PRISON CAMP

The ambulance train took us north to Hanover.  We were placed in a garret with five other wounded prisoners, and I had my first taste of prison.  This was a makeshift en route prison where there were only wounded British Paratroopers.  I was the only American.  The building apparently was the home of a high official in the Nazi party, which had been borrowed to keep some of the POWs incarcerated until transportation could be arranged.  On the other hand it could have been the home of a displaced Jewish family.  

We were all wounded and none of us could be considered ambulatory.  One of the British officers had five bullet holes in his left arm. what a mess!  There were all types of wounds, but no doctors.  I had my leg in a splint and my face was bandaged with paper towels.  My left wrist was badly burned, my neck denuded, and my face was constantly in pain from the burns and wounds.  I smelled of cordite.

We remained in this garret for five days, when some guards came for me and put me on a civilian train to transport me to an American prisoner‑of‑war camp.  The Germans were always very precise about these things.

We were parked at the Hanover station waiting for the train to start when a woman with two children came in and sat down opposite me.  I was sitting next to my two guards who were armed with rifles.  My clothes were torn and covered with dried blood, so it was obvious that I was their prisoner.

The woman looked out of the window and pointed to some buildings that had been bombed that night and she looked at me and said that I was responsible for that.  I answered that no, I was not responsible, but that Hitler was.  This conversation was in German, some of which I could understand, and my answer was in broken German.  The woman shrugged and reached into a bag that she had with her and took out a small green apple for each of the children and a third one for herself.  Instead of eating the apple she looked at me and apparently felt sorry for me.  She reached out her hand with the apple and handed it to me.  I pushed it back to her, but she insisted on my having it, and since I was hungry I ate it.  I watched the children eating the apples and saw that they ate the entire apple including the core, and so I followed suit and did the same thing.

There were no more apples in the bag.

The train left Hanover and began traveling southbound.  We passed areas where military operations were ongoing.  At a town called Fallenbostle there were some Tiger tanks being loaded on to flatbed railroad cars.  I was taken off the train at this point and put in a wagon and brought to a concentration camp where there were mostly Russian prisoners, who were all debilitated, very thin, and appeared to be much older that they really were.

I was given a spot on the floor in a large room filled with wounded British paratroopers.  A German medical corpsman was going from prisoner to prisoner with a large syringe that had a long needle attached to it.  He would feel their forehead and if he thought that they were feverish he would give them a dose of a red dye that was in the syringe.  He would shoot it into their thigh and it would turn bright red.  When he came to me I pushed him away and he didn't argue.  The same needle remained on the syringe for each injection.

I was now able to hobble around with my leg still in the splint, and since the guards didn't prevent me from doing so, I visited the next barracks.  When I entered the building there was a very bad stench and I was about to walk out when one of the wounded prisoners called to me and asked if I could help.  I walked into one of the rooms and could barely make out triple-decker bunks three deep going around the room.  Each bunk had a body in it.  Some were dead and some were definitely dying.  The smell was terrible, but the sounds were worse.  The men were reaching out to me for help.  My eyes were getting accustomed to the dark and the sight was horrible.   

There was a bucket of soup just outside of the door and they had no way of getting to it.  I brought the bucket into the room and began to dish out the soup in whatever container I could find.  When there were no more containers I tried to feed some of the men with the spoon that was in the bucket.  I began to get sick and when I couldn't stand it any longer I went back to my spot on the floor in the next barracks thankful that I was in much better shape than those poor dying men.

Every day more and more wounded prisoners were brought in.  I realized that the operation had failed and that my chance of getting out of here in a hurry was not to be.

I was kept at this camp for two weeks and at the end of that time I was taken back to the railroad station and put on an eastbound train, with two guards and another American prisoner from Texas.  We traveled for a couple of days and found that we were now in Posen, Poland.  We changed trains here and were taken to a prison camp in the Polish Corridor.  The town had two names, one was German and the other was Polish.  It was a camp for American ground officers.  The name of the town was either Shubin or Alterbegun.  It was a small camp with less than 1,000 prisoners.  The name of the camp was Oflag 64.

We arrived at night and were brought to the kitchen and given some oatmeal for our first meal in almost 48 hours.  It was at this time that I first learned to enjoy oatmeal.  I could have eaten a barrel of it.

The camp was in good condition and it was the first time that I saw prisoners who weren't wounded.  I was given the bottom bunk in a fairly large and clean room.  The mattress was made of the usual excelsior in a guinea sack.  I don't remember the number of men in this room, but I even had a locker to put whatever belongings that I had into.  So far, so good.

The following day the new prisoners were lined up against a wall and were asked what their religion was.  The man next to me answered Protestant, and I nodded my head,  indicating to the guard that I too was of the same religion.  I knew that my dog tags indicated that I was Hebrew, but since no‑one had looked at them I felt that it would be prudent to try to hide my religion.  At this time we were also asked to read some of the rules of captivity.  One paragraph said that if we were found speaking to a women we could be sent to a civilian jail for life.  I had no idea where we would find women to speak to.

There were always preparations being made for escape.  There was an escape committee, and rules to follow if we did have an idea of how to escape.  The  first prerequisite was to be able to speak German fluently.  Then there was much red tape to go through if the idea met with the approval of the escape committee. 

We received some Red Cross food every other week.  When we received the Red Cross food, a can of food from every package was put in a special escape bank to be used to help anyone who would be able to pass all of the requirements for escape.  Actually there were two escape banks, one smaller than the other.  The Germans were led to believe that the smaller of the two caches was the only one and they were allowed to find it.  This threw off the guards into believing that they had found the food cache, allowing them to relax somewhat, and taking the pressure off of the prisoners.

Here we received the regular prisoner of war rations from the Germans and also half of a parcel of Red Cross food per week.  This was no feast by any means, but it was sufficient, although everyone was still hungry.

My wounds were healing, but the paper bandage on my face was becoming putrid and when I pushed on one side, the pus would run out the other side.  I was afraid of what I would see if I took off the bandage, but finally I knew that I had to do it.  My face was a mess. There were areas of dead flesh and bright red areas that were raw.  I had seen burn wounds before and I realized that I would probably be severely scarred for the rest of my life.  My leg was still in the splint.  A few days later, I removed it and found that I could not bend my knee.  However, my face was healing and the oozing had stopped.

The senior American officer at the camp came by the barracks and interviewed me.  I told him that I was not a paratrooper as the Germans thought, but a fighter pilot.  He told me that he had ascertained that when he saw what I was wearing.

He wanted me to go to the German commanding officer and to tell him that I was a pilot and to act indignant that I had been placed in a Ground Officers [Wehrmacht] camp instead of an Air Force [Luftwaffe] camp.  He predicted that the Germans would send me to a Luftwaffe camp as quickly as possible.  If they were to move me as predicted, then I was to contact the American senior officer at the Luftwaffe camp as soon as possible and tell him that the food situation at Oflag 64 was very bad, and that if a Red Cross representative from Sweden or Switzerland were to visit there, that he should be told of the problem. 

I did as ordered, and I was brought to the German commandant's office.  I told him that I was a fighter pilot and that I was indignant that I was not in a Luftwaffe prison camp.   He snorted and made some notes and dismissed me.

As predicted, the next day I was brought back to the commandant's office and told that I was to prepare to leave immediately.  Two guards were summoned and we were on our way.  They marched me to the train station where we boarded a civilian train again and headed for Berlin.  In Berlin we traveled for a while on an elevated train and I could see much of the city.  It was totally bombed out!  There was not a building standing as far as the eye  could see.  The elevated train tracks were repaired with new wood wherever I looked.  It was total destruction.  There were men still working on some of the sections.

Sometime during the day the train stopped at a station where we disembarked and entered a beer hall to wait for a train connection.  Here there were many soldiers also waiting for trains.  They were almost all sitting around drinking beer and eating large pickles.  One of my two guards went to the counter and came back with a large beer and pickle for himself and for the other guard.  They were enjoying the rest and the beer and the conversation.  An SS trooper came to our table and turned toward me and started a conversation with me in German.  I indicated that I could not understand much German and I asked him if he spoke French or English.  He did speak a little of each and so we began a conversation using the three languages and some hand signals.

He was seventeen years old and had been in combat on the Western Front where he had been wounded, losing one eye.  He was now headed to the Eastern Front and he was certain that he would not survive the war.  He also reassured me that "for you the war is over".  This seemed to be a refrain that was used by the German soldiers and I heard it over and over again.

The SS trooper gave me his toothbrush and some Deutschmarks to show his friendship.  He also asked my guards why I wasn't drinking beer and eating a pickle.  They shrugged their shoulders and said that I was a prisoner and should not be given good German beer.  My new friend yelled at them and apparently threatened them, since one of the guards jumped up and ran to the counter and brought me my beer and pickle.  The beer tasted great and I thanked him.  He told me that before the war he had worked as a cabin boy on a ship and that the ship had made a stop once in New York.  He had not been allowed off the ship, but had gone out on the deck,  watched the traffic on the wharf, yearning to spend time there, and possibly live there.  He said that if he survived the war that he would try to live in New York City.  All of this I had not expected from an SS man.  When he left he cautioned my guards to treat me well or he would get back to them.

When he left they refilled my beer glass and asked me if I wanted another pickle, which I refused.  Early the next morning we boarded another train.

We were heading southwest and soon were out into the countryside again.                                                

We arrived at the Luftwaffe camp in the middle of the night, where there were searchlights glaring all around the perimeter.  Many guards were walking around, each with a powerful German Shepherd  on a leash.  It was a gloomy, frightening scene and I was tired, hungry, and dejected. I was placed in a holding unit until the morning and then I was assigned to a room in one of the barracks.

The next day I sought out the senior American officer and told him about the problem at Oflag 64.  When he heard of the food that they were getting at Oflag 64, he told me that I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire.  He said that the food here was much less.  Also, he told me that there had been no visits from any of the neutral countries for quite a while.

So much for my mission!

This camp was much larger than the Oflag 64, having at least 10,000 prisoners.  Also, the officer's compound was inside of the main compound, making escape that much more difficult.  The camp was located south of Berlin, near a town called Sagan, and its designation was Stalagluft III.

At this camp we lived in barracks.  Most rooms had five triple-decker bunks and housing fifteen men.  Each room had a small potbellied stove.  However, we had almost no fuel and used what we had to warm our food.  The bunks each had a guinea sack containing excelsior for a mattress.  There was no bedding, and the mattress also contained lice.  The mattress rested on seven wooden slats.

It was here that I met Leonard Koos, one of my roommates.  Our friendship developed and lasted until Lenny died a couple of years ago of Leukemia.

Lenny was born and raised in Oklahoma.  Because of the big  depression he could not get a decent job, and was unable to go to college.  He joined the CCC, the government sponsored Civilian Conservation Corp, until the war began.  At that point Lenny joined the Army Air Corps and became a bomber pilot.  He was a co-pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress based in England.  He was shot down on his fourth mission by German fighters and was badly wounded.  There were at least one hundred pieces of shrapnel embedded in his right side.  Every once in a while a piece would come to the surface and he would pick it out.

From the time that I arrived at Stalag-Luft III we became devoted buddies.  On our return to the states Lenny told the Army that he was from New York so that we could spend some time together before he returned home for good.  After he went to Oklahoma to visit his family, he returned to New York and stayed with my family until we were sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for our discharge.

When we were interviewed for our discharges Lenny had a problem.  We were both in a line facing a sergeant who was filling out the forms necessary for discharge.  Once mine were completed I waited for Lenny.  The sergeant told Lenny that he was not eligible for a discharge since he did not have enough points.  We both argued with the sergeant but he kept telling us that he was only following orders.  Finally it dawned on me that of course Lenny had been wounded and that he had never received a Purple Heart.  In fact he had no idea what a Purple Heart medal was for.   

The sergeant needed proof that Lenny indeed had been wounded, so I told Lenny to pull up his shirt sleeve and show the sergeant the scars and if possible one of the pieces near the surface.  He did this and the sergeant called the colonel over who made me swear that Lenny had been wounded.  He issued the medal immediately.  Since a Purple Heart medal was worth five points, it gave Lenny enough points for his discharge.

My family had received my Purple Heart along with my Air Medals at a ceremony at an Army Air Force base in Long Island during the period that I was in prison camp.

It was necessary to fly five missions to receive an Air Medal, and Lenny had been shot down on his fourth mission, and he never received the air medal.  Somehow it does not seem fair that after going through the suffering and the ordeal that Lenny had, that he was never given the medal.  

When Lenny was about to return to Oklahoma he told me that he intended to find a bride and would bring her to visit me on his honeymoon.  Sure enough, Lenny and his new wife drove to New York on their honeymoon and went directly to my parentís home.  When he found out that I was in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, he drove immediately to where I was living that same day.

I was studying for an exam in my room when I heard a pair of boots coming up the stairs followed by a knocking at my door.  There stood Lenny in civilian clothes.  We went to dinner and I was happy to see that he had married a beautiful and intelligent woman.  I knew that they would always be happy, and they were.  They had five daughters and spent the rest of their married life in Oklahoma.

Back to the POW camp!

The other men in the room were bomber pilots and fighter pilots.  Each had a story about how they happened to end up in a prisoner of war camp.  The stories were all interesting and I always looked forward to hearing about them.  The senior officer in our room was Bill Taylor who was flying a P-47 Thunderbolt and had engine trouble on the way into enemy territory.  Since he was the lead ship in a flight of four he felt that he had to keep the flight together.  On the way out of Germany his engine finally gave up and quit, thus he became a prisoner of war. 

Two others, Ed Gaines and M. H. Brown were in a two ship P-38 formation very low somewhere over the north sea.  They were so low as a matter of fact that their props touched the water and they went in.  The water was very shallow, but Brown didn't know that and he immediately inflated his dinghy and began to paddle toward England.  Gaines stepped out of his airplane and found that the water didn't reach his knees.  He turned to Brown and asked him where he was going.  They were captured almost immediately.

The other men in the room were:  Bruce Armstrong, Charles Baker, who was Lenny Koos' pilot, Ted Bushnell, D. H. Laing, Robert Phillips, Robert Silver, Lewis Vance, Ken Wisner, Don Allen, and Charles Hall.            

The day always began with the roll call, "appel", in the courtyard behind the barracks.  The "appel" was repeated again in the afternoon before dark.  It was a formal ceremony with the senior American officer standing out in front of the entire prisoner formation, and with each barracks chief in front of his own formation.  We all stood in formation with German guards stationed in front and behind us.  We stood at attention and the German commanding officer strode out of his office and approached the formations.  He was escorted by a couple of his junior officers.  As he approached the Senior American Officer, he shot his arm out in a "Heil Hitler" salute, and was answered by the American with a regular hand salute which he held until the German returned it with a similar hand salute.  Then the German guards would begin to count us, one guard behind us and one in front, marching and counting together and then comparing notes at the end of the column.  Most of the time they would quickly agree on the count, but every so often they would not agree and an argument would start.  "eleph", "nein, svelph", "nein, eleph".  Then they would begin all over again.  When it was cold out, it was torture standing out there shivering with very little clothing on, waiting for them to complete the count.  Of course there were always the dogs on a leash in case of trouble.  On several occasions when some of the prisoners tried to upset the counting by sneaking into different columns the Germans threatened to turn the dogs loose.  They would reach down to the dog collars and watch their commanding officer for the nod that would be a signal to release the dogs.  This never did happen while I was at this camp, but I was told that it did happen in the past, with some casualties.

After the count we could walk around the compound for our exercise.  The perimeter was eight tenths of a mile around.  We would try to do at least ten times around each day.  Either before or immediately after the walk we would have a cup of hot water with one thin slice of bread, if there was any.  We spent much of the day trying to keep warm.  At noon we were given a cup of soup made of dried leaves and twigs.  Once each week the soup was made from some type of cereal, and it was delicious; but only one cup was allotted per prisoner.

Again in the afternoon we would walk around the compound and later on we would gather in small groups to find out the news from the BBC.  This was obtained from a small radio which one of the prisoners constructed from parts brought in piecemeal by a guard who was bribed with cigarettes.  Several of the prisoners would mingle with each small group and from memory whisper the news and then slowly walk over to another group and do the same thing.

The barbed wire fence surrounding the officerís compound had a raised platform about every one hundred feet.  There was a small shack on each platform with either one or two guards in the shack.  The guards all had a pair of binoculars, a rifle, and a machine gun mounted on the platform.  There was a single strand of barbed wire running around the compound about fifteen feet inside of the main fence.  The area between the two wires was "Verboten".  If a prisoner was caught in this area he could be shot without warning.  If it were necessary to retrieve something that fell into this area it was necessary to get the attention of the guards and to get their permission to enter and quickly pick up the object and get back again.  The guards would have their rifles ready with a bead on the prisoner.

There was a small library in one of the buildings with books that had been apparently sent in by the Red Cross.  The books were all censored by the Germans.  I remember reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which had many deletions particularly when the Germans were mentioned in derogatory terms.

On occasion, about every two months we were marched to a facility where we undressed and were marched into a large shower room.  We had exactly two minutes of warm water followed by one minute of cold water.  We had small hand towels to use as washcloths, and after wringing them out, to use for towels.

While this was taking place our clothes were put into a fumigating closet.

It felt good to have that shower.  It really raised our spirits and we marched out of there smiling and joking around.  It took about a week for the lice to start bothering us again.

At night when the lights were turned out we would be very quiet so that we could hear the footsteps of the guards as they patrolled the compound.  We would all be waiting for a change in the pattern that might mean perhaps we would be liberated.

Some of the guards who spoke English were assigned the job of crawling under the barracks to possibly hear of any escape plans.  These guards were called "ferrets".  One day one of the ferrets poked his finger through a knothole in the floorboard apparently to make himself more comfortable.  One of the prisoners saw the finger and quietly crushed it with his heel.  The finger turned blue, but the ferret didn't make a sound as he slowly slid his finger out of the hole.

Some days we would see the bombers flying over on their way to bomb some target and I would watch the guards to see how they handled this.  None of them said a word as they too stood looking up at the bombers.

A tunnel was being built for escape, and we had to split our bed slats in half and donate the split pieces to the escape committee.  The reason to split the slats was so that when the Germans would count the slats there would be seven for each bunk, which was the correct number.  The slat inspection was to see if we were building a tunnel.  As long as the number was correct they were satisfied that everything was "kosher".  Meanwhile escape was always on the minds of the prisoners, and also on the minds of the guards.

As the winter wore on we had some snow storms.  The spirit of Xmas was in the air, but nothing changed.

My only pair of socks had long since worn out and my feet were always cold and sore, and also always dirty.  There was an extra pair of pants called the "communal pants" and they went from one prisoner to another so that when my turn came I could wear them and rinse out my own pants.  I could use them until my pants dried, and that usually took a few days.  Meanwhile the communal pants never did get washed, and of course they were too large for most of us, but it was better than nothing.

There was also a problem with shaving.  I had one razor blade, and it lasted for the entire time that I was a prisoner.  There was no hot water, and no shaving cream, so shaving was an experience.  The American senior officer insisted that we shave every day to keep our moral up and to show the Germans that although we were prisoners, we were still soldiers.  To sharpen the razor blades we would place the blade in a glass of water and with one finger press the blade against the side of the glass and rub it around. 

Of course my underwear also wore out after a couple of weeks went by.  

It was the simple things that I always took for granted that now became major problems.

This life went on, hungry, dirty, and always cold.  Then, late in January the Russians marched out of Warsaw and entered Germany.  Now we knew that we would probably be liberated.  We were told by our commanding officer to remember the word "tovarich", which translated to "comrade" in Russian.  We were told to put our hands up and use this word when the Russians marched in.  This never did happen as you will see.

Meanwhile we knew that we had to make preparations to march out of the camp as soon as the Russians came close.  We realized that the  Germans would keep us as prisoners as long as possible. We increased our walking to build up our stamina.  We usually walked two at a time.  I walked with Lenny and most of the time we talked about food.  We would visualize walking down any street in the States and entering a grocery store.  We would limit ourselves to a nickel and try to decide how much food we could get to fill our stomachs for the nickel.  I felt that probably either rice or cereal would be best.  Lenny thought that beans might be better.

We also talked about religion.  Lenny was Catholic and so he spoke about Jesus and the many miracles that he performed.  I spoke about the history of the Jews, and about the many rituals and holidays that were observed.  It seems that at this moment in our lives that we seldom spoke about that very important subject, women. 

The Russians finally reached the Oder River and at this point were only about forty miles from the prison camp.

For a few days we could hear cannon fire and were told by the Germans that the Volkstrum* were practicing.  Of course we knew what was happening from the homemade radio that we had.  We were able to listen to the BBC news reports almost daily.

The walking was increased to 8‑10 miles per day.  This was not easy because of the cold and the lack of food.  Burning up calories was a luxury that we could ill afford.  It was easier to do in the morning when we felt stronger, but even then it was a real chore.  My knee was benefiting from the walking and I was able to bend it  more easily.

*The Volkstrum was a unit made up of all the men who were too old to be conscripted into the regular army.  They were equipped with some old guns, and anything else that could be used as a weapon.

One Saturday night, January 27th at about eleven in the evening, the guards came in and ordered us out of the camp immediately.  We were allowed to carry anything that we wanted including food from the storage room.  I grabbed as much high calorie food as I could  carry.  I placed the food inside a shirt that one of the prisoners had discarded and carried this on my back.

We left the camp in somewhat of a gay mood, not knowing what was in store for us, but relieved to at least be out of the camp.  It was snowing and bitter cold.  We were tired to begin with, but at least this might be a chance to escape, or perhaps the Germans might be sending us to Switzerland to trade for some German POWs.  Or they might line us up in the middle of the night and kill all of us. 

Without stopping we marched all that night and all the following day.  At about seven o'clock in the evening we were allowed to stop for about thirty minutes.  We were able to find some sticks of wood and some paper and a match.  I started a small fire.  I decided to make a warm drink to warm us up and also to give us some needed energy.  I found a small dirty bucket, cleaned it with some snow and made a cocktail using one pound of margarine, one pound of sugar, and a bar of chocolate.  I added some snow to dilute it.  I shared the drink with my buddy Leonard Koos and within minutes we felt the warmth go through our bodies.  The second thing that I did was to remake my pack.  I threw away the shirt and put the few belongings that I had in the center of a blanket that I had found.  I then wrapped the blanket around this, tied the ends of the blanket, and then wrapped the blanket diagonally around my body as I had remembered seeing in an old WWI movie.  This was a much better system and it also provided some warmth.

We started marching again with renewed energy from the rest and the cocktail.  It was now very dark and very cold.  At about this time the horses that the guards were riding began to die, one after the other, leaving the Germans to continue on foot.  They soon became edgy and at one point when we were in a wooded area they heard noises in the forest, and thinking that some of the prisoners were escaping they began to fire their rifles indiscriminately.  I quickly jumped into a snow drift face down and hoped that I would survive.  After what seemed liked an eternity of shooting it quieted down and I decided that it would be safe to climb out of the snow.  I found that there were two other prisoners in the drift on top of me.

Sometime during the night we reached a crossroad when a German halftrack drove up, and thinking that we were part of the army, asked for directions to get to the front lines.  One of the prisoners in perfect German gave them directions 180 degrees from where we knew the front lines actually were.  They thanked us and barreled off in the wrong direction.

Lenny and I were toward the end of the column of at least 10,000 men.  As the line moved along, it accordioned.  The men at the front of the column continued at a steady pace, but the men behind would close up the column and then stop to let the column open up again.  This effect increased the further back you were in the column.  Therefore, we would stop for a few minutes and then walk fast to catch up.  We had been told by the Germans before leaving the camp that stragglers would be shot.

Now the shoes that I was wearing developed holes in the soles and the snow was pressed into the shoes and turned to water.  Of course I had no socks, and whenever we stopped I could feel the water freeze and when I began to walk I could feel the ice breaking up.  My feet were now my biggest problem.

My other immediate problem was that I was falling asleep on my feet.  Whenever we stopped I would fall asleep and twice I fell over and Lenny had to kick me and force me back to my feet.  It felt so good to lay there and fall asleep.  It was very cold and I had very little clothing.  Falling asleep was deadly!  If left alone it would lead to death by freezing.  Apparently this was catching, because I soon had to do the same thing to Lenny.  We both probably saved each other's lives by sticking close together.  We realized this and decided to use our belts to make a connection to each other.

The German guards were on horseback when we began the march.  During the night the horses had all died, from the cold and the difficulties of the march.  The guards were now very antsy.  Although better dressed and fed, they were suffering.  On occasion a German jeep would drive up and pick up a couple of the guards and return with fresh ones.

At 6 AM on the second morning we entered a small town called Muscau and we were allowed to find shelter.  Some of us entered a small pottery factory where we immediately lay down, took off what was left of our shoes and fell asleep.  What I didn't know was that we were asleep on the concrete floor that was just above the oven and that the oven had just been turned on.  I awakened in a sweat with terrible pain in my feet.  The floor was burning hot.  I tried to awaken Lenny, but he refused to move, so I dragged him to a safe place away from the oven and went back to a much needed sleep.

Later in the day when I awakened and tried to put my shoes on I found that either my shoes had shrunk or my feet had become swollen.  Of course it was the latter and so I left the shoes off.  I now noticed that the shoes were completely worn through and that my feet were frostbitten.

The Germans now decided to continue the march and we were ordered to assemble in the street.  After much agony I was able to force my shoes on.  It was a great effort to walk, but I had no choice.  The American Senior Officer asked the men who felt that they could continue, to do so.  The rest of the men would remain behind.  Lenny and I decided that it would be prudent to continue although my feet were in terrible shape.  We felt that since there were so few of us in this group that we would fare better and possibly the men who remained behind might be executed.

It soon became dark again and it was very cold.  My feet became a huge problem.  Every step was agonizing.  We marched most of the night, but stopped for about an hour sometime before dawn.  I found that we were next to a barn, so I crawled in and bedded down next to a cow and tried to sleep.  The cow kept me warm and I thought that I might be able to remain there indefinitely, but in a little while the Germans again made us continue the march.

The Germans used this rest period to bring in new guards, whom they transported in their VW jeeps.

We kept marching until late in the afternoon when we arrived at a railroad siding and were forced into boxcars.  We had marched 62 miles since leaving Sagan.  There were fifty of us in each car with no room to sit down.  We finally found that by forming five lines we could all sit down at the same time on the lap of the fellow behind each of us.

The train left the siding and began a long trip mostly southbound.  There was almost no food at this point and no water.  We traveled day and night in this position for over 48 hours, with many long stops.  We were not allowed out of the boxcar except for one stop next to a farm.  We all ran out into the field, pulled down our pants, squatted down and fertilized the farmers field while he and his family happily watched.

When we were again forced back into the train we realized that the odor was unbearable.  All of us were wet and filthy, but glad to be alive.  The food situation was critical, but there was nothing that could be done about it.  We were all soaked from urinating since we only stopped that one time.  Lenny was sitting behind me and whenever he urinated he would smile and tell me that I would feel warm in a few minutes when the warm urine would reach me.  I told him that I was sorry that I couldn't return the favor.

On the third day we stopped and were marched a few miles and left in a barn to rest.  Suddenly an airplane was overhead and we heard the screaming of a couple of bombs coming down on us.  The explosions were close, but not near enough to hit us.  Lucky again!

We were then marched to a prison compound which was to be our new home for the remainder of the war.  I was given a rectangular patch of ground about 2 by 6 ft. on the outer edge of a huge tent.  This was to be my bedroom, dining room, and living room for the next few months.  It was also my swimming pool whenever it rained.

This prison camp was located about twenty miles north of Munich and several miles south of Dachau.  It was also across the road from a Folke‑Wulfe aircraft parts factory.

The food situation was now becoming more acute.  I felt that if help didn't come soon, that I wouldn't make it.  I was starving!

Rumors were spreading like wildfire.  There was a rumor that a Red Cross convoy of trucks was headed our way and that we would be eating very well in a week.  This never happened and the hunger continued.  A few of the prisoners went berserk.  This was called "going around the bend".  Whenever this happened the Germans would quickly remove these men and we would never see them again.  We would learn to recognize the symptoms and try to help these individuals to protect them.  The rumor was that the Germans were executing them.

One day some American infantry men were brought into the camp and placed in our compound.  They still had on their helmets and other combat gear, but with no weapons.  I spoke with one of these men and found out that they had been sent out as a tank detachment behind the German lines.  It seems that General Patton's son-in-law was a prisoner at a camp about fifty miles inside the German lines and he wanted to liberate him.  They succeeded in liberating the prisoners including Patton's son-in-law.  As they were going through a small town on their way back to the American lines they saw a German Tiger tank and they made a detour to dodge the tank, but the Germans saw them and after a brief battle ended up capturing the entire detachment.  I found out that German Tiger tanks were much better than any of our tanks and that they were much feared by our tank people.

                                                                                                                           

LIBERATION

Near the middle of April, Patton's third army was approaching the camp and finally we could hear the artillery  sending shells over the camp into the enemy on the other side of us.  The artillery shells were coming closer and then the small arms began popping around us.

It was a Sunday when two Mustangs flew over and did victory rolls over the camp.  I knew that freedom was near.  There were some snipers shooting at the Mustangs, and the pilots knew it.  They came back and strafed the area where the shots were coming from.

We were watching the church steeple in the town near us when suddenly the steeple exploded.  About a half hour later an American flag was placed on what was left of the steeple.  We were cheering, but it wasn't over yet.  A hail of bullets came into the camp and one of the prisoners was hit in the stomach.  We were more careful then and took shelter in a slit trench that we had prepared.

Later there was an enormous explosion nearby.  About and hour later a Sherman tank appeared and knocked down the barbed wire and came into the camp.  The men in the tank told us to stay away from the tank since there was some shooting still going on and that the tank  was one of the targets.  One of the men also told us that the explosion that we had heard was the bridge over a river being blown up by the Germans.  The tank was on the bridge when it was blown, but the tank was blown off the bridge and amazingly landed back on the ground without any casualties.  The tank also was still intact.

We were still hungry and now the Germans were not around to give us food, and we had to forage for it.  We found a farm and knew that the German farmers always buried part of the potato crop and covered the potatoes with layers of straw.  We found such a cache and helped ourselves.  One of the men found a medium sized pig and brought it into the compound.  I volunteered to slaughter and butcher the pig since I had worked at a butcher shop on Saturdays and holidays while going to school.  We then ate the first good meal in a long time.

A couple of days later one of my friends encountered a jeep with a carton of "C" rations tied to the front bumper.  He asked the driver if he could spare some of the food, and the driver gave him the entire carton.  I was able to get a large can of scrambled eggs out of the deal.  I opened the can and placed it inside of my belt and ate the eggs continuously the entire day.

 

A couple of days later Patton himself came into the camp and stood right next to me and vowed that he would have us out of there in no time flat.  I remember the look of disgust on his face when he looked around and saw the terrible living conditions.  He remarked that he never again wanted to see American soldiers living this way.

Ten days later an endless line of trucks appeared and took us out of that hell hole to a grass airfield at a town called Inglestadt, to be flown out of Germany to France.

In order to load as many men as possible into each truck, the truck was driven forward a few feet and then braked hard.  The men in the truck fell forward and the strap at the rear of the truck was disconnected and several more men were loaded on.  This was done until it was impossible to load any more men on each truck.

On our way to the airport we traveled north on one of the famous German autobahns at a good rate of speed.  Suddenly the trucks rear wheels locked and the truck slid to a stop.  I almost had my legs amputated by the sudden stop since I was toward the front of the truck.  We jumped off the truck and found that a couple of pistons had come through the side of the engine block.

The driver asked his assistant if he had checked the oil that morning and the assistant said that he thought that the driver had checked it since it was the driver's truck.  They began shouting at each other until they were reminded that we were possibly behind enemy lines and there might be snipers on this road.  That quieted them in a hurry and we began to thumb a ride to the airport at Inglestadt.  Another truck finally came by and when we told the driver that we were POWs he piled us into the truck and took us the rest of the way, but not before we made him check the oil. 

The airport was a grass field with no marked runways.

Here we camped out for two nights waiting for the C‑47s to arrive and take us to France and finally into friendly territory.  The first afternoon a German Stuka dive bomber came over and we all ran for cover.  There was an anti‑aircraft unit on the field and they opened up at him with their 50 Cal. machine guns, but didn't score a hit.  The Stuka landed and three officers climbed out with their hands up.

Later that day an ME 109 came over with his wheels down, a sign of surrender, but they shot him down.  The following afternoon a British Mosquito flew over and they shot him down too.  Fortunately the pilot only suffered a broken arm.

Lenny Koos and I decided to walk into town the first afternoon to see if we could find our own transportation.  We found instead an abandoned military warehouse and ski factory.  We found tons of military hardware ranging from small arms ammunition to outboard motors.  There were water flasks, medals, rifles, bayonets, and helmets.  Also skis in every phase of production including all of the necessary bindings.

We found a duffle bag and filled it with all sorts of goodies and returned to the airfield.  We were going to return the following day but we kept hearing rumors that the airplanes had finally found the field and would be landing momentarily.  I had seen some empty trucks at the warehouse and I wanted to go back there and load one  with the equipment and head for France, but there might be a problem getting fuel and getting shot by our own forces since the trucks were unmistakably German army vehicles.

The C‑47s finally arrived and flew us over the Siegfried line and into France.  You might have guessed it!  I did get queasy in the C‑47, particularly since I was sitting at the rear of the aircraft.  I was afraid that my friends would notice that their fighter pilot buddy was airsick.  Fortunately it didn't get too bad and I made it without tossing my cookies. 

We landed at an airport in Rheims and were transported to a makeshift camp where we were given a shower and some new khaki shirts and trousers, a set of underwear, a pair of socks, and a pair of shoes.  The shoes were two sizes too large, but that made no difference; we were free men, and clean.

We decided to hitch a ride into town and we were the first visitors to the famous Rheims Cathedral since the beginning of the war.  From there we went to a U.S. officers club, but were denied admission since we did not have any insignia on our clothes.

I told the guard to go inside and to find a Mustang pilot and to bring him out to speak to us.  A fighter pilot was brought out and I explained to him that we were liberated POWs and that we had not been issued any insignia.  He asked me what the manifold pressure and RPM were at takeoff for the Mustang and when I quickly answered 64 inches and 3,000 RPM he took the four of us to a PX.  Since we had no money he bought us insignia, some fresh underwear, and a hat.  We returned with him to the officerís club and were ushered into a room where there was fresh coffee and two young women fresh from the States.  They were volunteers and were happy to spend time with us. 

We were offered a cigarette by one of the girls and we all took one.  Only one of us smoked and he broke his cigarette in half and put one of the halves into his breast pocket.  The girl was puzzled and asked why he had done that and why we were not smoking the cigarettes that we had taken.  When he explained that he wanted to save the other half for later and that we had taken the cigarettes to give to him the girl began to cry.  We told her not to fret since we were now extremely happy to be liberated and on our way home.  Apparently this was the first experience that these girls had had with the reality of the war.

The other girl asked me if I liked classical music and when I answered affirmatively, she told me that she had two tickets for a concert for that evening and asked if I would go to dinner with her and then to the concert.  I told her that this would be impossible since I didn't have any money.  She said that she realized that and that she would pay for the dinner.

We ate at a very nice restaurant, went to the concert, and then to her apartment.  I took a great shower and she told me to get into bed while she showered.  I was on a completely different wavelength and refused to take her bed and insisted on sleeping on the couch in the other room.  I awoke early and since she was still sleeping I wrote her a thank you note and went back to the camp.

The following day we were brought to a camp in Le Havre to await shipment back to the good old USA.  We were here for a month expecting every day to be brought to the harbor and on to a ship.  I tried to telephone home, but it was useless.  There were no lines available and although I tried to contact my family through the Red Cross it was impossible.

We were cautioned to refrain from going into town since the citizens of Le Havre were no fans of the U.S. Army Air Force.

It seems that when the Germans were occupying the city, the Army sent some bombers over with pamphlets that announced to the Germans and to the French that if the Germans would leave the city, there would be no bombing.  The Germans did leave the city, but someone forgot to tell the Air Force, and the city was bombarded leaving many French people dead and the entire waterfront and port area flattened.

Here again the army tried to fatten us and we spent part of the day on mess lines.  However, although we were so very happy to be free again, we were getting bored.  We had no equipment to play baseball, or any sport, until we found a set of boxing gloves.

I had done some boxing, mostly with my father, and I watched some of the men boxing and decided to challenge the next winner.  I boxed with about five men, having no trouble staying on my feet and getting the best of them.  Then one of the men who had been watching us put on the gloves and we went at it.  I knew at once that this fellow had done some boxing and was well trained.  I was able to stay with him for a few minutes until he feinted and hit me with a one‑two and I heard bells ringing and I found myself on the ground.  I got up to continue, but my friends pulled me away and told me that I had done enough boxing for one day.  I was thankful that I had gotten away that easy and I was grateful that they had put an end to my boxing career.

While here at camp Lucky Strike we were fed food that was easy to digest.  We were encouraged to eat as much as we wanted.  The Army was trying to fatten us back to our normal weight.  They also served eggnog.  There was a line for this, and it was here that I met my old buddy, Matthew Martin.  Matt and I had become friends at fighter school in Sarasota.  We spent a great deal of time together, going to town and taking our dates to the beach, etc.

We went overseas together and remained together until we went into combat.  We were both at the same airfield at Leiston, but Matt was in a different squadron, the 362nd, the same squadron that Chuck Yeager* was in.  I was in the 364th squadron.

Matt and I were to go to London together the day that I was shot down.  When I knew that I was to fly that fateful day, I told Matt to call my date Terry when he arrived in London to tell her that I would be late.  Terry had been able to get a hotel room for us and I was anxious to meet her there.

When I saw Matt on the eggnog line I pushed in behind him and kept interrupting the conversation that he was having with the fellow in front of him.  He finally became angry and when he turned around to tell me to keep quiet, he did a double take.  He threw his arms around me and the two of us danced around rejoicing in the excitement of that wonderful reunion.                 

Matt told me that while on a mission over Germany in January his engine had quit and he had bailed out.  He was captured almost immediately.  He also told me that when he found out that I had not returned to base the day that we were to go to London together he called Terry**,  took her to dinner, and sort of took my place that evening.

Lenny Koos decided to go to Paris.  I decided to wait for the ship.  We had no money so we decided to sell some of the items that we had gotten from the German warehouse.  The new soldiers coming from the States knew that they wouldn't be able to get any souvenirs from Germany since the fighting had stopped, and they wanted to bring home a souvenir to show that they had been overseas.  We therefore set up a display on a cot in front of our tent with prices on everything.  Within fifteen minutes we were sold out and had enough money for both of us to go to Paris.

Lenny took off almost at once, and I again tried to call home, but no luck.  If I could only speak to my family to tell them that I was alive and well, I could go to Paris.

In a few days the rumors of a ship coming in to take us home stopped and I decided that I would go to Paris.  I had a ride on a jeep and was on my way.

The countryside was beautiful and I was beginning to relax and enjoy the trip.  We reached Roen, which was about twenty miles from Paris when I spotted Lenny going the other way on a jeep.  I jumped off my jeep and ran over to Lenny and asked him why he was going back to camp.  He told me that it was certain that a ship had already come in and we were scheduled to leave on it.  I was able to squeeze into this jeep and returned to the camp with Lenny.

Lenny had a great time in Paris and I was jealous, but then I was thrilled that we would be going home, and that was more important than anything else.

*Of course everyone knows who Chuck Yeager is and what he is famous for{breaking the sound barrier}.  The Air Force made him a General and although he is on official retirement he keeps well informed on current aircraft and he still flies F-16 and other modern fighters.  He is still in excellent condition and looks about ten years younger than his stated age. 

**Forty‑five years later at a reunion of our group in Georgia, Matt took me aside to tell me that he really didn't make out with Terry as he had led me to believe.

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