Coffin Corner Boys
One Bomber, Ten Men, and Their Harrowing Escape from Nazi-Occupied France
"Gripping…filled with…dramatic escapes, moments of surprising humanity, and acts of bravery." —Publishers Weekly
A Story of Adventure, Survival, Loyalty, and Brotherhood
Taking off from England on March 16, 1944, young Lt. George Starks and the nine-man crew of his Flying Fortress were assigned to the “coffin corner,” the most exposed position in the bomber formation headed for Germany. They never got there. Shot down over Nazi-occupied France, the airmen bailed out one by one, scattered across the countryside. Miraculously, all ten survived, but as they discarded their parachutes in the farmland of Champagne, their wartime odyssey was only beginning.
Alone, with a broken foot and a 20mm shell fragment in his thigh, twenty-year-old Starks set out on an incredible 300-mile trek to Switzerland, making his way with the help of ordinary men and women who often put themselves in great danger on his behalf. Six weeks later, on the verge of giving up, Starks found himself in the hands of a heroic member of the French Resistance—he calls him “the bravest man I’ve ever known”—who got him safely across the heavily guarded border.
Similar ordeals awaited the other nine crewmen, who faced injury, betrayal, cap-tivity, hunger, and depression. It was nothing short of miraculous that all ten came home at the end of the war.
George Starks emerged from his ordeal with two passions—to stay in touch with his crew whatever the obstacles and to return to France to find and thank the brave souls to whom he owed his life. His enduring loyalty enabled him to do both.
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.