Rapid City native survives 100 combat missions, POW camp

  • Published
  • By Airman Ashley J. Woolridge
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
He survived bailing out of his burning P-51 Mustang over Nazi-occupied France during his 100th combat mission just days after the D-Day invasion, completed a daring escape from a German prisoner-of-war camp, and - aided by members of the French Resistance - eventually made his way back to his squadron.

His name is Ted Fahrenwald, former first lieutenant who fought valiantly with the 486th Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Bodney, England.

Fahrenwald came from one of the most respected families in the Rapid City, S.D., community. His paternal grandparents, Frank Fahrenwald and Caroline Anderson, moved to the area around 1900, and his grandfather became the chief of police soon after. His maternal grandfather, Virgil Price, became the postmaster in the early 1900s and started the city's first lumber yard in 1902.

Madelaine Fahrenwald, freelance editor and Fahrenwald's daughter, said she thinks her father had a similar personality to that of her grandfather, Frank.

"Frank Fahrenwald was apparently a real Indiana Jones type," she said. "He became a mining engineer and travelled from South America to Alaska developing mines and exploring. He had many patents to his name and was an avid hunter and outdoorsman."

Although her father may not have known it while growing up, those traits of ingenuity and outdoor skills would prove to be vital to his survival later in life.

Fahrenwald became a P-51 Mustang pilot during World War II for a squadron in the 352nd Fighter Group, the "Blue-nosed Bastards of Bodney." His Mustang sustained collateral damage after striking a ground target on his 100th combat mission. Bailing out and armed with hardly more than dog tags and cigarettes, the young pilot was taken in by members of the French Resistance, known as the Maquis.

He spent almost a month in the company of the band of resistance fighters, along with other downed aviators from different nations. Having finally had enough of this somewhat sedentary lifestyle, he and a fellow pilot, Lou, set out across the French countryside in search of American forces.

Disguised as French villagers, Ted and Lou endured a mixture of good luck and close calls. With the occasional handout or shelter for the night from a native of the area, combined with survival skills instilled in them during their military training, the pair made considerable headway until they came upon some particularly suspicious German soldiers.

Fortunately for him, Lou had counterfeit papers which allowed him to pass as an honest-to-goodness Frenchman - Fahrenwald, however, did not. The two were taken in for further questioning, and would have subsequently been set free, were it not for Fahrenwald's ungainly appearance in his clothes. German soldiers searched his person, and found several items that could only identify him as an American aviator. Thus began Fahrenwald's time as a POW.

Fahrenwald, along with Lou and another officer, were housed in two rooms - the larger being eight feet by ten feet. One day they discovered a door in one of their rooms, and were able to pilfer various tools from the room behind it, stowing them in a hole in their cell. Though the trio was unable to use these tools to their full advantage, they were transported to another camp soon after, where Fahrenwald set in motion his plan to liberate himself.

At his next destination, Fahrenwald befriended an allied major that advised him to get a work detail that travelled outside the wire if he held any hopes of escaping his situation. Late one night, he did just that. At the completion of their detail, Fahrenwald and a group of his fellow prisoners were given a chance to smoke. Realizing that this could be his best chance at an escape, he made a break for it.

Fahrenwald was taken in by another Maquis family after being chased for a substantial amount of time by his German captors. Directly under the nose of German visitors, he remained at their house in the weeks leading up to the French liberation, until he was finally able to make contact with American troops. Using various modes of travel, from hitchhiking to flying, he was finally reunited with the remaining members of his squadron at RAF Bodney, England.

After the war, Fahrenwald wrote a manuscript chronicling the journey from his hair-raising 100th combat mission and his exploits with the French Resistance, his time in German POW camps, to ultimately, his return home.

"Like many WWII veterans, my dad didn't talk about his wartime experiences very much," his daughter said. "However, I began reading his manuscript when I was about 12 years old. He had illustrated it with cartoons and other funny drawings. Unfortunately, those are now lost. Occasionally, he would refer to Vitrice Richard, one of the Maquis, whom he spent time with in France."

Fahrenwald said, although her father may have been a hardened fighter pilot, he was an excellent family man after the war.

"Dad was a character," she said. "He always had us out camping, hiking, sailing, visiting museums and doing arts and crafts. I think he learned how to be an actively engaged parent from his father."

Besides being a huge impact on his children's lives, Fahrenwald also spent time keeping another passion alive - flying. His daughter said he owned a Cessna 180 for nearly 40 years, which he flew until he was in his 70s.

"One of his favorite things to do was to fly up and down the coast of Lake Michigan, `strafing' the beaches," Fahrenwald said. "I think that was his way of staying connected to the exciting time he had during the war, and the person he was back then."

Not long ago, Fahrenwald edited her father's manuscript and submitted "Bailout over Normandy" for publishing. She said being able to help his story reach a global audience is not only rewarding, but also vitally important.

"Today, so many of us are pretty spoiled," she said. "Reading about people in the military and their wartime experiences is a great way to stay in touch with what it means to offer yourself as the kind of ultimate sacrifice that is demanded in wartime."

Fahrenwald treasures her memories of her father, and values the example he set for her and the rest of her family. She hopes that others appreciate the lives of and lessons that can be learned from people like her father, as well.

"I think we have a lot to learn from the previous generation, also known as the greatest generation," she added. "Not only do they deserve our admiration, but they also deserve a lot of understanding for what they endured in wartime. They were stoic, brave, resourceful, and they faced a level of worldwide calamity that I hope no one ever has to face again."