F E A T U R E
» Frozen earth.Wooden mattresses. Old shoes. Maggots and starvation.
Jack Conroy spent his 22nd birthday as a POW in Stalag Luft I, North III – Barracks 306 – Room 2, where he endured the coldest winter in recorded human history.
At the end of the war, Jack received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and the Purple Heart, and came back home. He was a hardened veteran. And just 25 years old.
Jack would never forget his POW experience. Although he didn’t discuss the war with his family, he remembered it in other ways. According to his daughter, Angelee Conroy, even 30 years after WWII, a “Remember the POW/MIAs” sticker was positioned prominently on the back bumper of his favorite blue Impala SS convertible.
» Cold winters, lasting bonds As Jack endured the rigors of Stalag I, Werner von Braun, later of NASA, led his team of scientists at Pennemunde, perfecting the V2 rockets that were then raining terror across the battle-weary cities and villages of England.
For 7 months through the winter of 1944-45, Jack Conroy, American POW and Werner von Braun, German rocket scientist, were separated by a mere 42 miles of frozen German countryside. That’s equivalent to the distance between Dallas and the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. Rocketry know-how would eventually bring von Braun and the best of his engineers to the U.S. as part of “Operation Paperclip,” to form the nucleus of NASA and the space program. And the Pregnant Guppy would eventually bring Jack Conroy to Werner von Braun. Many miles and 20 years after the bitter winter of 1944, the men would meet in Huntsville, Alabama, each knowing he could not succeed without the formidable talents of the other.
life and a family. Always a pilot, he joined the Air National Guard to fly the shiny, sexy F-86A-7 Sabre jets that had just been inherited from the Air Force. Then, in May 1955, Jack had a big idea. He marshalled the resources of the Air National Guard and flew a specially modified Sabre jet from VNY to New York and back again, all within the same daylight hours. Boomerang! It had never been done before. It broke records. It got press coverage. Jack averaged 445 mph, including stops for meals. Back on the ground, Jack was a bona fide blue-eyed, curly-headed, ear-to-ear grinning, flight suit-wearing media star, appearing a week after the flight as a “self-employed swimming pool salesman” on the TV program “What’s My Line,” on May 29, 1955. By 1960, Jack was a businessman as well as a pilot, speeding in his silver Lincoln Continental “As a pilot, you have across the hot, dusty quite a bit of time off. floor of the San I was also operating a Fernando Valley, hustling swimming couple of other busipools to the builders nesses on the side.” of the subdivisions Jack Conroy that would eventually fill the land.
» A world apart Meanwhile, Werner von Braun had chosen Huntsville, Alabama as the location for his Marshall Space Flight Center. In just a few years, Huntsville would be transformed by the science of rocketry from a sleepy town of 16,000 in 1950, known as the “Watercress Capital of the World,” to the nerve center of NASA. By 1964, the population had grown to 123,000.
» Post War: Rock star in a flight suit After the war, Jack eventually moved to the San Fernando Valley in Southern California and started building a new
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