LISTEN to this edition of Hometown Heroes
91-year-old Karl Haeuser of Cayucos, CA appears on the September 14, 2013 edition of Hometown Heroes, remembering his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II. A native of Paso Robles, where his father was a Lutheran minister, Haeuser enlisted in the Army Air Corps with the dream of becoming a pilot. You’ll hear him describe the initial thrills of flying, and the disappointment of being told he would no longer continue his flight training.
Haeuser was assigned as a gunner on a three-man crew flying A-20 Havocs with the 410th Bomb Group’s 644th squadron, successfully completing ten missions. He wasn’t supposed to fly on August 4, 1944, but volunteered to fill in when another gunner reported sick. The plane they were flying that day, “Mopsy,” ran into heavy anti-aircraft fire, and eventually had its entire tail blown off by a direct hit.
You’ll hear Karl emotionally describe the treacherous moments when he bailed out, the severe jolt he felt when his parachute deployed, and how he was captured and taken to the very anti-aircraft battery that had destroyed his plane and nearly taken his life.
CLICK HERE to read an account of those events that Karl wrote. Transported to Stalag Luft IV in what is now Poland, he remained a prisoner there until February, 1945, when the infamous “German Death March” began. With Russian forces advancing from the east, the Germans marched the starving prisoners west.
With almost nothing to eat or drink, Haeuser and his fellow prisoners marched close to 600 miles over 88 days, with many dying along the way.
Karl went on to spend 46 years working at Bank of America, was an early supporter of the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles, and retired to Cayucos, where he’s contributing to efforts to rebuild the historic pier. If you run into this remarkable survivor along the Central Coast, please thank him for serving our country, and for sharing his story as a reminder that freedom is not free.