Part 1 found here: https://www.ramrod.website/forum/aviation/capture-at-coy-dz
Maxwell Hugo was on a military bus, in an aisle seat. Around him were his fellow POWs and, like him, on their way. None of them could enjoy the view through the windows because not only was it still dark but there were bags on their heads. Hugo guessed they hadn’t left the confines of the forest but an occasional flood light did seep through his fabric, allowing him to judge their rate of speed, which wasn’t much. It was mostly dark, which told him the bus wasn’t using external lighting. It was a good guess that wherever they were going, they’d arrive soon, otherwise how would bagged human cargo be explained to the local bobby?
Hugo was sitting next to his aircraft commander, maintaining the same orientation they’d held inside the H-53 cockpit. Hugo guessed they’d been with their forced adventure for three hours now, which meant there was a lot of night left. Besides the driver, Hugo calculated there were two guards on the bus, one at the head of the aisle and another at its rear. At nearly 43” in length, their FAL rifles were tactically unsuited for the confined interior.
The bus was stopping and starting, which Hugo surmised was at stop signs and road junctions. It stopped for a fifth time just as he turned over a thought in his brain, the first sentence of the letter he’d send to his squadron commander whenever this was over, when yelling broke out at both the front and rear of the bus. He threw out his prose and ripped the bag from his head.
In front, one of his fellow prisoners had grabbed the guard by his rifle and was using it as a lever to pin the militiaman to the windshield. “Go! Go! Get out!”
Similar words came simultaneously from the rear as the guard there was similarly immobilized. The transport’s emergency escape door was opened and moon-lit figures began filling its doorway, as if paratroopers jumping over Normandy. Hugo shuffled down the aisle, having lost accountability of his aircraft commander. He spilled out, falling the four feet to the asphalt and then running instantly, following two others into the forest. After a hundred yards all three of them stopped simultaneously. Hugo was familiar by sight with every flight engineer in the squadron so when he didn’t recognize either man, he knew their area of discipline. Neither man was from Spain.
Zeal was a common trait of pararescuemen, however. “We need to go back and rescue our guys.”
These were tough men, having survived training that had a greater than 50% wash-out rate. Hugo decided to mix first lieutenant authority with reason. “Easy there, airman. In a real situation we wouldn’t go back. We’d just get captured again.” Hugo liked the way his voice sounded. “Plus, it looks like you’re limping.”
“Twisted it when I jumped from the bus. Those guys saved us back there.”
“They did, and we’ll give them a paper Air Force Cross later. But I don’t think they’d want their sacrifice to be in vain.” Before he’d allow a retort, Hugo continued. “We’re not out of this. They’ll bring out the Special Air Service to track us down.”
“Which way?” The other pararescueman asked, sold.
Hugo pointed. “Towards that glow on the horizon. It’s the nearest village.”
“What will we there? Hail a cab ?”
“It could be that simple. How would you like to be in your own bed by mid-morning?” Hugo looked back in the direction of the short bus, now lit and visible through the trees. There was loud voices and a few flashlight beams poking their way. “Let’s get out of here.”
Within the hour they’d found seven of the others. A quick accounting indicated that besides the two heroes his aircraft commander was among the missing. Hugo could imagine the man sitting there, bagged, frozen in time while the rest of them desperately sought air under their boots.
The militiamen hadn’t given up. It was humiliation, something they were trying to pinch off before their majors and colonels found out. Hugo and his nocturnal wanderers were determined to deny them, melting into the dark forest whenever a vehicle approached. It was 0100 when they reached the village, its streets and home fronts dark and quiet, its occupants oblivious to their evading horde of Yanks. A phone booth was sought and found.
“What’s the nearest airbase?”
A pause. “It’s not listed in the directory.”
“I know the number for the base operator.”
Hugo said, “Let me have it, and give me some change.”
After a few moments he was connected to RAF Mildenhall’s base taxi dispatcher. “Hello, we need a ride.”
The British gentleman on the other end of the line seemed eager. “Certainly sir, from where to where?”
Hugo gave the man the name of the village and their destination, which was thirty five miles to the southeast as the crow flies, almost double that by road.
“It’s after one. You can’t be that busy.”
“And I’d say you’re not far off with that.”
“We’ll pay handsomely.”
“Well, all right then.”
“We’ll need two cars. Ten blokes. No baggage.”
Hugo arrived back at his squadron building just as it was getting light. The first office inside the building’s main entrance was the operations center, currently occupied by one of his Academy classmates.
“What are you doing here?” The man in the flight suit asked, eyes wide. By now everyone was aware of the misfortune thrust upon Hugo’s bachelor crew.
“Looks like you’ve seen a ghost. I escaped with the others and I’m not going back.”
Hugo soon learned the rest of the story. Their bus had been on its way to a prisoner of war facility, simulated, where they would’ve spent 2-3 days in the loving embrace of interrogation and non-debilitating torture. After that, the fun was to begin. They’d be taken to a large training area southwest of London where the Special Air Service – yes, that Special Air Service, the British equivalent to America’s Green Berets and Delta Force rolled into one unit – would hunt them until who knows when. No food, no knife – not even a penknife – and no go-bag.
Hugo wrote his letter that morning, pointing out to the colonel that the married man had as much probability of evading behind enemy lines as the bachelor. Hugo wasn’t too surprised when the man agreed, which kept the ten of them from having to return to the exercise, a definite disappointment to those who’d spent weeks organizing it. Later that day they got their two heroes back, along with the aircraft commander.
Hugo figured those 28 hours of adventure didn’t compare to an escape from Colditz Castle but there were lessons nonetheless. Namely, get the bag off your head as soon as possible, always have the pararescuemen on your side, and always, always check for married men on your flight crew.