As we show our gratitude for veterans this month, I want to share the inspiring story of Roger Revay, a 90-year-old patient I met last month on our hospital’s second floor.
Revay was sitting up in bed eating breakfast when I briefly introduced myself and followed with a question.
“Might you be a veteran?”
“I flew a B-17 bomber with a crew of nine during the last eight months of WWII,” he said.
“Sounds like you got everyone home,” I said.
“Really?” I asked, pulling up a chair, hoping he’d share a greatest-generation story. “Tell me more.”
During the next hour he shared his adventures of flying a plane named “Got to Have Her,” after pinup June Haver.
He flew 29 bombing missions from the Great Yarmouth Royal Air Force Station in Mendlesham, England. His life was going according to plan until his 30th mission, when he flew to Stendhal to bomb a railway yard along the Elbe River.
A few miles short of his target, antiaircraft fire blackened the skies around him, giving him a mysterious vibration in his controls.
A crewman called out: “We’re hit! And we’re on fire!”
Revay responded by ordering his crew to bail out.
A few minutes later, after eight parachutes safely opened behind his aircraft, he left the cockpit to make his way to an escape hatch. As he stood ready to jump, he could see the bomb bay completely engulfed, the plane ablaze in orange.
“Is this a dream?” he wondered.
His answer came as flames swept him, prompting him to jump though the fire.
For the next few moments, he tumbled through the sky, unable to tell which end was up. The ground and sky blended into a whirl of colors as he managed to deploy his mangled chute.
In the next moment, he landed in what seemed to be a peaceful, blooming cherry orchard. However, the people who surrounded him weren’t peaceful. They were angry German civilians who’d endured weeks of bombing, and they’d come for payback.
“Swine!” they repeatedly called him as they beat him with fists and sticks into semiconsciousness. Two German Air Force officers arrived to rescue him from the attackers.
The officers took him to a military hospital where, after some quick bandaging, they incarcerated him at a German airbase with the rest of his crew.
Three days later, two English-speaking guards raised a risky proposition to their captives. The guards were worried that the German Air Force would transfer them to the Russian front, so they suggested an escape plan for everyone.
They proposed taking their POWs to an abandoned barn a few miles out of town.
“Why?” Revay asked. “Are you going to execute us?”
“Nein,” replied the German. “We’ll wait for American forces to arrive. Then we’ll surrender together and become your prisoners.”
Suspicious, but feeling they had no choice, the POWs agreed. The soldiers kept their word a few days later when they flagged down the approaching American forces.
The next thing Revay knew, he was riding in a hospital ambulance to Paderborn, Germany. And 60 years later, in my American hospital, he sat telling me his story.
“One more thing,” I asked. “What brings you to our hospital?”
“I broke my collarbone from a fall on the dance floor,” he said.
And with that revelation came the confirmation that I’d truly had a conversational dance with a member of the greatest generation.