DUNDALK: US Army Air Corps Corporal Leo Wojciechowski had just unloaded bombs targeting the Blechhammer synthetic oil refinery on the Nazi-occupied Czech-Polish border when he felt his B-24 shudder.
Anti-aircraft fire had struck the nose gunner’s plane during the August 7, 1944, mission, causing it to lose speed and altitude as gasoline flooded the rear of the compromised aircraft.
Mr Wojciechowski and the nine other crew members had only one option – jump.
It was a fateful step that would ultimately lead to more than a year of harrowing experiences inside prisoner of war camps for Mr Wojciechowski and, ultimately, a deepening of his Catholic faith.
In an interview with The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper at his home in Dundalk, he reflected on his memories of war and redemption.
When he launched himself out of his plane so many decades ago, Mr Wojciechowski hit his head, briefly getting knocked out.
He awakened to discover himself floating beneath a parachute toward a large clover patch in Czechoslovakia, 643km inside enemy lines.
“I was terrified,” said Mr Wojciechowski, now a parishioner of Sacred Heart of Mary in Graceland Park.
“I had a 45 (.45-calibre revolver) with me, and I thought that if anyone saw me with a gun, they’re going to shoot me. You are at their mercy.”