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World War II hero celebrates 95th birthday

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Frank resident Dabney Kisner shows off dozens of birthday cards he received from friends and family to honor him on his 95th birthday on January 13.

A bona fide war hero from Frank celebrated his 95th birthday on January 13. Lloyd E. “Dabney” Kisner celebrated with a party at his home. Scores of well-wishers who could not attend sent cards and letters.

For his service as an Army Air Corps B-26 navigator/bombardier during World War II, Kisner received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the nation’s premier military decorations. He also received two Purple Hearts and two Air Medals. In addition to numerous other military honors, Kisner received a Certificate of Gratitude from the Government of Belgium in honor of his efforts to liberate the country from German occupation.

A tour of combat service as a navigator/bombardier on a Martin B-26 Marauder twin-engine bomber would be enough adventure and terror for anyone. But Kisner’s tour of duty was anything but routine. He was twice forced to bail out of a crippled aircraft. The first time he landed in a minefield in England; the second time he remained behind enemy lines for four months and narrowly avoided capture by German forces.

The narratives that accompany Kisner’s prestigious awards cannot tell the full story of his wartime exploits. The best account of Kisner’s wartime experience is found in the November

Dabney Kisner with fellow airmen of the “Lady Liberty” B-26 bomber in 1944. Back row, left to right: Richard E. Robinson, pilot; R. L. Oakley, co-pilot; Lloyd E. “Dabney” Kisner, navigator/bombardier; Front row, left to right: H.G. Graham, engineer; L. Arthur, radio operator/waist gunner; Martin P. Dishong, tail gunner.
Dabney Kisner with fellow airmen of the “Lady Liberty” B-26 bomber in 1944. Back row, left to right: Richard E. Robinson, pilot; R. L. Oakley, co-pilot; Lloyd E. “Dabney” Kisner, navigator/bombardier; Front row, left to right: H.G. Graham, engineer; L. Arthur, radio operator/waist gunner; Martin P. Dishong, tail gunner.

10, 2002 edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. That piece, written by The Pocahontas Times contributing writer Heidi Zemach, is a wonderful account of Kisner’s terrifying combat ordeal. Zemach’s article can be found on the Internet at www.b26.com/marauderman/lloyd_kisner.htm.

This article seeks only to add more colorful details to Zemach’s excellent article. Indeed, Kisner participated in so many daring and dangerous exploits that Ian Fleming would have trouble fitting them into an entire volume of James Bond books.

Kisner grew up in Durbin and graduated from Green Bank High School in 1938.

“I played four years of football at Green Bank,” he said.

He ran a gas station in Ohio for one summer before returning to Frank to work at Howe’s Tannery. He worked at the tannery for about a year and then went to work as a fireman on the Western Maryland Railroad. In March 1942, Kisner and a buddy went to Elkins and joined the service.

“I had a buddy I went hunting with, Jack McCauley,” said Kisner. “We realized they were going to draft us. So, we went up to Elkins and signed up. I went to the Air Corps and he went to the Navy. I was in airplanes and he was in submarines.”

B-26 bomber crewman Dabney Kisner in Belgium in 1944, when he was impersonating a Belgian civilian to avoid capture by German forces. On the left is Andy Marcin, of Pittsburgh, an engineer from a downed B-17, who was in hiding with Kisner. In the center is Maria Fechir, the daughter of the owner of the slaughterhouse where the two airmen were sheltered.

Kisner scored high on aptitude tests given to recruits and was singled out as “officer material.” He attended basic training at Santa Ana Army Air Base in California and flight training at Roswell Army Airfield in Roswell, New Mexico. He received a commission as a Second Lieutenant at Roswell on October 30, 1942.

Kisner received navigator training at Page Field Army Airfield near Ft. Meyers, Florida, where he learned to use the Norden bombsight. During WWII, bombsight technology was cutting edge and highly sought after by enemy spies.

“At that time, when you went to get a bombsight, you went in and got your .45 first,” said Kisner. “You made sure it was loaded and strapped in on. Then, you went in and you got this case with a bombsight in it. You carried it on out and the instructor told you, ‘if the bombsight isn’t there, you’d better be laying there.’”

The Air Corps expected navigators to die fighting if somebody tried to steal their bombsight.

After a total of just six months of training, 23-year old Kisner and his fellow crewmen flew their B-26 to England in November 1942.

“I did the navigation all the way across the North Atlantic,” said Kisner. “We flew around New York. They didn’t let us fly over New York. My girlfriend at the time was in New York and they didn’t even let me fly over.”

Kisner and his crew were assigned to the 455th Bomb Squadron of the 323rd Bombardment Group of the Ninth U.S. Air Force. The crew immediately began flying missions over German-held territory in Holland.

On his 13th combat mission as navigator, Kisner’s plane was hit by a barrage of anti-aircraft artillery fire, known as “flak.” Kisner’s position in the plexiglas nose of the aircraft increased his vulnerability. Kisner was wounded by shrapnel in his face and stomach, and one of the plane’s two engines was knocked out. The pilot managed to fly the crippled plane across the North Sea back to England, where the crew bailed out.

Kisner landed in a minefield, emplaced by the British to repel a possible German land invasion. He lapsed into unconsciousness as a British ambulance crew negotiated their way

A B-26 Marauder bomber model on display in Dabney Kisner's Frank home. The B-26 had .30 caliber machine guns in the nose and tail, and dual .50 caliber machine guns in a turret on top of the fuselage. Navigator/bombardier Dabney Kisner's position was in the nose of the aircraft, where he operated a .30 caliber and a bombsight that took full control of the aircraft during a bombing run.
A B-26 Marauder bomber model on display in Dabney Kisner’s Frank home. The B-26 had .30 caliber machine guns in the nose and tail, and dual .50 caliber machine guns in a turret on top of the fuselage. Navigator/bombardier Dabney Kisner’s position was in the nose of the aircraft, where he operated a .30 caliber and a bombsight that took full control of the aircraft during a bombing run.

through the minefield to rescue him. The young navigator recovered and flew his next mission just 10 days later. On that mission, the plane next to Kisner’s was destroyed by flak fire and the crew was unable to escape.

On May 25, 1944, Kisner embarked on what would be his final flight mission in the European Theater. That day, his plane was flying over German-occupied Belgium when it was destroyed by flak fire. All of the crew safely bailed out as the plane plunged to the ground.

As luck would have it, Kisner landed in a village street near Liège.

“I hit the street and ditched my parachute and I started running toward a house,” he said. “They said ‘no-no-no’ and they pointed toward a field. I hit a fence and I was going across that fence when a pretty girl ran up, and she had lipstick on. She grabbed me while I was on the fence and kissed me on the cheek.

“I started running across that field, it was a big field. I still got my helmet and glasses and everything on. I kept on going and going and going. I don’t know how far I ran. I heard dogs, and I knew dogs pretty well. I back tracked through the wheat field that I had mashed down and threw my overboots off to the side to get those dogs off my trail. Then I ran off up a trail. I could hear the dogs barking. Evidently, one wanted to go one way and one wanted to go another.”

Kisner escaped his pursuers and approached another village, where he saw an elderly lady tending a garden.

“There was an elderly lady hoeing in the garden and she pointed to an old mine. I went down to the mine and there was a man there. He told me the Germans would kill me – I think that’s what he said. The man left and there wasn’t anybody there. I found a three-pronged pitchfork and I said, ‘damn, I’ll use this thing to keep those dogs off me.’

“I waited awhile. I don’t know how long it was. But a man and a boy showed up. They grabbed me and into the mine we went. They kept running and we kept going. They had a light and they took me back and they told me to sit down and wait there. They took off and went back out. And it was black. Pretty soon I saw a light. Here comes the man and the boy. They had a bottle of pop of some kind and a little candle and a loaf of bread. They told me I had to stay.

“I dozed off and I heard a noise that night and I thought somebody was coming. I lit my candle and there was an old rat with my bread. I took off after him but he run off with it. Candle light was all I had. I didn’t get my bread.”

Kisner remained in the cave for an undeterminable amount of time, but probably two to three days. He was unable to judge time because of the darkness. Kisner later learned that nearby villages were on “lock down” by German forces searching for the downed airman. When help finally arrived to lead him from the mine, he could barely walk, due to the cold and dampness of the pitch black hiding place.

Assisted by partisan resistance forces (the “underground”) and civilian families, Kisner was shuttled from one hiding place place to another as he avoided capture for four months. At times, he would impersonate a Belgian civilian to hide in plain sight. The partisans provided him with civilian clothing and a fake passport. During this time, Kisner’s alias was André Kirkoven.

For about two months, Kisner was sheltered by the family of Louis Fechir, near Liège, and impersonated a slaughterhouse worker at Fechir’s meat business. He slept in an attic hiding place in the Fechir home at night and worked in the slaughterhouse during the day. In the evenings, he and another airman in hiding, Andy Marcin, of Pittsburgh, would socialize with the Fechir family.

The airmen and the Fechir family would often play cards, during which the group heard aircraft flying overhead. Kisner would remark, ‘those are British,’ or ‘those are American planes’ and so on. His skill at aircraft identification and knowledge of Morse code would be called upon by Belgian underground fighters.

Late one night, sleeping in his attic hideaway, Kisner was rudely awakened.

“I heard all this noise on the steps coming up and I thought, ‘oh Jesus, this is it,’” he said. “Every time you heard that, you thought it was the end. But the underground had moved in all around us. The chief from the underground came to me and said, ‘Kis, we need you. Fechir said you can recognize those airplane motors.’ I told him, ‘no, I was just guessing at them.’”

Nevertheless, the squad of partisans hustled Kisner to the middle of a field, where they told him to listen for the sound of an American aircraft.

“I thought, ‘I don’t have any damn business out in this field,’” he said. “Pretty soon, I hear an airplane. Here come a Lockheed 34 and I knew. I signaled and they made a big roll around the town. My God, you never saw so much stuff roll out of an airplane. How they ever got it all on that plane, I don’t know.”

Black parachutes floated to the ground in the moon-less sky over the field. Most of the parachutes were desperately needed weapons and equipment for the underground fighters.

“It was pigeons, radios, guns, ammunition, food,” said Kisner. I don’t know how they got it all on there. That Lockheed is not that big of a plane.”

Other parachutes carried men to the ground around Kisner.

“I was out in that field and here comes some guy crawling up on his hands and knees through the field,” recalled Kisner. “He hugged me and kissed me on the cheek and said ‘Américain, Américain.’ And three or four more did that, too.”

The parachutists were French and Belgian commandos, flown from England for missions against enemy targets.

“They were saboteurs, guys coming to blow up and burn stuff and everything,” said Kisner. “I don’t know how they got out of there. I would have liked to follow them.”

The partisans were overjoyed with the successful airdrop mission.

“The underground came and got me and you’d have thought I was king,” said Kisner. “They took me back up the road there and they wouldn’t leave me alone. They were patting me on the back and wanted to shake hands with me – all the rest of the night.”

See next week’s edition of The Pocahontas Times for more accounts of Dabney Kisner’s exciting adventures behind enemy lines, and the amazing story of his repatriation with friendly forces.

Send belated birthday wishes to Dabney Kisner, PO Box 246, Durbin, WV 26264.

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