A pair of prominent locals whose late fathers were honored with namesake streets on Columbus Air Force Base shared some of the history behind the names Friday at Columbus Air Force Base”s quarterly Base Community Council luncheon.
Josie Shumake”s father, Glenn Shumake, and Rufus Ward”s father, Rufus Ward Sr., share a lot of history. Both were from Columbus. Both were part of B-17 bomber crews during World Ward II. Both were shot down over Germany and, for a brief time, were held at the same prisoner of war camp.
Coincidentally, a third soldier from Columbus, Dr. Julian Boggess, was also a prisoner with Shumake and Ward.
Shumake was working as a diplomat in Madrid, Spain, in 2007 when her father was honored with a street on CAFB. She expressed her regret she couldn”t attend the ceremony, so she took the opportunity Friday to remember her father.
While she remembered him best for his light touch when removing splinters from her young hands with a pocket knife or explaining scientific phenomena like contrails and sonic booms, Shumake reckoned her father must have been a bold pilot to earn the nickname “Hoss.”
“With a nickname like ”Hoss,” he probably flew outside the lines,” she said.
A member of the original Hell”s Angels squadron, Glenn Shumake was once interviewed by legendary newsman Walter Cronkite.
“Cronkite asked him how his last mission went and he told Cronkite ”It was the worst I”ve ever been on.” Cronkite asked how many missions he had flown and he said that was his first,” Jo Shumake recalled.
She says her father didn”t speak often of his time as a POW, but recalled how he was held even after the war ended.
“Then one day the POWs woke up and there was nobody there,” she said.
Ward”s father was also kept after it had become evident Germany would lose the war. Rufus Ward Jr. said his father was forced to walk from one camp to another in blizzard conditions wearing only his prison-issue clothing.
During his captivity Ward ate only potatoes, turnips, black bread and orange marmalade from Red Cross rations.
“For years he would not allow orange marmalade in the house,” Ward recalled.
When he was released by the Germans, Ward Sr. was told to walk west until the hit allied lines. The first friendly face he came across was an American Red Cross worker from Mississippi who happened to share friends with Ward.
Ward Jr. said the Red Cross worker described his father as “what she always imagined Robinson Crusoe looked like.”
Throughout his life, Ward Jr. said his father always encouraged him to do whatever he could for the military and the Red Cross.
During his time as a pilot, Ward Sr. flew six missions. On his sixth, his plane was hit.
Because the crew had lost communication with each other, Ward, a B-17 tail gunner, didn”t realize his plane was going down until he looked out the window and saw his pilot and co-pilot float by on parachutes.
Ward Sr. needed only turn around and exit the plane through an escape hatch, but strapped parachutes on two wounded crew members and pushed them out of the plane before jumping out.
The entire crew survived.
Another anecdote proved humor exists even in war.
On one mission, Ward saw several German fighter planes approaching his bomber from behind. He radioed the pilot to warn of the threat. When the pilot asked “What time?” he was asking which direction the fighters were approaching relative to their position on a clock.
Ward”s reply: “Hell, right now!”
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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