This is the final story on World War II from local Dickinson County residents, interviewed and written by Amy Feigley.
December 23, 1944 is a date that is permanently embedded into Marvin Geist’s mind. While serving in the 9th Air Force, he and his crew were shot down overseas. “We were flying in the echelon when our lead pilot made a wrong turn. The Germans spotted us and shot us down. I had 21 shrapnel holes in my face by the time it was all said and done” says Geist. “The top turret gunner was behind me, got hit and came down out of the turret. I didn’t even know his name since he was serving his first mission with a new crew.” Marvin noticed that the left engine was on fire and knew that it was time to bail out. He strapped the parachute on the gunner and lobbed him out of the plane. Luckily his parachute opened. As the left engine blew off, Marvin jumped out of the plane.
Let’s go back to 1942, when an eighteen year old Marvin Geist joined up to fight the war that was known as the greatest aviation battle ever. Marvin began his Air Force career as a flying radio instructor in Tucson, Arizona, flying B-17’s and B-24’s. From there he went to McCook, Nebraska, where he flew B-29’s. Marvin was then to become part of a group of 300 men sent to Georgia to fly B-29’s and ended up in France on a B-26. “The orders were screwed up and the B-26’s stayed in the USA and the B-29’s went overseas. We were supposed to stay with the B-29’s stateside” quotes Geist. Marvin was in the top of his class, with the top five supposed to be pulled and made instructors.
Marvin was in le harve, France from September 1944 until May 1945, being stationed at two different bases. His rank was Technical Sergeant, with promises of becoming a Master Sergeant in January of 1945. Of course, all of that changed in December 1944. “When I was a Prisoner of War, I did not get promoted,” says Geist. “Our orders were to fly ten missions for experience and then become the lead crew of the whole squadron on the next mission.” That next mission never happened for Marvin.
Fast-forward to December 23, 1944, when Marvin and his crew were shot down by Germans. After jumping out of the plane he was on, he suffered burns on his face. He landed in a little village on a roof, in snowy and zero degree weather, all the while turning his right leg back under. After carrying his parachute five miles to a first aid station to get his wounds cleaned up, he then was sent, with a guard, to walk to Bitburg, Germany to a hospital. The next morning the Americans were bombing that same hospital in Bitburg. “I had been on the third floor of the hospital. When I walked out of my room and turned to the left, there was nothing left. When I turned to the right, I noticed that there was a hole in the second floor.” says Marvin. “There was a bomb on the first floor that did not explode.”
After a few days, he marched to a German prison camp. The group included Marvin, a paratrooper and three tank men. “I think the time I truly thought my life was over was when the Gestapo major lined us up and was looking straight down the barrel of his gun, pointing to us of course. The guard then pulled his gun on the Gestapo major and then we were let go,” declares Geist. From there the men went on to Frankfurt, Germany, where they were held in solitary confinement for five days. “We were asked questions and always answered with our name, rank and serial number only. On our last day, they confessed that they knew basically everything about us and that was scary” reveals Marvin.
Towards the end of the war, the POW’s marched towards the Swiss border. They spent their nights in farm villages and their days praying they would see another day. “One of the POW’s kept a diary, with intentions of writing a book about us five guys and POW camp life. When the liberation was here, we were sent to France for shots. We had little packs that included our service record. Everything was stolen from us, replies Geist. “When we came home we had nothing to show of our service, no pictures, no uniforms, nothing.” These men finally boarded a Navy transport ship and in ten days, according to the Captain of the ship, would see the promise land, the good ol’ US of A. Once that boat docked in New York City, the boys were treated like royalty the next two days while on the train ride back to Kansas City. “When I got back to Abilene, I had no way of calling the folks to tell them I was home. My buddy’s dad, Warren Graham, took me home, which at the time was east of Enterprise. We got to my folks place at about midnight and Warren went to the door first” says Geist. “It was a very emotional time because my folks had no idea I was even back in the states. I could have sent them a telegraph, but I would have gotten home before it even arrived” quotes Marvin. Once home, the residents of Enterprise looked at Marvin and were curious about his days as a POW. “I think everybody wanted to ask me questions, but really didn’t know how to go about doing so. There eventually was an article in the Enterprise Journal, which satisfied everyone’s curiosity, that told of my time overseas as a POW.”