Lt Lloyd S. Hathcock, Sr.
December 10, 1919 – February 10, 1995
Unit 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group
When Lloyd “Scotty” Hathcock looked around the POW camp near Sagan, Germany, he was the only black face among the thousands held in Germany’s Stalag Luft III.
A pilot in the all-black 301st squadron of the 332nd fighter group – the legendary Tuskegee Airmen – Hathcock had volunteered to fly a P-47 fighter to a new base in Ramitelli, Italy, while the rest of his unit went by truck. A man who loved to fly and spent his leave time in the air while his friends went into town, he had the most hours in that aircraft.
For Hathcock, the son of a Dayton dentist and a graduate of Stivers High School, Ramitelli would become a horrific detour.
After dodging enemy fire and becoming disoriented, Hathcock saw his fuel light flickering somewhere along the Adriatic coast. To avoid a crash, he force-landed in a field in northern Italy.
“I felt a cold piece of steel in my ear,” Hathcock recounted in an interview a few months before his death in 1985. “An Italian had climbed up on the wing and poked this thing in my ear.”
The excited soldier was jerking and jumping around, still holding the rifle to his head. Hathcock prayed the twitching wouldn’t reach the man’s trigger finger.
“A staff car came down this dusty field with the (Nazi) flags outside” he said. “It looked like something out of a Paramount picture.”
The movie reference was more appropriate than Hathcock knew at the time. It was May of 1944, and the Germans took him to Stalag III, near the Polish border, only months after 76 men had committed the breakout immortalized in the Steve McQueen film, The Great Escape. Fifty of the recaptured escapees had been brought back to camp and shot.
Hathcock had wanted to fly ever since he was a toddler. His father paid a dollar for his 8-year-old son to take his first plane ride around Dayton’s McCook Field, and for his 10th birthday in 1929, his mother Jessie, a teacher, bought her son a copy of We, Charles Lindbergh’s memoir of his transatlantic flight.
Hathcock got his pilot’s license while a student at West Virginia State College, and left before graduation to join the other black aviators at Tuskegee Field. He completed his training in December 1943 and joined the squad as a second lieutenant. Less than six months later, he was being held in Stalag III.
During Hathcock’s 11 months in captivity, escape attempts continued. “It is a POW’s duty to escape,” Hathcock said. The prisoners formed an escape committee, and tunneling went on nonstop. Hathcock carried dirt from the tunnels out into the camp yard in his pockets and get rid of it.
“I had drawstrings in my pockets, which I pulled as I walked around the camp, letting the dirt trickle down my leg,” he said. A fellow prisoner came along behind him to tamp down the loose earth.
Prisoners used slats from their beds to support the tunnel walls. When the Germans discovered one tunnel, the POWs would start another.
Hathcock said they later discovered that the Germans knew about the tunneling all along, but felt the digging kept the men occupied. He said that while the prisoners were lined up being counted in the yard, guards had been in the barracks counting bed slats.
His fellow prisoners sometimes exploited Hathcock’s race to ferret out spies in their midst, hoping that a mole would be less guarded in the presence of a black soldier.
At the time, Hathcock remembered, “the average white man thinks the average black man is dumb.”
His captors didn’t seem put off by Hathcock’s race. Life magazine had featured the Army Air Corps’ Tuskegee program, and the Germans told him, “we know all about your group.” He said that their main reaction was curiosity, and that the Germans didn’t treat him any harsher than the white POWs. Not that that was much of a blessing.
In the camps, Hathcock said, “everything was reversed” in an attempt to break morale. “You were put in a cell, and there must have been a 500-watt light bulb in it. It was off during the day and on during the night. In the daytime, the heat was on and at night, off.”
Privations extended to a diet of ersatz coffee and bread made with sawdust.
“Dad used to tell me that you only got so much water, and your choices were drink the water and wear dirty socks, or wash your socks and then drink the water,” said his daughter, Beverly Robinson, who was born while her father was in the camps.
When the Russian tanks broke through the Nazi’s eastern front in 1945, the prisoners were forced to march through the January snow to Stalag XIII D, near Nuremberg. Hathcock took only some meat, a chocolate bar from the Red Cross and clean socks.
“He still got frostbite on his hands and feet,” his son. Lloyd Hathcock Jr., said. “But all in all, he got through it pretty well.
“It was a source of strength for him, no doubt about that,” Hathcock Jr. said. “He was very proud to have survived.”
After the war ended, Hathcock returned to Dayton, to his wife, Marjorie, and baby daughter. He joined the Air Force Reserves and took a job at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. An artistic streak from his youth led him to work in the Technical Photography lab, and he is credited with engineering several innovations in cameras for air-to-air photography.
“He developed ways to film ejector seat tests and mid-air refueling,” Hathcock Jr. said, “as well as de-icing – all these things we take for granted now were highly experimental then.”
“He loved flying and planes, but he hated the segregation, even after the war,” Robinson said. “But he was well respected in his field.” After he retired in 1973, she said, “he really seemed to come alive when people began to recognize the Tuskegee Airmen.
“In our house, we never talked about racism,” she said, “just that we were all human beings, trying to get along.”
“Dad led by example,” his son said. “He seemed to say, ‘I overcame these things. You can, too.’ ‘
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Republic P-47D 42-75971 310th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group, 12th AF