Preston J. Ward, Second Lieutenant, US Army Air Corps Pilot, WWII POW – The Andalusia Star-News


The William Moses Ward family had three sons who served in the US Army Air Corps during World War II: Marvin I. Ward, Preston J. “PJ” Ward, and William L. “Willie” Ward. The Ward family had the unfortunate distinction of having two sons who became prisoners of war, halfway around the world,

Willy in Japan [see Star-News article for Jan. 29] and PJ in Germany. This week’s article is about 2n/a Lieutenant PJ Ward.

PJ Ward was born on February 22, 1912 in the community of Mobley Creek in Covington County, Alabama. His parents were William Moses and Mary Frances Hassel Ward. The William E. Ward, Sr. family were related and lived nearby. Together the Ward families had seven sons who served in World War II. PJ Ward attended local schools and graduated from Andalucía High School. He married Claudia Leonard of Falco, Alabama in April 1937. They had no children.

PJ Ward did two years of college before joining the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program in early 1941. He began his primary training at Maxwell Army Air Field, Montgomery, Alabama. He continued his basic training at Greenville Army Air Field, Greenville, Mississippi. From there he was sent to George Army Air Field in Lawrenceville, Illinois, where he received his wings and was commissioned 2n/a Lieutenant in December 1942. PJ was selected for multi-engine training and sent to Walla Walla Army Air Field, Washington where he learned to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. Ward trained with his crew at Hendricks Field near Sebring, Florida, before returning home for a brief visit in May 1943. He was later deployed to Europe with the 8and Aviation.

Prisoners of war in Stalag Luft II had their own newspapers. [Photo: The American Air Museum in Britain]

After arriving in Europe, 2n/a Lieutenant PJ Ward was assigned to 544and Heavy Bombardment Squadron, 384and Bombardment Group, stationed at Grafton Underwood, Station 106 in England. He carried out his first mission on July 14, 1943.

On Ward’s first mission, he flew the B-17 named M’Chérie as part of the 384and Bomber group attack on Luftwaffe Villacoublay airfield near Paris, France. The overall mission was a success and Ward’s B-17 returned undamaged.

On July 24, Ward flew the B-17, Kathy Jane, on a mission to bomb the aluminum and magnesium factories in Heroya, Norway. On the way to the target, Ward had to abandon the mission and turn back due to engine problems.

Ward’s third mission took place on July 25. He flew the B-17, Royal flushwith the 384and in Hamburg, Germany, to attack Blohm and Voss Aircraft factories and shipyards. Ward’s plane was shot down by enemy flak. the Missing aircraft report [MACR] said enemy flak above target did little damage but bombers were attacked above target by more than 300 enemy fighters. the MACR showed that Ward’s plane crashed near Bad Oldesloe, Germany. The report concludes that only three of the ten crew survived, the pilot [Ward]the browser [Robert Bederman] and the engineer gunner/turret top [Bert Landrum, Jr.].

The September 23, 1943 edition of The Andalusian Star, reported that Lt. PJ Ward’s sister, Mrs. Harvey Stephens, had received a message from the War Department that her brother was now a prisoner of war in Germany.

After his capture, Ward was taken to Stalag Luft III located in Sagan, Lower Silesia [now Poland]. Some time later he would come into contact with his good Andalusian friend, Lt. Wesley Courson. In one of the ironies of the war, Lt. Courson’s B-17 was shot down on July 26, the day after Lt. Ward was shot down and they were both taken to Stalag Luft III. They remained there until January 1945, when they were transferred to the Nuremberg-Langwasser prison camp.

2nd Lt. PJ Ward was taken to Stalag Luft III upon capture. He was transferred to another POW camp near Nuremberg in 1945. [Photo: The American Air Museum in Britain]

[Author’s note: 2nd Lt. Wesley Courson’s information can be found in articles written by the author for the Andalusia Star-News, July-August 2021.]

Information about Ward’s time in a prison camp is taken from an interview he gave The Andalusian Star after returning home in June 1945. He recalls, “Once the Allied bombings of Germany began in earnest, the German people began to flee the bombed cities by the tens of thousands.”

At one point, as he and other Allied prisoners were being transferred to another camp by train, they were attacked by German refugees. Ward recalled that they had been attacked with rocks and other missiles. The mob cursed and abused the prisoners and it was only by the hardest efforts that a German officer, who arrived on the scene, was able to stop the attack and pull the prisoners out of harm’s way.

He spoke of the conditions in the prison camps which deteriorated as the war progressed. Together with Wesley Courson he was forced to march from their camp in East Prussia to a camp in Nuremberg. When the Russian army approached from the east. They had 30 minutes to prepare to walk. Ward recalled, “It was night and it was below zero and I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold before… We walked for several kilometres… There were around 2,000 prisoners. We were only given a quarter of bread a day for each soldier and very little water. Some of the men fell and what became of them I never knew.

When they reached Mavskaw in East Prussia, they spent the night in a glass factory. They were told they would walk 11 miles the next day, then 10 miles the next day before boarding a train. The train pulled small cattle cars in which 50 prisoners were crammed. There were so many of them that they rotated sitting and standing. Ward recalled, “We were on this train from Wednesday to Saturday with only a small piece of bread each day and with water served only twice during the trip. We were only allowed to take the air once in four days.

When they arrived at the Nuremberg-Langwasser prison camp, they were shocked. Ward recalled, “We found it to be the dirtiest place you could imagine, with lice and fleas and no sanitation. There was no food or anything to cook on if we had been provided…. Someone informed London and told them about our plight… At that time we only had the occasional raw potato and I never knew what real hunger meant. . Then in less than a week, here were the Red Cross buses… The prisoners called the Red Cross buses “the white angels”…. it was their arrival that saved the whole group from death by starvation.

Lieutenant Ward related the approach of the Russian army and the liberation of the camp, “We had heard big guns in the distance for several days, but thought they were miles away. Then one day we heard gunshots outside the camp and we knew the Americans had arrived. The fighting lasted about two hours and a few American soldiers were killed, but many other German soldiers were lying dead at the scene of the battle… Then they broke down the door… I remember a small soldier in battle dress, face stained with the dust of battle…we all rushed to him and he received the warmest welcome an American soldier had ever received.

Ward continued: “Then came the flag, Old Glory, and I never knew how important that flag was and what it represents. It represents all that is best and finest in the greatest country in the world…all the armed might of this great country was devoted to the principle that American soldiers undergoing the tortures of a prison camp, held by beastly Germans, have a right to expect the men who march under this flag to come to their aid… I have never been so proud to be an American.

Ward concluded, “We fought to preserve the freedoms of the American people. We don’t condone everything that happened on the home front, but we believe in America and we want to come back and take our places with other citizens. We do not expect special favors. What we want is to be part of the great body of free people…and lend our aid to all who think like us after the victory, that we should build a peace on a foundation so solid that the next generation, neither the next nor the next will have to go to war to defend our freedom.

2n/a Lt. PJ Ward’s wish for peace has been echoed over the years by all who have fought under that American flag. No one desires peace or hates war more than the soldier or sailor who has suffered and endured the ravages of battle in the name of his country.

After the war, PJ Ward attended Georgia State University and graduated Cum Laude. He received his master’s degree from Hofstra University in Long Island, New York and did graduate work at New York University in New York. He worked as an account systems analyst for the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company and also for the Alaska Pipeline Service Company. Ward’s wife, Claudia, died in 1972 while living in Jackson Heights, New York. His funeral was held in Crestview, Florida with interment at Live Oak Park Cemetery. After retiring, Ward moved to Century, Florida. He was elected to Century City Council in 1977 and was on council at the time of his death in 1987. He was first elected mayor of Century in 1979 and re-elected in 1983.

He was a member of the National Association of Business Economists and the Northwest Florida Regional Planning Council. He served as President of the Panhandle League of Cities in 1986 and 1987. PJ Ward died October 9, 1987. His funeral was held at the Flomaton Funeral Home Chapel in Flomaton, Alabama, with interment at Smith Cemetery near Brooklyn, Alabama. He is survived by his brothers, Marvin I. Ward and Willie L. Ward, and his sister, Lucille Ward Odom.

John Vic

The author thanks Wyley Ward for his writing assistance to his cousin, PJ Ward.

[Sources: Wikipedia;; The American Air Museum in Britain; U.S Army Air Corps, missing aircrew report #16117; The Andalusia Star article May 27, 1943; The Andalusia Star article September 23, 1943; The Andalusia Star article June 4, 1945; The Pensacola News Journal obituary February 13, 1972; The Pensacola News-Journal obituary October 12, 1987]


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