September 27, 2017

World War II POW shares story at McConnell

Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker
McConnell AFB, Kansas

Ray Avila, a U.S. Army veteran, poses for a photo after sharing the story of his capture during World War II to Airmen Sept. 14, 2017, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Avila is a Wichita, Kansas, native who served in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II and survived his capture by German soldiers.

From inside a two-story building, between the iron sights of his rifle, Ray Avila could see a German soldier.

Two more German soldiers walked through the door with fixed bayonets. He knew what he had to do to keep himself and his unit safe. Avila pulled the trigger, dropping one of the enemy soldiers.

“My capture is a day that I will always remember,” said Avila, 92, a World War II U.S. Army veteran who was assigned to the 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
Avila, recently recounted his story to Airmen at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, during a POW/MIA luncheon Sept. 14.

Avila said the other enemy soldiers exited through the doorway and began shooting towards the building. Avila rushed to relocate to a different room to avoid being spotted. He listened as the German soldiers began to throw grenades into every room throughout the house, including the one he was in. He quickly tried to find the grenade in the unlit room before it detonated. He didn’t.

Avila awoke to a German soldier pulling on his hair.

The taste of blood filled his mouth as a German officer shoved him against the wall and placed the muzzle of a loaded pistol against his temple. The only available light was emitted by a lonely candle, which gave him enough light to identify a neat uniform and the officer’s insignias. The officer screamed in broken English, but Avila could barely hear or understand. The officer turned him around, placed the gun against the back of his head and led him outside. From there, two other German soldiers escorted him to where 100 or more American Soldiers stood. The Germans then marched the prisoners of war to Vaughn, Germany. It was more than a three-day march with little food and only snow to eat for water.

Avila, a Wichita native, joined the United States Army during World War II and said he wanted to share his story of capture to educate service members and children about what the United States military does for Americans.

“The very day I was 18 years old, I went to the recruiting office and enlisted,” he said.

Avila explained that he wasn’t looking for any praise or glory when he joined the war — he just wanted to serve his country.

Stephen Gonzales, Avila’s close friend, read the first telegram sent to Vila’s parents, which reported their son had been missing since Dec. 17, 1944.

“Can you imagine a parent receiving a telegram like that about their son or daughter in war?” said Gonzales to the Team McConnell audience. On April 17, 1945, his parents were notified that Avila was a POW.

The soldier was placed in barns during his six months as a POW. During the end of his incarceration, Avila laid down on the board by the side of the barn. To his surprise, the board on the side of the barn cracked as he put weight on it. Avila decided it was time to escape. He was able to convince three of his friends to pull on the rotten boards, which created a way for them to escape captivity.

During the evening, Avila and two others made their way toward a field of haystacks that he spotted while ripping off the boards. The three of them rushed to the stack that was located a block and a half away from the barn — with the fear of approaching German soldiers. The three U.S. soldiers headed into Russian territory and were able to stay safe from German troops throughout their escape.

Avila and his two friends approached a road in a Czechoslovakian town, not knowing how to read building and road signs. They watched as a motorcycle approach them with a soldier riding. As the soldier approached, they realized that it was a United States military policeman. They watched as the soldier drove right passed them. In shock, they waited for around an hour for any sign of return. When the sound of the motorcycle approached them again, they were ready to stop him. When the military policeman stopped, they explained to him that they have been POWs for six months.

The last telegram his parents received stated that their son was returned to United States military control in May 1945.

Avila said it took about a week from when he returned home to adjust. He was able to push through hardships with the help of his family, eventually got married and raised five children.

Avila still has the drive and desire to fight for his country and continues to serve his country by being an influence to future generations.

”I’d do it again, if I had the chance,” said Avila. “It’s a wonderful country. If you live in it, defend it.”

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