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Escape to the west… the Frank Jarecki story.

Shortly After Landing

Jarecki (in dark flying gear) and his undamaged MIG-15 BIS shortly after landing on the Danish island of Bornholm.

In early 1953, with a smoldering “Cold War” in Europe and a very hot Korean War raging in Asia, USAF Intelligence was scouring the world trying to obtain information on modern Soviet aircraft. Suddenly, on March 5th, 1953, news of two startling events flashed around the globe. The Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, was dead and a young Polish Air Force pilot had escaped to the Danish island of Bornholm in a Russian-built MiG jet fighter.

Lt. Franciszek Jarecki assigned to the 28th Fighter Squadron stationed at the Polish Air Force Base at Slupsk, located just west of Danzig near the Baltic Sea, had taken off in a MiG-15 BIS (first version of the MiG-17), Aircraft No. 731, and headed to the West. He eluded all pursuit and landed on a small cow pasture with the aircraft intact. It was an intelligence prize of enormous value to the Free World…especially the USAF.

Frank with his escape flight suit

In 1939 Poland was a divided country occupied by Germany in the west and Russia in the east. Jarecki had lost his father, an officer in the Polish Army, at a very early age to the Russians. His mother Valerie Jarecki worked long hours in a Russian hospital. Jarecki remembers, “During the summer, I went to a Russian School. We were playing outside one day when all of a sudden they called everybody together and took us to the railway station. I was told I was returning to my home in Stanislawow. When I got off the train I just stood there dumfounded watching German planes bomb the railroad station. Suddenly, some man picked me up and dragged me safely to a house far away from the station. That was the beginning of the German invasion of the Eastern (Russian) part of Poland on September 1, 1939, the beginning of the Second World War.”

Frank enrolled in Glider school at the age of fifteen. Although the required age was sixteen, Frank, determined to fly, lied about his age. He finished out his high school career focusing on mechanics in Bytom, where the instructor took notice of his excellent grades and flying talents. He confided in Frank that to make his dreams of flying come true, he should remain a loyal friend to “the Party.” So Frank joined the Communist Polish Youth Alliance where he formed his own local chapter, the Friends of the Soviet Union… “the things you do if you, if you want to fly,” remembers Frank.

Frank on Art Linkletter’s show. It look’s like he’s really having fun, but he has no idea what’s going on because he couldn’t speak any English yet.

Frank’s hard work paid off in 1950 when he enlisted in the Air Force Academy in Deblin, forging his mothers name on the consent slip. Out of 10,000 applicants, Frank was one of the lucky 150 accepted in the Academy. However, after the government’s initial acceptance, the men are put through a series of tests, not just for common knowledge or knowledge of mechanics, but also their knowledge of Communism. The men who passed this test were sent one by one into a tribunal. The tribunal judges could not see through Frank’s web of lies. They did not detect his bitterness being the son of a slain Polish Army officer, that he was a year younger than he had claimed, or that he had relatives living in the United States. If they had known any one of these facts, Frank never would have become a pilot for the Royal Polish Air Force.

Frank kept up his political studies and flying came naturally to him. He distinguished himself becoming number one in his class of 100 men. On the day of his graduation, Frank was summoned to General Ivan Turkiel. The Russian was “concerned” about Frank not joining the Communist Party. In the most polite way possible the General hinted that Frank should either join the Party or sacrifice his wings. That day, April 6th, 1952, Frank became a member of the Communist Party and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

Only the top dozen pilots with the best grades were sent to Warsaw, where the first Regiment was located. Frank was so highly commended for his handling of the Old MIG 15’s that the wing commander erected a sigh at the entrance to regimental headquarters stating, “PILOTS! FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE PF LT. JARECKI.” And Frank was happy, as long as “The Party” left him alone.

Frank and Clark Gable on the movie set of “King and Four Queens.” Frank recalls he was a very great down to earth great guy.

It was in June 1952 that Frank got a taste of what he was in for. He was told to spy on his friends and fellow officers. He was to meet every week and report any wrong doing he observed, such as slandering of the Communist Party or any ideas of escape. And if Frank should not cooperate or should betray “The Party”, he would be sentenced to death. But since Frank had been schooled in mannerisms to look for in those planning to escape, it kept him safe while planning his own escape. Frank knew exactly what “NOT” to do.

Frank’s first spying appointment was to meet a man in a park in Warsaw where he was to slip him his written report. Frank showed up at the park, spotted his contact man, but never approached him and never handed him any report. Frank heard no more of that incident for months.

In September, Frank was invited to fly the latest MIG-15 BIS in Slipsk, however in order to do so he had to get the signatures of fourteen officers, one of these being the man Frank was to have given his spying report to! The officer refused to sign Frank’s transfer papers until he received his report. Frank went back to his barracks and forged the officers signature. Now Frank was playing a really dangerous game and it was only a matter of time until he would be discovered. Frank knew that he had to get out, so he bought a little calendar and every time he opened it, it opened on the same date, March 5th.

In January of 1953, Frank’s luck skyrocketed. A Colonel had announced that they were receiving ten of the new MIG-15 BIS’. These were the first version of the advanced MIG 17’s which were lighter, faster and had more operational space than the Mig-15.

Contestant Frank Jarecki on Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life” TV Show.

Frank had chosen his escape destination of Bornholm, Denmark from remembering a propaganda comic book he had seen years before. He had heard that the island was occupied by Americans. He had no map of Bornholm because the Western Countries were left off their maps. Also Frank had no idea how the Americans would feel about him being a communist fighter pilot…maybe he would be shot out of the sky before being given a chance to explain that he was not one of them…that he was not “really a communist.”

On March 5, 1953 Frank had a long sleepless night. After breakfast he headed out to the flight line. He noticed some of MIG’s off to the side were fully armed and ready to take flight. He knew these would be the fighters that they would send after him. So Frank walked over to a Russian Lieutenant and gave him some flying “advise” while clandestinely checking to see what frequency the armed MiG’s radios were on.

Frank and Sandra with Bob Hope at an Air Force Society dinner in New York.

Frank was leading a four plane squadron. He instructed two of his men to stay close to the coastline while Frank and the other pilot would be on the sea side and flying a little higher. Knowing that Stalin had fallen deathly ill the day before, Frank had told his men that he was flying higher because he was on a special mission. At 9:10am, Frank’s squadron was cleared for take off, once in the air he knew there was no turning back.

He switched places with his wing man and near Kolobzreg he jettisoned his wing tanks for extra speed and went into a steep dive 20,000 feet above the Baltic Sea. Immediately “731 escaping” came blasting over the radio. The first thing out of Frank’s mouth was, “I am on a secret mission to get medicine for Papa Stalin.” Then he heard the order for the four armed MIG’s to pursue 731 and shoot him down. Frank came out of the dive at 1500 feet which was low enough to avoid the Russian radar. Traveling at 700 mph, the plane was hard to maneuver and Frank had a difficult time pulling out of the dive. After spotting Bornholm, Frank circled the island trying to find a place to land. He spotted a small cow pasture down the center of the island. It looked to be roughly half the length needed to land the MiG. With no alternatives, Frank had to take his chances. He touched down safely and could hear the sound of the pursuit MIGs above him.

Welcomed

Frank is Welcomed to the United States

He got out of the plane and looking around saw a sign that was in Russian. Fearing he was still on Russian soil, Frank panicked, so he grabbed his pistol and cocked it thinking “the Russians will not take me alive.” In the distance he spotted a farmhouse with a woman and a baby staring at him. He began to approach her when a group of men came out of the woods. The men assumed Frank was a Russian. Finally realizing he was safe he announced, “Communist Kaput Asylum”.

As a member of the Senatorial Advisory Board, Frank was invited to the White House where he met President Ronald Raegan.

After several weeks, the Danes returned the aircraft to Poland in crates by ship. Some of the parts still retained traces of gypsum plaster used to make casting of them. Frank was sent to the United States after a brief stop in London where he was recognized for his courage by the Free Polish government. In the U.S. Franciszek Jarecki was personally welcomed by President Eisenhower and granted American citizenship by a special Act of Congress.

For the last thirty years Frank has been living here in Erie with his wife and five children. Although being a pilot was part of his past, he never outgrew his love of mechanics. Frank founded Jarecki Valves, located in Fairview, where he has been manufacturing metal and resilient seated ball and specialty check valves for over twenty-five years. Dealing with his customers himself, Frank flies several times a month, the exception is that Frank sits in business class, letting someone else take him to his destination.