Born and raised in Wichita, Ray Avila is a U.S. Army veteran who entered the war on Omaha Beach and would later be part of the Battle of the Bulge.
After his capture, he says waiting till the end of the war wasn’t soon enough for freedom.
Ray remembers landing on Omaha Beach and the uneven ground.
“The sand looked like the top of the water, but you step too far you go down four to five foot. But when you go down like that and have your rifle above your head, when you go down you think you’re gonna drown because that water hits you,” remembers Ray.
Ray’s unit would make its way into France.
Along the way, he would pick up an abandoned German burp gun. He says it was a better mode of defense than just the pistol he carried.
His unit would hole up in an abandoned home in a deserted small French town. Ray was told to guard the door.
That night, German soldiers came by and entered the dark house.
“I said I’m not waiting for anyone else, and I opened that burp gun he dropped in the door way,” says Ray.
The German soldiers would put up a fight, but Ray says he doesn’t remember much of it.
“They threw a grenade, and I didn’t see it come in, but it rolled pretty close to me. It was dark, and I felt for it, and it blew,” says Ray. “That’s all I can remember that time.”
Ray says the Germans pulled his fellow soldiers up out of the basement and likely thought Ray was dead.
They lit a candle as they took over the home and that’s when they saw Ray was alive.
“They asked me questions in German, and I said I don’t understand German, and then, they slapped me, but I couldn’t feel it anymore, I was numb all over,” says Ray.
Eventually, Ray would be marched with other prisoners to homes or barns the Germans had made into prisons.
Ray was crammed into a barn and would notice a loose board.
As he worked to further loosen the board, he would create his plan for escape.
“Nightime came, a little after 9, I had already checked the guards at night they only put two in front,” says Ray.
Ray and another prisoner would make a run for large hay bales near a farmhouse.
“We had to stay in there because it was night,” explains Ray. “Me and another guy dug in there, some Germans had stored potatoes in there.”
They hid in those hay bales several days.
Then, they would follow the displaced people walking along the road, continually asking where their American G.I.s could be found.
Ray ended up finding the Allied lines in Czechoslovakia.
He remembers his first meal, and he says it’s still his favorite thing to eat to date. Pancakes.
“I’ve had a good life. I don’t have bad feelings about anything, but I don’t want to go back to it,” says Ray.
When Ray returned home, he said it took a couple weeks before he wanted to reunite with any of his family or friends.
Eventually, he came around, got married, and raised five kids in Wichita.