|William McCrea Potts
(twin to Arthur Wyman Potts)
Both of the 106th Infantry Division
4th Platoon, K Company, 424th Inf
BILLíS RANDOM NOTES ON GERMAN PWs
When the 106th
got the PW job we left France for Germany. None of us knew we were
not going into action.
At Frankfort we stayed for several days in pup
tents (shelter halfs as we did in France). One day at Frankfort we
went to a big estate like mansion; perhaps a Red Cross.
Next at Langenloshime we were billeted in and
around a schoolyard.
I first remember escorting prisoners from Bad Kreuznach to our
stockade. I collected watches and an Iron Cross by going into their
ranks and taking them.
At the camp they were put into large areas (as big
as a football field) of bare dirt, totally exposed with no shelter.
The areas were marked off with white mine field tape. Riflemen were
posted along the sides with a machine gun in two of the opposite
corners. Grassy areas of equal size separated the groupís prisoners.
Somehow they were sorted by rank and nationality.
But I never saw this done. I donít remember watching prisoners at
the camp as often as I escorted them from Bad Kreuznach.
I do remember one incident at one of the makeshift camps. The dirt areas for prisoners were side-by-side one after the other. Prisoners would wander into the grass areas to pick the tall grass for a bed. We would just yell at them. One old man went too far Ė almost midway. I fired one round at his feet
and then was struck with the fear that I could have hit one of the G.I.s in the opposite corner.
I do remember days watching prisoners with no fences and a rumor the warís end resulted in rifle
fire into the air. This diminished with each
rumor. When the war ended I donít remember even one shot.
Some days guarding; some days escorting and always
taking watches. My letters tell of these watches. I think Dad kind
of wanted one. The only one that got home was the Tissot that I gave
I didnít pay much attention to the stockade as it
was built. I remember first there was concertina wire and the high
fences on each side.
I donít remember feeling any concern for the
prisoners even though they were outside in all kinds of weather.
Remember, these were the enemy and we ourselves had been living out
of doors thru the coldest winter in years and many for two months
longer than I. This was mid-April and May and getting warmer each
As more prisoners arrived so
many more units were attached to the 106.
These G.I.s spoiled the collection of
trophies by starting to trade cigarettes. First one cigarette and
then a pack and finally a carton.
Many of the G.I.s in our outfit did not want to
get watches for themselves so I would give them the ones I did not
want. I thought this was okay Ė we were the victors and these the
I traded away most of my watches. I gave at least
5 watches for a 6x30 field glass of the Africa corps.
When the stockade was complete there were enclosures within enclosures.
box. I filled the box with dirt and then walked back and forth outside a main stockade asking for watches. The prisoners tossed watches over the fences. I tossed them back until I got one that I liked and then I kept it. Then I decided to give them the box of dirt. This was stupid but I went thru the fence wire and the concertina wire to the second fence and pushed the box to the prisoners. The prisoners were mad. Later a G.I. said that if they didnít recognize me they would have let me have it.
When we were at the stockade but not a guard, I
would walk into the enclosures. I cannot understand why no one
stopped me. One day I had a carton of cigarettes from some GI that
wanted me to get him a good watch. While inside, two Germans came up
to me. One had a bullet **** just under the side of his chest. The
bullet had entered from the air just behind the collarbone. I
pointed the way to the aid station and continued looking for watches
among the PWs.
I donít remember the PWs looking under fed or so
On another day I was inside the stockade but
outside the prisoner part. PWs were gathered up to the wire. I was
trading cigarettes for what ever I could get. A German handed me a
diamond ring to me with two diamonds each side of a sapphire. I put
the ring on my finger and kept the cigarettes. The German protested
that he was a priest. Over the years this bothered me. I didnít take
rings except this one. The prisoners would part with their wedding
rings for one cigarette. (Their only connection to home for a 10
minute cigarette in the rain and mud.)
It rained a lot because I wore my poncho often.
The day I got the diamond I went to a tent (8 man tent) by the
stockade to sleep. I rolled up in my poncho on the ground and looked
at the diamonds. I did get two other rings, a rose with a diamond
and one with a coat of arms.
Some days I would stay in the company area as
orderly or something. The company was on their way to the stockade
when a GI came running in demanding all of the rubbers. A German
lady and her daughter was making themselves available to the whole
company. I gave him all that were there, but I could never
One night after truckloads of new GIs arrived,
perhaps from some other camp, gun fire erupted; enough to sound like
an all out attack. I stayed at the CP with a machine gun while the
others went to the sound of the gunfire with a Jeep. The new
arrivals were just nervous. There were rumors of a German
underground. Some joker was just firing at a jackrabbit and that
Another time I was watching Germans do KP when
work was done one offered to draw my picture. After mine was done I
sent for you so yours could be drawn.
The day that you got shot someone came to me and
said your brother has been shot, but he is OK. Some how the ďOKĒ
part made me not worry. I went to the CP and they didnít know where
you were. I enquired often but got no information until the day you
got back. In fact I saw you coming with those powerful field
Some of the things I canít remember such as the party for the Captain.
I remember swimming and fishing in the river near
a destroyed bridge. I remember our adventure along the narrow
railroad and the ride back down hill in the mining car after trying
to start an engine. I remember the car gained speed; the stick for a
break didnít work. Everyone was afraid and jumped off. Flories and I
were too afraid to jump. As the load lightened the car slowed down
One day I walked alone to the west to get
strawberries; there were grapes too.
After the picture was drawn we saw the building,
terrace of stones and statues in the German non-com stockade. The
Hungarians and Chezks never seemed as well off. I think the Germans
got extra rations for doing KP.
Towards the end I remember pulling guard at a
tower on the west. On the tower at night I would watch the moon and
play the harmonica. With only moon light the Germans easily could
have slipped thru the wire. I wonder how many did? (How many of ďThe
Other LossesĒ could be escaped prisoners.)
As for the tent with bodies we never got close to
it and arenít even sure if we saw it. A lot of them must have been
sick when they arrived and the exposure didnít help them. We never
saw their aid station, never saw them feeding. I donít remember even
one PW chow line.
The PW that I had contact with seemed healthy
enough. I donít think our camp was too bad. They werenít heroes,
they were the cause of our being there. I think we would have been
very troubled if we thought they were more mistreated more than
taking a few Jerry watches as spoils of war.
I worked (at Carbide) with
Karl who was an Austrian in the German Army. He told me how he
surrendered and how he worked for the US Army. He would know if
prisoners were mistreated.
Typed April 22, 2006 from Billís handwritten
Page last revised
James D. West