ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (KWCH) After keeping the stories to himself for decades, an Ark City World War II veteran is now sharing details about the time he served with anyone willing to read about it.
Ninety-five-year-old Walter "Bud" Lawrence is the author of "Only by the Grace of God: Surviving World War II."
"It's very humbling when you realize there's a lot of people that are going to be reading it," Lawrence says of finishing his book. Lawrence's story is especially valuable as he's the last survivor who can talk about what happened to two B-24 crew bombers during a mission to Magdeburg, Germany.
"Went down on the 29th of June, 1944," Lawrence remembers.
That fateful day was Lawrence's 21st mission. He joined the Air Force in 1942. In the air, he says, is where the two B-24's were hit.
"There were two B24s that were hit, and one caught fire, and then the two crashed together and in that crash," ours exploded," he says.
Lawrence says the force of that explosion threw him from the plane.
"I didn’t have to jump because I was blown clear of the debris and fire," Lawrence said.
He says during that moment, what went through his mind was a Sunday school song he learned as a kid.
"I realized what happened and both aircraft were down that only God could do that get me through this safely," says Lawrence.
The planes had a crew total of 19. Lawrence was one of nine survivors to parachute to safety.
"(We were) taken prisoner immediately when we hit the ground," he says.
Lawrence spent ten months as a prisoner of war. He was forced to march nearly 500 miles in what was called the "Black March." Named that because a POW doctor told the prisons to eat charcoal to help with illness. It was because the German forces were trying to avoid the approaching Soviet Union.
"People would have black mouths thinking that charcoal would help them if they chewed it," he said. "We chewed it."
During this time, Lawrence and others from his crew started to write down what happened.
"I started was a POW. We got the idea while it was fresh in our mind, and we tried to find things to write on and to try to make notes, and three of us tried to pack our stories together so that it was understandable," he remembers.
When Lawrence finally did return home safely, his notes sat mostly in his garage, until a decade ago, when a freelance writer contacted him.
She was looking for information about another officer he serviced with.
With the records Lawrence kept, she wrote an article about that comrade and came back a few years later to encourage him to turn his notes into a book.
Lawrence, his daughter, and the writer worked together to publish his account of service.
"I think originally, it was just four our family to have a record of what happened, but now the world has a record," Lawrence's daughter, Linda Snyder-Patterson says.
That familial impact is one Snyder-Patterson says she's already seen.
"I have a picture of my 8-year-old grandson laying in his bed, toys all around him, and he’s reading daddy’s book," said Lawrence's daughter. "To me, that’s what it’s all about. He’s going to know what his great-grandpa went through."
The book was released in October 2019.
Lawrence says he had second thoughts about telling his story but says he realizes it's not just about him.
"It's more or less a memorial of the two crews," he says.