NEW FRANKLIN: When she was little, Heidi Klise listened to her grandpa’s war stories.
Winthrop “Win” Worcester would tell about how the plane he co-piloted was shot down over Germany and how he and the crew had to parachute to safety.
“You just have the feeling of peace,” he said of the fall to the ground before being captured by the Germans.
This story and others persuaded Klise to learn more about her 91-year-old grandpa and use his story for her Independent Study Senior Project at the College of Wooster.
“As a historian, I think it’s really important to archive the stories of people,” she said.
The 22-year-old spent the last school year meeting with him and researching his role in World War II for her thesis.
She met with Worcester, who lives in New Franklin, for two days to hear all the details of his life. When she discovered part of the interview did not record, she had to meet up for a third day.
A mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, Worcester earned his pilot license through a federal program just before the war started.
After working at a few jobs as an engineer, he enlisted in the Army. He was on his 37th mission when his B-17 was shot down hundreds of miles into Germany.
The plane was hit by gunfire on a wing and fire engulfed the plane.
The crewmen were told to grab their parachutes and jumped one at a time from about 22,000 feet.
By the time Worcester jumped, oxygen on the plane was scarce.
He said it felt good going down, calm and peaceful.
That changed when he went to pull the cord for the parachute and realized he had put it on backwards.
He pulled the cord and landed in a forest and was knocked out when he hit the ground.
German soldiers captured him within a day, and he was held prisoner for nine months.
He was put in with fellow officers, who were separated from enlisted prisoners who were forced to work at the prison camp.
He made a book by using metal from cans as the cover and cigarette paper for pages. The book became a journal of his daily activities.
Using skills honed as a mechanical engineer, he made other things, including a clock, an oven and cooking devices.
After the war, he worked for B.F. Goodrich in Akron for 34 years.
He and his wife, Jane, had four children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Klise said she had only heard snippets of his war stories in the past.
She said her questions would “jog his memory” and he would share more and more.
“Even now, if we would go through it again, I would think of a few more things, not all lies,” Worcester said of his time with his granddaughter.
Sharing his memories was “therapeutic,” he said.
“I was surprised she was interested,” he said.
Klise said now that she has graduated, she plans to do some volunteer work in Mexico and eventually get a master’s degree in public history.
She said it was interesting to note that her grandfather was just one year older than she is now when he was shot down.
“I would like to think that I could keep my cool and focus on the mission,” she said.
Klise said it is important that these stories and those of vets from more recent conflicts be recorded.
Worcester said he last shared the story of his capture with a group of ex-prisoners who met in Wooster.
The group is disbanding because so many of its members have died.
“World War II was the big thing in my lifetime and everybody’s lifetime who is my age,” he said.
Worcester comes from a family of survivors, said his daughter, Mary Newell, who lives in Minneapolis.
She said one of the family’s ancestors is John Howland, who came to America on the Mayflower. He fell overboard during the journey and had to be rescued.
In the conclusion of her paper, Klise wrote that it is important to remember the men and women serving in current conflicts.
“And their story, just like Win’s, needs to be told so that we remember what war is truly about, the strength and will of the people who fight it.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.