A hero is someone who has given his life to something bigger than himself.On August 20,1944, 168 Allied airmen arrived at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. They were not treated as POWs by the Germans; because they had tried to evade capture and escape back to their own lines they were treated as Terrorfliegeren - war criminals. And so instead of being in a POW camp, they were in Buchenwald.
- Joseph Campbell
That's where the 168 found their hero. His name was Pilot Officer Phil Lamason of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Lamason was senior officer, and knew that they wouldn't live long in that place unless they stuck together, and so he organized them by nationality and appointed commanding officers to impose military discipline. Then he started negotiating with both the German and existing Prisoner power centers. He had no luck with the Germans, and in fact almost got himself shot when he told them flat out that while Buchenwald was a slave labor camp, his men were POWs and would not (by the laws of war) participate in forced labor.
But he quickly won the respect of the prisoner's organization which, while underground was surprisingly wired into the German command structure. Using this, he was able to get a note to the Luftwaffe, via some workers who were detailed to work at a nearby airbase. A couple of Luftwaffe officers came on an inspection to see if POWs were being kept at the camp, and their report went all the way up the chain of command to Hermann Goering, who pitched one of his legendary hissy fits about the situation.
Goering, of course, didn't want his own downed airmen abused by the Allies, and so stared the Gestapo down. The Allied fliers were transferred to one of the Luft Stalag camps a week before the Gestapo was scheduled to shoot them.
Lamason had heard of the scheduled executions, but kept the information to himself to keep morale up, and in the hopes that the Luftwaffe would come through. It was a near thing, but Lamason's coolness and level-headedness in the face of threatened death maintained unit cohesion and inspired his men to survive. Only two died (of disease) under his command.
He turned down a career that would have had him as the first pilot to land at Heathrow Airport because he wanted to return to his native New Zealand. He lived there quietly until his death 3 months ago. A quiet life, without a Press Agent in sight - that was a common virtue from the generation that faced down Nazi and Imperial Japanese Supermen.
Rest in Peace to Pilot Officer Lameson, DFC, and to the other departed veterans of the KLB Club.