Sitting at her kitchen table with two of her sons, Margaret Pilcher cast her mind back more than 70 years to her late husband Fred’s time in World War II.
The pair were a couple, having met during their time at school together in Anamosa, and corresponded frequently, though Margaret said she doesn’t remember any of the letters she received prior to the censored cards that were sent from a German prison camp.
“I don’t remember those letters,” she said of their correspondence before his capture. “But I remember when we used to get the ones from the prison camp. He couldn’t say very much of anything because it was censored.”
Fred was a freshman at the University of Iowa before he left to join the Army Air Corps.
Pilcher was shot down May 7, 1944, and a letter written to one of his sons, Craig, in 2005 by the navigator on the flight Ed Wallner provides insight into the incident. The mission was the fifth undertaken to Berlin and Pilcher’s 25th overall. The plane lost an engine as it was climbing to achieve altitude.
While attempting to make it back to their base, they were shot down near the area of Hamburg and had to bail out, both pilots were killed. They landed on a local farm, but were captured before they could escape. After being transferred to Frankfurt together, the group was split up and sent to different prison camps.
According to the Anamosa Journal, the last letter sent to his mother, Carol, was received just two days before he was captured, according to a short article in the May 25, 1944, edition which also said he was likely captured. The fact was later confirmed in the June 5 edition, as it was reported he was officially listed by the Germans as a prisoner of war.
One letter, reported on by the Anamosa Journal Sept. 9, 1944, dated June 11 said morale was high since hearing of the invasion of Normandy. Margaret said based on the letters received during his imprisonment, she knew Fred was doing all right.
Her eldest son Fred said the letters mostly contained simple messages, like send food. A later letter, dated May 1, 1945, told of the liberation of his camp, which his family said had some unique history behind it, as his camp was one of those liberated by Gen. George Patton.
Pilcher arrived back in the states, and later Anamosa, a little more than a month later. He and Margaret were married Nov. 9, 1946.
In the aftermath of his experience, his family said he didn’t talk much about his experience, though there were a few things they picked up on. Every once in a while, he’d share the odd German phrase he picked up, told them he worked as a medic during his time there and to pass the time that he read the entirety of the “Encyclopedia Britannica.”
“He never really held anything against the Germans. He said they treated him pretty well,” Fred said.
Pilcher also served briefly in California during the Korean War before he passed away in 1981.
After his service, he worked for Sinclair and the postal service until he retired from there and later worked as security at Mercy in Cedar Rapids where he worked until his death at age 58.