Lou Fowler was a waist gunner with the 454th bomber group when he was shot down over Yugoslavia.
After being held in a prisoner-of-war camp for more than a year, Fowler, who lives in Columbia, planned and eventually made his escape.
It was 1944 and he and three other prisoners of war had just stumbled upon an American tank in the dead of night.
“That was the greatest day of my life,” he said. “My freedom.”
Never miss a local story.
Fowler’s harrowing account along with others can be seen in the fifth installment of the series, “South Carolinians in World War II – A World War.”
The hour-long program airs tonight at 9 on S.C. ETV. The project is a partnership between the ETV Endowment and The State Media Co.
The film opens in the final days of the war in Europe, with soldiers rejoicing in the news of Germany’s surrender, then delves into the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Intertwined with brief explanations from local historians are first-hand accounts by South Carolinians, including two women.
“We had just a very pleasant life,” said Pat Kirby, who was a teenager living with her family in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, when the bombing of Pearl Harbor began.
It was a Sunday and Kirby, who was to ride in a horse show later that day, was up early with her father.
“I saw an airplane come right above my house,” said Kirby, who now lives in Columbia. “I saw the face of a young man. An Asian wearing a close-fitting cap.”
Her father, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, snapped into action.
“(He) came outside and said, ‘They have caught us,’” she said. “He went back into the house, put on his uniform and left.”
Jeff Wilkinson, a reporter with The State newspaper and producer of the series, has so far conducted 150 interviews with South Carolina veterans. But he and the film’s director, Wade Sellers, of Coal Powered Filmworks, said they could use more.
“We’re looking particularly for veterans of the air war in the Pacific as well as veterans of Midway, Battle of the Coral Sea, the Philippines and Guadalcanal,” Wilkinson said.
The films, he said, are just one aspect of the project, which will use a variety of platforms including print, social media and the launch of a new website to tell the story.
“People can go (to the web site) to hear veterans’ stories and support the project by purchasing copies of the film or make a donation,” he said.
The two have plans to make at least two more episodes, which would focus on Japan and the conclusion of the war. The latest installment ends just as the fighting in the Pacific Theater heats up and tensions begin to mount in the Philippine Islands.
Bill Jolly, 87, of Denmark, who attended a screening of the film, said he remembers those tensions all too well.
Having served mainly in the Pacific in such hot spots as Iwo Jima, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan, Jolly said it was important to document what he and others witnessed.
“It’s important to let the youth of our country see what these fellas ...did in the war,” he said. “It’s important to recognize them.”
Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.