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Jed Boal ReportingA Utah veteran of World War II is sharing his story in a series of lectures, and he has quite a tale to tell about dodging death 62 years ago. He escaped a plummeting plane only to be captured by the Germans.
Ray Matheny was 18 when he completed his first bombing run with the 379th Bomb Group. He made only nine missions as a B-17 flight engineer before the crew was shot down over Keil, Germany.
Ray Matheny, World War II Veteran: "All of a sudden a green burst of flak came up. That was a signal to the German fighters to come down. The flak barrage is over, now you can attack."
It was Jan 5th, 1944. The bomber ran into the usual heavy flak. German fighters dove in.
Ray Matheny, World War II Veteran: "People were firing their guns all over the place, these fighters were really coming in."
Matheny fired back from the top turret with a German fighter on their tail.
Ray Matheny, World War II Veteran: "We both started firing at the same time. He was quick and very good."
Matheny thinks he took out the pilot, but the fighter plane collided with the B-17 as it sharply pulled up.
Ray Matheny, World War II Veteran: "So I was all set like that when boom, there was a loud explosion, and it threw me right out of the turret."
Matheny struggled to put on his parachute. The right wing was gone, the plane went into a spin.
Ray Matheny, World War II Veteran: "You're just inside and, boom. And boy, you're flying around, you have no sense for what's going on."
He fought his way out the escape hatch, blacked out, and came to free-falling.
Ray Matheny, World War II Veteran: "I just ripped open the parachute with the d-handle. Out spilled this beautiful white silk."
Matheny saw what was left of his plummeting plane explode in a fireball. He landed in the icy water of a shallow canal and scrambled out. Two other men made it out; one died on impact, Matheny lost track of the other.
He was captured by German ground troops who sent him to the infamous prisoner of war camp, Stalag 17. Allied troops were advancing at the time, and 16 months later, Matheny was liberated, eventually making his home in Utah. Matheny spent the last 40 years as a professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at BYU.