Many families in America share a common experience; they have loved ones who served their country, came home and never said a word of their story. The horror of what they went through was too hard to tell, so their memories were lost when they died. It wasn’t until 1983 – nearly 40 years after the end of World War II – that Barbara Wojcik of White Bear Lake learned of her uncle Bud’s incredible survival story.
Second Lieutenant James “Bud” Wilschke had been shot down over France during World War II, but returned home safely thanks to numerous French citizen “helpers”.
“I only found out about Bud’s story because my dad mentioned it on one of our weekly calls. He said his sister, Rosemary, and her husband, Bud, traveled to France to meet the people who helped him during the war, ”Wojcik said.
By the time she learned of her uncle Bud’s story, Wojcik was busy raising her family, but withheld the information. Twenty years later, in 2013, she started exploring it.
“I attended a book club meeting where we were discussing ‘The Nightingale’ by Kristin Hannah, about the struggle of two French sisters to survive and resist German occupation during WWII. In this story, the sisters helped American aviators escape over the Pyrenees, just like my uncle did. This part of the story aroused disbelief, but I knew it had happened in real life. I decided right away and now it was time to research my own family history, ”Wojcik recalls.
The start was not easy. Wojcik’s family and Bud’s had lost contact. “As I was growing up in Chicago, other than major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, I didn’t see much on this side of the family, even though Bud and his family lived nearby,” said Wojcik, who decided when the time was right to reach out.
She called Bud’s son, her cousin Jim, who eagerly handed over a box full of war memorabilia. “His father had told him very little about his war experiences, but the pieces of the puzzle were there,” said Wojcik, who rummaged through the box. Inside, she found a treasure. Photographs, newspaper clippings, letters and war memorabilia provided the information she needed to establish a timeline of what had happened and begin work on the manuscript which would eventually be titled “Bud’s Jacket: An American Flyer Evades the Nazis in Occupied France. The book was published by 4 Square Books of Stillwater in November 2020.
The story begins with an air battle on May 17, 1943, in the skies of the Bay of Biscay off the west coast of France. As bullets and flak ripped apart his B17 aircraft, the bomber jumped from an escape hatch, his first and only jump. Rushing out to sea, Bud pulled the rope from his parachute and hoped for the best as he drifted back to land. He crashed into a wooden fence in the town of Ploemel, Brittany, France, and was knocked unconscious. When he recovered, he began his six-month effort to find his way home.
Using materials from her cousin’s collection, extensive research she has conducted into the incident, and in-person interviews, Wojcik has pieced together Bud’s odyssey in “Bud’s Jacket,” which includes the story of another aviator who survived the crash and became Bud’s travel companion, radio operator Bob Neil.
It turned out that Bob was better than Bud at taking notes about what had happened in France. His daughter, Linda, scanned all the documents he had left in his own box and shared them with Wojcik. She then used this information to trace the families of the many caregivers who had helped Bob and Bud after their accident and helped them get home.
“The most surprising thing I discovered while working on the book was the incredible danger Uncle Bud and Bob Neil were in while they were trying to escape capture. On our trip to France in 2017, I also understood better how much America is revered in this part of the world, even more than 70 years after the war. Hundreds of people came to the receptions to express their gratitude to us for what the members of the our family had done for them, “added Wojcik, who is happy to have traveled to France when she did. Upon returning to the US from that Bud Road tour, he was diagnosed with cancer. stage 4 metastatic breast.
“Barbara’s vision and research has always been the driving force behind it all, but the writing process has become a joint effort,” said Jim Wojcik, Barbara’s husband for over 40 years. “Her energy and focus were altered by her illness, and I launched out as a writing partner to help finish the book,” said her husband, whose name also appears on the cover.
The book is not Barbara’s only contribution to the historical record. She posted a lot of information she found about others involved in the crash and rescue on Ancestry.com, Findagrave.com and on the book’s Facebook page: Facebook.com/budsjacket. She also sent information to local newspapers in each of the towns where Bud’s B-17 airmen had grown up.
“With each generation, someone’s going to get curious and have a genealogy bug, and they’re going to click on the links and find the information displayed there,” Barbara said. “We do this so that the stories don’t get lost. “
For more information on “Bud’s Jacket: American aviator escapes Nazis in occupied France”, visit Budsjacket.com. The books are available for purchase online through Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com. They can also be purchased from Lake Country Booksellers, located at 4766 Washington Square in White Bear Lake.
Barbara and Jim Wojcik have scheduled a book signing at the store from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Friday August 6. The date is also the 76th anniversary of the atomic bomb drop on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 which led to the end of the war.