Thursday, August 25, 2011

Witness to the Resistance by Virgal Sansing, 369th Fighter Squadron, 359th Fighter Group, 20 June 1944

Two weeks after the invasion of Northern France I was half-way through my tour flying P-51 Mustangs out of Wretham. I had returned from an uneventful escort mission, my 50th, when my operations officer was looking for pilots to fly a late mission. German troop trains were converging on Chateau Thierry, France.

We launched at 1715, arrived in the target area about 1830, and found numerous trains in the marshalling yards. We started strafing the rail yards. The claims for this mis¬sion were: three locomotives destroyed, nine damaged; three vehicles destroyed; eight rail cars destroyed, twenty-four damaged.

As I pulled up from a strafing run I was hit by ground fire. I was hit from the rear and my rear fuel tank and cool¬ant radiator were damaged and my radios destroyed. The cockpit filled with smoke and hot coolant so I set course for home and climbed to five thousand feet. I was about forty miles northeast of Paris when the fire got into the cockpit. I jettisoned the canopy and fell free. Training stressed wait¬ing as long as possible to open a parachute so as to avoid detection. I waited before pulling my ripcord and got quite a scare for I did not feel the parachute open. Needless to say I was greatly relieved when I saw that the canopy was fully deployed. I was over an area covered with pine trees. The dinghy (life raft) was open so I pulled it up around me before hitting the trees. The parachute hung up about twenty feet from the ground. I shook lose and hit the ground very hard and my face banged on my knees (two beautiful shiners were with me for a couple of weeks). I hid the parachute in some brush and started walking.

Tar papers covered buildings under the trees. This was a German ammunition storage, later bombed by our Air Force.

On the edge of the woods an elderly lady was working in a garden. My first impulse was to run away, but I decided to take a chance that she was friendly. Using gestures, we com¬municated that I was the one that had just parachuted. It was getting dark and she took me through some alleys to a small shed. In a very few minutes people arrived, all friendly. One man brought some eggs, indicating that I could eat them raw. It took a while to convince him I preferred them cooked.

I was moved to a house and stayed in the attic. This was to be my home for about a week after which I was moved down to a room. I was in the village of Puiseux-en-Retz for about 2 weeks and then moved to Soissons on bicycle. It was then I got a look at my accommodations on a farm that raised trout for restaurants (this accounted for the delicious trout sautéed in butter that I'd been enjoying).

The highway was filled with German military vehicles. Everything possible was sent toward the front. Trucks were equipped with a coke burning gas generator and it was obvious that they were grossly underpowered. There were aircraft spotters hanging on each vehicle and if an aircraft was spotted, the truck was parked and abandoned.

I was taken to a farm on the outskirts of Soissons with a barnyard enclosed by a high stone wall. Here I was introduced to calvados (I had to look this up, it's a kind of home-brewed apple brandy), and the "dos and don'ts" of farm wells. I was in the barnyard one after¬noon and started pumping an old-fashioned water pump and was about to get a drink of water when my host explained there were two wells: one shallow well for livestock and a deep well for people. I had the wrong well.

From here I moved into the coun¬try south of town and was allowed to move around outside. Here I began to see the plight of the Germans. Field kitchens set up along the highways never had enough food so the soldiers were begging. The French would give them nothing so they were going into the fields and gardens eating raw fruits and vegetables. At night the French were blowing up railroad tracks and scattering metal on the roads to punc¬ture tires. During the day our aircraft allowed little movement.

Again I moved farther south and joined two brothers, escapees from a German POW camp, who decided I needed a hair cut. So into town (Fere-en-Tardenois) we went.

The first stop was at a tavern full of German soldiers. We sat down at a long table with a number of French. I was nervous but when one of the French fellows pulled out a pistol and proudly displayed it I was flat scared. The Ger¬mans did not see it fortunately.

We then went to the barbershop. There was a German soldier in the chair “getting the works”: shave, haircut, facial, shine, and a good portion of very strong cologne. I was relieved to get my hair cut and get back to the country, to a French underground base camp. Here were weapons, ammunition, explosives, and other equipment. We spent days cleaning and caring for the equipment and nights harassing the Germans. Oc¬casionally we'd go into the fields and pick mushrooms (I still cannot figure out which are good and which are bad).

I also got introduced to "cuddling" for fish, wading along the banks feeling for holes where the fish stayed. I was very doubtful at first but it really works and we caught quite a few.

One afternoon a P-51 flew over, obviously in trouble. The pilot bailed out and we were able to find him and hide him before Germans arrived. His leg hit the tail of his airplane when he bailed and was pretty well beat up. We carried him to the base camp where a French doctor treated him and gave him crutches to get around on.

It was here someone passed around a bottle of calvados. I took a big swig and thought the top of my head would blow off. It was rougher than any moonshine I have tried. Unfortu¬nately, two of the French got carried away and stopped a German truck and tried to commandeer it. Sadly, the truck was loaded with German troops. They did not return.

Then there came a complete turnaround in German movements. Everyone headed back toward Germany. Soldiers were walking, riding bicycles, motorcycles, horses, cows, wagons, anything to get them home. Equipment was dumped from trucks to make room for personnel. The French Resistance was getting more aggressive every day.

Finally U.S. tanks roared into the village greeted with flowers, wine, and open arms. As best I can recall, it was the 5th Armored Divi¬sion. I identified myself and joined them for the next three days. When a pocket of Germans was found, they would bypass them and let the French do the mopping up.

The second night German reconnaissance dropped flares over us. Everyone was firing straight up. Needless to say everything that went up also came down. I crawled under the nearest tank and waited until the "hailstorm" was over.

The third day I made it to an evacuation hospital in Orleans and was told it would be two weeks before I could get to England. A pilot of a B-24 agreed to let me hitch a ride. The airplane had a floor built in the bomb bay and they hauled a load of flour so we had a white interior. As we got ready to depart the navigator got in the pilot's seat and the engi¬neer got in the co-pilot's seat. The pilot and co-pilot were in the back with me. They assured me everyone knew what they were doing and off we went. We circled numerous towns while the pilots took movies from the rear gunners positions.

In England I was debriefed by Intelligence, got paid, bought new uniforms, and returned to the States.

At the time I was careful not to learn names of the French villagers or locations in the event I was captured.

Dates, names, and places have become fuzzy with the passing of the years. But it was a great experience to see the operation of the French Under¬ground and the turning of the tide for the Germans. I can only say that once was enough.

P.S. I have visited France and met the people that took me in, some even came to the U.S.A. During the war my longest stay was with the Coigne family in Fere. Leon Coigne was in the French Army and was evacuated from Dunkirk to England. He parachuted back into France, was captured by Germans, escaped, worked his way to Spain, and returned to England. He again parachuted into France and was an active member of the Resistance. I have heard a lot of bad remarks about the French but those I met were courageous and loyal friends.

Virgal Sansing

Virgal "Sandy" Sansing wrote "Witness to the Resistance" for the July 2006 issue of The Outer Circle, the newsletter of the 359th Fighter Group Association.

Virgal went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam. He retired in '73 with the rank of Colonel. Decorations include Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Force Commendation Medal, Purple Heart, and others. He flies/flew WW II aircraft with the Confederate Air Force in San Marcos, TX.

Photo of Virgal "Sandy" Sansing courtesy of Dr. Paul D. Bruns. Text and photo archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.

1 comment:

  1. My name is (S/Sgt) Dick Garfield, Colonel Sansing, then Major Sansing, was the operations officer with the 311th Ftr Bmb Sqd in Osan Korea. Our Ops Sgt was called home on an extented emergency leave and I was the Camera Repairman for the outfit. I had gotten a A/2c helper in from the States so offered to help out in the ops section, it wasn't long before I could do most of the required reports and forms needed. Major Sansing was one of the bast OIC I had ever had. He demaned the work be done on time and correctly, but he thanked you when you did the job right and also helped you when you got stumped on a project. He built a scale model line control airplane in the hut during the evening, and I did the same and in our's. Before rotating back to the States he wanted to fly his model and asked me if I would like to help. We got set up and I got ready to start the engine for him and he said no, you fly it, I said that I might crash it and he said that he couldn't ship it back to the States all togeather anyway. We fired up and was doing quite well when one of the control lines broke and the plane headed toward the ops big window, but the line still fastened was the down line so the plane went nose first into the ground at full speed. Now he could send it home!!