Posted: May 27, 2013 10:39 AM by Judy Slate
Updated: May 27, 2013 10:47 AM
BOZEMAN - This Memorial Day, one local World War II veteran is back home after taking a flight of a lifetime.
Lester Crouse, who lives north of Bozeman on a ranch in Springhill, was one of the veterans who just returned from traveling to Washington, D.C. on the Honor Flight. The flight took Montana vets to see the World War II Memorial and other sights.
"Oh, I enjoyed all of the monuments and all of the special attention we got. If I hadn't had somebody wheel me around in a wheelchair, I couldn't have walked to all those monuments. It was a great honor. We were treated like, like heroes," Crouse said of his visit.
Crouse spent most of his time during the war as a POW in Germany after his plane was shot down. Now 90 years old, he was a cadet back in 1943. By 1945, he was a bombardier on a B-24.
"When I first saw it, I thought, ‘Wow, that's big.' It had four engines, twin tails," Crouse said.
He was deployed to Europe and flew two missions successfully. The third time, he wasn't so lucky.
"Our plane got shot up. The engine stopped, so we had to bail out," he said.
He landed in Albania and was taken prisoner by villagers who eventually turned him over to the Germans. After several stops, he was brought to the same prison camp in Germany that the famous movie The Great Escape is based on.
"We weren't abused or beaten. We were cold and hungry," he remembers.
After about five months, they were forced to march in the dead of winter for days to a train station where they traveled by cattle car to a prison camp near Munich.
"We were there until Patton tanks broke through the gate," he remembers.
Lester was liberated on April 29, 1945. He spent 10 months as a POW. He made it home, back to the ranch. Waiting for him was a son, born while he was in captivity. Two more children followed then seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.