Pearl Harbor attack a vivid memory for 97 year-old World War II veteran

ERWIN, TN (WJHL) - He may be 97 years-old, but George Hatcher remembers December 7, 1941 in vivid detail.

"I went down to the drug store (in Erwin, TN) where all the young people met, and we heard about Pearl Harbor." Hatcher said. "I'd never heard about Pearl Harbor. But the world heard about Pearl Harbor after that."

At 21 years-old, his response was to drop everything including a new job on the railroad.  Hatcher enlisted in the Army Air Corp, trained as a radio operator, and joined the crew of the B-17 Bomber called "The Delayed Lady."

Like so many in his generation, he never tried to imagine the implications that decision would have on the rest of his life.

On May 27, 1944, Hatcher and his crew had a clear mission - depart from their base in England loaded with bombs and hit specific targets in Nazi Germany. But before their B-17 could make it to their destination, German fighter jets found the "Delayed Lady" and opened fire. Hatcher was knocked unconscious. When he came to, he and his 10 man crew had only seconds to bail out. He parachuted to safety, but within minutes he and other crew members were captured by Germans.

Troops loaded the POWs onto a truck, and someone took a photograph of the Americans. In that photo which Hatcher didn't see until decades later, the Erwin airman is seated on the bed of a truck. At this feet was his friend Larry Oberstein, the only Jewish airman on the crew. The "H" on his dog tag stood for Hebrew. Germans knew that and slit his throat, Hatcher said.  Oberstein was dying when the photo was taken.

"After they took our picture, they took us back and put us in a dungeon," Hatcher said. "I looked back as I went into the dungeon. He was alone still on the truck."

What followed was 11 months and 3 days of hell. Hatcher and other POW's endured captivity in train cars, forced marches and concentration camps.  They were beaten and starved.  Many in their group died along the way.

Then on April 29, 1945, Hatcher and thousands of other POW's were liberated by Allied troops. He still remembers seeing General George S. Patton drive his tank through the fence of Stalag Luft #7-A in Mooseburg, Germany.

"Big tears came to my eyes and I knew the war was over for me. I was going home. It was the happiest day of my life."

Larry Oberstein was the only member of the "Delayed Lady" crew who didn't survive captivity.

After coming home to East Tennessee, Hatcher discovered he and 8 other Erwin natives were all on bombers, all shot down in Germany, and all in the same POW camp. Most remarkably, they all made it home alive and came to be known as the "Erwin Nine." Today, only Hatcher and one other are still alive.


When he retired in 1982, PTSD led Hatcher to a doctor at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"I said, 'When am I going to forget some of this stuff?' He said, 'George you'll never forget it.' I said, 'Well, I'm wasting my time then.' He said, 'No you're certainly not. Go to churches and clubs and tell your story. The best thing you can do is write your story. Which I did.'"

Hatcher said soon, the horror of what he'd endured became something he could live with because now, he had a new mission.


"By telling my story it took my problem from up here and put it in that book. By writing, that book was the best thing I ever done."

Since then, Hatcher has told his story to anyone who'd listen - reminding everyone about the soldiers who never made it home.

As for why he did and why he's one of only a few left to tell the story?

"I've wondered about that. I think the Lord still has a job for me to do."

"I'm so proud to be an American," Hatcher said.

  Copyright 2017 WJHL.  All rights reserved.

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