In September 1943, as a newly commissioned second lieutenant
navigator, I was assigned to the 452nd Bomb Group at Moses Lake,
Washington. This was a new group being formed for service in the
8th Air Force, and I was attached to a crew headed by Lieutenant
"I'll call you Murph," MacDonald said when we met.
"Okay," I replied, "I'll call you Mac." We had quite a lot in common
and quickly established a rapport. He was from Rochester, New York,
and I was from Brooklyn. Both of us had lost our mothers at an early
age and had left college to enlist in the Air Corps.
During our three-month training period, our friendship grew. With
the New Year in 1944, our group was sent to England, and we began
flying bombing missions against Germany. Losses were heavy at that
time. Our commanding officer was shot down on the group's first
On our crew's eighth mission, a daylight raid on Berlin, we were in
the lead squadron and were attacked over Hanover by German
"Focke Wulfe" fighter planes. Our bomber was struck repeatedly
from nose to tail. Two engines were knocked out of commission. I was
in the nose of the plane and was hit several times in my right leg. My
parachute was shredded by the cannon fire. MacDonald was ringing
the "bail out" bell, ordering us to evacuate the plane.
I yelled to him over the intercom, "Mac, I have no 'chute!"
"Come up here and take mine!" he said without hesitation. "Get
He was my superior, and I did as I was instructed. I took the 'chute,
went to the hatch and after the bombardier and copilot had
evacuated the plane, I, too, jumped.
Unfortunately for me, after scraping through trees, I landed in the
midst of a Luftwaffe antiaircraft battery. I was immediately taken
prisoner and placed in a small cell at an air base. Miserable hours
went by as I sat alone in the dark, pondering the fate of MacDonald,
whom I'd left in the disabled airplane. I knew the man had saved my
life and possibly sacrificed his own in the process. I just hoped and
prayed he had made it, and I resolved to do everything I could to
discover what had happened to him.
After what seemed like forever, I heard footsteps approaching my
cell. The door opened, and two German guards appeared. Standing
between them was none other than Lieutenant Ted MacDonald,
looking a little worse for wear but otherwise unharmed.
We grinned at each other, and I breathed a long sigh of relief.
When the guards left, Mac told me he had managed to crash-land the
plane, but he hadn't gotten far before being captured.
Soon we were sent to Stalag Luft 1 prison camp for air corps
personnel. My wounded leg festered and swelled, and I became
feverish. MacDonald, noticing this, called Colonel Hancke, the camp
doctor, who was a British officer. He had me transferred to the POW
hospital for treatment. I was there for a month.
Liberated by our allies at the war's end, Ted and I both returned to
civilian life. Over the years, we maintained our friendship. Our sons
went to college near Rochester, and two of his daughters came to
New York City. We celebrated weddings and bar mitzvahs jointly.
In early 1992, disturbed at not having receiving our customary
Christmas card, I called Rochester and spoke to Ted's wife, Patricia.
She told me that Ted was suffering from terminal cancer and didn't
have long to live. In March, my wife, Irene, and I flew to Rochester to
see them. Ted was fading rapidly.
There was a question that I felt I had to ask him. It had haunted me
for all these years, though strangely I had never mentioned it before,
not even in the POW camp. At his bedside, in a moment when I was
alone with him, I finally asked, "Mac, why did you give me your
Despite his illness and weakness, he replied in a firm voice, "I was
your commander - that's what I had to do."
I just nodded and gripped his hand. I think I'd already known what
his answer would be. The reply was so typical of him. Faithful to his
country. Faithful to his comrades.
Two days later, Patricia called to tell us Ted had passed away. "He
had held on for so long. It was as if he was just waiting to see you
first," Patricia told me.
That didn't surprise me either. The bond of friendship tempered by
the fire of combat is one of the strongest ties men can have. Mac
and I had that connection. And always will.