Raymond James Wilcox was born on May 1, 1921, to Paul and Constance (Lilly) Wilcox in Wayne, Kansas. He graduated from Gaylord High School in Gaylord, Kansas. Before his military service, he worked for some time for a woman named Claire Tindahl. On March 9, 1942, Wilcox registered for the United States military draft. Not long after, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces to serve his country in the fight against the Axis Powers in World War II.
Wilcox served as a B-17 tail gunner with the 325th Bomb Squadron. The 325th flew missions above Tunisia, Algeria, Italy, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia. In one notable battle above Sardinia, the 325th destroyed over half of the planes of an enemy air force while outnumbered. During these missions, the B-17 bomber was covered in a tortoise shell of machine gun fire by its gunners: “Typically, gunners made up half of a bomber crew, manning a top turret, ball turret, two waist guns, and a tail turret. Some other crewmembers also operated defensive guns as a secondary duty.” Wilcox’s role in these missions was to protect the rear of the bomber by operating its tail guns; ensuring that Axis pilots hoping to sneak up on the rear of the B-17 were thwarted by a buzz saw of .50 caliber fire. Wilcox flew missions until his bomber “Dotty G” was shot down over Switzerland, where he became a prisoner of the Nazis on February 25, 1944.
Wilcox spent the remainder of the war in captivity. Wilcox was taken to one of a number of prisoner of war camps throughout Germany, where as an airman he likely faced particularly harsh treatment by his captors:
Germany was a signatory of the Geneva Convention of 1929, which prescribed humane treatment for prisoners of war (POWs). However, there were many failures to abide by the convention’s provisions… Enlisted AAF POWs often faced the harshest conditions, such as shortages of food and water, no medical care, no mail or clothing distribution, and brutal treatment by guards. By late 1944, as the war progressed and conditions in Germany deteriorated, the plight of all POWs had worsened, sometimes almost to starvation. Fortunately, at war’s end, most of these AAF POWs returned home, often bitter, but safe at last.
Since there is no record of Wilcox escaping the prison camp where he was held captive, it is most likely that he was freed as the allies conquered Germany near the end of the war. Though he suffered as a prisoner of war, Wilcox managed to survive the horrors of the Stalag prison camps to return home after the Allies achieved victory.
Wilcox lived a peaceful life after receiving his discharge from the Army. He married Budelia Hoffer on October 17, 1945, and settled down with her in Marion, Kansas to start a family and career. He worked as a civil engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation for 38 years before his retirement in 1983. He was active in local veterans and professional organizations in his community: Veterans of Foreign Wars, the local Masonic Lodge, and the Professional Engineering Society of Kansas. In his free time, he enjoyed woodworking, landscaping, gardening, watching sports, and spending time with his grandchildren. He passed away at the age of 91 on January 24, 2013, in Silvis, Illinois. He leaves behind a legacy of bravery and sacrifice with his service as a B-17 gunner and his suffering as a prisoner of war.