The Geneva Convention and a POW Experience: David Wetherhill’s Story

This article is first of a five-part series published in conjunction with National POW/MIA Recognition Day 2018. Information in this article is provided courtesy of the Joseph A. Moller Library.

Unless they were lucky enough to escape through underground networks, downed airmen often became Prisoners of War. The Third Geneva Convention established provisions in numerous articles outlining treatment for POWs.

Under the Geneva Convention, airmen were instructed to give their captors no information but their name, rank and serial number. Still, the lines drawn by the Geneva Convention were crossed.

The Geneva Convention and One POW’s Experience

David Wetherhill recalled his interrogation in a document he compiled in 1991:

“In the interrogation I stood facing my questioner, an officer who was seated behind a desk. My back was to the door, and behind me was a guard holding a machine pistol that was, as was always the case, pointed at me. The questions were easy at first.”

Wetherhill went on to describe the increasingly personal and imposing questions imparted on him by his interrogator. Risking his life, he made reference to the Geneva Convention and refused to answer the questions.

He describes how, subsequently, a ‘copy’ of the Geneva Convention was brought out for him to look at.

“There were paragraphs with red underlining, stating that captured military personal was required to answer such questions as name, rank, serial number, next of kin, name of unit, name of commanding officer, and on and on.”

He Took His Life in His Hands

Very carefully, Wetherhill explained to his captor that what he was seeing was a phony document, and he continued to refuse to answer the questions.

“There was talk about my probably being a member of the French underground, for which I would have to be shot. I remained silent, except for an occasional reference to the Geneva Convention.”

Wetherhill was dismissed. Back in his cell, he read a message about courage, neatly lettered on the wall by some previous occupant.

“I spent the morning convincing myself that I could handle whatever was in store for me.”

Wetherhill’s plane was hit by FLAK on December 4, 1944, during a mission to Friedburg. The engine caught fire and exploded; then the plane crashed near Simmers. Three crew members were killed, the remaining seven became POW.

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