James C. Cater

7/4/22 - 3/18/00

Photos and information courtesy of the Cater family 

Jim Cater was born in Chicago. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces on May 4, 1922. He was a B-17 pilot in the 324th Squadron, 91st Bomb Group during World War II. On April 28, 1944, he was shot down over a German airbase in Avord France during his 21st mission. He bailed out at 15,000 feet, hit the ground, ran and hid for about a half hour, knowing he'd be found sooner or later. His back was fractured but he didn't find that out until later. He was found by members of the French underground who whisked him away in a car to a nearby village. The underground had also gathered up his tail gunner. They were taken to a farmhouse where they were kept for four days. The American airmen wanted to get moving toward friendly lines but the underground wanted to keep them under wraps until after the invasion. The Americans didn't know when there would be a successful invasion so they slipped away one night and started walking toward Switzerland. House to house they went asking for food and a place to sleep. Cater had two years of French in school and spoke the language. They were never turned away even though they were in German-controlled territory. Within days they encountered the French resistance. On June 6, D-Day, the resistance group, Cater, and his crewman clashed with a German force and had to split up. Cater teamed with another American pilot found by the group. The journey to Switzerland resumed. It ended in Lyons, France, when Cater and his traveling companion were picked up on a street by German troops and turned over to the Gestapo for questioning. They were placed on a train to Paris for further questioning at Gestapo headquarters; the Germans wanted to know who had helped them. That nigh,t they jumped the guard and hastily departed the moving train. Dressed in civilian clothes, the journey to freedom resumed. The two pilots ate in restaurants and rode trains as paying passengers. At the train station in Oyonnax the Germans lined up all the passengers. Cater knew they would never get through the questioning, so, he later said, "... we just got out of line and walked away. Nobody stopped us. We just walked out of the train station and through the town."

On the other side of that town, they encountered another group of resistance fighters who had secured an area. Three weeks later in a small town five miles from the Swiss border — three months after being shot down in France — Jim Cater was eating breakfast at the hotel in Bourg-en-Bresse where he was staying when an American army colonel in full uniform walked up to him and said, "We came to fly you out." Cater and the other pilot went home.

He took a year of college and then went back on active duty in 1946. He was in Guam when the Korean War broke out. served in the 19th Bomb Group during Korean War, flying 29 missions in B-29s. He retired in 1954 with the rank of Major after 13 years of military service.

Jim joined Seaboard in 1956 and flew as a pilot for a few years. He was later vice president and chief pilot of Command Airways, a regional airline based at the Dutchess County Airport in Wappinger, New York. He moved to Arizona in 1991 and spent his last years in Sun City, Ariz.

Jim Cater was survived by his wife, Frances; son, James; daughters Sandra and Cynthia; eight grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

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