War prisoner reflects on experience as a bombardier
"You must remember this – not all memories are real."
Malcolm MacGregor, a bombardier with the 8th Air Force division, admits his memories of World War II may have faded in the 60 years since he dropped bombs over Germany. The 84-year-old Parkite thus begins his scrapbook of memories with a reminder of their failings.
MacGregor, a native of the Catskill Mountains in New York, entered the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1941. He had completed nearly two years of his aeronautical engineering degree when the army called him to fight as a combat engineer. He was transferred to the Air Corps after a few months and graduated as a second lieutenant.
MacGregor completed his first mission as a bombardier on D-Day. He describes watching the explosions from the nose turret, but says the cloud cover prevented his crew from dropping bombs.
He bonded during his tour with a pilot named Carl Sollien, an excellent pianist who often played in the officers’ quarters, where a famous music-loving pilot would sometimes join them.
"That’s how I got to know Jimmy Stewart – Carl’s playing. Jimmy sat down next to me one day and asked if I wanted some bourbon, which was tough for us to get. We got to talking and he asked how many missions I’d flown," MacGregor remembered. "I said I had five, and then I asked him, ‘And how many have you flown, Sir?’ He had flown 13."
An old man for a pilot in his mid-30s, the film star could easily have dodged combat duty, but Stewart, the commanding pilot of the 703rd Squadron, loved to fly and wanted to fight.
"He was frustrated they wouldn’t let him fight more. He’d say, ‘They don’t let me fly anything but a desk up here,’" MacGregor remembered.
On his 34th flight, one mission short of completing his tour of duty, MacGregor and his crew crashed in Germany during a raid on Kassel, the headquarters of the Wehrkreis IX military district. MacGregor parachuted to an open field, but was soon captured by German soldiers. He remained at the Stalag Luft 1 prison camp for several months. Although he said he wouldn’t want to relive the experience, he confirmed he was treated decently. As an officer, he spent much of his time playing bridge and waiting for rescue.
"Under the Geneva Convention, they treated officers the same as their own," MacGregor explained. His interrogation was also more humane than modern military questioning, he added. "There was none of this foolish stuff with hoods over heads and handcuffing that we’re doing today."
MacGregor later met the man who shot down his crew at a Kassel Mission reunion in Germany in 1986. "Ernst Schroeder was his name," he remembered. Putting names to faces was a poignant experience for MacGregor, but it only confirmed what each side already felt. "We were just doing our jobs," he said. Kassel also hosts the only monument honoring Allied and Axis soldiers side by side.
"That was a very neat thing to see," he said.
MacGregor calls his Distinguished Flying Cross and clusters of Air Medals (soldiers earned one for every five successful missions) his "survivor" medals. His Purple Heart and Prisoner of War pennant are his "loser" medals.
After the war MacGregor earned a Master’s of Engineering from Cornell University.
Moved to Park City for his children: Mona, Julie, Malcolm and Mary
Can still fit into his Air Force jacket
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When it comes to the U.S. census, let’s just say Park City has… room for improvement.