Vance/Fowler story chronicles epic experiences
Today’s Blast from the Past on page A6 begins the remarkable story of two Panola County men whose common experience was having been prisoners of war during World War II, Brooks Vance III and Miles Fowler.
Ruth Bradley wrote the story for publication in the February 25, 1971 edition. We have divided the story into two parts for readers. The second installment will be published in next Friday’s Blast.
Those who have been around here long enough have warm memories of both men, each a character in his own right.
Vance was prisoner of the Germans who fared better than his fellow prisoner Miles, held on the other side of the world by the Japanese. Vance has no close relatives surviving in Panola County. Anyone with the last name Fowler in Panola County is probably kin to Miles Fowler.
Vance stuttered markedly. Sometimes when he would share his recollections you found yourself wanting to help him spit out the “c” words or others he had difficulty saying. So how did he then become a B-17 pilot with such speech difficulty? They always said that once he took his place in the pilot’s seat, his stuttering ceased.
One of his stories was about the escape on which the 1963 movie The Great Escape starring Steve McQueen was based. He was in that camp — Stalag Luft 3 in Sagan (now Zagan, Poland), Lower Silesia, Nazi Germany — when the escape occurred in March 1944. Vance was not among them, but he had a role in the tunnel construction, he once told us.
The problem was that digging the escape tunnel left the tunnelers with excess dirt which had to be dispersed without attracting the attention of the Germans. One solution involved extending the men’s pants uniform pockets into long, sock-like tubes that reached to the ankles. The bottom of the tube was held closed by a string that reached back to the pocket.
Vance was among the prisoners who dutifully filled their “pockets” with the excess dirt and then took an exercise walk, hands in his pockets, around the inside of the prison camp’s inner perimeter. When he got to a place where he was not likely to be noticed, he simply pulled the strings, opening the tubes and allowing the dirt to fall out from his pants leg and onto the ground.
The movie was based on a non-fiction book by the same name by Paul Brickhill, who researched the escape and its aftermath extensively. As remarkable a story as is captured by the move, the book is even more fascinating.
More, starting today on the next page and to be continued in the Friday, July 21 edition.