A small crowd gathered to recognize a local military hero and hear his story at the Ardmore Veterans Center on Wednesday.
Second Lieutenant Theodore “Ted” Spurgeon with the Air Force was captured by German forces after his plane was shot down in 1943. He spent four months in a prison camp surviving hard labor, harsh conditions, disease and malnourishment before he was rescued. When he recounted the grim story yesterday, however, he got the crowd to laugh more than once.
“I went where they sent me and did what they told me, got shot down for my troubles, but at least I got six missions of trying to show the Germans the error of their ways,” Spurgeon said.
Spurgeon, now 95, is originally from Ardmore and joined the Air Force in his early 20s. He completed six missions before his B-24 plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over the town of Leipzig. The plane split into three pieces as it crashed and Spurgeon was one of three men who were able to escape by parachute.
“That’s the thing I remember the most,” Spurgeon said. “There was nine of us in the crew and three got out. The rest of the crew, six of them, went down with the ship. I know exactly where we were hit, the airplane went into a violent spin, and it was spinning for a while before we were able to get out.”
Spurgeon said he tried to find a place to hide once his feet were on the ground, but he was surrounded by wheat.
“I had on these heavy flying boots and I couldn’t have outrun a five-year-old,” Spurgeon said. “Then, three Germans came out of the little town close by and one of them had a shotgun. You don’t argue with a shotgun, so I surrendered.”
Surgeon said the men who captured him took him into town, bought him a beer, then transported him to a nearby base for imprisonment. On the way through the town, he gave his cigarette lighter to one of the soldiers.
“In town, the people were just coming out of their bomb shelters, and they wanted to do me bodily harm,” Spurgeon said. “And this kid that had captured me, who I gave the cigarette lighter to, stood up in the back of this Jeep and beat them off of me with his rifle butt. So that cigarette lighter might have saved my life.”
Air Force Staff Sergeant Fredd Brouillette presented Spurgeon with an exact replica of the B-24 from that mission. Brouillette said he worked on the model for four months with the help of his wife, Melva, before presenting it to Spurgeon. On Wednesday Spurgeon accepted the gift, but opted to donate it to the Greater Southwest Historical Museum rather than keep it in his home, so more people could see it. Spurgeon is already recognized in the museum with a display, which the plane will be added to.
“We had to collaborate because every B-24 they flew was a little bit different,” Brouillette said. “Different numbers, different colors and all that. What we wanted to do was make a perfect replica and so I had to keep getting all the details from him.”
Spurgeon is also a member of the Ardmore Amateur Radio Fellowship. As an amateur radio operator, he’s used his hobby to send welfare messages during natural disasters in Oklahoma and north Texas.