A series on aviation wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of Canyon Lake’s most famous pilots, Arlie Blood. Although Arlie passed away May 14, 2014, at the age of 98, his legacy lives on at the Canyon Lake Veterans Monument and in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.
In particular, his wife, Lucille, now 94, still lives in Canyon Lake and remains very active in her bowling league and bunco group. She and Arlie were married 73 years and bought property in Canyon Lake in 1968.
Many Canyon Lakers have read or heard Arlie’s story by seeing it in The Friday Flyer or reading his autobiography, “Only Angels Have Wings.” Retired as a U.S. Air Force Colonel, Arlie flew for the Army Air Corps and was shot down over France in WWII, evading capture with the help of the French Underground and fighting with the French Resistance “Maquis.”
He was caught and almost killed by the Germans, became a prisoner of war, escaped, boldly helped liberate two French towns, and eventually made his way back to Paris and Great Britain, then to Santa Monica and some time with his wife, followed by a career with the U.S. Air Force and eventual employment with Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Arlie’s gripping story is told in his autobiography, which can be found in the Canyon Lake Library and at amazon.com. It tells of many brushes with death over the years, before and after being shot down in France.
Born in a log cabin near Little Falls, Minnesota on December 30, 1915, Arlie lost his mother at the age of 1 and lived with different relatives, including his dad, in homes from Minnesota to the Dakotas. He almost died of diphtheria at the age of 7, and almost froze to death walking 3-½ miles from the bus stop in a blizzard at the age of 13.
As a young teen, he got a job selling 50-cent airplane rides for George and Clyde Ice, and flew with them one summer as they traveled from town to town, hawking the novel experience to the local Midwesterners. He went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps to earn money for flying lessons, but the young wife his father married used the money he saved for her own purposes.
He continued to work and save money and, at 18, bought a Model A Ford, which he and a friend drove to Washington to get work picking apples. From there he drove to California where he worked at a variety of jobs, including that of a builder for Columbia Studios.
When that job ended, he and a friend jumped a freight train to Missouri and back, trying to avoid being caught by railroad “bulls.” Little could Arlie know the experience would prepare him for a future train ride, when, as a prisoner of war, he would escape from a moving German train along the Loire River in France.
Back in California, Arlie met Lucille, and on the day of her graduation from John Marshall High School in June 1940, he asked her to marry him. They tied the knot February 16, 1941.
In the year of their engagement, Arlie had gotten a job as a tool designer at North American Aviation. He was helping build P-51 fighter planes and, during his lunch break, would watch pilots testing them. More than ever he yearned for flying lessons.
December 1941 saw two momentous events for the young couple. December 7 was the attack on Pearl Harbor and December 13 was the birth of their first son, Stephen.
Following Pearl Harbor, Arlie applied to join the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was sworn in on February 13, 1942, and did his first solo flight the following July 5 at Thunderbird Field in Arizona. His lifelong dream of becoming a pilot had finally come true. He was selected for advanced fighter training in a T-6 and pinned 2nd Lieutenant on January 4, 1943.
After being shot down over France during WWII, Arlie was rescued by a farmer’s family and joined the French Resistance movement to fight the Germans by bombing trains and bridges.
While fighting alongside the rural guerrilla bands of “Maquis,” Arlie made many friends by the code names of Churchill, Roosevelt, Patton, Ike and Barnabé, among others.
Disaster struck one day when Arlie and two Frenchmen were stopped at a German barricade and a search of their car turned up their concealed ammunition and the American’s Air Force uniform.
The ordeal climaxed with Arlie’s face and hands against a church wall in front of a firing squad. Arlie’s quick thinking saved him, but his French friends were shot and buried in graves they themselves had dug a short distance from the church.
After turning towards his captors and announcing in what he said was his sternest voice that he was an American officer, a German officer offered him the opportunity to change back into his uniform and answer his questions, or wait to be interrogated by the S.S. who would treat him as a spy and shoot him since he was captured in civilian clothing.
Arlie took the first option and, after several days of intense interrogation, was transferred to a prisoner of war camp in Rennes, France, where he was assigned to a barracks that housed several fellow airmen.
On July 4, 1944, the entire camp of 1,500 prisoners was put on a boxcar train to Germany. In Arlie’s boxcar, several of the prisoners managed to claw a hole through the bottom of their car without detection. Two paratroopers gave them lessons on how to dive safely from the moving car and Arlie was among 21 prisoners to escape into the night.
Arlie and two friends managed to stay together and began a hair-raising trip across the French countryside to Paris and Great Britain, with Arlie ultimately returning home to Santa Monica and Lucille.