WWII veteran, 96, speaks to crowd of hundreds in WindhamBy RYAN LESSARD
Union Leader Correspondent May 29. 2018 3:44AM
WINDHAM — Lt. John Singer Jr. was piloting a B-24 bomber for the U.S. Army, returning from a bombing run of an oil refinery just outside of Vienna in 1944 when a fellow airman told him there was a big fire.
“There should be,” Singer responded. He just blew up an oil refinery.
“No, no,” the airman responded. “We’re on fire!”
As the fire spread throughout the plane, they jumped over enemy territory.
The moment Singer says he will never forget was when he pulled his ripcord and the parachute failed to deploy. He managed to wrap his hand around the tubing connected to the cord and yanked it. The parachute worked the second time.
“In everyone’s life, there are moments that are unforgettable,” Singer told a crowd of hundreds who turned out for the Windham Memorial Day Parade and the ceremony that followed it. They gathered at the Cemetery on the Plain on Ministerial Road on Monday morning.
Singer, who remained seated while he spoke into a microphone, will be 97 in September.
Now a resident of Hollis, he went on to earn his Ph.D. after the war, found a company in Nashua called Hampshire Chemical and acquired several patents, including for Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), which is used in some medical treatments.
He recalled how he was brought to his first jail in Vienna, where Austrian townswomen brought him bread, cheese and sausage and the men brought tobacco and beer. He was able to read the Morse code carved into his cell wall, which said he would be transferred in about two weeks.
In about that time, Singer was transferred to Stalag Luft III, the German POW camp that inspired the film, “The Great Escape”. He said it was an accurate depiction except for the motorcycle ride at the end. He arrived just after the real escape, which resulted in most involved to be captured and killed.
The bombing run that landed Singer in the POW camp was his 40th mission. He’d also been stationed in North Korea and Italy.
“A mission is only complete when you return to your base,” said Sgt. Maj. Ron Stoner, the vice commander of American Legion Post 109 and the master of ceremonies.
“He never made that return.”
Stoner presented Singer with a certificate of appreciation from the state chapter of the American Legion. Sen. Regina Birdsell presented him with a resolution from the state Senate honoring him for his many achievements, and Sen. Kevin Avard presented him with a similar proclamation from Gov. Chris Sununu.
The ceremony concluded with the laying of the wreaths by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts with the help of town selectmen, the firing of three volleys, Taps and a closing prayer. Ice cream was served at an adjacent parking lot.
A line of residents greeted Singer to thank him for his service after the ceremony concluded.
Stoner said the American Legion recorded over four hours of oral history from Singer in an effort to preserve his story.
Bands from Windham schools marched in the parade and performed in cemetery grounds.