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“A Speech Worth Dying For” the first commander of the 36th Wing

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gerald R. Willis
  • 36th Wing PA

During World War II, Col. Henry R. Spicer’s P-51B Mustang was shot down on March 5, 1944 over Nazi Germany where he would become a Prisoner of War for the next 13 months. 

Spicer was the senior officer of North Compound 2, Stalag Luft 1, Barth, Germany during his internment and many of his fellow POW’s recall his leadership as legendary. Spicer has gained fame for a speech given to his men after seven months that boosted morale and helped many to push through the hard times at the camp. 

Directly after the speech, Mozart Kaufman, a fellow POW, wrote down and titled the speech “A Speech Worth Dying For.” The speech, as told by Kaufman, was published in the Air Force Magazine in October 1995.

"Lads, as you can see this isn't going to be any fireside chat,” said Col. Henry R. Spicer.

"Yesterday, an officer (Major Bronson) was put in the cooler for two weeks. He had two counts against him. The first, was failure to obey the order of a German officer that is beside the point. The second was failure to salute a German officer of lower rank. The Articles of the Geneva Convention say to salute all officers of equal or higher rank. The Germans in this camp have put out an order that we must salute all German officers whether lower or higher rank, my order to you is salute all German officers of equal or higher rank. I have noticed that many of you men are becoming to buddy buddy with the Germans. Remember that we are still at war with the Germans. They are still our enemies and are doing everything they can to win this war. Don't let him fool you around this camp, because he is a dirty lying sneak and can't be trusted. As an example of the type of enemy you have to deal with, the British were forced to retreat in the Arnheim area. They had to leave the wounded in the hospital. The Germans took the hospital and machine gunned all those British in their beds. In Holland, behind the German lines, a woman with a baby in her arms was walking along the road evacuating the battle zone. Some British prisoners were passing her. She gave them the "V" for victory sign. A German soldier saw her and without hesitation swung his gun around and shot her on the spot. They are a bunch of murderous, no good liars and if we have to stay her for 10 years to see all the Germans killed then it will be worth it." Loud Cheers from all the men erupted, the Colonel then turned to the German Major and Non-Commissioned Officers standing at the side. "For your information, these are my personal opinions and I'm not attempting to incite riot or rebellion. They are my opinions and not necessarily the opinions of the men."

Then facing the men again, "That is all men and remember what I have told you."

For his speech, Spicer was sentenced to 6 months of solitary confinement and then faced execution. Luckily, the day before his sentence was to be carried out, the Russian Army liberated the POW camp on Apr. 29, 1945.

Eighteen months after he was freed, Spicer took command of the 36th Fighter Group, Howard Air Field, Panama and led the group’s transition from P-47 Thunderbolts to F-80A/B Shooting Stars. On July 2, 1948, the 36th Fighter Wing was activated and he became the first Wing Commander and immediately began moving the wing’s 82 F-80s to Fürstenfeldbruck AB, West Germany during the Berlin Airlift.

Later in life, Spicer reached the rank of Major General and commanded the Seventeenth Air Force and NORAD’s Pacific Northwest Region before retiring on June 1, 1964. He died on December 5, 1968.