On 2 Apr 1944 we took off for our target which was
Steyr, Austria which is located in the Austrian Alps. Steyr is in the
middle of a manufacturing area and was classed as a target that produced
ball bearing and parts for the German war machine. This is the type of
targets we were continually bombing. This mission was our 4th and 5th
mission. The reason for 4 & 5 is because it was such a long trip and if
completed we would get credit for 2 missions. We knew that we would see
heavy flak and fighters because of the importance of the target. Our flight
leader was doing a lousy job of guiding us. As we were approaching the
target area, during our bomb run and soon thereafter. He was turning too
fast and making it very difficult for us to stay in a tight formation. We
were about 30 minutes late over the target at 1245 and we were hit by flak,
our group dropped our bombs and left the target area. Immediately after
dropping our bombs we had to leave the formation due to damage to our
aircraft. This made us a cripple and the enemy aircraft really attacks a
cripple. We were attacked by 6 enemy aircraft all Germans, which were
ME-109, ME-110 and FW-190. We evidently were hit in the tail which caused
us to lose control of the aircraft. In addition to the tail gunner having
been hit, the ball turret was damaged and the gunner was injured. I had
looked out my window at the wing and saw a 6-8 inch hole about 6 feet from
me where an anti-aircraft shell had gone through. We had trouble in one of
the engines and had feathered the propeller so it would not run. We put the
aircraft on automatic pilot and prepared to bail out. The pilot gave the
order to bail out at 1305, at this time it was not a case of wanting to jump
but part of our training telling us to jump. Therefore everyone left in a
quick and orderly fashion.
After I bailed out I opened my parachute
and started the flight down. I noticed the airplane was gliding for about
30 seconds and then the left wing blew up and fell off the aircraft and it
fell to the ground. When our crew was sent overseas I had been checked-out
as the Crew Commander and Pilot but when we reached Foggia we were
considered a filler crew with no experience so they separated my crew and
had us fly with other experienced crews. On the Steyr mission we were all
together except my co-pilot who was to fly with another crew. As I did not
have many missions they had me flying as a co-pilot that day. Our pilot had
completed 18 missions. At this time I did not know how many had gotten out
of the aircraft. As I was parachuting downward I noticed that it had gotten
very quiet with absolutely no sound anywhere. It was really amazing and
struck me as odd that a war could be going on with everything as quiet and
peaceful as it was.
An ME-109 aircraft was flying around but
he did not make any attempt to bother me. As I descended close to the
ground I discovered I was going to land in a group of pine trees. As I
landed in this group of trees my parachute got caught on the top limbs and I
could not reach the ground. I pulled myself close to the tree trunk and
stood on the branches and removed my chute. At this time I was about 30
feet above the ground and I started to climb down the trunk. I started
shinnying down the tree but my grip slipped and I fell the last 20-24 feet
to the ground. As I hit the ground my right knee was dislocated and it
popped back in place but it hurt so bad I could not run.
As I was sitting on the ground wondering
what I should do I heard a noise up on the mountain. I soon found out that
it was Joe Warneck who had landed close to me and decided to come to see if
I needed help. We did not have hand guns because it was a known fact that
our air crews were hurt when carrying weapons. The air crews would try to
defend themselves and would be shot by the Germans. It was not long until
we were surrounded by 3 Austrian farmers who were armed. They indicated for
us to follow them. Naturally we did follow. They took us to a very small
town where we met Lt. Armatoski and Sgt. McQueen who was laying in his
parachute on a 2 wheel cart. He had been hit by something in the head
because he had a big cut across the hairline on his forehead and was
bleeding. They then transported us to another small town where we met Sgt.
MacMinn, who had been hit in the body by flak and Sgt. Perkins who had been
wounded in the back. We were then taken to the third town where the wounded
were hauled by ambulance to a hospital and the rest of us were taken to the
court house and then to jail. We learned that Sgt. Eulert had been wounded
in the rear and the doctors had done all they could to stop his bleeding but
they were unsuccessful and he died the next day. I did not see another
one of the enlisted men again until the war was over.
The court house and the last town we
were taken to were loaded with men in British uniforms. We were never sure
if they were POW's and if they were trusted to run around if they did not
try to escape or if they were Germans in disguise. However, we were in the
lobby of the court house when one of the British men brought us some tea and
bread. As he handed the food to us he also gave us a note. The note said
"If you will give me your name, rank and home address we will notify your
next of kin". We looked at each other and decided that we shouldn't take a
chance. To this day I feel that they would have done just that and our
folks at home would have known all about us. So much for hind-sight.
The next day we were loaded into a train
for transportation to solitary confinement which was at Karlsruhe, Germany
which was located close to Frankfurt, Germany. Not much went on during this
trip except one little incident. There were 9 of us POW's riding in a
single compartment having cushioned seats. The Germans riding the trains
were standing up in the hallways even the 2 Germans with guns that were our
guards were standing. This meant that we the POW enemy were sitting in
plush seats while the Germans stood. One of our men had his front teeth
knocked out, his mouth and face were swollen and he was in a lot of pain.
His face had hit the nose wheel as he had bailed out of a B-24. Anyway he
looked at all the German travelers and said "Someone ask the Germans if this
trip is necessary?" We all thought it was funny. On this trip we were
amazed to see all the cities and towns that had been bombed.
We finally arrived at the Dulag Luft
Camp on 7 Apr 1944, which was Palm Sunday. We were each assigned a cell
which contained a wooden bed with a mattress filled with straw and an
electric heater or radiator. The door had a small window on the outside for
the German guards to look in on you. If you needed to go to the bathroom
you would touch a lever and it would drop down in the hall and the guard
would come to your cell and let you go to the bathroom. At no time were we
in the hall with another prisoner. We arrived here about 4:00 in the
afternoon. That same afternoon they took me downstairs to another cell
where a German Major interrogated me. After giving him my name, rank and
serial number I would not give him any other information and he said I would
before I left. After refusing again I was taken back to my cell. About
8:00 that night a guard came after me again. At this point I was beginning
to get concerned because I did not know if they (the Germans) would torture
us or not. I just hoped otherwise.
This time I was taken to the
commandant's office where he began asking me the same questions. He
informed me that they knew all about our crew so I might as well tell him
everything. After refusing again they took me back to my cell. The routine
remained the same for the next few days, except no more questioning took
place and I was locked in my cell and the food brought to me. The windows
had bars on them and wooden shutters so the guards could close them at night
to protect against air raids.
One week from the day I arrived there at
about 3:00 in the afternoon the guard opened my door and said come on. I
followed him not knowing what was taking place and he took me to the center
yard of the camp where other Americans were arriving. We were told that we
were going to be moved to our permanent camp site. This was on Easter
Sunday a day to remember. You will note that I was never questioned after
the first day I arrived at Dulag Luft. I thought they might question me
again after a few days thinking I might be scared and would tell them
something but they didn't bother.
We were walked to the train station and
loaded into box cars for our trip to the new camp. We passed through
Kassel, Hanover and Berlin. We spent the night in the rail yards, or
marshaling yards as they were called in Berlin. This was a favorite trick
the Germans had of leaving prisoners in the box cars in the rail yards and
then if the yards were bombed at night they could say we killed our own
men. We heard airplanes going over but no bombs were dropped that night.
On 13 Apr 1944 we arrived at the small
town of Barth, Germany probably no larger than 5,000 people. It is located
due north of Berlin on the Baltic Sea. It lies between the two cities of
Rostock and Stettin. These are also on the Baltic about 30 miles from
Barth. Just a note at this point after the war this part of Germany was
given to the Russians by the allies and was called East Germany. The name of our
camp was Stalag Luft 1.
When we arrived we were assigned to
block 4 (barracks 4) compound 1. The next day we were permitted to take a
shower in the communal shower. The water would be turned on for about 30
seconds and a person was to get wet then soap up and the water was turned on
again for time to rinse. This had to be done in a hurry because they didn't
leave the water on very long. We were then given some new clothes which
were supplied by the International Red Cross. However they just happened to
be military clothes.
At the time we arrived at Stalag
Luft 1 there were actually 2 parts to the camp. The original camp was called
the south compound. Just next to the camp were some brick buildings that
housed a flak school for the German soldiers. This was also the permanent
area for our guards and their personnel. This flak school was an area used
to teach the young German military how to use the anti-aircraft flak guns.
They did not practice with live ammunition but all of the instructional work
was done here. This reminds me of the point I made about our train being
parked in the rail yards overnight. The flak school was close to a POW camp
so if the allies bombed the flak school and hit the camp they would be
killing their own people.
The south compound was primarily filled
with British airman prisoners. They had been taken in the early part of the
war about the time the British were leaving France at Dunkirk. After a time
the number of Americans began to out number the British so the Germans had
to open the other areas.
In the remaining pages I will refer to
my original diary so perhaps at this time I should explain what “my original
diary” is and how I came by it. The diary is a bound book 6 ¾” X 9 ½” with
a course cloth like cover. It consisted of 73 plain white pages, 18
photograph holding pages and 78 more plain white pages. On the front of the
book was imprinted ‘A Wartime Log’. In the front of the book is an imprint
of the letters ‘YMCA’ and their logo. These books were donated and sent to
the POW’s by the YMCA. However, not many of the books were made available
so our camp divided the books between the barracks. As it turned out only
two books were made available to our barracks. The barracks Commander Cpt.
Putnam got one copy and a lottery with the other 120 prisoners was held and
my name was drawn. To me this book has earned it’s weight in gold. Many,
many good and bad memories can be returned to and relived by me from reading
it again and again. The pages of this book will be referred to many times
in the remaining pages of these memoirs.
Next to the South Compound was
Compound 1 it had been constructed a short time before I had gotten there
and was not fully occupied. However in the remaining time I was there an
additional north compound II and III were built. By the time the war ended
each one of the compounds were holding approximately 2,000 men. With 7,500
of them officers and 500 enlisted men.
Page 25 of my original diary illustrates
the location of the barracks, the shower, mess hall and kitchen. I was
first assigned to a room in block 4. Jack Armitoski and I had been together
on the train and also we were able to stick together here. The next month
around 30 May 1944 we were permanently assigned to a room in block #1. Lt.
Meyer was with us most of the time but he was assigned to block #7. We saw
each other all the time but not as much as Armitoski and I saw each other.
Referring to blocks 9, 10 and 11 they were built later in the war when it
became apparent our areas were too crowded.
Sometime during the months of April and
May of 1945 the German command moved all of the POW’s from barrack number 11
and then placed all POW’s that were known or thought to be Jewish in
barracks 11. The rumor around camp was that the Germans were going
to kill them all if they lost the war. As we know now although they lost
the war they did not kill the POW’s in barracks number 11 and all ended
Our room was laid out in this manner
referring to page 26 of my diary. Each of the beds were double deckers. We
had a table and benches when there was not enough room at the table we would
sit on the edge of the beds to eat and talk. The stove was an upright stove
about 4 feet high and two feet square. It was covered with ceramic tile,
therefore it did not put out much heat for the room. Later on we learned to
remove some of the tile from the stove and the heat would get out. Our coal
for heating was a compressed block of coal like our charcoal briquettes are
now. They measured about 1 1/2" thick, 2 1/2" across and 8" long we would
get about 6 or 7 of these every 2 to 4 days. Not much to heat with. The
sign on the door is on page 22 of my diary.
On the outside wall we had a window
about 8 feet long that we could open in the summer and we could see out.
However at night the Germans would close the shutters so no light would show
on the outside. We started out with only 14 men in the room but close to
the end of the war we had 16 men. This made it a little more crowded and
created more confusion at eating time, which I will further explain later.
Our beds were made of 2 X 4's upright
and 2 X 6's side rails. Our springs were wire string between the 2 x 6's
and tightened. The mattress consisted of a mattress cover filled with plain
old straw. It would not take long for the straw to break to pieces as we
laid on it. So it was quite a big deal when we were given new straw by the
Germans. The new straw was good for about 2 weeks.
The camp was approximately 600-700 feet
with the barracks or blocks laid out as I indicated. The camp was enclosed
by 2-12 foot high fences approximately 10 feet apart. Between these two
fences were rolls of barbed wire strung along the ground about 3 feet high.
It was impossible to walk through without getting caught. The upright
fences were also made of barbed wire so they were also impossible to climb.
There was a guard house approximately 25 feet tall located at each corner
and in the middle of each side. Each guard house was manned by a soldier
and a 30 caliber machine gun. On the inside of the two fences about 12 feet
from the 2 outside fences was a single string of barbed wire 3 feet high.
This was called a restraining wire and no one was allowed past it without
permission. Occasionally we would have a baseball, football or something
else land in this area but no attempt would be made to retrieve the article
without the guards OK. At night all of this area was patrolled by guard
When we arrived at camp the food rations
were distributed by the Germans. They would give us barley cereal,
potatoes, butter and bread. The rest of our rations came from food parcels
that were distributed by the International Red Cross through Sweden and
Switzerland and then the Germans. Naturally we all felt that they were paid
for by the U.S. Government. These parcels contained 11 pounds of food. The
contents are listed from page 5 of my diary. You will notice the parcels did
have a very good balance of food items and other supplies. We should have
gotten one of these parcels each week but sometimes this did not happen.
Every food parcel contained at least 5-7
packages of cigarettes in them and since so many men smoked they were in
great demand. So the men in camp decided that cigarettes would be the basis
of our monetary system. No money was allowed in camp so the item that was
most important was to be considered the money base. Therefore, it became a
trading deal! This means that a can of cheese or meat or the milk would be
equal to so many cigarettes. In other words you could sell or buy the items
for what ever you could bargain for. Most of the time the price remained
constant such as 60 cigarettes for a can of Spam, beef or cheese. Powdered
milk was equal to 100 cigarettes. If a person did not smoke they could buy
extra rations each week.
The Germans gave us a some dark colored
bread at least every other day. Sometimes the amount would vary. A system
was devised to ration out the bread in each room. The bread was not sliced,
so one individual would cut the loaves into 14 equal shares, more or less,
and set them on a table. Then we would place a playing card on each piece
of bread, another matching card was then drawn and when your name appeared
you got these matching cards. If a person was unlucky enough to get the end
piece that was his problem or tough luck until the next draw. A deck of
cards that I had at camp was used for this purpose and they were practically
worn out by the time we were sent home.
Each week when the Germans issued our
Red Cross parcels they would punch a hole in the top of all cans. This was
done to prevent the POW's from holding on to the rations and using them over
a period of time trying to escape. Many of the items the Germans gave us
such as potatoes, cabbage, turnips or meat would be partly rotten or
spoiled. We would salvage what we could and go from there.
Our compound was the only compound that
had a mess hall that could be used by the POW's. It was located on the
inside of the fence so we could use it. The mess hall was run by POW
volunteers, supervised by the Germans. We had the cooks and the important
jobs filled from these volunteers. The dish washers, potato peelers and
clean up people came from details appointed by the commanders. The food for
the kitchen was removed from the red cross parcels before they were issued
to the prisoners. Whatever the mess hall could make a meal of with the
inclusion of the German rations was done. We had just two meals served a
day, breakfast and dinner.
The dining room was furnished with
tables and benches. Most of the tables would sit 8 men. Generally for each
meal we would have two sittings. The barracks would take turns for the
early or late times. Each person at the table would have a bowl or plate
for each meal. The food would be brought to the table in a dish or dishes
and then divided up. One person would normally measure out the food.
Tablespoon after tablespoon. No individual was allowed to do his own
serving. It was divided by one person and this way everyone got the same
amount. This procedure was followed for all meals.
It was nothing to see the men eating
their Barley cereal and stop and push something to the side of the dish.
After we were there a short time we discovered that these were worms that
were in the cereal. As everybody was hungry we all decided we could eat
around the worms.
Another item in the Red Cross parcels
turned out to be of great value to us and this was the cans of
oleo-margarine. Quite often the electricity was turned off and there were no
lights for anything. So someone thought of making a candle out of the
oleo. This was done by taking a can and hanging a piece of string in the
can then pouring melted oleo in the can. After it hardened one could light
the string and we would have candles. The oleo was very important to us. It
acted just like a wax candle.
Every morning and night a roll call was
held so the Germans could tell if we were all there. We would fall out by
barracks with our barracks commander in front. Normally the formation would
be in 4 ranks with each person directly behind the man in front. The German
commandant would walk in front of the flight and one of his men behind.
Each would be counting the personnel. If they differed at the end of the
flight then they would recount. Sometimes it would take several counts.
Whenever a German guard or the
commandant entered our compound some one would yell a warning. At first
this warning signal was "Goon Up" meaning a German was inside the fence. We
used this signal until the Germans found out that the word Goon was not too
complimentary and they made us change it. So we changed it to "Enemy Up"
and then they were satisfied.
The reason we had the signal was to warn
any prisoner that was doing something he shouldn't be that the Germans were
coming and they should stop what ever they were doing so they would not get
caught. Like digging a tunnel or something of this nature. The Germans
would perform surprise searches of individuals or barracks once a week or
so. If an individual was in their barracks then the Germans would search
them and would confiscate anything the prisoners shouldn't have. However,
if we were outside the barracks they would not touch us. This is the reason
for the warning so everyone could get outside the barracks. Of course this
was impossible after dark or lock up.
The Germans also had odd ideas about
anyone that was trying to escape. We were first warned by our own
Commanders that any attempt to escape from camp must first be approved by
our chain of command. If a person was trying to escape the Commanders would
then give them all the support they could. In the line of tools, food and
equipment. In this way headquarters could keep a reign on attempts so one
would not interfere with another. The strange thing with the Germans
thinking was if a POW was caught trying to escape and was inside the
restraining barb wire he would be given 2 weeks solitary confinement,
However, if the POW was found outside the camp he would be given only 1 week
confinement. In other wards the Germans would reward a POW for getting
outside the camp.
In addition to the clothing and food
parcels sent through the International Red Cross we also got help from the
International YMCA. No doubt these items were supplied by the U.S.
Government and delivered by the "Y" but they were more than appreciated. We
had a great variety of sport equipment plus musical instruments and library
books. The items were all put to use in their own way.
We received all types of sporting goods
equipment such as baseballs, gloves and bats, basketballs and nets,
footballs, softballs, volleyballs and nets. Boxing gloves and even some ice
skates. We do not know why they sent ice skates but one time they did try
to flood an area for skating but it didn't last long as it warmed up.
However, with the other items this gave us a great chance to exercise and
keep our minds occupied. We formed teams and leagues for all the different
sports. Normally a group of friends would form a team or the teams were
made up of the men in a barracks. Consequently there was quite a bit of
very good competition.
At the end of the basketball season an
all-star team was chosen from the North Compound I and the South Compound
and we had a championship game between the two compounds. The Germans escorted the
South compound to our area and we had the game on our court.
This court was mostly sandy so it was a problem to dribble the ball. I was
lucky enough to have been chosen as one of the ten all-stars from our
compound to play in the game. It was a very close low scoring game and our
team won. It was quite a big deal as the court was completely packed with
men around it. It really was a pleasure to have been chosen and to play in
the game. The final score was North compound 34 to South Compound 27.
All of the books the Germans allowed
into the camp had been censored. Nothing derogatory toward the Germans were
in them. The books were all placed in one room and this was our library.
Two or three of the prisoners volunteered to take care of the books and they
were issued by cards just as in regular libraries. They had many good books
and I spent a lot of bad weather time reading.
The musical instruments were also put to
good use. Many of the POW's were very good musicians, singers and actors.
A group of the better musicians formed a band and they would put on musical
programs. They named the band "Round-the-Benders". The term round-the-bend
comes from the prisoner saying that a person was going a little stir crazy
from being in prison too long. Instead of saying he was a little nuts or
crazy we would just say he is "round-the-bend".
|Note the TTT above the stage
The people who had acting ability formed
a group called TTT's which stood for "Table Top Thespians". About once a
month the Round-the-Benders and the TTT's would put on a stage show in the
mess hall. Sometimes the band would play during the meal time and they
always had a great holiday program. Both groups were very good and they did
a great job of entertaining us. I suppose the groups got there music and
plays through the Red Cross or YMCA.
When the weather was good and we became
bored with staying in the room we would go outside and walk around the
compound just inside the warning fence. It was nothing for us to walk
around 6 or 7 trips. We would generally walk with others so we had someone
to discuss things with. Many of us played bridge or rummy when we had to
Each barracks had a loud speaker in the
hall so we could get announcements but it was all furnished by the Germans
so it did not amount to much. The Germans would not give us much news but
occasionally they would bring us a small paper that always told about the
front lines. It was funny the Germans never retreated "They fell back to
better defense positions". We did have a way of getting the news each day.
some place in our camp was a radio that was kept hidden from the Germans. I
never did know nor did I want to know where it was. However the news was
received and then some one in our headquarters building would type it and
make carbons of the news. Then each barracks had a runner that would take
the page back to their barracks. We would then pass the sheet from room to
room and that way everyone would know the latest news. Sometimes if the
news was very important we would read it in groups of three so it was all
This little newspaper or sheet was
called the "POW-WOW" its byline was "The only truthful newspaper in Germany"
. Because our people monitored the German radio our prison camp knew the
invasion in Europe had started 6 hours before the people in the U.S.. The
reason for this was that as quick as the allied invasion started in Europe,
Germany warned their people but the announcement was held up in the U.S.
until six o'clock U.S. time. The invasion started about midnight U.S. time
but it was 5:00 A.M. in Europe. This little newspaper was a great moral
booster for the POW's.
I mentioned earlier about taking a
shower when we first got to Barth. Well this shower procedure continued
after we were sent to POW camp. We took showers about every 2 to 3 weeks.
A group of 20-30 prisoners were taken at a time to the shower area and they
only had so many minutes to complete their showers.
One of the most difficult problems we
had was the maintaining of clean clothes. No laundry facilities were
available to us so some method had to be devised and sure enough the POW's
came up with a solution. Instead of doing the clothes by hand a washing
pole was made. This pole was made by nailing to the end of a broom stick a
small 4 oz. jelly can with the top cut out of it and placed inside of a 1
pound milk can with holes in the sides. The clothes were placed in a bucket
of soap and water. Where we got the soap I do not remember. Anyway the
stick would be pushed down against the clothes and bottom of the bucket then
lifted back up to the top, this action causes the clothes to go down and
then the water goes out the holes in the big can and when the stick is
raised a vacuum is formed by the little can lifting the clothes up. The up
and down action is the same as the agitation on a regular washer and it
really did a good job.
After we arrived at prison camp the
first thing we wanted to do was to see that word got home about us. The
Germans gave us some form pages and post cards that we could send home. We
were allowed to send two letters and 3 post cards a month. This was our
biggest concern for a while not knowing what the people back home knew about
us. As it turned out the people back home were in the same position as we
were. They did not know if we were getting their mail or not. As it turned
out it was about 2 months before the mail got either way. The first letter
I got from Fran arrived on the 10th of July 1944 as you can well guess it
was well received by me. After that the mail began coming in fairly
regularly except when our air force would play hell with the Germans supply
line on transportation networks and then the mail would be held up.
In addition to the mail Fran was
permitted to send a food parcel and two tobacco packages every 3 months. On
29 Sept 1944 I got my first food parcel from her. Since everyone in our
room was taken prisoner about the same time her package was the first for
anyone in our room. You can imagine what an event that was. She had been
told not to put anything personal in the package because the Germans
censored all packages and would remove it. Nevertheless Fran slid a 5 X 7
picture of herself down the side of the box. When I received the parcel it
had been opened and censored but who ever the German was he had placed her
picture on top so that was the first thing I saw. Also in the first package
was a deck of playing cards. These were the only cards in our room for
about 3 months. They really got some hard use. When we could not play with
them anymore we used them to ration out the bread.
At that time there were not many
dehydrated products on the market so it was hard for her to find things to
send. In one of the parcels she sent the dehydrated and powdered contents
for mince meat pie. We had to really do some work to get a pie in that
place. Our first problem was no pie pans and the last and most important
was no ovens. With a lot of thought I devised a plan--I took the longest
can I could get which was a milk can and cut the top and bottom rims out.
Then I flattened the remaining part of the can. After flattening the can I
bent up the outside edges about 1" and folded the corners together so they
would not leak and then I had an oblong pan. It was not round but we
decided it would work.
I then separated the dough into two
portions made the bottom crust put it in the pan and filled it with the
mince meat then put on the top crust. Now the question is how do I bake
it. There was no way to place it on the fire in our stoves as it would
burn. I then got the idea of putting the pan in the ash pit and making a
lid to keep the ashes off of the pie while it baked. In this way the
problem was solved and after a while the pie was baked. When it was done and
cooled I gave everyone in the room a bite of it. A bite doesn't seem like
much but under these conditions they felt I was more than generous to give
them that. Food that came from home was very seldom passed around in the
room as everyone respected each others’ personal property.
One of the things that worried us the
most was the anxiety of not knowing just what was going on. We were so long
in hearing from home we naturally worried about that. So when word did come
we relaxed a little. However, we were concerned about what might happen to
us. With the guards manning machine guns all around us we never knew what
their feelings might be. We often thought that if they had lost some of
their families during one of our air raids, how would they feel toward us?
Would they want to shoot us? We were always giving this some thought.
About 5:30 a.m., 4 Apr 1945, someone
yelled the mess hall was on fire. Well none of us would believe it but I
had to go to the bathroom so when I got to the latrine I looked out and sure
enough the mess hall was completely engulfed in flames. I ran back to the
room and told everyone and they all jumped out of bed dressed and ran over
to help put out the fire. There was no putting out that fire. The mess
hall burned completely to the ground. The only thing that was saved was a
few loaves of bread that had been stored in the kitchen area. We never
found out what caused the fire.
We soon found that this had created a
lot of problems for us. We only had a small stove in our room not made for
cooking and now 14 to 16 men would have to cook on it. We started to get
more of our rations in the room since the kitchen was not taking any of the
food for cooking. We had to take care of it and be sure that it did not
Along about the same time this happened
we began to get interruptions in our electric service and our water supply,
when the Germans were asked what was going on they would say that the allies
were bombing their electric and water plants. This we had no doubt of but
sometimes they would be off for hours. Whenever the water was on we would
fill every bucket and/or can we could find. However, at the end of the war
we found this was untrue and that the Germans were just trying to cause us
The four most memorable days during my
prison stay was the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. The
4th of July was a warm day and forever what reason the Germans permitted us
to have a celebration. We held the ceremonies out on the parade grounds
with the band "Round-the-Benders" playing music and putting on a stage
show. We all sat out in front of the band on the ground or benches that we
had taken from our barracks. Even the German commandant attended the
ceremony. The celebration was quite impressive to see inside of a prison
On Thanksgiving Day we had a special
meal even though the Germans had just put us on 14 day ration periods
instead of the usual 7 day. This meant the food had to go twice as far.
The mess hall had been saving some food back so we could have a better
meal. For breakfast we had creamed Spam and fried potatoes. Remember the
bread to eat with it had to come from our daily rations. For the evening
meal we had Argentina roast beef, mashed potatoes and Pate gravy, carrots
and peas, raisin and chocolate pie and American coffee. In addition to
eating good we had music by the band and Chuck Wiest sang "Serenade in
The day before Christmas was a cloudy
day about 20 degrees Fahrenheit the camps glee club and string orchestra
presented a program of Christmas carols and excerpts from "Handel's
Messiah". At midnight the Catholic’s were permitted to have mass and the
Protestant’s had their Christmas service at noon on Christmas day. During
the evening one of our room mates played an accordion that we got from
somewhere and we sang a few of the old favorite songs. It looked to us like
Christmas would be just another day.
Christmas Day in "Kriegeland" a cold and
cloudy day. Roll call was a little later today. For breakfast we had
Vienna sausage and fried potatoes. At 2:00 we had Protestant service. It
was a short service of prayers and Christmas carols. This afternoon I
cooked a soup using some of the tomato juice from my last parcel, a bouillon
cube, dehydrated meat and rice and noodle soup mix. It was really quite
good. The Christmas evening meal put the Thanksgiving meal in the back
seat. The menu was as follows: Turkey (very good), mashed potatoes and Pate
gravy, boiled carrots, chocolate pie and coffee. In addition to this the
band put on a program, Chuck Wiest sang three songs and really did a good
job, they had a Santa Claus and all. It was a climax to a rather sad and
lonesome Christmas Day. As usual we had the Red Cross and the YMCA to thank
for our pleasure.
Sunday Dec 31 being New Year's Eve was
rather a sobering day because it seemed to be a day for reflection, what has
happened and what is about to happen. Anyway we went to Sunday church
services and then we had perhaps the best meal that we had all during our
stay in prison. We even had canned turkey from the special Red Cross
parcels. At 11:30 New Year's Eve we were permitted to have another
"Midnight Watch" church service. I can easily say that it was very well
attended. Never again will I attend a service that made me think as that
one did. It was a type of service that I have never witnessed before. I
don't know exactly how to express in writing the feeling I had during the
service. On all my previous New Years Eve's I have spent in celebration but
this one, well----It was done by way of prayer and not by my own selfish
benefit that a wild celebration would give me. The service consisted of
hymns and prayers with a short sermon of about 5 minutes by Chaplain Douglas.
The text was our three duties when we get home, duty to ourselves, to our
loved ones, and to the young men that will look to us as an influence over
their lives. At midnight we had a silent prayer. Only a person that has
experienced this situation can understand my feelings in this kind of
One day a fellow prisoner of Stalag 1,
Lt. Roy, said that if he ever got out of POW camp and back home alive he
would write a book about his and others experiences during the war and in
POW camp. So several of us said if he did write the book we would like a
copy. One is reminded that no money was available to the POW’s therefore a
method of payment had to be devised. In my particular case I used the
inside of a match cover and made out a check for two copies of the book.
Months after returning from the service this canceled match book was
returned in my checking account and in July 1946 almost 14 months after the
war ended I received my copies of the book. Needless to say I was a little
surprised. It was called “Behind Barbed Wire” it is a hard bound book
written by Lt. Morris J. Roy. The book consisted of 12 flight missions as
told by POW’s to Lt. Roy. The book also has a complete listing of all
prisoners indicating their rank, type of aircraft and their home address.
It also has many pictures that were taken at the POW camp and many sketches
and drawings that were made by the prisoners.
Naturally there were many other days I
can remember or things that I did but they are not important enough to
remember in writing. Most of my prison stay was along the lines that I have
mentioned and very often the same, day after day.
On Monday Apr 30, 1945 at about 9:30
A.M. our barracks commander Capt. Putman went through our barracks and told
everyone "Dig a slit trench outside the barracks so that you can get to it
through your windows" this was quite a surprise but according to our news
source we knew the Russians were advancing from the east and the British
from the west. This meant that we could be right in the middle and could be
in some danger from battle fire. The Germans guarding our camp were in a
big quandary as to what to do with us. Anyway we all started digging slit
trenches using milk cans for tools. Lucky the ground was sandy and soft, it
didn't take us too long. As we dug the trenches we heard rumors that the
Germans might evacuate our camp. We knew that we would be better off dug in
rather than trying to get to friendly lines. Our only hope was that there
would be no fighting where we were.
At about 11:00 we heard a big explosion
at the flak school. It was not long until we were sure the Germans would
evacuate. They continued to blow up things and the guards began to pack all
of their belongings. The Germans wanted to go west and if they were to be
taken prisoner they wanted it to be by the British and Americans not the
Russians so this is why they were leaving us. Col. Zemke our American top
commander learned the German soldiers and civilians were starting to loot
our Red Cross parcels that were stored in the flak school warehouses. Col
Zemke complained to the German commandant. Then Col. Zemke came to us for
volunteers to get our parcels.
Naturally he had plenty of volunteers.
We went to the warehouses and pushed the Germans back out of the way and
loaded the parcels on wagons. We soon found more parcels than the Germans
said we had. We took the parcels to our camp for protection.
The next few remarks will be
excerpts day by day from my "A Wartime Log".
Tuesday May 1,1945 - We woke up
at 5:00 and looked out the windows and found the towers were all empty! The
Germans had left during the night and at 11:00 P.M. the night before the
German commandant and an interpreter had come to Col. Zemke and said we are
now your prisoners. Rumors started flying about how close the Russians
were, etc. some of our technicians hooked the radio up to our loud speaker
system so we began getting good radio programs and could keep up with the
news. We heard the old Hit Parade. They interrupted the program to
announce that Adolf Hitler was dead. This really brought all of us relief.
Wednesday May 2 - Not much going
on. We heard the Russians were approaching Barth. We were ordered to stay
close to camp as some of the Russians might not be to friendly.
Thursday May 3 - Barth is made
"Off Limits" to us. Col. Zemke hopes we will fly out soon. We were issued 3
Red Cross parcels we didn't know how to act. Some of us decided to take a
walk. All fences have been removed. Walked about 2 miles to a lake. Saw 2
P-47 aircraft from the U.S. some site to see. The airfield close to Barth
had been damaged by the Germans before they left, but volunteers were trying
to get it ready.
Friday May 4 - We have 4 smudge
pots burning in the middle of camp. This will warn any aircraft in the area
to watch out for our camp. We heard the Germans were surrendering in
Northern Germany, Denmark and Holland. Three concentration camps were
discovered in and around Barth and the airfield. Some very gruesome stories
are coming from those camps.
Saturday May 5 - Still waiting
around. At 14:00 a big yell went up all over camp. The cause was the
arrival of an American Major, Captain, Sergeant and a P.F.C. in a jeep.
These were the first outsiders we had seen. We now knew that our people
were well aware of us. Later an Air Corps Colonel arrived and he informed
us arrangements were being made to get us out.
Sunday May 6 - Found out the
concentration camps held, French, Polish and Russian prisoners used as
forced labor around Barth.
Monday May 7 - I have been in the
army 3 years this date. Nothing else new.
Tuesday May 8 - 2nd wedding
anniversary in prison camp. Some of us took a walk to the airfield and
looked it over along with the remains of the concentration camps. Picked up
a German helmet on the way back. The greatest news was that the Germans had
signed the "Unconditional Surrender" we had a big bonfire in the center of
the parade grounds.
Wednesday May 9 - Nothing New!
Thursday May 10 - Nothing
new-just waiting around.
Friday May 11 - Washed a few
clothes and signed a blanket passport for the Russians. Rumor had it that
we would leave Sat or Sun. I hope.
Saturday May 12 - At 2:05 P.M. we
sighted the first B-17 aircraft. Then they began to arrive fast. Before
the day was over 38 B-17's and 2 C-47's had landed and loaded up. About 900
left camp that day. It was really great to see, everyone was very happy.
Sunday May 13 - Up at 6:00 A.M.
and packing ready for anything. We went to the airport and at 11:15 loaded
onto a B-17 and left Barth, Germany. After 13 months of time in a POW
camp. We landed at Leon, France at 3:05 P.M.. On the way we flew over
Rostock, Dortmund, Duisburg and Dusseldorf in Germany and Cologne, Aachen
and Liege Belgium. Flying over these towns we passed over the Ruhr River
Valley and we saw what the air raids and artillery can do to a town. Cologne
and Aachen were the most severally hit and were really flattened. We landed
at Leon Airport and were driven by trucks to a camp outside Rheims, France
as we went through the city we saw the famous Rheims Cathedral. It was a
beautiful sight and Rheims also was where the "unconditional Surrender" was
Monday May 14 - Up at 6:30 A.M.
we left by C-47 for Le Havre Airport and arrived at 10:50 A.M.. We were
taken by truck to camp Lucky Strike about 45 miles southeast of Le Havre.
We were permitted to take a leisurely shower and enjoy it. Then we were
issued new clothes. Later on that day I ran into Sgt. Warneck, from my
crew, and he filled me in on the rest of the crew. He informed me that all
had made it with the exception of Sgt. Eulert. They all had survived very
Tuesday May 15 - Ran into Sgt Uzar
another member of our crew and we talked for a long time. The camp was
really a tent city as there were approximately 25 to 30,000 men there.
May 16 through June 10 - Nothing
really happened during this time. It was probably the most boring period of
my military life. All we were doing was waiting for transportation home,
but of course many thousands of other were doing the same thing. During
this time we spent a lot of time at the USO tents and just sitting around
talking. We would take some walks but kept close to camp hoping to be told
it was our turn. Special services put on many stage shows for us. They were
trying to help us out but it was a slow process. During this time we were
given physical exams, new clothing, records brought up to date and some
At the USO tents we could get coffee,
doughnuts, cocoa, cheese sandwiches and other different types of foods. Of
course these items we had not had as a POW.
Monday June 11 - We were all
packed and at 3:15 we left Camp Lucky Strike and arrived at the Le Harve
Harbor at 6:05 A.M.. We boarded the USS Gen. H. W. Butner at 7:00 A.M.
Because there were so many officers aboard the 2nd Lt’s had to sleep in the
hold. This ship was the sister ship of the USS Gen A. E. Anderson that I
had gone over on. Due to the large number on board we only had 2 meals a
day. This didn't make too much difference as long as we were going home.
Tuesday June 12 - Ate breakfast
and left Le Havre Harbor at 11:10 A.M. It was announced that we would dock
at Norfolk, VA this was the same place that I Left from on 23 Jan 1943. The
ship normally carries 4500 enlisted men and 450 officers, however on this
trip we had 6000 enlisted men and 1500 officers. The hold I was in was the
4th deck down approximately 36" below the water line.
Jun 13 through Jun 18 - Crossing
the ocean not much going on, just passing time. Played bridge with some men
from the camp. This was about all we could do. It was so crowded we had a
hard time even taking a walk on deck. Some of the men were even sleeping
there. They would do anything to get home.
Wednesday June 20 - Sighted land
at 5:30 A.M. and we docked at 8:30 got off the ship at 12:00 and boarded a
train for Camp Patrick Henry. The trip took 7 days 10 hours and 20 minutes
to get across the Atlantic. As soon as we were given quarters at Camp
Patrick Henry we were given our first real meal it was really something. We
had big T-bone steaks and everything that went with it. They placed the
milk at the end of the tables in crates and quart bottles. Anytime you
wanted more you could have it. Got a telephone call through to Mom at 2:00
P.M. she told me Fran was in Chicago. I started calling her at 6:00 P.M. and
finally got through at 00:30 A.M..
For the next few days we were again
given a quick physical and went through processing. We were issued more
clothing and new identification passes. We were finally alerted and told to
stay close to our area that we might leave anytime.
We finally boarded a train at 24:00
hours Sunday Jun 24 we were in chair cars but at this time we did not care
how we got home. It was a very uneventful trip to Chicago. Arrived Chicago
at 3:20 A.M. Tue. Jun 26. Arrived at Ft. Sheridan at 7:00 A.M. went through
a very fast processing and was at Fran's at 4:30 P.M. At last we were
starting life again.
All ex-POW's were given a 60 day leave
after returning from overseas so we had a great chance to get acquainted
again. Every place we went everyone was happy to see us and it was just one
party after another after a few days with Fran and her mother and her family
we went to Jacksonville by train to see all of my family. The biggest party
I can remember was while I was home on leave my brother Jim and his family
came to visit. Jim had just gotten back from Europe and was also on leave.
Dad and Paul were members of the Elks Club, one night Dad, Paul, Jim and I
went to the Elks for dinner. Many of the people there were old friends and
we had not seen them for years. We were all so happy to see each other and
happy to be able to get together it was one wild happy time. We had family
get togethers and talked and talked and talked. No one knows exactly how I
felt about just being alive and being missed!
After my 60-day leave Fran and I
reported to Miami Beach, Florida which was being used as a rehabilitation
center for ex-POWs. This stay was to be for 10 days or less. At Miami Beach
an individual had a choice of being discharged or being reassigned to
another military unit. Fran and I talked it over and we decided that we had
had enough of full time military life and I would be discharged. However it
was my intention to stay in the Reserves because I was still concerned with
While in Miami Beach, Fran and I were
walking along the street when we accidentally ran into Lt Bill Shaw who
was my co-pilot of my original crew. I wondered what he was doing in Miami
Beach and he said he was recuperating at the hospital from an injury. He
told us that he had been hurt while he was in Oran, North Africa. You will
remember I told you about Le Siena Airport, Oran and how it had 3 story high
barracks with iron railings around the balconies. Well Bill had stayed in
Italy and completed 47 combat missions and they gave him a gravy (easy)
flight to Oran. He flew another group of men to North Africa for R & R.
While he was staying at the airfield he was sleeping on the 3rd floor of one
of the barracks and walked in his sleep. While walking he left his room and
fell over the railing breaking a leg and his back. He had been there
several months recuperating and was expected to stay even longer. We
talked to him for quite awhile.
After being discharged I was assigned
to a flight located in Jacksonville, Illinois, however, this was actually a
part of a reserve flight located at Capitol Airport in Springfield,
Illinois. This flight was the 9643rd Air Reserve Squadron
Springfield, Illinois. At these meetings which we had once every two weeks
we studied weather, weather reporting and business administration processes.
In 1957 I transferred to the Illinois Air
National Guard in Springfield, Illinois. I was assigned to the 170th
Tactical Fighter Squadron. Shortly after 1961 and the Cuban call up our
Squadron was increased in number of personnel and we became the 183rd
Tactical Fighter Group. This group consisted of approximately 800 to 900
men and was made up of 5 units. They were the 170th Tactical
Fighter Squadron, 183rd Tactical Fighter Group Headquarters, 183rd
Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 183rd Communication Squadron and
the 183rd Combat Support Squadron. During this organization I
was made the Commanding Officer of the 183rd Combat Support
Squadron. I belonged to the military unit plus I had the civilian job of
civil engineer. I was in this position until Feb 1976 when I retired with
over 33 years of combined military service with the rank of full Colonel.