One of the last remaining World War II veterans is now living near Stanwood.
John Marlin Wagner, now 96, told his story to the Perry County Times (Pennsylvania) in 2010 and his son, Robert Wagner, shared it with the Stanwood Camano News.
A former grocer and reluctant warrior, Tech. Sgt. John Wagner of Newport, Pennsylvania, was trained as a radio operator/gunner for a B-17 crew. He and his crewmates arrived in London in August 1943.
Assigned a plane, they took off on their first combat mission, the bombing of an airplane factory in Stuttgart, Germany. It was baptism under fire for the crew of nine, wrote Wade Fowler, for the Perry County Times.
“We got the devil shot out of us that day,” Wagner said in the article.
Two motors and Wagner’s radio equipment were shot out.
“We barely made it back to the base in England,” he said.
After that first mission, the crew got a new Flying Fortress and made several “milk runs” with little opposition.
During the fourth one, when Wagner’s plane took fire from antiaircraft guns and German fighters over Paris, the crew bailed from 3,000 feet.
Wagner’s mother was notified that Wagner was missing in action.
Some crewmembers were captured, but Wagner was a fugitive on the run, with a broken ankle.
The first man he met was a French member of the resistance, ready to rescue aviators before the Germans got to them.
Wagner and some others were hidden in a haystack. When it was safe, they were taken to a home — with a cellar full of wine — owned by a butcher, whose wife ran a dairy shop.
“We crewmembers had good eating,” Wagner said.
They sat behind curtains in the house watching Germans march in the street.
They rode public transportation to Paris dressed like Frenchmen with a French passport. They sat next to Germans.
They moved around in Paris until a trip was arranged over the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain, a neutral country. But the local officials arrested them for entering the country without passports.
They were sent to a penitentiary in Figueras. Before long, a Spanish elected official learned about them and arranged their release from prison.
Then they got royal treatment.
“They outfitted us from the skin out with nice clothes — a suit, a topcoat, everything,” he said.
They lived as the Spaniards did, while exploring markets and churches. They celebrated Thanksgiving in a big mountain resort that opened for them.
Wagner’s mom was notified that he was alive and well, and the Spanish Air Force finally transported him to Gibraltar, where he and others donned American uniforms once again and were shipped to London.
On Christmas Eve 1943, Wagner climbed onto another B-17 Flying Fortress, heading home on the southern route, by way of Africa and South America.
After 30 days leave, he was stationed at Atlantic City for rehabilitation, then ordered to Sedalia, Missouri. When the war ended in November 1945, he was discharged as surplus personnel.
While in Missouri, Wagner married Dorothy Jane Church and they had one son, Robert.
Robert Wagner, a 64-year-old retired tow truck driver, moved to the Stanwood area after serving in the Vietnam War. Several years ago, when his father’s health started declining, he was moved into a nursing home in Pennsylvania.
“I didn’t want that, so we moved him out here,” said Robert Wagner, who lives with his wife in the Lake Ketchum area. “There’s very few left from the group he was in. I just want to try to keep the history of that particular crew alive.”