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Three Stalags and Out! Remembering Lt. Harry W. Tait, Jr. on National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day

Three Stalags and Out! Remembering Lt. Harry W. Tait, Jr. on National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day

Lt. Harry W. Tait is seen as the last man standing on the right end of the line of 406th Fighter Squadron pilots. This photo was likely taken during the 371st Fighter Group’s time at Bisterne Airfield in England in the spring of 1944, prior to advancing to continental Europe after D-Day in June, 1944. The complete identification of these 406th Fighter Squadron pilots is as follows, showing their final wartime ranks and the fate of those killed, missing or captured. In the back row, left to right, are Capt. Samuel B. W. Kennedy, Capt. Paul J. Hurley, Capt. Donald Ross, 1st Lt. Grant Davis, Jr., 1st Lt. William M. Taunt, 1st Lt. George Gallow, Jr., 1st Lt. Thomas F. Whitfield, Jr., Capt. Forest A. Kilgore, Jr., Capt. Eric (NMI) Doorly, 1st Lt. Robert A. Buenzli, 1st Lt. James P. Thiede and Capt. Harry H. Tait, Jr. (POW). Middle row left to right is Capt. Uno A. Salmi (MIA), Capt. Robert J. Rieschl, Capt. John E. Sullivan, 1st Lt. Victor L. Unruh (KIA), 1st Lt. John J. Burns and Lt. Col. Sanders E. Delaney (KIFA). Front row are Capt. Charles H. Chappas, 1st Lt. Charles P. Sparks (KIA), Maj. Edwin D. Taylor, 1st Lt. Robert R. Meade, Capt. Craig J. Teller, Jr. and 2nd Lt. Sumner J. Calish (KIA). (Photograph from The Story of the 371st Fighter Group in the E.T.O.)

PORTLAND, Ore. --

April 9 is the day in 1942 that Major General Edward P. King, Jr. surrendered the exhausted, malnourished and battered American military forces on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.  Some 78,000 troops (66,000 Filipinos and 12,000 Americans of the Fil-Am forces), the largest number of U.S. soldiers ever to surrender and become prisoners of war (POW).
 

The 142nd Wing remembers its own POW’s on this day.  The wing has 23 personnel on the POW roster, including 22 from World War II and one from the Korean War.  See a complete list of 142nd Wing former POW’s here.

 

On this day, we remember the story of one of the wing’s former POW’s, First Lieutenant Harry Hammond Tait, Jr., of the 371st Fighter Group, redesignated after WWII as the 142nd Fighter Group and now designated the 142nd Wing.

 

“My element leader, Lt. Tait, had been hit and was trailing smoke from the vicinity of both gun bays. He turned west and flew straight and level at about 9,000 feet.  This was the last seen of him.”

- Francis E. Madore, 1st Lt., Air Corps

 

It was a day for dogfights, October 20, 1944.  The 371st Fighter Group’s 406th Fighter Squadron got into two scraps that day near the tri-border area between France, Germany and Switzerland. 

 

The morning show flown by the 406th from the 371st Fighter Group’s base at Dole Airfield in France (Advanced Landing Ground Y-7) claimed two aerial victories against the German Luftwaffe.  The afternoon go, in which both Harry Tait and Gene Madore flew, again encountered enemy aircraft at 1600 hours, southeast of Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, over the Black Forest.

 

In this battle the odds were about even, with a dozen aircraft on each side, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts of the US Army Air Force versus Messerschmitt Me-109G’s of the Luftwaffe’s Third Group of Fighter Wing 76 (III./JG-76).  But pilots of the Yearling Squadron claimed four aerial victories in the fight, with two more enemy aircraft damaged and one probably destroyed. 

 

In return, the squadron lost Lt. Tait in the dogfight.  Flying as Yearling Yellow Four, Lt. Madore was pounced on by an enemy fighter and he broke into his opponent to spoil his shot.  After ditching his attacker, Madore noticed an enemy fighter behind his element leader Lt. Tait and opened fire on the enemy plane even as the enemy plane attacked Tait.  Madore shot down the Me-109 but not before its pilot inflicted heavy damage on Tait’s Thunderbolt, as described above.

 

Lt. Tait didn’t make it too far from the fray before he bailed out of his stricken P-47, a D-27-RE, serial number 42-27343.  His loss was reported in Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 9787.  He evaded capture until the next day at 1100 when he was discovered and detained by enemy forces.

 

Harry Tait was duly processed and eventually sent to Stalag Luft III at Sagan in Lower Silesia, about 100 miles southeast of Berlin (now Zagan, Poland).  This stalag is famous for the “Great Escape” of Allied POW’s which took place there in March, 1944. 

 

Tait was imprisoned at Stalag Luft III until Soviet Army forces approached.  Late on January 27, 1945, the Germans made 11,000 Allied POWs, “Kriegies” as they called themselves, force march some 50 miles in the winter snow and freezing temperatures.  Tait and others arrived at Stalag XIII-D at Nürnberg Langwasser by February 2. 

 

Lt. Tait was held at Stalag XIII-D until April 13, 1945, when American forces approached and the Germans marched the POWs to another POW camp near Moosburg, Stalag VII-A, by April 20.  With all the evacuations from other POW camps, Moosburg became the largest German POW camp of the war with over 130,000 Allied prisoners.  The Kriegies at Moosburg were liberated on April 29, 1945 by the US Army’s 14th Armored Division, and thus Tait returned to friendly military control after just over six months in captivity.

 

Lt. Tait survived his captivity as a guest of the Luftwaffe, and eventually returned to civilian life in the American northeast.  He passed away on May 2, 1990 at age 71, 45 years after his liberation.  He was buried in the South Cemetery at Lyndeborough, in Hillsborough County, New Hampshire.

 

On this National Former POW Recognition Day 2021, we salute Lt. Harry W. Tait, Jr., the 22 other 142nd Wing former POWs and all American armed forces members who were captured and endured captivity by the enemy.  Service and sacrifice to community, state and nation comes in many forms.  Lest we forget.