Last member of The Passionate Witch crew shares his story
R. Paul Robison of Broken Bow, known to his Army Air Corp buddies as "Roby", was serving as a top turret gunner aboard the plane The Passionate Witch, when it was shot down Jan. 11, 1944, over Brunswick, Germany. It was the eighth mission for the crew. All 10 crew members got out of the plane, however the pilot's parachute did not open and he was killed. The rest were taken prisoner. The POWs were eventually taken to a camp, Stalag 17B, just outside of Krems, Austria. They would spend more than a year there before finally being liberated, May 3, 1945. More than 65 years later, Paul still remembers nearly every detail of the time he spent in that POW camp, and the men he spent that time with. His memory got put to the test a couple of weeks ago when Paul received a visit from two of the sons of one of his closest friends during that time. Ralph Allen, known to the crew as "Al", was the tail gunner on the crew. "Roby" and "Al" spent a great deal of time together in Stalag 17 B, sleeping side by side the entire time they were kept prisoner. Two of Al's sons paid a visit to Paul April 15 and 16, with the sole purpose of finding out as much information as they could about their father and his time in the military. Greg Allen, of Apex, N.C., and Dwight Allen, of Willsville, N.Y., came to the Robison home prepared. They set up video equipment to tape their interview with Paul, and had a 150- question typed questionnaire for him. They also set up a computer equipped with Skype so a third brother, Jim, who lives in China, could be part of the interview. Paul had kept in close contact with Al over the years. In fact, he tried to keep in touch with all the members of the crew. But some, he says, were just not interested in doing so because it was too painful for them. Paul and his wife, Ann, fondly remember a special visit they had from Al and his wife one summer back in the late 80s. They were joined by another POW who was from a different crew but was also in Stalag 17 B. The three couples spent a week together at the Robison home, and Paul says they had a great time. Al passed away nearly two years ago, and the three sons are now in the process of putting together a book about their father. As the only surviving member of the crew, Paul was asked to help fill in some of the blanks Al's sons had. "I was able to answer just about every question they had for me," Paul says. It wasn't the first time Paul had met one of Al's sons. He and Ann had met Dwight several years ago at a reunion in Dayton, Ohio, that Dwight was attending with his parents. Paul has also been in touch over the years with family members of some of the other men he served with. One member of his crew, affectionately referred to as "Charlie", has a son and daughter-in-law whom Paul has corresponded with for several years. That couple will be visiting Broken Bow in a couple of weeks. Jim Allen has made a trip to Austria and drove the route, as nearly as he could tell, that his father and the rest of the POWs were forced to walk. Greg and Dwight plan to make the trip to Austria as well in the near future to do more research for the book. The brothers plan to publish the book in about two years. "I'm 88-years-old now. I just hope I'm around to see it," Paul laughs. Though recalling some of the details of his time as a POW are often unpleasant for Paul, he does enjoy talking about his old friends. "We all got along very well. But then we had to, our lives depended on each other!" Paul says it means a great deal to him to have contact with the wives, sons and daughters of the brave men he served with in World War II. "I really feel privileged to be able to be in contact with some of this second generation," says Paul. "Especially since I'm the only one left."