Listen My Children and Stay Free, By Joseph W. Lovoi
(Vantage Press, 2000; 192 pp., $18.95 — ISBN 0533132258)
Lovoi, a radar navigator shot down over Austria, tells of his military experience with the 15th Air Force and the shoot down. There was bad luck involved. First, a spurious recall message came through. Then the mission leader had to select another target because of fuel considerations. However, Wichita Belle took a hit over Innsbruck and lost two engines. She limped back out of the mountains, but there were no friendly Lightnings or Mustangs to cover her. A German fighter shot her down before she reached the Adriatic and Air-Sea Rescue.
Lovoi did an excellent job of describing life in Stalag III at Sagan. That camp was the scene of the “Great Escape” where 50 RAF crewmen were executed by the gestapo before he arrived. The winter of 1944 was one of the coldest on record and the POWs suffered from malnutrition and exposure. As the Russians advanced, the POWs were evacuated to Moosburg in the dead of winter, which was another episode in itself.
There was a constant fight against depression and hunger was always present. He described the “precision” with which bread was sliced or food divided to make sure all involved got a fair share.
Lovoi pointed out two salient facts relevant even 60 years later. First of all, those first generation sons of immigrants fought superbly for their adopted country. His own father tried to join the Army at the age of 56. He wanted to help his adopted country, proudly producing citizenship papers! This reaction, very prevalent today with our “green card soldiers,” shows our diversity is a manifestation of strength, not weakness.
Then, there was also post-conflict depression syndrome in that war. Some prisoners fought depression thinking they “failed,” in becoming prisoners of war. Lovoi was vulnerable, but kept this malaise at bay by hard work. It did surface, which was not surprising, considering how he suffered. Still, as part of the “Greatest Generation,” he persevered, establishing his own high tech company.
He was fortunate that an understanding psychologist knew writing this book would be a step forward and good therapy for this fine man. Any POW from those Stalags would approve. Lovoi and his buddies fought the good fight. Lovoi would deny it, but he did not fail at all. He is a hero, and this is a good book.