WAYLAND — They are called the greatest generation for a reason… their courage, sacrifice, and patriotism will never be forgotten.
The Wayland Historical Society invited Dave Wicks, of Dansville to share his father, 1st Lt. Robert Wicks extraordinary story with them on Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m.
Dave Wicks believes in keeping these stories alive for his children, grandchildren, and other future generations. He as spent many years writing his father’s heroic story of survival and sharing that story with all who will listen.
1st Lt. Wicks joined the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) Jan. 27,1943 becoming a bombardier who flew 24 missions on a B-24 Liberator.
“I appreciate the opportunity to share my father's story,” Dave Wicks said. “When my dad passed in 1996 I started to write his biography. I didn’t want my children or grandchildren to ever forget what this remarkable generation of Americans did to stop Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan from conquering the world and destroying freedom for virtually everyone on the planet.”
Many of these young men who were eager to fight for their country were no more than 17, 18, or 19-year-olds. 1st Lt. Wicks was the oldest in his crew at 22-years-old; on his 24th and final mission he was chosen for his great expertise. There was a crew of 10 men on that B-24 with a very important mission, and one that would change their lives forever.
On December 11, 1944 the plane was shot down over Slovakia. All of the men except 1st Lt. Wicks were captured and placed in German POW Camps.
During these terrifying moments that Co-Pilot John Zebrowski recorded in his war diary these young men were plummeting to their deaths after being hit with enemy fire. 1st Lt. Wicks once told his son that he was watching the men pull their rip cords, and open their parachutes, but he was falling in silence towards the earth, and it took him awhile to open his parachute. Once he had the parachute opened and he landed in a wooded area. The plane disappeared behind a explosion of orange flames as it hit the mountains.
The winters of 1944 and 1945 in Slovakia were the coldest recorded in 50 years. A 16-year-old male helped 1st Lt. Wicks to his feet and took him into safety. It was in the home of Pavol, a farmer who loved America for taking on the Nazis, that 1st Lt. Wicks would find protection over the next five months.
“My father knew this was life or death,” Dave Wicks said. “What our history and culture have told us is that these men were brave and proud, and there were some wonderful people who helped them.”
The place his plane blew up was called Dobra Voda, and a few short miles away 1st Lt. Wicks landed in Bukovec, which ended up saving his life.
Co-pilot Zebrowski would be the last of the nine men to be captured in February of 1944, and he would have his teeth falling out, and be grossly malnourished within the POW camp. Miraculously all the crew survived the fall, the camps, and the war.
“It was a two hour trek in the woods, but my father knew he had to keep moving,” Dave Wicks said. “He came to the home of Pavol and they gawked at him asking if he was an American. My father was so delighted he spoke english, and told him what had happened. They told him they thought the Americans were brave warriors who were driving out the Nazis, and helped him with clothes and food.”
The Germans had a brutal six-year-long reign, and no one was seeing an end in sight.
Pavol created a few hiding spaces for 1st Lt. Wicks that would be his shelter once the Germans showed up.
Sadly, Anne Wicks, 1st Lt. Robert Wicks wife, received a horrible telegram telling her that her husband was MIA, and shortly after that his daughter, Wendy was born.
Meanwhile in Slovakia the Bachars family was hosting a Christmas Eve celebration, which some American soldiers were invited too.
“It was an unforgettable evening as they sang Silent Night in their language and the Americans sang it in english. They sang all the Christmas songs in both languages,” Dave Wicks said. “The music ended by evoking a strong sense of melancholy, because it made the American boys think of their families and friends so inconceivably far away.”
In the dawn of the new year, Jan. 1, 1945 the war was beginning its decent and the Nazis were getting restless. There was also an exciting new electrical power that was taking form, and on the farm they had just bought an electric saw. Unfortunately, the young son of Pavol, Jan was stuck to the power saw and being electrocuted, Pavol tried to help and the same thing happened to him, so 1st Lt. Wicks saved both their lives by unplugging the saw. This story would be handed down in the Pavol family for generations to come.
After near misses and almost losing everything 1st Lt. Wicks would eventually be taken in by Russian soldiers and would have to explain his story. After they refused to believe him they sent him to a prison with the German soldiers.
“Dad was thrown in with German POWs,” Dave Wicks said. “My father was happy that some of them spoke english, and found out that the Germans were just like us. They were fighting for their country, and wanted to go home to their family.”
Once 1st Lt. Wicks was finally on a plane home he looked one last time at the mountains he called home for five months, and offered a silent prayer for the family that saved his life.
“He knew he would never see them again,” Dave Wicks said. “He was heartbroken when in 1989 they finally took the iron wall down, and found out that pavol and his wife had passed away and their son Jan passed away just a few weeks before his letter arrived, reconnecting with the family that helped him survive the war.”
Anne Wicks, who never stopped believing her husband would come home, finally got the telegram she had been waiting for saying her husband was alive, and coming home May 9, 1945.
“He got to hold his daughter for the first time five months after she was born,” Dave Wicks said. “I was four years old at the time.”
In August 2004 Dave Wicks went to the little village that saved his father, and met four generations of Pavol’s family. He was taken up to the farm and given a great tour of his father’s five months being rescued. Afterwards, he was taken to the place the plane crashed and found fragments buried. This happened 60 years after his father had been shot down.
About four years ago the family came up to visit Dave Wicks, and he showed them all around NYC and Niagara Falls.
Dave Wicks reached out to all the surviving men of his father’s crew and got them to share their stories, so he could get a better understanding of what happened. 1st Lt. Wicks lives on in the Bombs Away presentation his son gives several times a year, and in the pages written.