In Memoriam to Walter H Brickner
In 1941, Walter Brickner was a 21 year old prospect playing for a Pittsburg
Pirates farm club, the Moultrie Packers
in the Georgia-Florida League. As a 1st baseman/outfielder, Walt had a great year.
He Batted .337 with a team high 508 at bats. He had been one of the best hitters on the club, ranking near the top in all major hitting categories.
Pete Castiglione, who appeared as # 260 in the 1952 Topps set, was also on that team. Instead of continuing with his baseball career,
Walter Brickner enlisted in the military. His story can be read here, in "Shot Down Over Italy"
For 66 years, the story of how an Apple
Valley man eluded Nazis in World War II
has remained secret. Until now.
May 08, 2010 12:10 PM by HOLLY LA PAT Special to the Victorville Daily Press
Walter Brickner lived in Apple Valley for over 25
years, but few people knew him well.
None of them knew his secret.
Brickner was the co-pilot of a B-25 Mitchell bomber that was shot down over Italy in World War II. He evaded the enemy for a month and a half,
but after his rescue, he signed an agreement never to talk about it. So when Brickner died in 2002, the tale of his escape and evasion went to his grave with him.
Author John Lanza unearthed Brickner's secret after discovering his own uncle had been in the same crash. Their story is told in Lanza's book, "Shot Down Over Italy,"
scheduled for publication May 26, the anniversary of the 1944 crash.
The B-25 was on a mission to bomb a bridge south of Florence, Italy, when
it was hit by enemy flak, disabling the engine.
"When the engine goes out, there's a risk that it will go into a dive and spin. If it does, the centrifugal force is such that you can't get out," Lanza explained.
"They were a mile high. It was a frightening situation."
Based on the information Lanza pieced together from survivors' accounts and
declassified reports, Brickner was the last one out of the plane, which was
at 1500 to 2000 feet a minute. "He fell into a tree, and when he got down, three guns were drawn on him," Lanza said.
Two Germans and a Fascist took Brickner to a hut where another German began
to interrogate him. When the interrogator ordered Brickner to hand over his
the hut was attacked by gunfire. His captors fled under a shower of bullets. Fortunately, the attackers were on Brickner's side.
They were partisans, members of the resistance movement
against the Nazis.
They took Brickner under their protection, and he hid with them in the woods until he was liberated by British troops, June 12, 1944.
Lanza's uncle, William Lanza, hid for 2 months in a cave
with Alfred Todd, another man from the bomber's crew. The local partisan
leader sheltered them,
sending his daughter with food every day.
William Lanza didn't speak about his experience for
decades, and Brickner never did. All enemy evaders signed an agreement when
they were rescued,
promising their silence in order to protect the people who aided them.
In 2006, author John Lanza learned the documents were declassified in 1995, making his uncle and other survivors free to speak.
Of all the stories Lanza researched, he said Brickner's
was the saddest. He gave up a career in professional baseball to enlist after
a promising start in the
minor leagues. He eventually settled in Apple Valley, (CA), marrying very late in life to a woman who died just a few years later.
Jim Wood of Apple Valley golfed with Brickner for 25 or
30 years, but said he learned very little about him.
"He was not a man to tell a lot of stories" Wood said. "I knew him as a golfer, I knew him as a friend".
But Wood wasn't surprised to learn about Brickner's harrowing adventure. "I knew all along there was some kind of secret involved," he said.
Lanza said he wished he could have talked to Brickner
before his death. "I related to him more than most because I'm a ballplayer,"
"He gave that up. He signed up for his country."
Click link for more information about the book "Shot Down Over Italy"