HAMBURG, West Germany — Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the older brother of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), was shot to death by Nazi SS soldiers in July, 1944, as he tried to escape while being held as a prisoner of war, a West German newspaper reported Sunday.
History texts say that Kennedy, 29, was lost in action when explosives packed into the B-17 Flying Fortress he was piloting detonated on a flight over Europe. Eyewitnesses said there were no survivors, and Kennedy's body was never found.
The copyright story, published in the nationwide Bild am Sonntag newspaper, was based on a interview with a former German anti-aircraft officer who said he interrogated Kennedy after he was captured July 14, 1944, when his plane was shot down.
The ex-officer, Karl Heinz Wehn, 65, said he decided to reveal the account at this time "because I don't know how much longer I'll live."
Wehn was quoted as saying he was a Luftwaffe (German air force) lieutenant with an anti-aircraft unit 11 miles southwest of the French city of Caen that shot down a plane from which Kennedy and another crewman, identified only as O'Patrick, parachuted to safety.
Wehn said that during interrogation, the American identified himself as Joe Kennedy of Hyannisport, Mass., where the Kennedy family maintains a home. Kennedy and the other American were shot later that day as they tried to escape across a river, Wehn said.
Wehn told the newspaper he saw 12 American B-17s flying back to England after a bombing raid July 14, 1944. Wehn said he fired at one B-17 Flying Fortress, which caught fire and went into spin.
He said two parachutists from the plane landed in woods about 1,000 yards from him. Ten minutes later, two Americans surrendered.
Wehn said both captives were brought to his bunker where he questioned one in English. He said on of the man nervously chewed gum and looked very pale. Wehn described the man as tall with sandy-colored hair.
"What's your name?" Wehn said he asked.
"Joe Kennedy," the man replied, adding in a somewhat softer voice, "First lieutenant, U.S. Air Force."
The captive was asked where he came from. "Hyannisport" was his answer, Wehn said.
Wehn said that during the interrogation he learned that shortly before the war, the man's father had been U.S. ambassador in London.
Wehn said the interrogation lasted about 40 minutes, and then the two SS (elite force) soldiers took both prisoners to an assembly point.
Wehn said that at about 9:45 p.m. on the day the bomber was shot down, he heard several shouts from the direction of the Orne River, then five shots followed by silence.
He said he later learned that the two prisoners had fled.
Wehn said an alarm was sounded and SS soldiers said they saw two men jump into the river as the soldiers fired. They were later found dead.
He said the men were buried in graves near the present Fontenay military cemetery.