Walter Price, Mission February 23, 1944

The Week Of The White Death

Here is a story that began in February of 1944 and ended just recently in April of 1993.

Walter Price, Jr. (515) starts out the story as follows: "The Marvin E. Grice crew joined the 376th at San Pancrazio, Italy on January 1, 1944 as replacements, having been flown there from Casablanca. The crew's seventh mission (#216) was to Steyr, Austria on February 23, 1944. Flying in plane 84, "Harry the Horse," we were shot down by German fighters along with seven other planes.

"The waist gunners and ball turret gunner were KIA. The remaining seven of us ejected from the plane and were captured near Waidhofen, Austria before nightfall on the same date.

"During the ensuing happenings of the capture, at least one local German newspaper publicized this event with words and pictures referring to the crew as "terrorfleigers" (terror-flyers) and gave recognition to the term "Week of the White Death." According to this report over 1 14 American airmen were shot down during this week and landed in very remote areas of the Alps and were unable to be rescued. Coincidentally the publicity arising from the American sources referred to this week (February 20-25) as "Big Week."

"The four officers, Marvin Edward Grice, pilot; B. Lamar Howard, co-pilot; John J. Byrne, bombardier; and Walter E. Price, Jr., navigator were incarcerated at Stalag Luft 1, Barth Germany, until the end of the war. The surviving enlisted men, Max Rasmussen, engineer; Steve Swidarski, nose turret gunner; and John Pizzello, tail gunner were incarcerated in Stalag IV, Stalag VI, and finally Moosberg until the war's end. Pizzello was a substitute crewman for the Steyr mission onl y. The regular tail turret gunner, John Scharnitzski, was hospitalized during this mission and of course escaped incarceration.

"Those killed in action were Thomas Root and Frank Hermann, waist gunners, and Arial Hoffman, ball turret gunner.

"In April, 1992 Lamar Howard returned to Waidhofen, the scene of our capture, and while there was encouraged by the local people to have the entire remaining six

crewmen return for a memorial visit. Furthermore, an officer of the aircraft plant that was the target for the Steyr mission had issued an invitation to Lamar to bring the crew to Steyr for a "tour of the plant."

"On April 13, 1993 the six surviving crewmen of the last ride given by "Harry the Horse" on February 23, 1944 to Steyr, Austria, met in Vienna, Austria for the purpose of retracing the steps of the last mission. They were: John J. Byrne, bombardier; B. Lamar Howard, co-pilot; myself, Walter E Price, Jr., navigator; Max Rasmussen, engineer and top-turret; Steve Swidarski, nose turret; and John Pizzello, tail turret. The pilot Marvin E. Grice died in 1978 of cancer.

"We assembled in Waidhofen un der Ybbs, Austria and spent ten days reliving our journey of 50 years ago.

"Because of a the trip made a year ago in 1992 by Lamar Howard and his contact with people on the scene, we were able to find the location of the plane crash, the six locations of exactly where the six of us parachuted. We met people who were on the scene in 1944 and remembered us very distinctly even to the point of recalling some of the conversations. I personally was reminded of things I had said and done.

"In one of the local history books an account is given of this mission even to the point of having a photograph of one of our crewmen being led out of a building carrying his parachute. Also, in the museum in Waidhofen un der Ybbs there is a permanent account of this mission with photographs depicting the captured men of our crew. This is in the permanent records of the city that dates from 700 A.D.

"While there, we were invited to tour our target for 2/23/44, a ball bearing factory in Steyr. We were treated royally to the point of their officials hoisting the American flag beside their Austrian flag. We learned that we could have stayed at San Pancrazio on the 23rd for all the good we did. In looking at photos showing bomb damage we were elated that we hit the buildings, but were told that all the machinery had been moved out prior to our mission into isolated sites for protection from the air raids centering on Steyr.

"We were instrumental in having two memorial services for our comrades who went down with the plane. One was held in a 500 year old church very near to the crash site. The church was filled with the local people who came to pay their respects. Later, we held a private service in the courtyard of the church where the three were buried temporarily in 1945. This was accomplished with our standing under umbrellas to escape the rain drizzle.

"We have recently discovered a memo written by Grice, the pilot, giving an account of the last mission in which he tells of his life being saved by Max Rasmussen. Because of our failed attempt to have Max recognized for his bravery, we took the opportunity to present him with a plaque in Waidhofen signed by the five of us.

We retraced our steps for the days 49 years ago when we were first in this vicinity, reliving the first day and night. We journeyed to St. Polten, Austria where we were kept in a jail overnight and where we boarded box cars for our further journey to Frankfort, Germany.

"The highlight of the trip was meeting a lot of wonderful people who took us in and treated us like we were family."