Congressional Medal Of Honor Recipient


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Lieutenant Edouard Victor Michel Izac, US Navy

Escape from Villigen, 1918, Page 236


by Dwight R. Messimer

by Dwight R. Messimer

    On July 26, 1918, American aviator First Lt. George Puryear shot down a German observation plane and then, in an act of bravado, landed to accept the crew's surrender. In fact, by miscalculation he had landed inside the German lines, and it was the Germans who accepted his surrender. But Puryear redeemed himself ten weeks later when he led a mass escape from the prison camp at Villingen, Germany.

     Once he was out of prison and safely in the Black Forest, Puryear went to a prearranged spot where we were to meet and waited fifteen minutes. While I waited there were about fifty shots fired. No one came, so I got down on my knees, prayed for luck and started off. Five days later he reached Switzerland, the first American officer to escape from the Germans and return to his unit during World War I. Early the following morning Edouard Isaacs (Edouard Victor Michel Izac) and Harold Willis made the hazardous crossing of the Rhine River to freedom.

     Life in World War I POW camps was not terrible for officers. Unlike enlisted men, officers were not required to labor long, hard hours, and they were given comfortable quarters. Often, access to recreational facilities and leisure time gave them opportunity to plan and organize escape attempts. Still, escapes were rare. 

     A total of 4,480 Americans were captured by the Germans during the war. Of that number, forty-four made at least one escape attempt. Thirteen of them attempted the escape from Villingen on October 6, 1918, and of that group, only Puryear, Isaacs, and Willis were not recaptured. 

    This account of capture and escape is the definitive overview of the prisoner of war experience of American aviation officers in World War I.



~ Transcribed by Constance Diamond for Iowa in the Great War Special Project