the beaches of France, a young Morgan County man was as prisoner of war in the infamous Stalag 17. Ben Roberts was just 20 years old. He sat down with us today to share some of his memories and what this day means to him.
“And I went with the idea that I’d never be shot down. I didn’t even pay attention to the POW lectures because it didn’t pertain to me. and I wish I had’ve now,” former POW Ben Roberts says.
There were ten men on the plane that morning, Roberts is the last. He was part of a group led by Colonel Curtis Lemay. It was their fifth mission, and they were to bomb a ball bearing plant in Germany. But the fighters were waiting for them. Roberts’ plane was shot down.
“And I had to see what happened to my waist gunner because he had saved my life. He cranked me out of that ball turret, got me up in the plane and we were trying to fasten the harness on my parachute and we were straffed from the tail section up. His back was to that straffing and I was seeing the bullets come up the fuselage. It threw me towards thew radio room and it threw him backwards and the wings of that aircraft came off at that time,” Roberts said.
Roberts came down about 30 feet away from the plane. When he looked into the wreckage, there was the body of the gunner who had saved him. German troops found Roberts a short time later, and he would spend the next 19 months as a prisoner of war.
He has so many amazing stories to tell, but it’s painful for he and so many others like him to remember.
Roberts explains, “Each veteran has his own story, has his own emotions and its difficult for him to talk about it, but he appreciates the people recognizing their duty that they did.”
Roberts is a member of a fleeting generation of Americans whose sense of duty and love of country surpassed their love of life. He fought for liberty.
Roberts says had it not been for the American Red Cross care packages, he doubts he and others would have survived the long months of captivity. He also says many aspects of the movie about Stalag 17 are true. Soldiers traded the cigarettes in those care packages for radio parts so they could hear news broadcasts.