May 1, 1945, far from home

Each first of May is significant not only to the founding of McNICHOLS, but on that date in 1945, Robert (Bob) McNichols (now deceased) and his fellow prisoners of war were liberated from Stalag Luft No. 1. Bob was confined in this POW camp for nine months. His handwritten diary entry for that day expresses his excitement in the final hours before freedom:

Bob McNichols founder of McNichols Co.   Slept in my clothes all night. The Germans left at 1 a.m., and we took control of the camp. Woke up at 5 a.m. and started breakfast (Bob was a cook for his fellow “kriegies”). Russians are 14 to 15 miles from here…we are still wondering when we will get out of here! Around noon Russians reported…and some of the boys saw infantry and tanks from the roof...picked up New York on the radio this evening…thinking of getting home has upset me…I’m getting mighty impatient! The Russian advance scouts reached here tonight at 10 p.m.! German radio announced Hitler’s death…had lights until midnight!”

Due to the grace of God, Bob McNichols survived the crash, which killed eight of the B-17’s nine-man crew. The following is Bob’s story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, June 28, 1945, headlined:

“Heights Flier Parachutes to Berlin as Fortress is Shot Down; Six Pals Killed!”

Back in the days when Allied bombers were slowly beating Germany to death, a jubilant crew of a Flying Fortress took the air one early morning bound, for the first time, for Berlin.

Only one member of the crew got there. Six were killed, and two were reported missing when the big bomber was shot down in flames with its mission almost completed.

The only known survivor was Lieutenant Robert L. McNichols, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who came home yesterday after months in a Nazi prison camp to tell the poignant story of his Fortress’ last flight and his escape from death.

As the paper reported in 1945, Bob was still trying to figure out why he was alive. He does not remember much about that sunny morning of last October 6, 1944, when the ship was pounced on by a huge flight of German planes.

He lost consciousness when he tore off his oxygen mask to help a wounded comrade, and the next thing he recalled was lying on the ground looking into the muzzle of a shotgun held by a German farmer.

“I was out cold,” he said, “and have no idea how I got out of the ship or down to earth. I don’t remember pulling a rip cord, landing, or anything.”

He recalled the thrill the entire crew got when they first saw a smoking Berlin in the distance 30 miles away. He remembered opening the bomb doors and concentrating on the approaching target.

As the plane’s bombardier, he was alone in the nose of the craft when the Nazi fighters struck at 27,000 feet. “I didn’t even know we were hit,” he said, “until I heard the bail-out bell. We must have gotten it in the wings.”

“When I heard the bell, I released the bombs and rushed back into the body of the ship. Our navigator was lying in a passageway, badly wounded. I had to take off my oxygen mask to try to help him. As I bent over I collapsed, the air was too thin to breathe. That’s all I know. That’s the last I saw of any of the guys who were my pals.”

“To God Be the Glory” was his pledge...

McNichols believes he was a swinging target for Nazi snipers as he drifted, unconscious, to earth in his parachute. “My uniform,” he said, “was full of bullet holes when I came to. They must have peppered me on the way down, but I didn’t have a scratch.”

Bob McNichols   After his release from the prison camp, Bob returned to America and was greeted by his wife, Phyllis, and his six-month-old daughter, Barbara.

During his experience, the 22-year-old lieutenant made a solemn vow in 1944, that if he came out of the war alive, he would put God first and make Him his partner.

Such pledges may have been commonplace during the war, but McNichols kept his. Living as a faithful steward, giving and sharing abundantly with Christian endeavors and organizations, Bob kept this pledge until his death in July, 1981.

As McNICHOLS celebrates its 50th anniversary, we are reminded of Bob’s gratitude to God and his dedication to creating a company that reflects the principals nurtured by his faith. He believed in the highest level of service, a dedication to his employees and an appreciation for the customers he was privileged to serve. These principles were lovingly passed down to his son Gene, who leads the company today with the same commitment pledged by his father.

In the spirit of Bob’s legacy, we wish to thank each and every customer and our employees for their loyalty, and we look forward to the privilege to serve for many more years.

"Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
- Colossians 3:15-17

This special tract message is in loving memory of Bob McNichols.