The Times-Picayune in New Orleans highlighted the John Milliken crew for having seven members present at the 44th BG Reunion, and their story has resounded through a number of veteran publications. The Passion Pit went down at the Falais Pocket near Caen on August 13, 1944. Every member of the crew had an experience that was unique, none more so than that of Bombardier, Irwin J. Stovroff.
Stovroff recalls it thus: "It was to be our 35th, our last scheduled mission, we were to complete our tour. Together we had flown very dangerous missions, many of which were deep into Germany. This trip was just over the Channel, the Falais Pocket in France, a 'milk run.'
"We were on a straight run, and were to drop our bombs on three sites, one third each time. Then BOOM! We got a direct hit at the first target. Numbers one and two engines were on fire. We all bailed out, right into the German front lines. On the way down I threw away my dog tags, not wanting them to know I was Jewish. Our pilot John Milliken, some how on a truck taking us away from the front lines fell thru the canvas cover and escaped, getting to the allied front lines days later.
"Within a week's time we were taken to a major Interrogation center outside of Frankfort, Germany. I think it was called Wetzler. We were separated and placed in solitaire, and individually taken out for continued interrogations. The German officer, my Interrogator, asked me questions I could not and would not answer. I gave him the usual name, rank and serial number, and told him that was all I had to give, and knew very little else. On my third trip with him, he said, " I know who you are and what you are (meaning Jewish). He told me he could save my life, then proceeded to name my father, mother, brother, sister, the grammar school I had attended, even the name of a former girlfriend. He then said he lived on Ashland Avenue, next to the girl I was dating pre-war. He had lived on the next street -- Claremont Avenue in Buffalo, New York. He said he remembered being in class with my older sister, and then he informed me that I had been his newspaper boy!! He had come to Germany to be with his grandmother, and stayed. He again said he would help me, and he put a question mark on my records next to religion.
After solitaire at Dulag Luft, I like all others were packed into a boxcar for a 3 day transport to Stalag Luft I. Our train was strafed by Allied fighters because the Germans did not put POW markings on the train. We were also left in the marshalling yards in Berlin during a bombing raid.
Later in Stalag Luft #1, on January 19, 1945, I was separated from the main compound of prisoners because I was Jewish. I know the reason we were not killed was because of the courageous speeches of Col. Zemke and Col. Spicer, who warned the German commander that if any American officers were harmed, they would be held responsible. Col. Spicer was put in solitaire and sentenced to death for his speech. He survived until the end of the war. When I finally got home after VE Day, I went to where this German traitor lived, but his parents had moved.
After the Dulag Luft (interrogation), I later found myself with my co-pilot Bill Manierre in a large room. Bill pointed out a beat up and dirty POW who was staring at us. Did I know who it was? I looked at the man and said 'no'. Bill said, 'he must know you' and I replied, 'I can't figure out who he is.' Suddenly Bill exclaimed, "My God! THAT'S MY BROTHER." His brother immediately recognized Bill, and they met and embraced. The Germans were flabbergasted when they found out this was happening. Major Cy Manierre was a West Point graduate who had been dropped into France, and was working with the French Underground when captured and tortured. He told Bill and me to repeat his story, that he was a member of the Air Corps, had been shot down and picked up by the French Underground. If the Germans knew the truth, he could have been shot as a spy. They believed him, and he was sent to the same camp as Bill and I. Their mother received two telegrams on the same day, 1:00 AM, 1:00 PM on both sons - Missing in Action. "fact is greater than fiction."
Stovroff is now a volunteer National Service Officer at West Palm Beach VA Center, working only with ex-POWs to help get pensions and compensations. He has met six ex-POWs that were in his camp. And stranger than fiction, his next door neighbor in Florida was in the same barracks as Stovroff when he was in Stalag Luft #1 "segregated". This man's family owned KATZ DELICATESSEN in New York whose slogan was "Send a Salami to a Soldier In the Army."
Determined to pay it forward, after retiring from a long career in sales, Irwin, volunteered at the West Palm Beach, FL VA Hospital. In 2007 he learned that veterans with PTSD were suffering for years with nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, mood disorders and quite often addictions; and that the VA was not paying for service dogs. Despite his own PTSD and the personal challanges, Irwin worked feverously to found Vets Helping Heroes, a nonprofit dedicated to providing assistance dogs for active duty military and retired personnel veterans recovering from the physical and psychological challenges they suffered as a result of their service to our country.
Vets Helping Heroes has a versatile and active board of directors comprised of high ranking business professional in the fields of Law, Computers, Healthcare, Non-profit, Film Production, Sales and more. This dynamic team enables us the best advantage to achieve our goals. In addition, many of our board members are retired military with first-hand knowledge and experience of the plight of the injured that we seek to help.
Irwin Stovroff Visits Normandy 70 Years Later
Irwin became the American Veteran Air Force "Rock Star" of Normandy and I grew muscles pushing him around in his aluminum wheel chair. Irwin's Doris and my wife, Barbara were thrilled to see the joy Irwin experienced during the entire trip. We spent 3 days in Paris showing Irwin the best sites and food followed by a great Tauck river boat cruise to Normandy with other stops along the way. The high light of our journey was spending 2 days in Normandy with Jean-Pierre Paviot and family as they drove us to all the sites and arranged many of our visits. Irwin wore his French Legion of Honor medal and was instantly recognized as a hero to the French populations as well as Americans & others where ever we went and was thus surrounded with swarms of people to honor his service to their country and thanked him for helping to save France from the Nazi's.
In honor of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen of the United States armed forces who liberated our home country, France, on June 6, 1944, D-Day Memory Tour (JPP HOLDINGS, LLC) donates a portion of its profits to Vets Helping Heroes, a 501(c)(3) charity whose sole mission is to provide properly-trained Service Dogs to wounded Veterans of the United States Armed Forces. In a very real way, your D-Day Memorial Tour will help to improve the lives of wounded U.S. Vets.