Flight for Freedom

Flight for Freedom

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Flight for Freedom

Man’s most precious possession, second only to life itself, is freedom.

Col. Ben Purcell, former P.O.W.

Barely twenty years old in 1945, I was a new Air Force pilot serving in Europe when orders came for me to fly into Yugoslavia—behind enemy lines—and rescue a group of twenty-six displaced persons. People of several nationalities, including some Americans, had been hiding for months—in basements, in barns, in the woods. They were now in the custody of a few friendly German officers who somehow had contacted our security, requesting help.

Orders further stated that there would be no airport available. And, of course, it was necessary that I fly in undetected or I might be shot down. For those reasons, I was to take the absolutely smallest plane that would do the job.

The day of the mission, I reached the target area and landed on the designated tiny plot of pasture, only to be greeted by not twenty-six refugees but forty desperate souls of all ages, few speaking English.

A quick prayer went up. “Lord, what to do?” I simply did not have space for forty. Yet, they faced almost certain death from starvation and untreated health problems, or from the Nazi forces, should they be discovered. I couldn’t bear to leave even one behind.

I told our crew, “Estimate the weight of each person and add them up. We’ll factor in the weight of our remaining fuel and determine if our aircraft can get off the ground if we take them all.” The fact that the refugees were undernourished and very thin worked to their advantage. We pushed the limit. I had them sit in the aisle, three abreast, with orders, “Do not move.”

Finally loaded, we rolled down the short, grassy makeshift airstrip, straining mightily to gain the optimum 100 knots for takeoff.

“Forty knots, sir,” my copilot called out. “Fifty knots.” “Sixty knots.” Trees at the end of the runway loomed dead ahead. At eighty knots, I dropped the quarter flap and forced the plane up, my landing gear brushing the tops of the trees.

When we reached 6,000 feet, I went back to tell our passengers, “We’re out!”

A sea of faces smiled broadly. Tears rolled down cheeks. Prayers of gratitude went up.

But not one person moved.

During the following years in my military career, I experienced many hair-raising missions—combat flights in Europe and Korea, tight flights for the Berlin Airlift, unique flights to the South Pole—missions that required, and received, help from a Higher Power. Yet, that memorable moment aboard the little packed plane remains one of the most satisfying. I still can see those forty expressions—expressions that proclaimed louder than words the absolute joy of freedom.

Oscar T. Cassity, Maj. USAF (Ret.),
as told to Gloria Cassity Stargel

More stories from our partners