Coffin Corner Boys
One Bomber, Ten Men, and Their Harrowing Escape from Nazi-Occupied France
As a young band of brothers flies over German-occupied France, they come under heavy fire. Their B-17 is shot down and the airmen—stumbling through fields and villages—scatter across Europe. Some struggled to flee for safety. Others were captured immediately and imprisoned. Now, for the first time, their incredible story of grit, survival, and reunion is told.
In 1944, George Starks was just a nineteen-year-old kid from Florida when he and his high school buddies enlisted in the US military. They wanted to join the action of WWII. George was assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group—in which the median age was 22—and on his crew’s first bombing mission together received the most vulnerable spot of a B-17 mission configuration: low squadron, low group, flying #6 in the bomber box formation.
Airmen called George’s position the “Coffin Corner” because here exposure was most likely to draw hostile fire. Sure enough, George’s plane was shot down by a German Fw190, and he jumped at 25,000 feet for the “first and only time,” as he tells the story. He landed near Vitry-le-Perthois to begin a 300-mile trek through the dangers of war-torn France towards the freedom of neutral Switzerland.
Through waist-deep snow, seering exhaustion, and close encounters with Nazis, George repeated to himself the mantra “just one more day.” He battled to keep walking. His comrades were scattered all across Europe and experienced places as formidable as German POW camps and as hospitable as Spain, each crew member always wondering about the fate of the others.
After the war, George made two vows: he would never lose touch with his men again and one day would attempt to thank those who had risked their lives to save his. Despite passage of time and demands of career and family, he accomplished both. He reunited with his crew then twenty-five years later returned to France to locate as many of the brave souls who had helped him evade the enemy as he could.
Join George as he retraces his steps to freedom and discover the amazing stories of sacrifice and survival and how ten young American boys plus their French Helpers became heroes.
Published: May, 2018
Personal accounts of combat experiences by the veterans of the Eighth Air Force in WWII add significantly to the understanding of the most significant historical event of the last century as well as the incredible sacrifices made by these brave airmen. Coffin Corner Boys takes the reader on the perilous story of then Lieutenant, Dr. George W. Starks, of the 407th Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group, form the time his B-17 was shot down on March 16, 1944 near Vitry le Francais, France and his ensuing trek through enemy territory to safety in Switzerland. Lieutenant Starks, then barely 20, was the aircraft commander of a B-17 and responsible for the nine man crew. Reflect back when you had just completed your teen years, parachuted out of a severely crippled airplane and undertook a walk from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh, PA, with hostile people trying to capture or even kill you at every opportunity. Could you do it? George Starks did it! I strongly commend this fascinating story to you! Enjoy the read. ~Lt Gen. E.G. “Buck” Shuler , USAF, (Ret), former Commander of the 8th Air Force
A heartwarming and fascinating true account of our nations finest aviators from the Greatest Generation. Avriett brings each character to life page by page as they overcame incredible odds after their B-17 Fighting Fortress was shot down over occupied territory during WWII. Readers will be captivated by another amazing story from WWII that had to be told - not only of the brave pilots and crew who survived insurmountable odds, but also the brave French citizens who risked everything to help them. Inspiring and emotional. ~Major Scott A. Huesing USMC (Ret) Bestselling Author: Echo in Ramadi
On their first combat mission, ten young men had their lives forever altered. Shot out of the air, parachuting into Nazi-occupied France, the men were scattered to different fates—some escaped, others were captured. All made it home from the war. Their individual adventures exhibit a collective determination to survive. Some 73 years later, with the help of Carole Engle Avriett, their stories are being told. And not just those of the crew, but of the French men and women, who, at great risk, took some of the crew into their homes, hid them, and aided their escapes.
Equally as interesting are the stories of some of the crew returning to Europe a half century later to retrace their steps and reconnect with the people who had helped to save them. The book also helps to remind us that the Coffin Corner Boys were the lucky ones. Many, many other aircrews were to remain forever young.
~Louis Joyner, former Editor of Southern Living Magazine, award-winning photographer, WWII aviation historian
Readers will catch a glimpse into first-hand accounts of what very young men did in serving our country at a time when the world was at war—and how brave people abroad responded to their mission. You will be inspired and engrossed at every turn of the page of this remarkable book. ~Bill Frederick, former Mayor of Orlando
Rarely do we read true stories about the fearsome, preserving, enduring, unselfish love of country displayed by Dr. George Starks. He doesn’t like to be called a hero, but no other word can rightly portray him better. He is my hero and after reading this book, he will be yours too.