Turangaarere - Born To Fly,
Was asked by a close friend to take a couple hours out of my special day (Sunday and the Daytona 500 on TV) to attend a small film at a very unique theater - The Boulder City Theater. The small film had to do with a fairly unknown hero of World War II, Flying Officer Porokoru Patapu (Johnny) Pohe, the first Maori pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Pohe, according to the film produced in New Zealand, and titled "Turangaarere," named after the farm near Taihape, NZ, grew up dreaming of one day being able to fly. In 1941, after the fall of Poland to Germany, New Zealand entered the war and Pohe joined the Air Force. He was promoted to Flying Sergeant and was stationed in Great Britain, where he piloted bombers on more than 24 missions over Germany. He was considered a "lucky" pilot by air crews, and was promoted to Flying Officer and given the honor of piloting the new four-engine Halifax bomber.
On a bombing mission (one of 700 bombers) over Hanover, Germany, in August, 1943, Pohes' bomber was hit by flack. One of the engines was on fire, forcing the pilot to plunge the bomber from 23,000 feet to 2000 feet to extinguish the fire. During the descent, seven members, of the 10 man crew, bailed out. Running out of fuel, Pohe had to ditch the plane in the English Channel close to Brest, France. The three airmen were picked up by a German picket boat, and all three became prisoners of war. Pohe became one of 10,000 prisoners at Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Poland - which became legendary after the movie, "The Great Escape," starring Steve McQueen, James Garner and Charles Bronson, was released in 1963.
Flying Officer Pohe instantly became a member of the escape team at the camp. It took a year to build the tunnel named "Harry," which had been created 30 feet below ground by more than 600 fellow prisoners. Only 100 were picked for the escape, with 76 escaping the camp before the tunnel was discovered by a guard. Hitler, furious over the escape, ordered the biggest man-hunt in recorded history-more than 100,000 German soldiers was mobilized to hunt down the escapees on March 25, 1944. For more than 48 hours, the men eluded the Germans, with three making it back to Britain. The 73 officers who were captured were taken to a civilian camp where 50 of them, including Pohe, were executed.
Following the end of the war, 16 of the German perpetrators were tried and convicted for war crimes. FO Pohe is buried in the Old Garrison War Cemetery at Poznan, Poland.
"I plan to raise funds to start a permanent museum to honor my brother and other local heroes from Taihape," Kae (Kawana) Pohe, said recently. "It could also include documents and artifacts of the many WW2 pilots who are still living in New Zealand."
John Pohe's brother, Kae, is a long time resident of Southern Nevada, and along with his wife, Liz, own and operate the souvenir store at Hoover Dam. Right now, there are no plans to show the film to the general public. Kae, however, has permission to show it at veterans clubs and other like organizations. There is also talk that the History Channel will perhaps pick up the rights from the New Zealand production company.
It was a couple hours out of my life, but well worth the trip. There will always be more Daytona 500s.
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