Drama over Cologne

scott nelson print II
Lt. Ernest M. Sands, Bombardier on a B-24 four engine heavy bomber, 458th Bomb Group, 755th Sqadron., was flying with his regular crew on 14 Oct. 44, to bomb the marshalling yards at Cologne, Germany.  The pilot was Lt. William Klusmeyer.  The  plane was B-24J, SN 42-50864, (Jolly Roger).  The only person Sands didn’t know was Miller, the second navigator who was added to the crew just that morning.  Sands knew his name only as “M C”.   Flak over the target was intense — immediately after bombs away, the aircraft was hit by flak — nose turret was shattered and #3 engine was off line — ship was also on fire.
Ernie and the first Navigator Lt. Robert L Ferrell pulled M C from the nose turret.  M C was hit badly in the face and head — one eyeball was hanging down on his cheek and he was bleeding profusely.  Sands tried to get MC’s bleeding stopped but wasn’t having much luck when the bale out alarm was sounded.  Sands stuffed a first aid kit in MC’s jacket and pushed him out the camera hatch with a line attached to the parachute rip cord and tied inside the plane. Sands left the ship through the nose wheel doors.   Sands dropped through two cloud layers than pulled his rip cord when he hit the third layer.
 Nine crewmembers landed on one side of a small river and Sands landed alone on the other side.  The nine on the one side were quickly captured.  One German soldier came over to Sands side of the river but didn’t look very hard.  They must have thought they got everybody.
Sands got down in a depression in the ground and covered himself and the
chute with leaves.  He packed leaves against his arm and side to stop
bleeding from flak wounds.  He stayed in the depression until dark,
then started walking west.  He evaded for 7 days walking at night and
hiding during the day.  Sands lived on kohlrabi which was being harvested
in the area at the time.  It tasted awful.  He finally got to a river with
a little white boat down on the bank.  He knew he had to get to that boat
to cross the river and perhaps into Belgium.  He moved toward the boat when it was a bit too light and was captured.  He was severely beaten by German civilians.  He was taken to a nearby small town and thrown into a dungeon like jail that was full of rats.  He spent the night fighting the rats.  He couldn’t lie down at all because if he did the rats would be all over him.  The next day he was taken by a soldier and turned over to the Luftwaffe.
Sands was intensely interrogated because the Germans thought he was some sort of spy or insurgent on a secret mission, he was far from any downed aircraft.  ( This was a method of getting information from downed air men, making them think they would be shot as a spy if they didn’t prove who they were.  It worked many times.)
Sands gave the standard military name-rank-serial number for every
question, this went on for many days.  Finally a German Officer came in and said, “Oh Lieutenant, you are so stubborn, telling us only your name, rank and serial number.”  Then he proceeded to tell Ernie where he (Sands) was from, where he went to school and collage, when he entered the service and what bomb group he was from.  He also had a picture of some of the 458th planes taken at the Group headquarters back in England.  After this he was thrown into solitary.  Days came and went.  Finally Sands was sent to a Luftwaffe POW camp, Stalog Luft 3.
Toward the end of the war, they went on several forced marches and ended up at Mooseburg.  On April 29 of 1945, a tank belonging to Patton’s forces burst through the fence and liberated the camp.  Some time afterward Patton himself visited the camp in his staff car.  Ernies friend, Charles Woehrle, got ahold of a loaf of white bread from one of the liberating troopers and gave it to Sands on April 30th, Sands’ 24th birthday.
After eating the black German bread for so long, this loaf of bread tasted like cake!  Sands shared it with his 11 roommates, one of which was Marshall Draper, the first American POW to be taken by Germany when he was shot down on July 4, 1942.
Sands always wondered what happened to MC.  He was sure he couldn’t have survived and if he did, he at the very least had lost an eye and would be disfigured.  Some years ago, Sands received a call.  “Are you Ernest Sands and were you on a bomber shot down over Cologne on October 14 of 44?”
Sands cautiously answered yes, and the caller said, “You pushed me out of the plane that day.  You helped save my life!  My name is MC Miller.”  For the first time, Sands knew MC’s last name.  Miller said, “We are coming to visit.”  Concerned about the man’s condition, Sands said, “No, you don’t, we are coming to visit YOU!”  Sands and his wife got in the car the next day and drove from North Dakota to Tennessee.  Sands found Miller healthy as a horse with no signs of his terrible injuries. Perfect eye sight.  BOTH EYES!


PILOT: 2nd Lt. William Klusmeyer, Jr.
COPILOT: 2nd Lt. Frederick W Wright
BOMBARDIER: 2nd Lt. Ernest M. Sands
NAVIGATOR:  2nd Lt. Robert L. Ferrell
ENGINEER: Sgt. Terrell Fricks
WAIST: S/Sgt. Joseph G Pohler
BALL T.: Sgt. James T. Carlisle
RADIO OPERATER: S/Sgt. Richard J. Shearer
TAIL: Sgt. Vernon A. Hanes

SOURCES:  Personal interview with Ernest Sands, Phone interviews with Robert Ferrell and MC Miller. Much thanks to Darin Scorza for the Missing Air Crew Report and information on the plane and crew.  Darin is the 458th Historian and 458th BG web site manager, his site is www.458bg.com

Ernest Sands served as North Dakota Lieutenant Governor from 1981 to 1984.  Sands is now retired and lives in Bismarck ND.  (Ernest Sands passed away on 9 April 2012)

350 limited edition prints, $50 – 50 artist proofs, $70 – All signed by the artist and Ernest Sands.

Look at the story “MC” to see more about Miller.
SEE ALSO: The story “Crash Landing in France