| coincidence that he was born on the Fourth of July. He was the youngest of eleven children who were raised on a farm near the banks of Bear Creek. Vickery had told this reporter, “I’ve farmed all my life and all I knew growing up was farming with mules.”
Vickery also stated, “I picked cotton all my life. I was the best cotton picker in my family. When I was sixteen, Daddy told me, ‘If you can pick a bale [400 pounds] a day, I will give you an extra fifty cents. He was paying seventy-five cents per hundred pounds. So, I would make $3.50 a day. And this was when men were working for fifty cents a day.
“I put the money in the bank and I was never without money from that time on. I always worked and I enjoyed working.”
Vickery recalled, “We would always pick up potatoes on my birthday, the Fourth of July. Then mother would make a freezer of ice cream. One year, when I was very young, Mother asked us, ‘Would you like some more ice cream?’ My next oldest brother replied, ‘Me don’t care [if I do].’”
Roland’s parents, Jones and Bessie [Elizabeth] Vickery, moved to northwestern Alabama from Georgia. Shortly after arriving they planted an apple orchard, and later pecan trees from Hartwell, Georgia. He remembered, “As a kid, I helped set out those trees and Dad lived to benefit from them. When a volunteer tree sprouted, we would usually pull it up. But one time we left one. And the pecan specialists from Auburn said that the volunteer tree produced the best pecans of any of them.”
Roland and three of his brothers were in military service during World War II. In fact, one brother had been in the U.S. Marine Corp for three or four years before Pearl Harbor. Another brother, who was about to be drafted, joined the U.S. Navy Sea Bees [construction battalions].
When Roland was drafted into the U. S. Army Air Corp, he could have been deferred because he was farming. He revealed, “I didn’t feel right about not serving.”
He was sent to Chicago to train as a radio operator and mechanic. He then volunteered for aerial gunnery school in spite of the fact that he knew that the life expectancy of a gunner was very short. He was assigned to a B-24 in the European theater where he flew bombing missions over Germany, out of Italy.
The gunners had to complete 50 missions before they could go home. Vickery said, “I always breathed a prayer before we took off and expected to be back at the base that day.”
However, Tech Sergeant Vickery’s B-24 was shot down over Germany on his eleventh mission. His was one of three of 60 aircraft in his group that were shot down that day. Of the 31 men on the three bombers, only six came out alive.
Vickery vividly remembers what happened, “The tail gunner’s machine gun jammed and his compartment was hit. I turned around to see a stream of tracer bullets coming up the fuselage. The tail gunner, waist gunner, and photographer bailed out. As I reached down to pick up my parachute, the plywood, on which I was standing, was split by the tracers. I broke my thumb, when I slammed it against something, as I bailed out.
“When I hit the ground, I tried to hide my parachute and crawled into a ditch to hide myself. But there were Germans all around me. One of them cried, ‘Roust!’ I knew that he meant for me to come out of the ditch.
“All U.S. combat aircraft crew members were issued 45 caliber pistols, but I always left mine in the barracks. One of our crew shot at the Germans and he was immediately killed. Three tried to escape, but were captured. I saw no sense in trying to escape. One who did escape got home just a few days before me. Our navigator got out alive and I corresponded with him until he died. I then began to correspond with his son.
“We were treated fairly well, but we did not have much to eat. I believe prisoners of war held by the Germans were generally treated better than prisoners of the Japanese.
“We were taken up near the Lithuanian border. As the Allied armies moved closer to Germany, we were moved down near the Baltic Sea. Then we were moved by train for seven days across to Berlin and on to Nuremberg. We had even less to eat on that train trip. When we got off the train at Nuremberg, we were forced to march to
“One of the German guards, whom we called ‘Big
Stu,’ was abusive to us. But, he saw the ‘handwriting on the wall’ near the end of the war. And he began to ask us if we could do anything for him [to spare him from retribution]. Shortly, we were liberated at
Mooseburg, and ‘Big Stu’ was found in the forest with a pick driven through his head.”
After receiving the Purple Heart and an honorable discharge, Roland returned home on a Sunday, and the following Friday he married his high school sweetheart, Juanita. He farmed full-time for six years. He then became a rural mail carrier for the next 32 years, but he continued to farm. Although he lived closer to Bear Creek, he carried mail out of Phil Campbell. He reflected, “Even as a child, I always thought I would like to be a rural mail carrier.”
Roland and Juanita’s children are Dianne, who is married to Richard