Obituary for Frederick Towle
Summary of Interview with Frederick Towle
Monday, January 21, 2002

at his home at The Arbors, Manchester, Connecticut
Susan Barlow, interviewer, for the Manchester Historical Society

In Memory of Frederick A. "Fred" Towle

Frederick A. Towle, 97, of Manchester, passed away on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Fred was born in Hartford, CT on May 27, 1919 and lived in Manchester for all his life except for 12 years in Keene, NH as a child. He graduated from Keene High and Hemphill Diesel School in Boston, MA. He worked at Pratt and Whitney for 37 years, retiring as a General Foreman.

Fred served in the 8th Air Force 1943-45. He was a B-17 bomber pilot and was shot down over Germany. He was a POW in Stalag Luft 1, in Barth, Germany. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Air Medal POW Medal, American Campaign Medal, European Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

Fred was predeceased by his beloved wife of 52 years, Muriel McConkey Towle, who went to eternal rest in February 1996. He is survived by two sons and two daughter in laws, Terrence and Susan Towle and David and Sally Towle all of Manchester; his grandchildren, Heather Towle of Greenfield, MA, Heidi and Ben Bosco of Coventry CT, Robin and Dave Fecso of Simsbury, CT, Derek Towle and his fianc� Jessie Foster of Columbia, CT; and Ryan Towle of Bristol, CT; his great grandchildren Brooke and JT Bosco of Coventry, and Nathanael Fecso of Simsbury; his sisters-in law Evelyn Flynn of Vernon, and Estelle Moriarty and her husband Gene of Leesburg, FL; and a very dear friend Rita Bowler of Manchester, CT.

He was a member of the South United Methodist Church in Manchester, CT, where he was baptized in 1919. He has held many positions in the church, including President of the Methodist Men's Club, a member of the Choir, Usher, and Treasurer of the Trustees. He is past-president of AARP Chapter 1275 and worked on their Tax Consulting for the Elderly Program for 25 years. He is a member of Manchester Lodge #73 A.F. & A.M., and the British American Club. Fred resided at the Arbors and was a past president of the Arbors Residents Assn.

Calling hours will be held at Holmes Funeral Home, 400 Main St. Manchester on Monday, March 13, 2017 from 10am - 12 pm with a service at 12pm at the funeral home. Burial with military honors will follow in East Cemetery, Manchester. In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made to the D.A.V. 35 Cold Springs Road, Suite 315, Rocky Hill, CT 06067 or the Alzheimer's Association, 200 Executive Blvd, Southington, CT 06489.

Summary of Interview with Frederick Towle

Fred was born in Manchester in 1919, and worked at Pratt and Whitney for 37 years, retiring as General Foreman in 1977. He and his wife Muriel built a house at 299 Spring Street, where they raised their two sons, Terry and David.

Fred's dramatic experiences during World War II have been documented in published works, newspaper articles, and handmade scrap books with memorabilia from Stalag Luft I, a German prisoner of war camp.

Susan Barlow: Can you tell me about growing up in Manchester?
Frederick Towle: Yes, I lived with my parents, and my three sisters and brother. We lived in different homes, all over town. I started out going to Washington School in the west end, but we moved to Delmont Street, then Vernon Street.

My father, Charley Steele, married Mabel Buzell, also of Manchester. When I was eight, my mother died.

My aunt and her husband adopted me, and I went with them to their home in New Hampshire. They changed my name from Steele to Towle, their family name. I was their only child.

I remember having to make all new friends, but I'm outgoing, so it wasn't too hard.

My sisters and brother were also adopted, all but one by members of the family. Today, there's only me and one sister left. She lives in Avon.

S.B.: So you were in New Hampshire during the Great Depression?
F.T.: Yes. I recall that we tended to have the same food a lot � not much variety, and there wasn't a lot. There were shortages of things, too. But we were OK.

S.B.: When did you come back to Manchester?

F.T.: I came back here when I was twenty. I met Muriel McConkey, from Manchester.

I went to work at Pratt & Whitney, as a machine operator. The war started, and all the men registered for the draft. Pratt & Whitney said they would get us deferrals because of the defense work. But I thought, if the army needs me, then that's what I'm going to do.

So I was "voluntarily drafted."

I went to Nashville, Tennessee in April, 1943. I was accepted for flight school, and we studied at different places around the country, learning to fly B25s and B17s, learning how to bail out of a plane. They taught us what to do if captured by the enemy � you only give your name, rank, and serial number. After training, we met up with our crew of ten men. Later, that was cut down to nine per airplane: the pilot and co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, engineer, radio man, ball turret, waist and tail gunners.

When we found out the date I was going overseas, Muriel and I got married.

Then, our crew flew over to England.

S.B.: Was that the first time you had flown over the ocean? Weren't you kind of young?
F.T.: Yes. I was 25 or 26. All the pilots were young guys, some younger than me � 22 or 23. Maybe if we were older, we would have had enough sense not to take on this job!

We were stationed in England, with bombing raids to Germany, then we'd land in Africa. Then, from Africa, back to Germany and "home" to England.

F.T.: [Referring to some government statistical print-outs.] The total bombs dropped weighed two million tons � one and a half million in Europe, and half a million in the Pacific. And the total aircraft lost in the war was 65,000; of those, 12,000 were B-17s and B-24s.

S.B.: The airmen particularly liked the B-17s?
F.T.: Oh, yes. The B-17 was much more stable. They'd take a lot of damage, and you could still get them down, you could land them. The B-24s' wing loading was so high that it was more unstable � when they got a little damaged, they went out of control. Of course, the B-24 pilot might tell you different! But that's the way I remember it.

Our B-17 was shot down on November 30, 1944. Six of the crew survived and were sent to Stalag Luft I, a prison camp for airmen in northern Germany, near the Baltic Sea, with 2867 Army Air Force Officers, and several hundred British RAF officers and NCO's [non-commissioned officers]. But we were isolated in our barracks.

You can't imagine the confinement. Very difficult.

We had Red Cross packages, which would have food and clothes. But we were hungry a lot of the time. I'm 5'11" tall, and I went from 195 pounds to 128 pounds by the time the war ended in May, 1945.

Our room held 25 men, and we got to know each other. Everyone treated everyone else the same. You didn't care about what they did on the outside, or how much money or education they had. We were all the same.

This group of "roommates" still gets together. We recently had a reunion in Philadelphia. Some have died over the years.

The daughter of one of the men who died made up scrapbooks, with our "horror stories" of getting shot down and captured. She made one for each roommate that we've found, and she wouldn't take a cent for all the work she did on them.

S.B.: These scrapbooks have a lot of photos and other memorabilia.
F.T.: I also have a "caterpillar" pin, given to me by Pioneer Parachute in Manchester. It has my name engraved on the back. They gave one to each airman who used a Pioneer parachute to bail out.

When I bailed out of the burning plane into a plowed field, I remembered our training � to turn the 'chute so the wind would be at your back. That way, when you landed, you'd fall forward, and you could protect yourself by putting your hands out in front of you. If you fell backwards, you'd hit your head on the ground.

We were also taught to get the air out of the 'chute, and unhitch ourselves � so as not to get dragged along the ground.

The Germans wanted those parachutes, because they contained a large amount of silk, and they could make clothing, ladies underwear, too, from it.

The German farmers would come after the downed airmen with sticks, and attack them. They were angry because we were bombing their cities. The German soldiers actually protected us from the people.

At the prison camp, the guards were mostly old men, too old to go to the front. We would trade our Red Cross cigarettes with them for supplies. We got a radio, and heard the news that the war was winding down. "Come on, Joe," we'd say, meaning Joseph Stalin. The Russians were advancing.

The Red Cross parcels also contained small blue notebooks, and we could use those, or cigarette packs, to write our thoughts, or stories.

S.B.: I noticed in your blue book you had some recipes in the back. Were you a cook?
F.T.: I was one of the cooks for our room, yes. What we called cooking there � we just had to deal with what we had. We'd melt some oleo, put some raisins in it, get some graham crackers and we'd roll them up and try to form a little crust on them, and make pies. They were pretty sad. But we thought they were great.

S.B.: Your blue notebook describes the last mission and your capture. Do you talk about these events at the reunions?
F.T.: Well, it's hard. In the beginning, we didn't talk about it. We all kind of blocked it out. And then when we tried to remember later, we couldn't always remember all that happened. One person will remember some parts, and another might remember other parts

S.B.: Did you talk to your wife about it when you got home? Or your family?
F.T.: No. Never talked about it with them. Those were difficult times to think about. After all, we're taught, "Thou shalt not kill." And even though we believe it was the right thing to do, we were up there dropping bombs.

S.B.: Tell me about the end of the war.
F.T.: The camp was in a Russian military sector, and when the Russians arrived at the camp, they said we were all to go to Russia, and we'd go home from there. But an American major visited he was from Manchester � Dr. Alfred Sundquist (he lived on Wyllis Street for many years, but he's passed away now). He told us to stay put until the American military showed up to take us home.

We went to LeHavre, France and from there took a troop ship.

We sailed into New York early in the evening, and we hoped to land, but had to stay there in the harbor overnight. The next morning, we saw hundreds of boats and people welcoming us home! There were fireworks and a big celebration.

Eventually I got back to Manchester.

S.B.: What was that like? To get home?
F.T.: Ah, it chokes me up to think about it.

S.B.: So, you finally saw your wife?
F.T.: Yes. That hug lasted about an hour!

S.B.: And you stayed in Manchester after the war?
F.T.: Yes. I went back to work at Pratt & Whitney. They gave me credit for the time I spent in the service. I got promoted to General Foreman, and continued working there for 37 years.

S.B.: What attracted you to come back to Manchester and to stay here?
F.T.: Well, you always come back to that "City of Village Charm." To me, it always has had that charm. I enjoyed Manchester. Nice town.

S.B.: Tell me about Manchester in those days when you first got back. Manchester was growing?
F.T.: Yes, a lot of new people had come in, doing the defense work here in Connecticut. It used to be, on a Saturday night, you'd drive downtown, listen to the Salvation Army band, and you'd know at least eight out of ten people who'd go by � you may not know them personally, but you'd know who they are. But by the 1950s, you'd be lucky if you knew one out of 50.

S.B.: I've heard that residents looked down on people who came in to Manchester during the war. Do you agree?
F.T.: Some people did look down on the newcomers. Not the majority, though, and certainly not I. I had come down here from New Hampshire, so I was kind of an outsider too, even though I had been born here.

S.B.: Tell me about the North End-South End rivalry during the 1950s.
F.T.: And the West Side, too! Most of the Irish settled in the West Side. I didn't have too much close contact with the others. There was a lot of competition particularly in baseball, and some football, between the North End and the South End, and between the East Side and the West Side. They each had their own Recreation Center � there was a rec' on the East Side, a rec' on the West Side, and a rec' in the North End.

S.B.: So the rivalry wasn't about "one side is better than the other."
F.T.: No, it was mostly in sports. There was no fighting, no gangs. Main Street was the dividing line between the East and the West ends, and Middle Turnpike was the dividing line between the North and the South ends.

S.B.: Can you tell me about a club house that used to be at Highland Park?
F.T.: Yes, the club house was a one-room hall, with a small kitchen in the back. We used to go up there and have dances and parties. It was available at no cost, but you had to reserve it. It was to the right of where the cars used to park when people went to get water from the spring, right where the road takes a bend at the bottom of the hill. There's quite a flat space there. People used to have wedding pictures taken there around the falls and the spring.

S.B.: What activities did you like in Manchester?
F.T.: One of the activities we enjoyed was square dancing with the Manchester Square Dance Club. We were all on the same level. No one looked down on anyone there � it was just about dancing and having a good time.

I've also been active in the South Methodist Church � I think I've held every office position there. I started going there before the present stone church was built. It used to be a smaller, wooden church near where this big one was built.

S.B.: What can you tell me about the roles of men and women in the 1950s?
F.T.: Well, actually the war did a lot to bring women into their own, because a lot of jobs that would normally have been done by men had to be done by women, because all the men went to war. Remember "Rosie the Riveter?" Until then, nobody would ever think of a woman doing riveting or welding or machine work. When I was a foreman, I had several women working for me as machine operators.

S.B.: How'd they do?
F.T.: Good. You had to be a little more scientific with them. With the men it was straightforward: you were the boss, so they did what you said. But, women, you'd have to be a little easier with them, or you'd have them crying � you don't want to make them cry. (Laughter)

Also, the women couldn't lift what the men could. We had 60-pound crankshafts, and the men would pick them up in their hands, put them in the machines, and take them out. We had cranes, but it was faster to do it by hand. I never saw a woman who could pick up a 60-pound crankshaft.

S.B.: What about at the church? Were the roles for men and women different at the church?
F.T.: Oh, yes. At our church we didn't have any women ministers during the 1950s. We've had several since, and a female assistant minister now, but haven't had a female lead minister yet, but that day will come too.

S.B.: Did women hold positions on the board of directors or board of trustees at the church?
F.T.: I'd say there has been some partiality. I don't know of any women on the board of trustees, although there's no reason why they couldn't be.

We do have the women's group and the men's group. One thing they did share was serving dinners. There are a couple of men at our church who are very good cooks, but originally, that was all done by the women.

S.B.: And washing the dishes?
F.T.: Originally that may have been done by the women. But later, the men helped with the dishes. At some dinners, the men have said, "OK, you women get out of the kitchen, and now we'll clean up and do the dishes."

S.B.: Can you tell me about any issues around growth back in the 1950s?
F.T.: Things were changing. There was a transition from when the Cheneys built and ran everything. They built the library, and so many buildings around town, including housing. They owned practically all the West Side � it was all Cheney houses at one time. They sold them off to private people.

The town had to build schools, etc., once the Cheneys started backing off, when the rayon and nylon started coming in, and put silk out of business.

Of course, Manchester had been known over the years as the Bedroom Town, for East Hartford and Hartford.

S.B.: It must be a shock to you to go to East Hartford now, to see Pratt & Whitney?
F.T.: Yes. The last couple times I've been there, the place was so different. They've cut way back. The rumor right now is that they're going to go the other way for bit anyway. They've got some good contracts, and they're going to get some more.

S.B.: You were never laid off during all those 37 years at Pratt & Whitney?
F.T.: No, but I was transferred plenty! I worked all over the place. I worked in East Longmeadow, Southington, North Haven, Middletown, and several different departments in East Hartford.

S.B.: Some Pratt & Whitney employees had to move out of state. My neighbor Mr. Bird was an engineer � they were told, "You either move to Florida, or you won't have a job. That didn't happen in your department?
F.T.: Not to go out of state, but I had to either go to Middletown and later to North Haven, or lose my job.

I was lucky � they got me back to East Hartford after two years in North Haven.

S.B.: That's a long commute.
F.T.: Yes, 65 miles each way. At the very end of my two years, I-91 was opened. It was the Berlin Turnpike before that � with its 21 stop lights. Supposedly they were timed to keep you on the right speed limit.

Susan Barlow: Fred, what advice would you give us from your years of life experience.
Frederick Towle: My philosophy has been, "Remember the good times, and forget the bad times."

I've followed that philosophy in my life, concentrating on the good times.