92-year-old Lawson resident was MIA for 11 months, earned a Purple Heart, and loves to tell the story.
Pictures of a church and a house in Holland, an Air Corps crew, and a Purple Heart adorn 92-year-old World War II veteran Roy Cheek’s wall in his living room in Lawson, Missouri, mixed with golf tournament championship pictures. Cheek has quite a story to tell, and the Purple Heart backs it up.
February 22, 1944, started as any other day—Cheek was woken up at 0400 for Mission #14, served breakfast and given orders, and his plane was assigned Tail-End Charlie, which was the lowest plane in the last formation. Cheek was the ball turret gunner, meaning he was also the lowest man on the plane, on the lowest plane in the formation. Not long into the mission, a piece of shrapnel hit the turret, barely missing his head and striking his leg instead, so he climbed into the radio room of the plane. It was then that a cannon shell hit the ball turret where Cheek was supposed to be, and he made a crucial decision to jump.
“I pulled the emergency release on the door and put my foot on the waist gunner’s back, and kicked him out. Then I jumped, and as soon as I saw the plane go by, I pulled the rip cord. My chute opened and I was going forward so fast I thought my head and feet would touch. I landed in a ditch by the side of the road and sat down on the bank. I couldn’t have landed any easier, except in a haystack. I was told later that I was only 800 to 900 feet up,” Cheek says.
From there, Cheek’s story is nothing short of amazing. He landed in the middle of German-occupied Holland, in the middle of the Dutch Underground movement as part of WW2. He was taken to a doctor who spoke English, then hidden in a house and given an ID that said he was deaf and couldn’t speak. Next he was hidden in the attic of an old church for two weeks while his leg healed. On Sundays, the church would be full of German soldiers, and the organist would slip bits of the Star Spangled Banner into the hymns. From there he rode by train, again with German soldiers, to Roermond, in the southeastern part of Holland. For several months, Cheek was moved from house to house as part of the Underground movement, never being noticed by German soldiers always around.
“On the morning of December 31, we were told we would go across the river to the British Army as the Germans were searching for all men sixteen and older. So late in the day, almost dark, we were dressed as women, and the Dutch policeman came for us. We were to float down the river to the other side. We then heard shooting and shouts of “HALT.” I decided to go back to a bombed out house I noticed earlier, and was there for several days, before we again tried to cross the river. The British Army took me to Brussels to catch a plane to Paris. I was in Paris about 10 days, then flew to London on January 19. I was MIA for almost eleven months,” Cheek says.
After his experience in the Air Corps, he went to school at Northwest Missouri State University on the GI Bill, taught for a couple years, then retired as a meter reader for Union Electric in Excelsior Springs. He and his wife of 63 years, Shirley, have lived in Lawson for years, raised two daughters, have four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Last June, Cheek had three bypasses and an aortic valve replacement, but that hasn’t kept him off the golf course, and his doctors say he is remarkable. One of the Dutch men involved in Cheek’s story is currently writing a book about the experiences, and he can’t wait to read it. Of most importance to him through his harrowing experience was the idea that God was watching out for him.
“When I was growing up, I never thought of God or Jesus. My folks seldom went to church. A neighbor family would take me and my brother to church every once in a while. I never realized God had been protecting and guiding me until I was older and thinking back to my time in the Army Air Corp. I am sure that God was watching over me, protecting me and guiding me,” Cheek says.