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Joseph Quirk's World War II Story

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Joe Quirk 

By Phyllis Edwards , STAFF WRITER 


Among his World War II memorabilia Joe Quirk has what appears to be a small silk handkerchief.


It's actually a square cut from the parachute Quirk used when his plane was shot down over occupied France during World War II.


Members of the French Resistance hid the parachute and helped Quirk to escape from the German occupied nation. They embroidered Quirk's name in red on a piece of the parachute, and edged it with tiny blue stitches.



"They sent it to him after the war ended," Quirk's daughter Eileen said during a recent interview at the family's home in Collingdale.



Quirk was 22-years-old, married and living in Collingdale when he enlisted. "I thought it was my duty to serve my country," he said.



He was trained as a tail gunner with the U.S. Army Air Force.



He was aboard a plane bound for England from Marrakech, Morocco, on Nov. 18, 1943, when stormy weather and malfunctioning equipment intervened.



The radio equipment wasn't working properly and they turned back at one point but continued on their flight. After a while they received a radio message telling them to change course.



"It was a German who spoke English who interrupted the radio signal. We turned the plane," Joe Quirk recalled.



They were shot down over Brest, France. The 14 crew members parachuted out of the plane before it crashed. Only one crewmember did not survive, Quirk later learned.



He picked up his parachute and began walking when he hit the ground, Quirk recalled. After awhile he decided to hide it in some bushes. He saw an area cut out from the brush and lined with sticks. He laid in the twigs until morning.



"It was cold and rainy," Joe Quirk remembered.



He used survival techniques he learned during childhood games playing in the fields that dotted Collingdale during his boyhood, he recalled.



During the day he searched for more twigs to raise him higher off the cold, wet ground. On the third day he saw a head peeking at him from behind a hedgerow. It was a member of the French Resistance looking for survivors from the plane crash.



"He was a farmer who owned a mill nearby. He told me I was in France. That was a shock," Quirk said.



He didn't realize at that time the crew was tricked into diverting off course. He told the man he had had no water for three days. The man left for a little while and returned with a bottle of wine.



"It went down and it came right back up," Quirk recalled.



The man told Quirk to stay hidden until help came.



"A little girl brought me some bread," he recalled.



Quirk saw four German officers about 50-feet from where he was hiding. He decided to bury the bread in case he was caught so the Germans wouldn't know the local people helped him. After the Germans moved on he couldn't find where he buried the bread, he said.



Three men, Mr. Bodiger, Mr. Jestin and the town's mayor came to take Quirk to Bodiger's garage. They walked up the road past a troop barracks where German soldiers inside were singing loudly, Quirk said.



"They say they did that to disturb the French," he said.



He spent the night in Bodiger's garage.



"It was obviously a significant danger for him to have people in his home. The Germans would come looking for him for transport. He had taxis and trucks," Eileen Quirk said.



Joe Quirk was wearing a lightweight nylon flight suit and shoes similar to a woman's tennis shoe for the flight to England.



"When you got to a certain altitude it got very cold. You could plug the suits in on the plane to keep warm," he recalled.



The Frenchmen gave him some of the mayor's clothing to wear. The pants were too short and too wide. Quirk recalls he was a humorous sight with his lace up shoes and French beret.



"They interrogated my father because the Germans had pretended to be Allied airmen who were shot down," Eileen Quirk said.



He was taken to a country house owned by a family involved in the French Resistance, the de la Marnierre family. On the drive back they passed a bus stop where a German officer was waiting for a bus.



"The German officer demanded a ride. My father got in the back seat so the German officer could sit in front and give directions. He pretended he was deaf and dumb. They had a several hour journey with the German officer in the car," Eileen Quirk said.



"But the good news was the German officer got him more readily through the checkpoints."



Joe Quirk was taken to the de la Marnierre's apartment in the city to hide out.



"They were an incredibly brave group of people. 'The no good French' they called the other people in the apartment building who would turn in the Resistance members. A German officer lived on the third floor. The water closets were not in the apartments. They were out in the hallway. They had to be very careful so the 'no good French' or the German officer did not catch them," Eileen Quirk said.



"The airmen got moved around to different apartments, with different people in different buildings. They ended up with Madam Callarec. They moved them around so it didn't appear they were living there. They would walk them up and down the street," Eileen Quirk said.



Joe Quirk remembered one airman who refused to leave the apartment once he was hidden there.



"He was too afraid to go out and walk on the street," Joe Quirk recalled.



He also remembered a woman from the French Resistance named Andree Vivot.



"Her code name was Rose," he said.



Joe Quirk has a photograph of Vivot, a striking woman with dark eyes and hair. When he went out on the street he was told to follow Rose.



"I remember she wore a big hat. I would follow that hat," he said.



The Quirks later learned that someone betrayed Vivot to the Germans.



"A man was being questioned by the Germans. He had a big family and they tortured one of his children in front of him. The man gave Rose up," Eileen Quirk said.



She was sent to a concentration camp at Buchenwald. She survived the war but was traumatized when she returned home and learned the Germans had killed her mother and one brother and sent another to a concentration camp.



However, she is still alive today. She married an Englishman, a neuropsychologist, and went to live in England. She's 101 and is a healer, Eileen Quirk said.



Escapes for the Allied airmen were usually planned for the night of the new moon under cover of darkness, Joe Quirk recalled.



Coded messages were broadcast by the BBC to let the Resistance know when and where a pick up was planned.



"They came with trucks, small slat body trucks," Joe Quirk recalled of the night the French Resistance came for his crew.



"They told us to lay down in the trucks so the Germans wouldn't see us."



They were driven to the de la Marnierre country house and taken to the basement to await a final signal.



When the signal came they made their way to the beach and waded through marsh and reeds to waiting rowboats. One of the rowboats had struck a coral formation and had a hole in it. Joe Quirk was assigned to that boat.



"I took off my shoes and started bailing out water," he recalled. He also remembered there were strong currents and the sailors' arms were tired from rowing. The escapees took a turn at rowing.



They were supposed to rendezvous at one of two islands in the channel, Joe Quirk recalled. However, there was some mix up and two of the boats went to the wrong island. Only Quirk's boat rendezvoused with the gunboat and made it back to England that day.



The others were rescued on Dec. 25-26, Eileen Quirk said. Joe Quirk's escape took place on Dec. 1 into the early morning of Dec. 2. When he arrived in England, he was subjected to in-depth interrogation to be sure he was not a German infiltrator.



"They asked us questions about baseball and slang, things you wouldn't know unless you really were from America," he said.



He told the interrogators he was from Collingdale. They found another Collingdale man, Eggie Ellis, and brought him in to identify Joe Quirk.



"It's amazing what they could do with a little bit of information," he said.



Joe Quirk also answered questions about the topography and any German soldiers, bases or equipment he saw that could help with plans for the D-Day Invasion.



He had to fill out a questionnaire concerning each of his crewmembers, stating the last time he saw the person and what that person was doing, he recalled.



The questions also dealt with the circumstances leading them to veer off course. A warning was issued to pilots flying from Africa to Europe not to deter from their course and to ignore radio messages ordering them to do so.



On Christmas he left England, following the same route in reverse. He landed in New York on Dec. 30. He was reunited with his wife Millie in Collingdale.



He was not allowed to return to the war in case he should ever be captured. The theory was he could be tortured into giving up information about the French Resistance, he said.



He was given his choice of assignments and began teaching recruits to be tail gunners. At the end of the war he was a staff sergeant. He was discharged and returned home.



He went to work for Kellett Aircraft for whom he had worked prior to enlisting in the service. The company later became Piaseki Helicopter and eventually merged with Vertol, which became a part of the Boeing Company. He retired in 1984 from Boeing with 36 years of service.



In 1972, Quirk returned to France with a group from Collingdale High School. He was reunited with the little girl who gave him the bread, and Bodiger and Jestin.



He has many pictures from the trip including one of a street in France named "Rue de Joseph Quirk" in his honor.



The Quirks have three children George, Linda and Eileen, 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.




©News of Delaware County 2006 


Website created and maintained by George Quirk

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