“These men and women came of age in the Great Depression, when economic despair hovered over the land like a plague. They had watched their parents lose their businesses, their farms, their jobs, their hopes. They had learned to accept a future that played out one day at a time. Then, just as there was a glimmer of economic recovery, war exploded across Europe and Asia (Brokaw, p. XIX).”
He goes on to explain how this generation left their homes, families, employ-ment, and educational pursuits to serve their country. “They answered the call to help save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs (Brokaw, p. XIX).”
One of those young men answering the call was Lloyd Kilmer. He enlisted on July 22, 1942, in the Army Air Corps and began pilot training. One year later he was a B-24 pilot “assigned to the 448th Bomb Group, 712thSquadron, 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force, based in England (Brokaw, p. 62).” He flew combat missions including D-Day, June 6, 1944, which he will always remember; and on June 29, 1944 (his sixteenth mission), when his plane was hit by shells from the enemy. He was only 24. Kilmer crash-landed his plane and all survived, but he and his crew were all taken prisoners by the Germans.
Kilmer spent ten months at two different German POW camps. After being in solitary confinement for days, he was interrogated by a German officer and would repeat “only his name, rank and serial number while being pressed at gunpoint for information about the 8th Air Force (Brokaw, p. 64).” He was released from “solitary confinement and interrogation and it was the beginning of the long, cruel fight to survive, days of watching other inmates getting shot as they tried to escape, the same meals of watery cabbage or turnip soup, the cold nights with only a thin blanket for cover (Brokaw, p.64).” Brokaw continued, “When asked if he ever came close to just giving up the fight to live, Kilmer says, ‘Nope. I had a bride that I was going to marry. My mother and father, family, and great friends. No, I was going home’ (Brokaw, p.64).”
There were 125,000 other prisoners where Kilmer was being held by the Germans at Moosburg Stalag 7A. He had lost sixty pounds, weighing less than one hundred. On April 29, 1945, American rescuers liberated the POW camp as Kilmer was attending a POW church service. They could hear the aircraft and Kilmer remembers hearing the chaplain say, “Men, we’d better hit the deck (Brokaw, p. 65).”
A defining moment in Lloyd Kilmer’s life was when “the American rescuers went to a nearby church steeple where the Nazi swastika was prominently displayed on a flag. Kilmer says the men of Stalag 7A fell quiet as the swastika was lowered and an American flag was raised in its place (Brokaw, p. 65).” Since that event, Kilmer “has looked for the Stars and Stripes (Brokaw, p. 67).” During his retirement years, Kilmer and his wife moved to Arizona. He did not see any flags flying on the main boulevard on July 4th, so he “devised a plan to attach an American flag to each of the hundred power poles along the boulevard. It’s now known as the Boulevard of Flags (Brokaw, p. 67).” It was dedicated on Presidents Day 1989. “Lloyd was honored for his role with the Patrick Henry Award for Patriotism, one of the highest awards of the American Legion (Brokaw, p. 67).” Kilmer’s sons remember him as a “God-and-country patriot (Brokaw, p. 65).”