Prisoner of War
YANK, The Army Weekly
May 18, 1945
By Sgt, Ed Cunningham
YANK Staff Correspondent
A reprint from 106th's 1953 “LION'S TALE”
With the 104th Division, Germany. The MP sergeant was apologetic. He said he was sorry but there was no other transportation. “I'll have to send you back to Corps headquarters in a six‑by‑six. Best I can do. The truck'll be ready right after chow. Rations are short because the supply lines are fouled up, but we'll make supper as good as we can.”
Two or three of the 12 soldiers sitting around the room laughed. “We're kinda used to short rations by now,” one of them said.
“Yes,” the soldier next to him said, “the Germans never spread any banquets our way.”
“I know that,” MP Sgt Ray Bunt of Lafayette, La., said. “That's what gripes hell out of me every day when I have to feed these Kraut prisoners. Because of the Geneva Convention or some goddamn thing, I have to give those bastards a C‑ration at 9 in the morning and another at 4 in the afternoon. Besides that, they can have all the water they want.” A GI who was still wearing a German camouflaged rain cape got in the conversation, “The Germans who had us never bothered about the Geneva Convention,” he said. “They walked us two days and nights without food after they took us at St. Vith. The only water we had was in the ditches when the snow melted.”
That started the rest of the stories. Sitting there in the parlor of a German home which had been requisitioned as an MP billet, a dozen Yanks who had been released from a German PW cage when the 104th Division overran it told what had happened to them during their captivity.
The Dean of the Prisoners had spent two years and eight months in a PW camp. He had been captured in August, 1942 and had been shot in the ankle and thigh by a German sniper just before he was taken prisoner. Despite his wounds, the Germans made him walk 12 miles to a prison camp without giving him medical attention. After a week in a French prison, he and 1,500 other Allied prisoners were herded into French 40‑and‑8 cars and taken to Stalag 8‑B at Lamsdorf in Ober Silesia. The rations for each man on the four days and four nights train ride were a loaf of bread, a third of a tin of meat and a quarter pound of margarine.
“When we got to Lamsdorf,” the dean of the prisoners said, “they put us in a compound by ourselves. We couldn't have any contact with the other Allied prisoners. There were 400 men in a hut and each hut was built to hold only 200. Just to make sure we weren't too comfortable, they tied our hands with binder twine from 8 in the morning until 8 at night. Later they used handcuffs instead of twine. That went on for a whole year. Sometimes some of the boys managed to slip out of their bonds but if they were caught they got five days of solitary confinement in a bunker with no food at all.”
Despite temperatures that dropped to 10 and 20 below zero, the Germans made no effort to heat the prisoner's barracks. Men had to sleep in their clothes with their overcoats for blankets. Many of them suffered frozen feet and fingers. Later some of these frozen feet and fingers had to be amputated by Allied military doctors in the prison. “The food at Lamsdorf was terrible,” the soldier said. “They gave us a loaf of bread for seven men and it was usually green with mold. Sometimes we'd get about a quart of watery soup made from the water the Germans boiled their own potatoes in, with a few cabbage leaves thrown in to make it look like soup. I lost about 50 pounds in my two years and five months there.”
Along with 8,000 other Allied prisoners at Lamsdorf, he was evacuated from the Silesian prison camp on January 23, 1945, because the Russian Army had advanced to within five miles. All the men who were able to walk were forced to do so. A few invalid prisoners went by freight. “They put me on a train, but some of the other boys who had frozen feet and hands never made it, Their guards clubbed them with rifles and left them lying there along the roadside in the snow and zero weather when they dropped out because of bad feet, God knows what happened to them,”
“The bastards did the same thing to our guys,” another GI said. “They beat them with rifle butts when they couldn't walk any further. And if any of the stronger ones tried to help a guy they saw was getting weak, the guards clubbed them too. Besides that, they egged on German kids in the towns we went through to throw stones at us,” This man, an infantryman from the 14th Armored Division, was captured at Bitche on January 2, during the German breakthrough in Belgium, and Luxembourg, Along with 200 other Americans, he was loaded on a freight train and sent to eastern Germany. They had neither food nor water on the trip, which took four days and five nights. Their overcoats, blankets, field jackets and shoes were taken away from them, together with their watches and other personal belongings.
“We licked the ice on the hinges of the boxcar for water,” he said, “There were 60 or 70 of us in each car with no blankets or warm clothes or even straw to sleep on. And just to make sure we didn't get any sleep, German guards stopped outside our car several times a night and fired a couple of rounds in on us. They weren't trying to hit us, because they always fired high, but they kept us awake, so we wouldn't have energy to try to escape.” Returning to the earlier days of his capture, he told us how all his clothes had been taken from him at a Leipzig Hospital. Although he had a fever of 103, he was put on a train in mid‑February for a two‑day ride to another camp, his only clothing being a half a blanket. During the trip both his feet were frozen, “I spent three of my four months as a prisoner in a hospital,” he said. “I lost 60 pounds and was down to 90 pounds once, but I gained a lot of it back later. It was mostly from dysentery. Nearly everybody in camps had it because they never let us wash the pots we had to eat out of. They didn't let us wash ourselves much either. I went for seven weeks without a bath once. Sometimes lice worried us more than whatever we were sick from. ”Besides that, when we were locked in cars, the men with dysentery would have to go in the corner because the German guards wouldn't give us any pails or pots to use. Then, in the morning, the guards would come around and call us “dirty Yankee swine”. But the worst part of it all was that they wouldn't give our medics any medicine or supplies to treat us with. The German doctors ordered sick prisoners to work over the protests of American medical officers who had been treating them."
“The sons of bitches,” the MP sergeant said.
A medic, who was one of the 12 ex‑prisoners, got in the conversation then. He was a medic of the 101st Airborne Division and he had been captured at Bastogne, on December 19, 1944, “They not only wouldn't give us medical supplies,” he said, “they even took our own away from us. After they captured us, they made us turn over our kits and left us nothing to treat wounded and sick prisoners with. I had a ball of adhesive tape, a pack of morphine syrettes and some bandages in my pants which I used later on our boys, but they didn't last very long.
“They marched us from Bastogne to Coblenz in zero weather and with two and three feet of snow on the ground. I saw guys who dropped out along the road clubbed on their bare tails with the butts of rifles by their guards. At Gerolstein they made 60 of our boys clean out buildings which had just been bombed by our planes and which were still burning. While they were working, the guards kicked them, hit them over the heads with pitchforks and then turned the fire hose on them, spraying them with water that froze their clothes on them.
“They marched us seven days, then gave us two days rest and started us off again. Finally, they put us in boxcars for a five‑day ride to Stalag 2‑A, about 85 miles north of Berlin. From December 19 until January 3, when we reached the Stalag, the total food given each of us 600 prisoners was two cups of ersatz coffee, a sixth of a loaf of bread and two cups of barley soup. That's all. It wasn't much for a two‑week trip most of it on foot.” After six days at Stalag 2‑A, his group was put on freight trains for a ride back to another camp. There he worked in a prison hospital, treating American patients.
“They would only give us some straw and two blankets for the sick and wounded prisoners,” he said. “That was their bed and bedclothes, even though the temperature often got down around zero. Then they forbade us to use bedpans for patients and ordered that all the patients had to go to the toilet themselves. Some of the guys were just too weak to do it and the guards finally let us help them to the latrines.”
“That's right,” another one interrupted. He must have carried me at least a dozen times besides helping me to a shelter during air raids."
Another MP came in the room and told Sgt, Bunt that chow was ready. One of the ex‑prisoners asked, “Do we have to line up in fives and count off, sergeant?”
“You fellows are finished with that kinda orders,” Bunt replied in his Louisiana drawl.
“After chow a truck'll take you back to Corps and they'll pass you back to Army. Army'll probably ship you to England. Hell, you'll all probably be back in the States this time next month.”
“They”re the sweetest words I've heard in months," one said.
“You can say that again,” the GI in the camouflaged German rain cape said. “Think of it, The States in a month, maybe.”
“I've been thinking of it,” said the prisoner for two years and eight months, who hadn't seen his wife and daughter since May 25, 1941.
NOTE: (an item from The CUB, 1948)
“1st Lt. Charles L. Weeks was shot in the back while walking outside the barracks during an air raid while a POW at Oflag XIII‑B, Hammelburg. Permission had been granted by the German camp commandant to allow prisoners to be outside for the purpose of going to the latrine during air raids, since the POW fare made staying indoors uncomfortable. Apparently the orders to allow men outdoors during the alerts were not sent down to all guards, for Lt. Weeks was killed instantly by a shot from close range, while strolling towards the latrine with his hands in his pockets. Father Paul W. Cavanaugh, chaplain, without hesitation ran outdoors to attend him. It was a sad blow to all who knew Lt. Weeks, and loved him.”
The above information, supplementing our item about Lt. Weeks which appeared on page 75 of the April '48 CUB, was submitted by Lt. Matthew J. Giuffre, Hq Co, 2d Bn, 423d Inf, of 75 St. Mark's Place, New York 3, N.Y.
Bad Orb Atrocities ‑ Stalag IX-B
Information for the following article comes from David Kessler, Commander of Post 363, Jewish War Veterans, Pottstown, Pa., whose son, Robert E. Kessler, 422d Inf, died while a prisoner at Stalag IX‑B, Bad Orb. For much of the detail in the article, we are indebted to Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor, Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, who has sent material and letters special to the CUB in this matter. We have also quoted freely from a newspaper article by Howard Byrne, a overseas staff correspondent.
Most of the Americans confined in Stalag IXB at Bad Orb were from the 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions. Quoting from a newspaper article by Byrne, “Most of the Americans had no cots and were forced to sleep on the floor of their extremely cold barracks with only a single thin strip of blanket for cover. The prison diet was vile. The men were given coffee with sugar and nothing else for breakfast.
“Lunch consisted of one litre of soup. At supper, each man received one‑seventh of a loaf of black bread with a cup of tea. Occasional treats were margarine and marmalade, and once in a great while a piece of meat the size of a man's thumb. One hundred and forty men were crowded into barracks 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. Barracks were infested with bedbugs and lice.” With no soap, it was impossible to keep clean.
Quoting a Chicago soldier, nameless in our source material, “They jammed us into boxcars, 87 to a car. There was a thick layer of manure on the floor, and a little straw. That was what we had to sleep on for four days without food or water.”
Again from Byrne, “The guards did not allow prisoners to leave cars to relieve themselves, and they were forced to use helmets for this purpose, throwing the contents out of the small windows at the top of the cars. When they were finally released and given food, no mess kits were provided. The men were forced to use the same helmets to eat from - and they were given no water to wash them.”
A New Yorker, also nameless, is quoted as saying, “When the boys came in they were told to register, giving their civilian occupations and religion. 72 fellows said they were Jews. One day we were told the Jews would have to be segregated, living by themselves in Jewish barracks. We protested that we were all Americans and wanted to be treated equally, but we were told it was a direct order from the high command.
When the Jewish boys were marched out a lot of other fellows joined them who had not said anything before about being Jews. They said that whatever was coming they wanted to share it. Later all the Jews were moved out of camp on what the Germans said was a labor battalion."
After liberation, Byrne quotes an American medical officer as saying, in part, when asked if deaths were due to natural causes, “Yes, but in my opinion malnutrition and exposure were contributing factors. These men were healthy when they came here. Now they are skin and bones.”
Bad Orb was a camp for privates and privates first class. All officers and non‑coms were shipped out shortly after arrival. It is a tribute to American men that they were able to develop excellent leadership among themselves. Byrne says, “In spite of the abominable conditions, the morale of the Americans was high . . . An excellent orientation program was developed by a New York newspaperman who gave a series of 21 lectures on American History from memory. From 50 to 500 men attended. He also organized a weekly quiz show. His audience reached 1,000 at times.” All apparently agreed that guards were not generally brutal or sadistic toward American prisoners, but that Russian prisoners were treated cruelly and murdered.
This month's “Agony Grapevine” department told of the death of an American officer, shot in the back at a prison camp because a guard had apparently not been informed that prisoners could go to latrines during air alerts.
The quotations which follow are from letters of 3 Nov '47 and 16 Apr '48, from the Office of Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, APO 696‑A.
“I checked with our sources of information to ascertain whether the Commandant at Stalag IX‑B had been apprehended as a war crimes offender. There had been at least two commanders during the last months of the war, one of whom has not been located. However, a German Col. Sieber has been listed as Commander at Stalag IX‑B, and our records indicate that a Col. Kurt Sieber was tried and executed by the Yugoslav War Crimes Group. We shall attempt to ascertain whether this is the same man who served at Stalag IX‑B.”
From the later letter, “I regret to advise you that we have been unable to ascertain whether the Col. Sieber who was executed after trial by Yugoslavia is the same man who commanded Stalag IX‑B.
“This office has prepared a case against the heads of the German Prisoner of War Administration, based upon violations of the Hague and Geneva Conventions. General Herman Reinecke shall be a defendant, and General Gottleib Berger, who replaced Reinecke toward the end of the war, has been indicted for these violations, together with other crimes... The prosecution feels that we have very strong cases against both of these men for atrocities committed against prisoners of war.”
To Mr. Kessler, General Taylor writes, “I sympathize with you and your wife on the loss of your son, and trust that the expose' of prisoner of war conditions which should take place in the trials against Reinecke and Berger will in some small way relieve and console you and the families of hundreds of thousands of other prisoners of war who were in the German hands.
Survivors of Berga
This is a harsh, stark narrative of prison camp life. It will recall grim and bitter memories to many of the 7,000 men of the 106th who were captured. Material for the article comes largely from the organization, THE SURVIVORS OF BERGA, through Dr. Jacob Cantor and Charles Vogel. Inquiries and correspondence to Mr. Vogel or Dr. Cantor may be addressed in care of the CUB.
On 16 December 1944, the Germans launched their all‑out offensive into the Ardennes. The 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions, spread out over a territory suited for defense by five divisions, met the full force of the initial onslaught, it is history that the two American outfits held up the Nazi advance, delayed the onrush, but lost the major part of their effective strength in their stand. Here is what happened to those who were lucky enough to live through those bloody days, yet not lucky enough to withdraw to American lines.
“The captured were marched into Germany, forced often to ”double‑time" with their hands behind their head, for the edification of the German people, Frequently, the men were targets for stones, over‑ripe fruit and garbage. That American soldier unfortunate enough to stumble and fall was instantly set upon by German guards and beaten and kicked to his feet or left for dead. No food nor water was given to them. When they reached the German railway, the P.O.W.'s were packed, 60 to the car, into cattle cars reeking of animal excreta and most inhumanly unsanitary . . . At the beginning of the journey, each man had been given six slices of ersatz bread. During the entire trip, which took four days, not a drop of water nor any other food was given. At no time until their arrival at Stalag IX‑B at Bad Orb were the men permitted to get out and attend to necessary physiological needs. This caused epidemic diarrhea and infection.
“At Bad Orb, 60 men were crowded into each barrack ‑ normally adequate for not more than 40. They received none of the usual prisoner issues of clothing, blankets, or Red Cross P.0.W. packages. Their diet: for breakfast, a cup of sugarless ersatz coffee and the day's supply of six slices of ersatz bread; lunch was a litre of soup made of rutabagas and potatoes, vegetable peelings, a dash of animal margarine, and a half‑pound meat portion from a Red Cross food package (divided among 22 men); their entire supper, another cup of sugarless ersatz coffee. Upon capture,. . . valuables, money, keepsakes, tobacco, pipes, and cigarettes were confiscated.” (These quotations are from a statement by Dr. Jacob Cantor, whose son died at Berga, Cantor's son managed to conceal his pipe and a package of tobacco, and shared these with his comrades unselfishly. “No tobacco was ever given the P.O.W.'s by anyone through their entire time as prisoners.
“Two weeks later, an order was posted requiring all soldiers of ”Jewish blood" to report to Headquarters Barrack for segregation." (In a letter to the Editor, Dr. Cantor points out that all of the American prisoners got together and refused to permit the Jewish boys to obey this first order.
Then came a second order, drastic and death‑promising.) “All Jewish” violators, when caught, would be summarily shot and all others in the same barrack with the guilty “culprit” would be punished by decimation (the shooting of every tenth man by lot)... The Jewish soldiers met among themselves, and almost to a man, decided to obey rather than subject their comrades to the possibility of such drastic punishment."
(In a marginal note, Cantor explains that about 350 non‑Jewish American prisoners reported along with the Jewish soldiers, but that they were detected and beaten back by German guards.) “In this group were about 125 enlisted men, On Feb, 8, 1945, all except the non‑coms ‑ 100 to 105 men in all ‑ together with about 150 “troublesome” prisoners (those troublesome to the Germans by virtue of their independence and refusal to “cooperate”) and another 100 men selected at random making a total batch of 350 prisoners, were again packed in freight cars and shipped to Berga‑am‑Elster, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of Bad Orb, Again the six slices of ersatz bread to suffice for the entire five‑day trip.
“Berga‑am‑Elster was euphemistically labeled by the Germans as part of Stalag IX‑C, Actually, it was NOT a P.0.W, camp, nor had never been certified as such to the International Red Cross, and it had never been visited by an I.R.C. representative, It WAS a slave labor camp where impressed civilians and some soldiers from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Italy, and France were forced to labor excavating a large underground factory out of slate mines . . . Most of the civilians there had previously been at Buchenwald, which was nearby, and because of overcrowding had been sent from there for further “handling” at Berga."
Dr. Cantor continues to describe the living conditions ‑ two to a single bunk, no blankets for the winter cold, mattresses teeming with vermin and filth, sleeping on shoes lest guards steal them, no sanitary provisions save a slit trench in the open, neither soap nor scissors nor razors, no mail in or out.
“Just like the other slave laborers, the American P.O.W.'s worked ten‑hour shifts in the slate mines,” a four‑hour round‑trip march. “On the slightest provocation or with none at all, they were beaten by the guards and their commandant.”
THE SURVIVORS OF BERGA HAVE FORMED AN ORGANIZATION DEDICATED TO THE SECURING OF JUSTICE AGAINST THE INFAMOUS COMMANDERS OF THIS CAMP.
The daily diet of Berga provided about 400 calories per man, contrasted to the “liberal” allowance of about 1,000 at Bad Orb. Dr. Cantor continues, “This was practically complete starvation. It was, therefore no wonder that each American G.I. there lost from 70 to 100 pounds. For example, Pfc. Martin went from 198 lbs, to just below 100; Pvt. Brooks went from 168 to 90 lbs; and Pvt. Feldman from 178 to below 100. Pfc. Steckler went from 160 to 90 lbs.
“Illness, injuries and the imposed starvation began to take its toll of the American P.0.W.'s shortly after their arrival at Berga. Since the only medical care was given by their own Medical Department privates among the prisoners, who had no medicines nor supplies ‑ not even a single roll of bandage nor one aspirin tablet ‑ daily deaths were routine, By the beginning of March, they were dying at the rate of 20 per week.”
The Limburg Bombing ‑ Dec 23, 1944
Captain H. Hall Roberts, Company C 424th Infantry, was taken prisoner on Dec 16, 1944 at Winterspelt, Germany, after a day of fighting against terrific odds, Co. C was very badly mauled, Captain Miller was killed, and around midnight, the C.P. fell. Capt. Roberts, along with Sgts. Ford and Silver of Hq.Co, 1st Bn., were sent to a prison camp at Limburg, Germany, via a long march and a trip by boxcar, arriving on Dec. 21.
On the night of Dec. 23, flares were dropped over the prison compound and the men knew they were about to be bombed. A survivor said the bombing actually lasted about 15 minutes but “it seemed like a lifetime.” When it was over, the prisoner‑officers' barracks was a shambles, with 68 American officers killed and only four or five survivors. This bombing, said to have been by the R.A.F., is one of the terrible needless tragedies of the war.
Capt. Roberts was among those killed at Limburg. Born on Sept. 24, 1914, he was graduated from the Univ. of New Hampshire in 1937. He is survived by his wife, Mrs. H. Hall Roberts, R.F.D 1, Dover, New Hampshire.
Mrs Roberts has written us a long letter which we produce in part:
“I have been fortunate in contacting many who were at the scene of the Limburg bombing. Every time I uncovered more information I wished that I could share it with other families who lost their loved ones on that night. I have a list of those killed and identified, as issued by the Germans. I know that many were members of the 106th, but I have no way of positively checking the list.
“One factor which has made it difficult to get details is that these men who made the trip together into Germany as prisoners were almost all wiped out, leaving no one to relate the story of their capture and the subsequent bombing, by error, of the barracks by the R.A.F.
“I am positive that the following officers were members of the 106th: Captains Cashron, Chateauneuf and Roberts; 1st Lieutenants Herwelling, Michaud and Tracy: 2d Lieutenants Kilkenny and Rafferty.
I enclose the funeral oration which was delivered at the burial of Limburg victims by Lt. Thomas Johnson, a doctor with the Medical Corps, also a prisoner. He wrote:
“There was a common service for the victims. The French and Italian chaplains conducted the Roman Catholic service, and in as much as I was the only American officer on the staff of the American compound at the camp at the time, I was asked to conduct the Protestant service and make an address on behalf of all the Americans. The ceremony was brief, and simply handled in a military manner, but I can assure you that no men were ever laid away with more dignity, more tenderness, than were these boys by there comrades in arms. True, it was on a foreign land (though a very pretty tranquil forest clearing in that country), but until the last boy is brought back, that cemetery will be a part of America and respected as such.
Please fell free to ask for any of the information I have gathered. Time has not dimmed the memories of the love we bore those who did not return."
The Trail to Stalag VIII‑A and Back
by Marlin Hawkins, “F” Co., 422d Regiment
December 21, 1944 Captured near St. Vith
December 22‑Stayed in Prüm, Germany
30‑Boarded train at Stalag 12‑A
31‑Muhlberg, arriving there about 1000 and stayed approximately 1 week, leaving there by train to go to Gorlitz ‑ Stalag VIIIA.
Left Stalag VIIIA Feb. 14, 1945 (Valentine's Day) about 0700.
February 14‑Stayed in Reichenbach
23‑24 Bad Lausick
March 1‑2‑Bad Berka
26‑Entered Stalag IXC Braunschweig IXC (Brunswick) about 1430.
(The trip from Gorlitz to Liberation lasted one day short of two months and was approximately 425 miles in length. . I know I was a participant............CUB Review editor – 1991)
You will notice that there are quite a few days that are at the same place, the reason for this being that we stayed at those places the number of days indicated. Hope that this will help you or any other member that wants this information.
“Fish Cheese” in Stalag VIII‑A
Dec 1950 — Jan 1951
(An accident which occurred in Stalag VIII‑A located near Gorlitz, Germany sometime around January 20, 1945.)
A group of American P.W.'s were assigned into their respective barracks upon arrival to Stalag VIII and as was the custom of the Germans, the Ranking Non‑Com was placed in charge of the barrack he occupied. Being in charge of this barrack, it was the Non‑Com's duty to go to the German Community Kitchen to draw rations for all of the men in his barrack, therefore coming in contact with Germans working in the kitchen, the Non‑Com's were in a position (by one means or another) to obtain extra food. On this particular occasion, the barrack leader who was a 1st Sgt. returned from the kitchen with a box of “fish cheese.” We called it such because of its decided fish odor, related Nathan M. Roth (592d FA Bn/B), now a Counselor at Law in New York City. Ordinarily, I can assure you I nor any other American would not look at this stuff but being in continuous state of hunger, it was indeed a very appealing morsel. This sergeant was not inclined to share his gains with anyone but instead offered to sell other American prisoners a piece of cheese for two cigarettes. Those of us that had the cigarettes bought the cheese.
At this time, I, Nathan M. Roth, was buddied‑up with Vincent J. Grennis (592d FA Bn/B) and Eredenko (592d FA Bn/B & Sp Sv.) We had no cigarettes or any other media of exchange with which to acquire this cheese.
So, in this barrack, the Germans provided boards approximately 20 feet long and 6 feet wide for sleeping purpose. Ten men slept in this area. There were built in three tiers so that ten men slept in the bottom, ten in the middle tier and ten on top. The space between tiers was about 2‑ feet, making the top tier 5‑ feet from the ground.
At “lights out” that night, I went to sleep but sometime during the middle of the night, I was awakened by Grennis and Erdenko who gave me two pieces of cheese which without any question, I proceeded to eat at once. This was no time for conversation, however, the next morning an awful uproar occurred. The 1st Sgt. who slept above us on the third tier was raising the devil. We slept on the first tier. It seems that he went to sleep using the box of cheese as a pillow and while his head rested upon the box during the night, someone had slit the side of the box open with a razor and removed the cheese.
It usually isn't the practice of one American stealing from another, but in the prison camps it was a question of “dog eat dog”, therefore, the accomplishment of Erdenko assisted by Grennis in acquiring the fish cheese in pitch darkness was another episode in the life of a P.W.
(Editor's Note – 1951) Thanks to Nathan M. Roth of 11 W. 42nd St., NYC, for this interesting story. Vincent J. Grennis live at 1297 W.15th Ave. Gary, Ind., and Eredenko was from NYC: address not available. All three forward observers were ambushed on their way to the O.P. at dawn in December 1944.
POW — 313919
by Fred B. Chase
Company D, 422nd Inf. Regt.
Halle, Germany March 13, 1945
While laying here on my bunk, being quarantined for diphtheria, I shall try to relate my experiences as a POW since the time of my capture, as well as my time spent overseas.
I will start with our arrival in New York from Camp Myles Standish, Mass. I arrived in New York the evening of October 20 1944. After being served refreshments by the ARC, we immediately boarded the ship, Aquatania I was hurried to my quarters and settled down for the night. Early the next morning, we weighed anchor and at approximately 0800 hours we passed the Statue of Liberty. It was a very lonesome feeling in our hearts to see the old lady waving goodbye. All of us wondering if and when we would ever see her again. Aside from being seasick that first evening, the trip across proved more or less uneventful. A USO troupe went with us and offered entertainment. The trip took seven days before we finally dropped anchor at Gourock, Scotland, on the Firth of Clyde. We had sighted land for a day previous.
The next morning, we disembarked and boarded a train for Southern England. In the wee hours of the morning of October 30, we found ourselves comfortably settled in a camp at Fairford, England. We stayed at this camp for a month and on the morning of November 29, I found myself all packed and ready to leave for the port of embarkation where we were to cross the channel. This proved to be Southampton. The next morning, we boarded an LST and started across the channel. We entered the port of Le Havre and sailed up the river Seine to the town of Rouen, France. Here, we disembarked with our vehicles and drove to our bivouac area, which we later nicknamed,"Mudhill." The reason being that it rained almost continually during the time we were there and the bivouac area was located in a pasture lot. The mud was ankle deep over the whole area. We were there for three days when we started on again towards the front. The next afternoon, we again bivouacked in a heavy wooded area. The snow had fallen nearly a foot deep. We stayed here for two nights and a day. This time, our final destination was the front lines. Upon our arrival we immediately set up our weapons in the different outposts. Our purpose being to relieve the 2nd Division and hold positions already established.
We then billeted ourselves in dugouts and lived a rather quiet existence for about a week. The long cold nights standing guard on the gun positions proved to be a real hardship. Occasionally, a sniper would take a pot shot at us, and we caught a few prisoners. The casualty list was very small considering our close contact with the enemy.
On the morning of December 16, it seemed as though all hell broke loose. The Germans had started their attack. They threw two Panzer units and three SS Divisions against our lines which were weak due to the distance we had to cover. We held them off for a short while, but the casualties mounted so rapidly that we were ordered to retreat and take up defenses in the rear.
We made our rendezvous in a small wooded area and doubled the guard. We hoped to hold them off, expecting support from our artillery. This support never came because we learned later, the artillery was already knocked out and the few survivors taken prisoner. We still held them off as best we could with small arms fire. Then on the last day, they brought up their 88's and rained shells on us. As I lay on the bottom of my foxhole, I turned my lost hopes of existence over to the will of God and prayed as I never prayed before. It was a hot spot that day and night. We were completely helpless. The Germans apparently realized our plight and called for a truce. Our officers realized that we were done for, so they agreed upon a formal surrender. On the morning of December 20, I found myself marching over to the German lines having discarded my armament. This was the beginning of my life as a POW.
The dreadful days that lay ahead were not yet realized and I offered my thanks to God that I was saved from the horrible experience I had just been through. We started marching to the rear of the German lines that first morning and marched far into the night, with a promise of food and a place to sleep that night.
We finally arrived at Prüm, Germany, at about 2300. We slept on the floor of an old bombed‑out hotel and the food never did materialize. The next morning, we started out again and marched all day. This time, we were given a quarter of a loaf of bread and a small piece of cheese. This went on for several days, marching and sleeping in cold, damp places. Our resistance was gradually being run down. Our feet were sore and frostbitten so that every step was a torture. On the morning of the 23rd, we boarded box cars for a ride to the camp. We rode about ten kilometers and found the tracks ahead were bombed out. We were locked in the cars and left there all night. There were seventy men in one car. This proved to be quite a discomfort as the cars in Germany are about half the size of an American boxcar.
About noontime, on the 24th, we were strafed by the American Air Force, killing eight men and wounding forty‑two men. Christmas morning, we were given a quarter of a loaf of bread and a spoonful of molasses and started marching again. We marched all Christmas Day and until 2200 that evening. Again, this went on for several days. Finally, we boarded a train and after a day and night, we arrived at Muhlberg on January 1. This is a transit camp for POWs. For a bunch of tired, sick, and weary men, this was a haven of rest. We were given a hot shower and shots for typhus. We lived in huts with some British non‑coms. After two weeks, we were moved again to Belgern. This proved to be a small town. We lived there for a month with little work to do.
On the 12th of February, we moved to Halle, Germany, where we lived in a large sports stadium. It was the nearest to living in comfort we had known since we left England. The rations are barely enough to live on. With the occasional arrival of Red Cross parcels, we manage to keep the pangs of hunger from our stomachs.
We started to work on the 15th of February. Our job is cleaning up the damage done by the Air Force.
On February 27, Halle suffered a severe bombing raid and the stadium was in the path of the heaviest barrage. Our kitchen and part of our quarters were burned by incendiaries, leaving us without a home. Consequently, we moved across town to a British camp and are living here at the present time.
Now, with high hopes of an early ending to this horrible conflict, we are anxiously awaiting the day when we will again join our loved ones and live a quiet, peaceful, and happy life. Many times during the past few months, our minds turned to that glorious day and our families.
Camp Lucky Strike, April 25, 1945
Many things have happened since the last chapter I wrote in Halle, Germany on March 13, 1945.
The month of March ran along rather smoothly. We went to our respective jobs every day on our meager rations. The Red Cross parcels arrived occasionally. With the news of the Allies making rapid progress, we managed to build our morale up to a high pitch. Things were looking very bright to us.
Suddenly , without any warning, on the 31st of March, Halle was again the target of the U.S. Air Force. This resulted in the most severe bombing attack that Halle was to suffer. The city was literally a mass of twisted steel, kindling wood and heaps of crumbled masonry. The death toll was enormous, running into the thousands. Civilians were left without homes, transportation was at a standstill. We prisoners were cursed at and bricks were thrown at us as we marched through the city. The whole city was in confusion.
Upon arriving at our lager we found that it too had received many hits. One “Luftshutzrüm” (shelter) had two direct hits, killing several prisoners. We also learned that several of our men were on sick call and some were buried in the debris at the “revier” (where we went on sick call). A detail was formed to try and rescue those that we could reach. One man was pinned under the debris and could talk to us, but before we could recover him the rest of the building collapsed, leaving him to die a horrible death.
On Easter Sunday morning we again moved across to town to the stadium we left only a month previous. This time we made our billet in another part of the stadium. Now with this latest disaster, the rations were cut even more. Transportation being cut off, left us with no hope of receiving Red Cross parcels. However, later on, as if they came from heaven, some parcels did arrive.
Now, the death toll being of such great number, our work detail was to dig graves. So for the remainder of our stay in Halle, we dug graves and buried the victims of Halle's most recent bombing raid.
On the 6th of April, Halle again received a bombing attack. This time the damage was less serious. It seemed to be intended as a terror raid, than mass destruction.
During the week to follow we could hear distant rumbling which seemed to grow louder with each passing day. On the 13th of April we could actually see, from a high vantage point, artillery shells landing on the airfield just outside the city limits. This new turn of events brought glee to the hearts of all the prisoners. It meant that the Allies were closing in and liberation seemed inevitable. That night we went to bed with the sound of artillery rumbling in our ears like sweet music. Except for having to go to the air raid shelter for one alarm, we slept soundly until we were awakened at 3:00 a.m.
We were told to pack our kits, as we were evacuating the city. Most of us were quite perturbed by this news as we had hoped to wait here for the arrival of the Allies. However, our guards had orders not to allow us to be recaptured, so they proceeded to evacuate us. At 4:00 a.m. we started on a march to where, neither we or our guards knew.
On our way out of town we passed an English Lager and were told by one of the English prisoners that there were plenty of parcels of food stored there. We immediately raided the place and came out with our arms full. This “Gift from God” seemed to solve the food problem for the present.
We continued to march all that day and stayed in a little village that night. The next day was a repetition of the day before and the next likewise. After spending our third night out in the open, the sergeant in charge of us decided not to go further. It seemed that we were surrounded by the Allies and couldn't find a way out. This pleased us very much, of course.
While eating a bowl of soup, at noon on the 17th of April, suddenly there came a shout of excitement as four Yanks came strolling down the main street. Although we had been expecting that for days, we found it hard to believe our eyes. We were all so overcome with joy that I cannot begin to describe the moments that followed. Our liberators, who were not to arrive in that town until two days later, were the bold 9th Armored Division.
With a few extra weapons, they armed some of us and together we held the town until reinforcements arrived. Two days later on the 19th of April, some trucks came to take us to the rear of the Allied front lines.
We went to a collection point for all prisoners at a town called Nurmberg, Germany. Here we were given food and quarters. The American Red cross was on the job with hot coffee, doughnuts, cigarettes, candy and gum. it was like a dream to those of us who had endured the hardship, hunger and the dangers of the past few months.
Two days later we were taken to a nearby airport, where we boarded a plane and flew into LeHavre, France. From there we went by truck to Camp Lucky Strike, the camp that I am now in. We are going through processing in preparation to going home.
Once again this brings my story up to date. I am now awaiting orders to sail for home and my loved ones. Again I want to offer thanks to God for his guidance and protection during the last few months.
signed Fred B. Chase,
420 89 239, POW # 313 919
Father Cavanaugh ‑ Personal Narrative
Limbo of the Missing<R>American Priest in Nazi Prison
(editor's note, 1991 — A series of four articles follow, from Paul W. Cavanaugh's, (Chaplain, Army of the United States) articles follow. These appeared in various CUBs, and represent “part” of his unpublished manuscript. I could find no reference to the “total” manuscript being published in The CUB.)
“We better not go to sleep tonight, Paul.” I said to Corporal Dalton, my assistant.
We were bumping along in our jeep over a well‑packed frozen road between the Second and First Battalion Command Posts. In a quiet, wooded spot a few hundred yards back from the front lines I had just said Mass. A group of about thirty men from B Company with rifles slung from their shoulders had knelt in the snow to receive Holy Communion. Though not yet five o'clock in the afternoon, dusk was fading into darkness along the snow‑covered ridge under the thick growth of tall evergreen trees. It was the 15th of December, 1944, and our Intelligence Section was aware that a German offensive approached the hour of its mounting.
Paul Dalton and I obtained some supper at the First Battalion Headquarters' Mess where we learned the password and picked up some more information about the anticipated battle. We returned to the Chaplain's headquarters, a small log cabin built over a dugout by some soldiers of the Second Infantry Division. About twenty yards away loomed the Siegfried Line bunker which housed the Command Post of the First Battalion of the 422nd Regiment.
With night came fog. Several men from Battalion Headquarters Company crowded into our cabin to make coffee and toast and to discuss the situation. Somehow we had a strange foreboding of catastrophe.
The military situation, as we knew it, was this. Our 106th Infantry Division (the Golden Lion shoulder patch) had moved over to the continent from England early in the month. We had been assigned to VIII Corps, First Army. December 9th to 11th the 106th replaced the Second Infantry Division, unit for unit, along a twenty‑seven mile front in the Schnee Eifel. Eifel forest is on German soil just across the Belgian frontier east of the Ardennes. For about ten weeks of autumn this had been a quiet sector of the front. As our division was yet untried by enemy fire we were assigned to this locality that we might be mercifully seasoned to what our Regimental Commander, Colonel George E. Descheneaux, Jr., had told us at Stow‑on‑the‑Wold (England) was the filthy, dirty, bloody, disgusting business of modern war. For four days Paul Dalton and I had been traveling by jeep along the snow‑covered roads through forests of spruce trees to companies on the static front, There I had said Mass in comparative security near the company command posts and unalarmed visited the foxholes and dugouts along the line of outposts.
Our regiment ‑ the 422nd ‑ was the farthest north in our division sector. To the south of us in order were the 423rd and 424th, the other two combat teams of the 106th Division. The Belgian town of St. Vith was situated about ten miles to our rear. This town was the center of communication and supply to our combat positions.
Being a chaplain and untutored in the science of military strategy and tactics, it is not my purpose here or throughout this book to discuss the military side of the war. I merely recount what I saw and heard. Undoubtedly the doughboys I was with knew and understood, even at that time, far better than I did the reasons for the events that led to our capture by the enemy, the strategy employed by the high commanders on either Side and the successes and reverses in the lower echelons. It is for this reason that I pass over hurriedly the first three days of the Battle of the Bulge.
The overall picture (unknown to us at the time, but common knowledge now) was briefly this. Early in the morning of the 16th of December, 1944, the German offensive started. A heavy artillery barrage was directed against the 14th Cavalry Group which joined our regimental sector on the north. The barrage moved slowly southward. The 589th Field Artillery Battalion, which was part of our 422nd Combat team, was severely shelled and crippled.
Successive German attacks during the daylight hours forced a wedge between the 14th Cavalry and the 422nd Regiment; then another opening was made between the 423rd and 424th Regiments. Through these corridors columns of panzers ‑ three German armies, it has been said ‑ began a fan‑shaped Blitzkrieg movement toward St. Vith, Bastogne, and the Meuse River. Their objective was to seize the bridges across the Meuse, then in quick succession to overrun the Allied supply depots at Liege and Antwerp, simultaneously cutting off the British and American concentrations of troops along the northern flank of the Western Front. The 422nd and 423rd Regiments were surrounded. To the Supreme Allied Headquarters we were lost regiments. There were no supplies coming through, no food, no ammunition, no replacements. As individuals we were “missing in action.” Many would later be discovered to have been “killed in action,” many more of us went down into the limbo of Nazi prisons.
Prisoner of War
by Chaplain Paul W. Cavanaugh
Then there was silence. Bewilderment and dejection came over us. All had tried hard and fought courageously and from the field of honor we were led away captive to an unknown destination.
A feeling of complete frustration is the consequence of falling into the hands of the enemy. War is a united effort and each man is part of the team. Courage is inspired by the thought that the very lives of others are dependent upon the action of each Soldier. To protect the lives and safety of others at the risk, even at the loss, of ones own life is a noble thing. Fear is vanquished in the contest that demands the staking of everything on the outcome of battle. With the swelling tide of victory morale is high. But to be caught by the enemy, trapped, despoiled of the protection of arms, herded in ranks by those who represent what the soldier has learned to hate, engenders a complex of emotions that is akin to despair. For the newly captured prisoner of war his battle is lost. He has failed in his mission. He has proved himself a failure, and his efforts have come to naught. His soul is crushed with the weight of ignominity and from his manly eyes flow tears of humiliation and defeat.
For us of the 106th Division this depression was universal. But recently committed to action, we crumbled before the first enemy attack. As a team we had failed and every individual shared in that disgrace. The Golden Lion which was intended to portray courage and unconquerable spirit would henceforth be a mark of scorn, a blighted symbol. Such were our thoughts on the day of capture. Later on, however, when each little story of resistance and courage was pieced together with the over‑all picture of the battle and compared with the magnitude of the German counteroffensive, spirits rose out of the depths of desolation. Men saw differently; units took a new estimate of their value and the virtue of their efforts. When condemnations from high places came down through the ranks, with them came new light of the heroism of defeat. What at one time appeared a shameful overthrow in reality was a gallant resistance. The Golden Lion shoulder patch could be worn with honor, for now it symbolized a “glorious collapse.”
The above taken from Father Paul Cavanaugh's “American Priest in a Nazi Prison.”
Part of an unpublished manuscript written by our late Father Cavanaugh.
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph C. Matthews, Jr., of Raleigh, North Carolina, was Executive Officer of the 422nd Regiment. He was captured on the day of our unsuccessful attempt to recover Schönberg. Through the sufferings of the march to Gerolstein and the ride on the boxcars to Bad Orb he exercised the functions of senior officer of the group he was with. He demanded food and comfort for the captives of the 422nd and 423rd Regiments.
At Bad Orb his solicitude for the men of his former command was like that of a chaplain. in fact, I often told him, jokingly, that he missed his branch of service by getting into the Infantry instead of the Chaplains' Corps. I used to meet him daily talking over the details of our part in the Battle of the Bulge with small groups of company grade officers and enlisted men. Many a man who was downcast and on the verge of breaking because of the seeming ignominy of defeat was lifted from his despondency by the enthusiasm of Col. Matthews and the pride of unit he imparted for the heroic action of the two lost regiments of the 106th Infantry Division.
Cigarettes were at a premium after the first few days and even the stubs were welcome. Seldom did a man smoke a whole cigarette alone. There were always others who wanted just a puff or what was left when the fingers began to burn. I remember New Year's Day having three cigarettes. I believe I received them from Col. Matthews. Now New Year's is also the titular feast of the Society of Jesus, so I decided on an appropriate clerical celebration in keeping with the means at hand. I paid a visit to Fathers Hurley and Madden and told them we would celebrate this great Jesuit feast together by each of us smoking a whole cigarette.
“Oh, no!” They said. “We'll smoke one today, one tomorrow, and one the next day.” We lit the one and passed it around among ourselves and several others who happened to be in the vicinity or who were drawn to the smoke like moths to a light. The second and third day of the triduum saw a repetition of this performance.
After that we were lucky to get a puff from anyone lucky enough to have a cigarette.
Early each afternoon we were all in our proper barracks for the second and usually the last meal of the day. Food carriers (about one for every ten men) were appointed by each barracks' leader to go to the kitchen at the designated time and bring the food. They returned carrying the old milk cans and washtubs or buckets full of soup which was always an item on this bill of fare. The monotony of soup and the variety of kinds did not prevent us from rejoicing at this time of day. None of our mothers would care to acknowledge the recipes as their own. If we had potato soup with horse meat we had a feast. Other concoctions were carrots and rutabagas and beets, cabbage and water‑mostly water. The all‑time low in food occurred when we had what we called “green hornet.” If a broth were made of dried and wormy dandelions, the result would probably be more appealing in aroma and taste, though not in looks, than this meal of boiled grass. On days when green hornet was served we thought of the substantial food that was being wasted in America or that we had ourselves wasted in the past and resolved that we would never complain of American food again and more particularly never waste it in our homes.
At soup time we lined up down the narrow aisle in the barracks with our battered mess tins in our hands. Each man received his first dole of soup and still keeping his place in line waited for the second round. This was a smaller portion, but often thicker as the heavier portion sank to the bottom of the bucket. When no more soup remained in the big container, the line was broken. For the most part we drank the broth from the kits we had; a few men, however, found bits of wood which they whittled into spoons and forks for eating purposes.
Later in the afternoon ersatz tea, on rare occasions ersatz coffee was given us with the daily ration of bread. We received on three days a week a small portion of oleomargarine, or cheese, and on one or two occasions during our stay at Bad Orb a slice of wurst.
Before dark we all had to be in our barracks. The blackout curtains were put up, the fire started anew, the doors bolted by the guards, and the most pleasant time of the day began. in the dim light from the fire and the dull glow from the ceiling lamps stories were told, informal discussions carried on, arguments engaged in. Each evening a few minutes were devoted to a religious service, a hymn, a prayer, and a short sermon. Lt. Herbert Johnson of Macon, Georgia, would often entertain our barracks with stories of the south and of Alaska where he had spent two years with the army. Lt. James Morrissey of New York sang songs that were popular in the Past and present, songs that he himself had sung over the radio in his civilian days. Then when the fire died out and the barracks got cold we crawled into bed and went to sleep. Often on nights when the sky was clear we were aroused by the sound of air‑raid sirens. Squadrons of bombers roared over head. The British on their night missions penetrated deeper into the enemy country than where we were. The target on the night of January 3rd, however, was not far from us. Some thought it was Frankfurt. From the peek‑holes in the blackout curtains we saw the southern sky red with the fires lighted by the bombs and spangled with the bursts of anti‑aircraft guns.
American Priest in a Nazi Prison
Excerpt from Father Cavanaugh's Manuscript
There were approximately a hundred men at Mass. Just as I finished the last line of communicants, a tremendous shout of jubilation rose from the windows across the street. Loud talking, shouting and laughing came from men who had rushed from the barracks into the street. I looked at my congregation; they were quiet and absorbed in their thanksgiving prayers. With relief I turned to the altar and finished the Mass. After Mass, we said the Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and the Litany of St. Joseph. Then I turned to the kneeling crowd.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Father, we're free! We're liberated!” ' 'The German General has surrendered to Colonel Goode."
“The Stars and Stripes are flying from this building.”
It was the raising of the American flag that occasioned the shouting from another barracks and with it went the order to cease fire.
Major Fred Oseth spoke the sentiments of the crowd: “Wasn't it wonderful. While Mass was going on we were liberated. You're not a Kriegie any longer, Father.”
Lt. Paul Moynahan of Roxbury, Mass., wrote me of this incident months later, “A pretty emotional moment; nothing will ever compare with your `short Mass' of March 27 at Hammelburg. I still use the well‑thumbed prayer book I had then, and believe me, Father, the Mass has taken on a new meaning for me that will never fade.”
As I stood before the altar, still clad in the vestments and hearing the story of the liberation, an American tank rumbled to a stop on the street just outside the window. Liberated prisoners crowded around it. It was a grand sight. Better still was the appearance of Americans in combat dress, the tankers with their steel helmets, ammunition belts, field jackets and boots, and with rifles in their hands. Their ruddy faces and lithe bodies contrasted strangely with the drawn looks and emaciated frames and the dirty clothes of the Kriegies. From the wondrous recesses of the tank came cases of K‑rations, which were distributed prodigally to the skinny hands that reached out for them.
Slowly I removed the vestments and packed them away for the last time in the cardboard carton which Lt. Weigel, faithful to the end, spirited away to the store room where we kept it since we began to have Mass in the administration building. As I stepped outside the building a strange sight confronted me. From all the windows of the buildings facing west, white sheets were draped; also along the barbed wire fences, white strips were hung. These were the surrender flags that Americans and Germans alike had hung out. In the compound Americans and Serbs mingled together in groups and shouted their joy, shook hands around and around. The familiar scene of prisoners carrying the tubs and cans of chow to the various rooms from the kitchen was enacted for the last time. I began to make my way along the Herman Goering Strasse to my barracks.
The last meal at Hammelburg was an event to be remembered by the old gang in Barracks 11‑7. Mattie Giuffre divided the brimming pot into equal parts for us and we stood around the tables for the last time, together. As usual I said grace: “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ, Our Lord and thank You for delivering us from our enemies.”
“AMEN!” they all shouted.
Aftermath is the concluding chapter of Father Cavanaugh's unpublished personal narrative on an American Catholic Chaplain as a prisoner of war in Germany.
With the capitulation of Cars‑am‑Inn we ceased to be Kriegsgenfangener and possessed the freedom of the city. The tankers commandeered quarters for the night, but ordered all the liberated Americans to sleep in barns near one of the hospitals. I had to decline the offer of a bedroom from the Redemptors because army trucks were expected to evacuate us during the night.
The next morning, May 3rd, however, found us still an Cars‑am‑Inn. The vehicles had been delayed. They arrived late in the morning and we were loaded immediately. But not before we all had eaten at least two good breakfasts and gathered our remaining supplies of American Red Cross food to give to the sisters who had been so kind to us.
We saw the German guards, who had restrained us with rifles from the night we left Hammelburg, marched away despoiled of their arms under American MP's to become prisoners of war. The last time I saw the little guard who had taken pity on me when I was staggering under the strain of climbing hills and too footsore to walk was sitting inside an American half‑track eating K‑rations with a noisy crew of tankers. He smiled as he waved good‑bye to me.
Our convoy of trucks was off up the hill. From the peak we looked down at the broken blasted bridge‑striking symbol of the toppling Nazi tyranny. We retraced many of the roads we had walked during the last days of captivity. At Taufkirchell we stopped to change vehicles and were delayed an hour. The quiet and well‑kept city we had passed through three days before was now a battle scarred site. The level roads had become rough and rumpled and furrowed with the heavy armaments that and passed over them. The roadside was marred with disabled tanks and burned out trucks. The stone buildings were scratched with rifle machine gun fire. A few frame buildings were smoldering heaps of ashes.
Within a hastily constructed wire enclosure thousands of German troops, now prisoners of war, were milling around and cooking over small bonfires. American doughboys patrolled the streets and filled the beer halls. For Bavaria the war was over. Munich had fallen on the last day of April and all resistance ceased. Not till five days later, however, on V‑E day, May 8th, were hostilities officially over in Europe.
We motored to Moosburg where an estimated 70,000 recovered Allied prisoners, Russians, Yugoslavs, Italians, French, English, Poles, and Americans, were celebrating their redemption and victory. In what was labelled a cheese factory, but in reality a store house for airplane parts, I celebrated the Mass of liberation with a Mass kit borrowed from Father McVeigh, an English priest who had jumped with the British at Arnham. At Moosburg we received a new designation. Instead of Kriegies we were now called RAMP's (abbreviation for Repatriated Allied Military Personnel).
The American RAMP's were flown in B‑17's and C‑47's to Rheims and RAMP CAMP, near St. Valery en Caux. Here were thousands and tens of thousands of Americans from the stalags and dulags and lazarets of Limburg, Bad Orb, Ziegenhain, Nuremberg, Szubin, Sagan, Barth, Neubrandenburg, Moosburg, and many other German towns. They were showered, doctored, clothed, banqueted and entertained as long lost brothers.
Transports and liberty ships were overloaded at LeHavre to bring them home to America, truly the land of freedom, freedom from want and from fear, freedom of speech and of religion. The America, which, in spite of war‑time restrictions, abounded in good food, and the conveniences and luxuries of life. The America which was far removed from mechanized columns and terror in the skies. The America whose rostrums, radios, and presses are free means of communication and open to the expression of everyone's private opinion. The America whose churches welcome all who would worship the God Who made us and thank Him for His blessing. The America whose fundamental goodness the Kriegies had learned to appreciate and whose security they helped to purchase even with the cold and hunger and lice of Nazi prisons.
A Day to Remember
Stalag IX A, Ziegenhain, March 29‑ 30, 1945 ‑ At 0800, we fell out in formation so the Germans could move us out of the Stalag in groups. Previously, on the instructions of a Captain Morgan, a certain number of the men were told to feign fainting and sickness, the results of which far exceeded anyone's wildest hopes. While half of the men “collapsed,” the others “carried” them into the barracks where they were “treated.” In the meantime the French and English had been moved out. After a while, the Germans told us that they would only take 150 of us. When the first group fell out, the Germans changed their minds and decided they wouldn't move any of us at all. We got a very thick barley soup and bread. By early evening, all the Germans had taken off or given themselves up. The Camp was ours !
The next day March 30, we were liberated. White flags were displayed from the towns. A 6th Armored Division jeep was the first American vehicle to enter the camp. What a sight! We got twice as much chow and were told that we would leave at any time! The few Russians, French, and English were overwhelmed at their good fortune. They couldn't praise the Americans enough. Can we blame them? I'll never forget those days as long as I live!
America, here I come!
Henry E. Freedman
Hq Co, 422nd Inf.
Massacre at Malmedy
by Sgt Ed Cunningham
YANK Staff Correspondent
From 106th's 1953 “LION'S TALE”
Eyewitnesses who escaped from the scene, describe the German murder of 100 U.S. soldier‑prisoners of war captured in Belgium.
Malmedy, Belgium — In a snow‑covered field three miles from this town lie the bodies of 100 or more American soldier prisoners of war who were murdered there by the Germans on the first day of Marshal Karl von Rundstedt's counter offensive along the Western Front. Their frozen corpses may still be where they fell with “some of the bodies lying across other bodies,” as German Pws later described the scene. We do not know whether the Nazis even extended them a decent burial, for the region is still in enemy hands. But we do know the details of the massacre, carried out in open violation of the Geneva Convention.
Early in the afternoon of Dec. 17, a convoy of Battery B of the Field Artillery observation battalion was moving along three miles south of Malmedy on the road leading to St Vith. About three hundred yards beyond the crossroad of the cut‑off to St. Vith, the company was hit by enemy riflemen, machine gunners and mortarmen hidden in the surrounding woods. All the American vehicles halted immediately.
The men jumped off and took cover in ditches lining both sides of the road. Several minutes later they were flushed out of their hiding places by Tiger tanks from a German armored column which lumbered along the ditches spraying machine‑gun fire. Other tanks quickly knocked out some 24 American trucks and other vehicles. Armed with only small weapons, the Americans were taken prisoner.
These Germans had earlier captured some other Americans, among them five MPs, two ambulance drivers, a mess sergeant, several Medical Corps men, engineers, infantrymen and some members of an armored reconnaissance outfit. All the prisoners, there were about 150, were herded up the road where they were searched and stripped of their pocketbooks, watches, gloves, cigarettes and weapons. There captors ordered them to line up in a snow‑covered field south of the crossroads.
While the Americans were lining up, an enemy half‑track mounting an 88 gun tried to swing around to cover them but couldn't. Instead the Germans parked tanks at either end of the field, where their machine‑guns had full sweep over the prisoners. Then a German command car drew up.
The German officer in the car stood up, took deliberate aim with a pistol at an American medical officer in the front rank of the prisoners and fired. As the medical officer fell, the German fired again and another American dropped. Immediately two tanks at the end of the field opened up with their machine guns on the defenseless prisoners, some of them non‑combatant Medical Corps men with medic brassards and Red Cross‑marked helmets. All the prisoners in the field were standing with their hands raised over their heads.
When the firing started, the unwounded dropped to the ground along with those that had been shot. Flat on their stomachs with their faces pushed into the snow and mud, the Americans were raked by machine‑gun fire and small arms fire from the column of tanks which had begun to move along the road 25 yards away. Each of the 25 to 50 Tiger tanks and half‑tracks took its turn firing on the prostate group.
One tank and several German soldiers were left behind to finish off those who had not been killed. The Nazi guards walked among the American soldiers shooting at those who lay groaning in agony. They kicked others in the faces to see if they were really dead or just faking. Those who moved were shoot in the head.
One American medic got up to bandage the wounds of a seriously injured man from his own company‑aid unit. The Nazis permitted him to finish the work, then shot both him and the patient.
Fortunately the guards were not too thorough in their search for the Americans who were pretending to be dead. Several of the prisoners had not been wounded at all and others were only slightly wounded. About an hour after the armored column left, several of the survivors—including some of the wounded—decided to make a break for freedom. Fifteen men made the first attempt. While the guards were some distance away they jumped and ran north along the road toward Malmedy amid machine‑gun fire from their surprised guards. At the crossroads they were fired on by another machine‑gun crew stationed there. This frightened 12 of the fugitives into taking cover in a nearby house while another three took to the woods.
The house was a death trap for the 12 Americans. Closing in on their victims, the Germans set up a machine‑gun in front of the building, which they then set on fire. As the Americans tried to escape through the door and the windows of the blazing building, they were mowed down. All died there, beneath the falling walls.
The three who had continued running, hid in the woods until dark, then made their escape.
After the first break, several other prisoners made several attempts. Some succeeded in getting back to the American lines while others were killed. Most of the successful attempts were made after dark. Some of the wounded did not make the attempt until midnight, after lying in the snow for 11 hours or longer.
Of the approximately 150 American prisoners rounded up as human targets for the Nazi marksmen, only 43 are definitely known to have escaped the German slaughter, and more than three‑quarters of these were wounded. Only 25 men of Battery B's roster of 138 have been reported safe. There may be others but this is improbable, as the area is still in German hands.
As is customary in all atrocity cases, the Inspector General's Department of the Army made an immediate investigation to determine the authenticity of stories told by the survivors. Five wounded soldiers were interviewed less than 12 hours after their ordeal, when the details were fresh in their minds. Thirty‑two men were questioned thoroughly and their stories were found to coincide except for minor details. The Inspector General's Department has released some of the survivor's statements with the guarantee that they are an essentially correct account of what happened on Dec. 17 in the snow covered fields 13 miles south of Malmedy. Questioning of German prisoners later verified most of the story told by the Americans.
Here is the testimony of Theodore Jay Paluch, as recorded and certified by the Inspector General's Department:
“Battery B of a Field Observation battalion was in a convoy going south from Malmedy. They stopped the convoy at 1330 when mortar fire was heard. We got out of the trucks and jumped in a ditch beside the vehicles. Then some men took off when they saw they were being captured. They (the Germans) took watches, gloves and cigarettes from the prisoners, then put us inside a fence. Tanks passed for 15 minutes.
“Everything was all right until a command car turned the corner. At that time an officer in the command car fired a shot with his pistol at a medical officer who was one yard to my left. Then he fired another shot to my right. At that time a tank following the command car opened fire on approximately 175 men inside the fence. We all fell and lay still as we could. Every tank that passed, from then on, would fire into the group laying there. At one time they came around with pistols and fired at every officer that had bars showing. An officer put mud on his helmet to cover his bars.
“The tanks stopped passing by about 1445. At 1500 someone said: 'Let's go.' At that time 15 men got up and started to run north from where we were laying on the other side of the road. 12 of the men ran into a house (at the north‑western part of the crossroads) and three of us kept going.
“There was a machine gun at the crossroads plus four Germans. When we got in back of the house, they couldn't fire the machine gun at us. They burned the house down into which the 12 men ran.
“When the three of us were in back of the house, we played dead again because a German in a black uniform came around with a pistol, looking us over. We lay there until dark when we rolled to a hedgerow where we weren't under observation. Laying there was a staff sergeant, shot in the arm. We started to walk but stayed 200 ‑ 300 yards from the main road. In about a quarter of a mile we met a medic who was shot in the foot and a fellow from my outfit. Four of us came into Malmedy.”
A first lieutenant who was wounded and therefore must remain unidentified was the only Battery B officer available for questioning by the IG Department. Here is his summary:
“We made a right turn to the right of the crossroad to head toward St. Vith. We got about 300 yards down the road and at that time artillery, mortar and small‑arms fire opened up on our echelon. The fire seemed to come from the east and south‑east. Some of the men got out on the road with their hands up. They told me a (German) tank was coming down the road. Naturally, small arms was all we had. We put our hands up and they approached.
“One of the officers in the tank stuck his head out and was going to shoot me, but I changed my position and he started to shoot at the captain instead. He missed both times. I jumped into a ditch which was nearby.
“At this time about three or four tanks came down the road. They told us to take off to the rear of the column and questioned some men about watches, jewelry and such things. My medical corporal requested permission to give first aid to the wounded but was refused.
“While we were in the field, an officer shot into those of us who were not wounded. We fell to the ground and lay there motionless while they continued to shoot into the crowd. It was a withering fire. I was wounded twice in the foot while laying in the field. Apparently satisfied, that group left. Then after a while more German soldiers came up the road. As they passed the field they took pot shots at us.
“We were lying in the field about an hour and a half. Then we made a break for it. I found shelter in a barn.
“No man in our group tried to make a break before we were first fired upon. We had our arms over our heads. None of us had any weapons in the field.”
One member of a Field Artillery unit, T‑5 Warren R. Schmitt, escaped massacre by crawling into a small stream and covering himself with grass and mud. After his convoy was stopped, Schmitt jumped into a ditch along with his battery mates. But as the mortar and machine‑gun fire increased, he sought shelter in a stream only one foot deep. He reached this stream, 40 feet from the road, by crawling on his stomach. Estimating that the Germans had 40 Tiger tanks, Schmitt said in his sworn statement:
“They stopped our convoy, and men in black uniforms dismounted and began rounding up prisoners. I submerged myself in the stream and covered myself with grass and mud so that I wasn't captured. All during that this time I was laying in the stream and playing dead. I don't know whether they saw me or not. For about an hour after they first started firing into the group of prisoners, all of the tanks that passed fired into them. Forty half‑tracks that passed fired also.
“I lay in the stream for approximately two hours, after that time I was so numb that I couldn't move the lower half of my body, but by crawling and dragging myself I made my way back to the road. I went down the road until I was halted by a friendly guard and was taken to an aid station.”
William Reem is another of the few Battery B men who escaped uninjured. The Germans took his watch and ring after routing him out of a ditch where he had taken cover. Reem said that some of the Americans who didn't have their hands up when the Germans approached were summarily shot. Reem said under oath:
“Some of the boys were moaning and they (the Germans) came around and shot them again. I couldn't understand what the Germans were saying, but they laughed and talked as they shot. They shot one fellow twice in the leg while he was laying there. They took something off him; he was a T‑5. He was laying about 15 feet from me and I talked with him while I was laying there. I heard them shoot him. The Germans were standing right at his head. I think they took his wristwatch or something; he was hollering ”No, No' and they shot him. I ask him if he was hit and he said, 'Yes.' But he came in with me . . . There were two others (who escaped) who were medics; some other medics were also shot. There were three or four lieutenants from my battery; I think one got away. When I looked around, I saw one with a green raincoat and a white stripe on his helmet, running. I don't know whether he got away or not. I couldn't tell how many men got away. Men were running in all directions. Quite a few ran—10 in the bunch that I was in."
Pvt. Roy B. Anderson, an ambulance driver from Austin, Ind., was driving his ambulance south of Malmedy on his way to Waimes, when he had to stop behind a truck convoy. It was Battery B's antiaircraft guns, trucks and jeeps. Pvt. Anderson who wore his Medical Corps brassard on his arm, was rounded up in the fenced field with the artillerymen. He said under oath that there were several other medical soldiers in the group who were also wearing armbands. He told how an American medical officer, wearing a Red Cross brassard, lay next to him in the field, shot in the stomach. Anderson also testified that before the first shots were fired into the group, he saw no one trying to make a break and saw no Americans with weapons.
When machine‑guns first opened up on the convoy T‑5 Charles Fappman, who was driving one of B Battery's trucks, thought they were friendly gunners firing at buzz‑bombs, which were coming over very low. But when the bullets got closer, the men in his truck yelled for him to stop. He did. This is his sworn account of what happened after that:
“We all dove into the ditch on the right hand side of the road, where we continued to receive machine‑gun fire and a few mortar shells. One or two tanks then came along the road and strafed the ditch with machine‑gun fire. Another man and I got up and raised our hands. We were motioned to get out on the street. We were then formed in a circle, and as the tanks went by they would stop and call us over individually and relieve us of our wristwatches and gloves.
“They penned up the whole of Battery B in a circle and then told us to go over a fence into a field southwest of the house. They had us there in a circle for about 10 to 15 minutes. One German pulled out his pistol and fired point blank into the crowd, and a fellow left of me dropped. He fired again and someone at my back dropped. Then almost immediately they opened up with their machine‑gun fire.”
The account of how two medical men were shot in cold blood after one treated the other's wounds was given by Sgt, Kenneth Ahrens of Erie, Pa., a member of B battery knew both men and their names are listed in his official statement.
One American soldier was held prisoner in a German half‑track for three hours before being herded into the slaughter field. A mess sergeant from an Infantry outfit, he was captured by a German tank while driving his jeep along the road near Waimes. The mess sergeant was put on the German half‑track, and he rode around with his captors for three hours. Finally when the Germans had rounded up their victims, he was forced into the field with the other Americans. He was wounded in the arm by machine‑gun bullets, but eventually managed to escape.
The testimony of Germ Pws captured after the massacre has substantiated the account of the atrocities given by the Americans who escaped.
Here is an extract of the testimony given by one German prisoner, a member of the 1st SS Panzer Division:
“On Dec 17, 1944, at 3:30p.m., I saw approximately 50 dead American soldiers lying in a field near an intersection where paved roads radiated in three directions. This point was near Malmedy and between two and three kilometers from Stavelot. The bodies were between 30 and 40 meters from the road and were lying indiscriminately on the ground. In some instances the bodies were lying across each other. There was a burning house at the intersection and a barn and shed. I also saw a line of disabled jeeps and trucks on the road near this house. I did not stop at the scene, but continued on with my organization.”
Questioning of the German PWs, together with the description of the SS uniforms and insignia supplied by the Americans, has convinced First Army officials that members of the 1st SS Panzer Division are responsible for the atrocity at Malmedy. Most of the Germans in the particular company involved are believed to have been killed in the recent battle against the Americans in eastern Belgium.
One German prisoner, a member of the 1st SS Panzer Division, but not of the particular outfit that carried out the massacre, when asked if the appearance of the bodies made any impression on him, replied: “It was such an unusual sight, I thought it was murder.” Another German, told of the killing by fellow prisoners, said: “I have no idea why it was done. There are people among us who find joy in such atrocities.”
by Douglas S. Coffey
I have just returned from one of the finest trips a person in the 106th can make.
As I had gotten to the point where my job was going to get me or I was going to get my job, I decided to take a trip back to St. Vith and parts, North, South, And East, just going from place to place with no set destination in mind from day to day. I mentioned this fact at this year's Convention to George Bullard and Jim Wells. When I finally made up my mind I called Jim but he felt he could not get away in September when I slated the trip. Then I tried George Bullard and he too said he didn't think he could get away. Not liking it, but satisfied that I would go bumming around by myself I made initial reservations to fly on Icelandic Airlines new Jets they have now, feeling this would give ma a good preview for next September (1971) trip for the 106ers who plan to go back then. The next night my phone rang it was George Bullard asking if it was too late to change his mind and go to Europe with me. He said he could only take 10 days but would like to go. This was the beginning of an Odyssey. I made the arrangements, after some difficulty, with Icelandic and wrote back and forth to George stating that there were some things he wanted to see and some I wanted to see and just play it all by ear.
I met George at Kennedy Airport and went to the counter to check in and to our dismay the clerk started to write down a different flight number on my ticket. I said, “Hold it fellow, what are you doing, I have firm reservations on flight 200 not 204.” He said I'm sorry but we are sold out on flight 200. Luckily, through the 106th trip last year I remembered a name of one of the bosses of Icelandic and told the clerk I wanted to see him. He said, “You know......? ”Yes, I know......"Just at that point who came out but my friend.........I said Hi, and he said Hi and I said I have a problem. When I told him they were shifting my flight and told him we were on our way to a Former Prisoner of War meeting in Paris, he took me to one side and told me they had got caught by a group just like the 106th who wanted a few last minute seats and to keep the group together they bumped people to the next flight which was in and hour and half. He said he would send any message we wanted and do anything to make it up to us. I had him send a message to hold our Rent a Car in Luxembourg so we wouldn't be stranded before we started our trip. Then he said here's a chit for a meal and gave us a $20.00 voucher for which George and I had the most wonderful meal overlooking the Airport activity while we waited for our Jet flight to take off. As George said, we haven't even started and we are $20.00 ahead.
Our flight was smooth and on time with good meals and drinks. While George looked after the luggage I made arrangements for our little Renault 4 which we nicknamed Rennie for the trip. A young gal came out to the parking lot and gave me the keys and said, “Here's this and here's that and that was it.” A Renault 4 had a shift like something have never seen. It is like a jack handle and you push and pull it to change gears. As we drove off we had occasion to blow the horn but for the life of both of us we couldn't find the horn. We pushed and shoved, moved everything that would move but no horn. The normal American horn is set in the middle of the steering wheel and there was a moveable part on this car. We took that apart and decided there was nothing there to make electrical contact to blow the horn. (Remember this, I'll come back to it.)
We made our way towards St. Vith, which was to be our first stop. Words can't describe nor can George or my photos picture the beauty of the countryside of the Ardennes at this time of year. The breathless drops from the road down to the Valley's, the running streams. When we arrived in St. Vith we made directly for the Pip‑Margraff Hotel, owned by the Mayor. He gave us warm welcome and gave us a room in a new Hotel he has taken over. We had a lovely room with private shower and plenty of closet space.
The first thing we wanted to do in St. Vith was to find the book, Kriegschichsale, which was written in German which I displayed at the Convention. George had now learned German and wanted his own copy. We also wanted to buy a small horn so that we wouldn't be driving all over Europe without a horn. We couldn't get the book as it was out of print and a new printing was coming out shortly. With a little chicanery I was able to get the Mayor to part with one of his official copies so George was made very happy. As to the horn we found a good air horn which we tied on the door handle and had fun reaching out and blowing it when necessary.
Next day we visited the Monument and noted that our new Lectern has now been permanently placed in cement. We went to the College and as the Director was not there we had a young Assistant who spoke excellent English said that just two days ago they had sent me a package of the paintings that were on display while the group was there last year, but as there was no one from the College no one knew what to do with the paintings. These were the paintings that I procured by offering a prize for the best painting in honor of Ben Hagman. This is separate and apart from anything that is done by the 106th Association. As George hadn't seen the College before the Assistant and I took him on a tour which was very impressive and since my last visit they had added more facilities so I was pleased with the tour also. We asked him to convey our wishes and those of the 106th to the Director and if we returned to the area we would drop in and say hello.
As we were leaving the College and saying our goodbyes to the Assistant Director and one of his friends I asked if they were familiar with the Renault 4. We said we couldn't find the horn and they laughed when they saw our contraption on the door handle. After doing a little searching on their own they discovered that the horn was on the light switch and for lights you did one thing and for the horn you pushed it in. You never saw two such chagrined persons in your life. For the rest of their lives these two Belgians will be telling the story about the stupid Americans who couldn't even find the horn on a car and rigged up a makeshift one on the door handle. For a Doctor and a fairly successful businessman it was sickening. Every few yards we blew that damned horn just to show we both knew where it was and it became a standing joke between us. When things went wrong we could always say “At least we know where the horn is”.
I suppose the mistake George and I made was not to keep a diary of all the places and things we did during his ten day visit.
Our next visit on the way to our former German Prison Camp in Ziegenhain (Stalg IX‑A) was at Nieuville en Condroz Military Cemetery. There were things we missed on the last visit and wanted to see and talk about. From there we went to Henri Chapelle Cemetery, outside of Liege. At both Cemeteries there are many 106ers together with my cousin and one of my neighbors.
When we arrived in Ziegenhain, for those of you who might remember it was a small town, we wanted to start out by going to the railroad siding where we arrived some 25 years ago and then work our way up to the camp itself. Luckily, George had taken a crash course in German, so we stopped the first place we saw activity and asked immediately if anyone understood English. No soap, so George outdid himself and spoke to them in German that they understood. The fellow helping us said we couldn't find the station by ourselves and offered to ride with us to show us the siding which is not used any longer. You can't imagine how we both felt remembering back to that cold and snowy day in 1945 when we got off the train. This trip, the weather was beautiful. We then made our way the same as 25 years ago up the hill, across the wide open fields where, if you remember the wind and snow was blowing so badly we damn near froze to death. Then the sudden approach to our camp. I don't know which feelings were more intense, then or now for the camp hadn't changed that much. The Guard Tower at the entrance looked down on George and I and the clock still keeps perfect time.
The old two level kitchen, believe it or not, is just as we left it 25 years ago. The former barracks have been dressed up and made into cubicles which are now used for Sudeten Germans who cannot go back to their native Czechoslovakia. The Recreation hall where my French Comrades took me when I was sick is still there and untouched. One of the former latrines in what was the French quarter is still unchanged. Some of the buildings have the same shutters but others have been dressed up. We then went to the Prison Cemetery, which many of you probably didn't know about nor came in contact with but as I had been with the French I knew its location. When we arrived (it was down the road quite a ways) the front gate and entrance was just as it was 25 years ago. The gate consisted of swinging doors carved out by the Frenchmen and the carving was of the barbed wire to indicate we were kept behind barbed wire. Inside the Cemetery was still standing a monument which one of my very good French friends had been permitted to make by the Germans. The Cemetery itself was emptied of all American and French and other Nationalities and is now used by Germans. I wonder if they realize what the significance of the wooden gate means.
When we came back to town we were going to buy gas in one station but our friend said try the one further up it is cheaper. Not only cheaper but another experience. We talked with the attendant and when he found out we were former Kreigsgefangeners he told his wife to wait on the customers and took us into his home. He insisted we have some schnapps together, then he brought out his war mementoes. He was a Prisoner of the Russians. We had a very nice and upon leaving he excused himself for a minute, went down the cellar and came up with a big bottle of wine for George and I to have. He also informed us that the Commandant of our Prison camp had lived in Ziegenhain and had only died last month.
George and I then made our way to the air strip at Giessen. We wanted to see just what it looked like in peace time. The German barracks which were at the airport when we took off are occupied by American forces and as they have missiles there we were not allowed on the grounds. Funny, we could go all over Germany, France, Belgium and Holland and see and do anything and go anywhere but as soon as we ran into Americans it was forbidden to see anything. We fooled them and went around the back of the camp and crossed the railroad tracks and took our pictures anyhow. We remembered how we arrived here and took off in these old C‑47s; one arriving and taking off with 25 men every ten minutes while the fighting was still going on.
We worked our way down to Bad Orb which I and many of the 106ers saw last year but George missed it. You never saw anything like it; when we hit town there was no parking and you could hardly move. There were 20,000 bird watchers in town like a Convention. Every Hotel was full and so were the stores and roads. We took the usual photos of a box car and walked all around the prison camp. The same guardian was there and he remembered me from the 106th group and let us in. Everyone else around was stunned that we were permitted and they were not. It pays to be in the 106th and thanks to the 106er who took this fellow's picture with the Polaroid when we were there in July.
We drove up and down both sides of the Rhine and you can believe the postcards; it is beautiful. Spent some time in beautiful Heidelberg with the Castle getting most of the attention with luncheon in the Perkeo where the July group met. We missed Tom Herrmann as he was on vacation George had the bright idea he would like to see the Remagen bridge. He had a neighbor who had been there so we detoured to Remagen and climbed all over its walls like two school kids. We puffed a little but enjoyed it. We first checked it all out from the American side then found a little flatboat ferry to take over to the German side and proceeded to climb all over that side. The tunnel, which many of you had seen in the movie, has been cemented up. We then went into town to get a room for the night but as there was some exposition going on they didn't have any rooms. This is the nice part of having a car; if you can't find a room in one town you go on to another. Before going on though we tried to cash some Travelers checks but as the banks were closed and the Hotels full we couldn't cash a thing. It was dinner time and we were hungry but had only a few marks between us. We noticed a little trailer like shop where a woman was selling Bratwurst and some other German quickie like our Pizza pies. We angled up to see the price list to see just what we could afford. After gawking for a long period of time we determined that we had enough for two cokes and one Bratwurst. Well! You never saw anything like it. Two, obviously well heeled Americans sitting on a curbstone sharing a Bratwurst and a coke and just laughing their fool heads off. (For you that don't know a Bratwurst is nothing but a long thick hot dog which sticks out of the small roll by about two inches, covered by I don't know what all of German spices.)
We arrived in the next town, found a lovely room, a German who spoke English and kept his bar open for us.
We worked our way to a Dutch town in which a brother of one of the girls in my office lived. We went to the Police Station to find him as he is a Police officer and they gave us a police escort out to his home where we had a very enjoyable evening. He was very affable and spoke perfect English and his lovely daughter served us and talked with us until it came time to leave. He came with us in our car to show us the way back to where we were staying in Appledoorn and then the police took him back home again. In arriving in Appledoorn we couldn't find our Hotel so we asked a fellow who had just let a woman out of his car. He said he didn't understand English but his wife did. He called her back and she said we could never find our way so she got back into the car with her husband and led us back to our Hotel. People everywhere were so gracious to us and it made our trip a memorable one. Next day we headed for Rotterdam to see this new city that had been razed by the Germans in World War II. We found that they too were having an Exposition and they had erected a ski lift around the entire town so, figuring this was the best way to see the town we took the ride.
What a ride! We travelled all over the City for about an hour, witnessed the beginning of a wedding, looking down our chair car 60 feet in the air. Able to wave to secretaries and what have you as we passed their windows. Looking down there spread out in miniature, the whole port of Rotterdam. The cranes worked, the barges and ships moved. A fantastic sight to look down upon.
Upon leaving Rotterdam we drove along the dikes to the Hook of Holland where we had to get our feet into the sandy beaches. Had a nice lunch and then started on a wild trip all through Zeeland, Holland and then made our way after many stops and interesting sights to Bastogne. At Bastogne we were interested in seeing if the “106" sign was finally fixed in the Mardasson Memorial. Hurray! It is done and I had my photo taken to prove it. We then went into town to ask the Mayor about the road signs that we paid for and were to be erected by the 25th Anniversary. George and I didn't see them on the road so I made directly for the Mayor's home. He was not in and his Maid, though understanding my French said she didn't know what happened to them. Then she called the Mayor's daughter who I remembered from previous visits and she remembered me. She said she couldn't reach her Father and didn't quite know about the signs but perhaps if we went to the Mayor's office the Secretary could help us. Off we went to the office and after a bit of wheeling and dealing we found out that the signs were in storage outside of town. Yes, we did want to see them, so off we went with the Mayor's daughter to town. When we arrived the Belgians who were working in the storage garage said all the signs were stored in another garage and did we really want to go through maybe a hundred signs to find the 106th. Still stubborn we insisted so off five of us went and started to hunt among the signs which were all covered and tied up. Success! After many duds we found ours and had our pictures taken with the signs to prove that our money had not been paid in vain. The idea is to bring these signs out on Anniversary dates and thus save them for many years. They are made of Aluminum and should last a time.
We went back through St. Vith to meet with Kurt Fagnoul who was responsible for the German book, Kriegschichsale, to ask him for permission for General McMahon to translate portions for use in the CUB. He was very gracious and said as long as no one was deriving any profit from the use of the translations. This book is unusual as it tells individual stories about the battle of St. Vith.
Off to Metz and St. Avold where I promised another girl in the office I would take a picture of her father's grave in the American Military Cemetery there in Lorraine. We looked over the ancient walls of Metz which have a very historical background and could see the problems over the years of trying to storm this city. At the cemetery we talked with the superintendent and he asked us if we knew the Maginot Line was just over the rise. We didn't realize this so decided to investigate. He gave us general directions but we couldn't quite find it. But seeing a little old lady coming up a path a pile of faggots on her back, I used my pigeon French on her and got exact directions. We clambered over and into the bunkers. Many had been destroyed by the Germans so no one could use them. The French for a while permitted people to use them for apartments but this has been stopped and while George and I got quite far into one there were steel pipes blocking full passage. These forts were close to the road and upon crossing the area to get out on the main road we saw a big one high up the rise. I said to George, “Let's investigate.” He said, “How the hell can we get there, it is on a hill across two fields.” I said, “George, where is your adventurous spirit, Rennie is really a jeep in disguise.” I drove Rennie across the fields and up the rise to within 100 feet of the fort. Couldn't get closer as it was ringed with barbed wire. It not only had a ring of barbed wire standing four feet high but on the ground it was interwoven about six inches off the ground so that the enemy, if he got this far, couldn't crawl on his belly and put in a satchel charge. Luckily, someone before us had cut a small path through the wire and I went to investigate while George remained behind. When I saw the destruction and the size of the cannon, I called to George and prevailed upon him to pick his way through the barbed wire and join me for photos. What a twosome! It is a wonder we both didn't get knocked off with our antics.
On our way back to Luxembourg where we planned a trip to Paris by train, we stopped over in Ettelbruck to take photos of General Patton's tank and flower garden and the statue of Patton there was being cleaned up by two workers with tarpaulin and ladder. We sheepishly asked them if we could take a picture. They obligingly took down the tarp and the ladder and permitted the photos. If this was in the states we probably would have been told to get lost. We came down to Hamm, where Patton is buried and took our photos there. Patton originally was buried neath a cross with all the rest of the GI's but as so many people came to pay respects they wore out the grass all around him and the other Gis nearby so now he has been moved and they have a big slab of concrete for people to stand and pay their respects. The cemetery, like all in Europe, is beautiful. Located 106ers in the cemetery too. Then as a contrast we went down the road to a German Cemetery which was erected in World War I and they used in World War II. The cemetery is well kept but nothing like ours. There is huge and I mean a huge German Cross which stand on a pedestal at the end of the cemetery looking down on the graves. Their grave markers are placed in the ground as against the crosses and Jewish stars so it doesn't appear as impressive. They have their service there the same as we do and only a week before we were there one of the Regiments places commemorative wreaths. We are all alike under the skin.
We dropped our car off in Luxembourg, spent the night at the Alpha Hotel and next morning were on our way to Paris. The train was a crack one and we left and arrived on time. Then began the usual fun and games. It is always okay when things wind up okay. I approached the desk of the Hotel Palais D'Orsay where we were to have the dinner in commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of Liberation of Prison Camps 9A, 9B and 9C. George and I were both 9A and 9B. I received an invitation each year and this was my second appearance. I asked the receptionist if she had my reservation. She looked and looked and nothing for Coffey or Bullard. I said you must have a reservation, it was made weeks ago by Doctor Olive the chairman of the affair. When I told her she was going to have 150 people she said not overnight, she has no knowledge. I said they would be here for dinner and many were staying over night and that the Doctor made the arrangements. She still insisted nothing for me and besides she said she doesn't take individuals only groups. The magic word, “Let me speak to the Manager”. With that she dispatched a young girl for the Manager. She came back and said he didn't have too many details but if I said Dr. Oliver made arrangements perhaps someone else took the message. P.S. we got a room with a bath. The sequel to this is that when I met my French friend at dinner he asked how come I was not staying in the same Hotel he was staying as Doctor Olive had made reservations for him and Doc and I. Was my face red! Here I insisted on this Hotel and really had no reservations but it worked nevertheless and we had a most beautiful view out our window. In one direction we faced the Eiffel Tower and the other overlooked the Seine.
Before dinner we had a Memorial Service just as we do in the 106th. It was impressive even though all in French and I could follow bits and pieces. We were greeted by my friend Maurice, who was in Ziegenhain. Laurent King, a famous French Violinist, Fred Pithon, a Minister of Portes les Valence and many others I knew from previous meetings were there. Doctor Olive presented George and I the insignia of the POWs, a strand of barbed wire. To try to describe this meal served in the grand manner by the French is indescribable. With every course we had to finish a different bottle of wine and I was worried about my own and George's capacity to keep up.
I was called upon and with the best effort possible I spoke to them in French and thanked them for inviting George and I and for the friendship which has been engendered over the years. I don't know whether I said it right or not but they gave me a polite grand hand. After dinner one of the guests walked up to George and through and interpreter said my name is Doctor Boulard also. It is pronounced the same as George's name Bullard. They swapped stories and found they were both general practioners so you can see it is indeed a small world.
I said goodbye to George in the morning as he had to take a train back to Luxembourg to get back to his patients. I have never had a person on a trip who was so compatible (excepting my wife) never complained about a thing. We traveled 2,500 kilometers and stopped when we wanted and started in the morning when the spirit moves us. There was no definite place to go and no schedule to follow. We really had a ball and will be able to talk about it for years.
After leaving George I joined my friend Pastor Fred Pithon and went to his home in Valence. We were met by his wife and son and driven to their home where I was privileged to have stayed once before. While there for want of some activity while worked on his Church work I took the leaves from a tree that was overloaded. Yes, you take the leaves form this tree, you don't wait for them to fall because they don't fall. His wife was concerned because their American friend wanted to work and then when I climbed on a wall to reach the higher branches both he and his wife had fits. They then took me to their summer home in the Mountains. I thought I was a nanny goat, not a brand new Renault automobile as we climbed up steep, winding, narrow country roads to reach a spot which overlooked the entire Rhone valley. Their home is very charming with many bedrooms and all facilities with a patio for eating and another on the second floor looking over the mountains. The Alps can be seen from the porch. Madame Pithon has some seventy pear trees together with apple trees and tomatoes and what else in their garden. You could pick the fruit from the trees and eat it immediately; no chemicals are used and the fruit is tremendous in size and delicious. Also growing in abundance around the house and over the patio are three kinds of grapes. Never tasted anything like them. We visited a little old lady who is living the way they did in the Middle Ages. She makes goat cheese and on the pretext of buying some we entered her home. She has a grandfather clock still working that is more than 150 years old. She still cooks in the open hearth furnace. Took you right back to the days of D'Artagnan.
Reluctantly leaving Valence I went to Nice where I had a beautiful Hotel overlooking the Mediterranean with a balcony with private bath for the exorbitant sum of $7.50 with breakfast in bed. They apologized for having to charge me the full rate; I really occupied a double room. While in Nice I visited Laurent King, the violinist who was in Prison camp with me and who used to sneak down from the French barracks to my barracks in the Hospital and played for me and the others. The memories that these visits bring back are treasures. It is a good thing that we can look back and remember the good days and not the horrible ones. After visiting Monaco the rest of the Riviera I returned to Luxembourg where I met my wife, Isabel. We visited with Doctor Delaval and his wife and sister. The stay with the Delaval's is always a memorable one and they treat us royally. While he pursued his practice, one day, I took Isabel and Simone, Maurice's sister to St. Vith to have their hair done. Simone said that the hair dresser in St. Vith is the best in the whole area. While the girls were doing that I visited with Mayor Pip, who is running for re‑election and has sixteen competitors. I hope he makes it so we continue with our good contacts for the 106th that we have had for years. Be tough to start over with a new Mayor. I also visited finally with the Director of the College who was free. We had our usually friendly talk and I asked him to notify me of any needs that the College may have so that we in the 106th can continue our service to them. I thought they might have need of reference books or the like that we could supply. He will let us know, even though he is to become Professor in the University of Louvain. He will remain as the Director of the College so we still have the contact at the College.
After a farewell to the Delaval's, the Coffeys visited another French Prisoner of War in Roubaix, France which is near Lille. From there to England which ends the travels of concern to the 106th.
I would recommend to anyone who can take a trip out of season to do what George Bullard and I did. Not rush, no schedule, ate like food was going out of style, saw what we wanted to see and skipped the big Cities. Got along with the little people and made many acquaintances. Even made a friend in Spa which has resulted in us (the Coffeys) taking the daughter of a hotel owner into our home for the month of December.
George and I look forward to taking Isabel and Margaret with the group next September to see many of things we missed.
Pfotenhauer–Return to 9‑B & 9‑A
Return to Bad Orb and Ziegenhain
Donald Pfotenhauer 422/D
Gladstone, MI 4983
(Editor's note—Don sent me this article many months ago, but with the great numbers of new members during the past months I have had to hold some material back.
We have several other Return to Europe stories that will published in the next few issues. Stalag 12A and 4B will be next, if you have pictures or stories send them to me.— Thanks Don for story, I know it will bring back memories to many of ex IX‑B and IX‑A 106ers.
In October of 1987 my wife, Marcie, Brother Bob and I visited St. Vith, Gerolstein, Prüm, Bad Orb, Ziegenhain and other parts of Germany.
We spent one‑week in England and after two days in London went off on a bus tour for 4 days through England, Scotland and Wales. The scenery was fantastic with its many castles and historic spots.
After a week we met my brother Bob and took off for Amsterdam. We rented a car and took off to Belgium and St. Vith. There we visited the 106th Infantry Division Memorial, we were impressed with it. The director was out of town.
We drove on to Prüm, where we had been taken on the first day of our captivity. We then proceeded to Gerolstein, where we had been put into box cars (40 & 8). Remember these!!
The following day we went to Bad Orb to find Stalag IX‑B. We had a time finding the prison camp, apparently no one wants to talk about it. I found a youngster who knew where it was and he gave us directions.
The Bad Orb camp has been made into a boys camp and does not resemble the area as we would all remember it. I did find where the remains of some of the barracks. What was left has been made into two story buildings. I did find the root cellar where I think was used to store the German bread when we were there. The railroad station looks the same as in '44. So is the uphill walk of 7.2 Kilometers to the POW camp.
After visiting the site of Stalag IX‑B, we traveled on to Zeigenhain, the site of Stalag IX‑A. There we met some friendly people who took us out to the camp site, they also recommended a good hotel. Five of them joined us that night for a beer party. Most of them had been POWs of the American or British.
If you ever go there contact a person by the name of Peter Mueller. He is a retired Air Force pilot who trained in Texas after the war. He was too young to have been in WWII. He is presently in charge of the Zeigenhain Museum in town. A very interesting person.
The people we were with contacted a Herr Horst Munk who now lives in the former POW hamlet and is in charge of the museum at the camp. He showed us pictures of it as it was in 1944. It was then that I learned that Francios Mitterand, president of France, was a prisoner in Zeigenhain at the same time we were.
The camp,after the war, was taken over by Germans who had been kicked out of Austria and Czechoslovakia by the Russians. The little hamlet is now called Trutzhein and is well kept, with fresh paint and many flowers. I was able to pick out what I believed to be the barracks I was staying in.
One barracks is still in the original 1944 condition. An old bachelor lives there and hasn't fixed it up. It has the same door, door latch, walls and floors that you would remember. Some POWs drew a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the wall. The old man had gone over it with a black marker and covered it with plastic, it's still in good shape. If any knows the artists I can send them a copy of the picture I took.
We visited the French, Polish and Russian cemeteries. They all had separate areas—very depressing.
We then went on to Salzburg in Austria, then on to Hitler's Retreat, The Eagle's Nest. From there to Dachau, then on up the Rhine.
We enjoyed the German wine and visited a winery. The autobahns are really something, zipping along at 85 mph.
It was an enjoyable trip. It did me good to go back and recall the memories of '44‑45, even though the memories are not pleasant.
Who's the Enemy in POW Camp?
By James A. Gray I Company 423rd Regiment
Forty years ago this winter, I was one of 2,000 prisoners of war at Stalag IX‑B, Bad Orb Germany. Most of us were young infantrymen from the 106th Infantry Division, the untried unit that bore the initial brunt of Hitler's last desperate drive in Western Europe. History knows this as the Battle of the Bulge but we were unaware of this designation or the importance of the engagement until liberation came in April, 1945.
Daily life at Stalag IX‑B can be most accurately described as boring. Although the surrounding country was beautiful, our appreciation was dulled by the almost total absence of work, exercise or reading material. We were wakened early each day by the guards for no good reason except that all armies believe in waking people early.
We lined up for ersatz tea, which was more useful for washing than for drinking since the barracks lacked hot water.
At about 11am we got into the chow line for a liter of potato soup, which, if one were lucky, might contain a meat chunk of unknown origin. Four o'clock brought the final “meal” of the day, heavy black bread divided six men to a loaf and a ration of what was called margarine to spread on it. These were the highlights of our day except for the occasional march of a few miles to pick up wood for heating the barracks.
Every day had a stultifying sameness until the day the guards didn't wake us up at the usual time. A break in routine meant something important.
We soon learned how important. We were ordered to line up and stand at attention out in the snow, where machine‑gun crews, grim in coal‑scuttle helmets, faced us. For two hours we shivered and not just from the cold. They then told us what this was all about.
A GI had sneaked into a kitchen at night, had been surprised by a German cook and had hit the cook several times with a meat cleaver and left him bleeding and near death. The Germans put it on the line “No food and no fuel until you find this man and turn him in." No one doubted that they meant business. Although the camp had been mercifully free of the brutality we had feared, we knew what the Germans were capable of. Besides what had been done had been vicious and cowardly.
On the other hand, our country's enemy was demanding we turn over a fellow GI for what might well turn out to be a death sentence. Every American child grows up understanding that informers and tattle‑tales are the lowest form of life. You just don't “snitch” on the other guy.
This was the dilemma facing the leaders (democratically elected) of the dozen barracks at Stalag IX‑B. But no one was willing to risk his survival for one man who was caught trying to steal more than his share of food. The decision was made quickly. Every man was to file past his barracks leader carrying all his clothing so that it could be inspected.
It didn't take long to find the man with the bloodstained jacket and pants. He was duly turned in, we got our food and fuel and life returned to normal at Stalag IX‑B.
Fortunately for the assailant, the German cook survived. So instead of being executed, the GI was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Presumably he was even liberated from his prison as we were from our prison camp, and returned home as we did. He probably even got an honorable discharge. He may have even become commander of his local veteran's organization.
I have long since forgotten his name, but I have no trouble, four decades later, summoning up the images of those machine‑guns as we stood in the snow.
Order of Command — Stalag IX‑A
(editor's note—A photo‑copy of a list of names was given to me by S/Sgt Paul Kotlarich 423/M, which appears to be an original table of organization, showing the organization of various barracks and activities at Stalag IX‑A, Ziegenhain, Germany.
It lists the order of command as follows:
Ex–POW lifts shame of surrender
by John Kline, CUB editor, 423/M
An association of members of his WWII division has helped a Minnesotan overcome the shame of surrendering in the Battle of the Bulge.
By Chuck Haga Staff Writer Minneapolis Star‑Tribune
The letter came three weeks ago from a man in the 106th Infantry Division Association, a veteran of the greatest land battle fought by U.S. troops in World War II, and John Kline recognized his old self in the man's shame.
The letter came to Kline, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, because he edits a magazine for an association of veterans who served with the 106th Infantry Division. Kline had received several letters of this nature in the past three years. The man, a relatively new member apologized for waiting so long to join the association.
“I guess you could say I have a problem,” he wrote. “When I left the service, civilians seem to shun me as though I was something not wanted.
“To this day I find it hard to admit that I was a prisoner. . . . I am proud of our 106th Division and the men I fought with. I think it was a good division. But hardly a day goes by that I do not wonder why it had to happen to the 106th.”
For more than 40 years, Kline wondered too, and felt a similar shame.
He was a sergeant in mid‑December 1944, a machine‑gun squad leader on a hill in the rugged Ardennes forest of Belgium. He was 19, fresh to the line. And like 600,000 other U.S. troops stretched along the Ardennes he was caught by surprise when three German armies launched the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 16, 1944.
His unit surrendered three days later. Kline spent four months as a POW.
“We received some very bad press after the war,” he said. “The British writers were probably the cruelest . . . made us out to be cowards. A lot of people were stuck with that image. I've talked to guys who said they would walk into a Legion club to have a drink, and somebody would say, `Oh, you were with the 106th? You were one of those guys who let the Germans through the Bulge.'
“I didn't talk a lot about it. If somebody asked about the war, I didn't hide where I had been. But I didn't go out of my way to talk about my part.”
Then in 1987 Kline read a new history of the battle, “A Time for Trumpets.” Author Charles MacDonald, who was there as a company commander, showed that the breakthrough was due to its own daring and to Allied intelligence failures. The individual soldier deserved no blame. “Surprised, stunned . . . nevertheless held fast until his commanders ordered withdrawal or until he was overwhelmed," MacDonald wrote.
It's the book that saved my life," Kline said “It shows that the Germans took three days to chew us up, and in those three days they lost their impetus. They used up a lot of gas and men.”
He had left New York in the early morning of Oct. 17, 1944. Did not see the Statue of Liberty, he noted in his diary, which he had printed two years ago. The trip was peaceful. I ate mostly Spam sandwiches and Mallo Cup. . . could not stand the English sausage and potatoes.
After training in England and France, his unit reached front‑line positions in Belgium.
12/11/44 Every sound is amplified, every bush could be an enemy crawling towards you. Your eyes grow bleary from staring into the darkness. You are happy when the relief crew shows up. The next day, you take a good long look at the stump that moved during the night. You take note of the unusual objects, and then things start to settle down.
On Dec. 16, the Germans attacked just before dawn with half a million men and all the tanks, artillery and planes they could scrounge. Their goal was to retake the Belgian port of Antwerp with its supply depots, and in the process trap several U.S. and British armies. Hitler hoped to demoralize and perhaps divide the Allies, make the war seem too costly and maybe win a negotiated peace.
The 106th Infantry had been placed in what was thought to be a quiet sector, for more training. Allied strategists, preparing for an offensive elsewhere, figured there was little risk of German activity in the Ardennes.
12/19/44 During the day, Smitty, my gunner, was injured in the leg by an artillery shell. I was hit in the left boot on the same burst. . . The first artillery barrage was unbelievable. . . It seemed that every square yard of the ground was being covered. I could hear men on the slopes below screaming for Medics.
In three days of fighting, two of the 106th's three regiments were destroyed. The division lost 416 killed, 1,246 wounded and 7,001 missing ‑ including Kline.
“Many of us didn't fire a shot at the Germans,” he said. “I had my machine gun at the top of a hill, in the woods. We were pinned down. . . . I didn't really see a German until an American officer walked up with a German officer and said we had to give up. That probably was part of my shame: I personally didn't do a hell of a lot as a soldier in a battle.”
“And then we had a lot of time to think. We didn't know what happened until later. We didn't know about any Battle of the Bulge. All we knew was that we had been overrun.”
The captured Americans were marched to camps deep inside Germany. Along the way, Kline scratched diary notes and favorite recipes on scraps of paper and on the backs of pictures of his mother and father.
12/25/44 On the march by 6:30, marched all day and night, no water or food except snow. No Christmas, except in our hearts.
1/10/45 My 20th birthday. I am spending it as a guest of the German government at Stalag 4‑B, Muhlberg, Germany. I had 1/6 loaf of bread, one tablespoon sugar, one slice margarine and a pint of grass soup with five boiled potatoes. Not bad fare. We were finally registered as prisoners of war, I became German prisoner #315‑136.
Kline arrived at Stalag 8‑A, near Gorlitz, Germany, on Jan. 13, 1945. He suffered from diarrhea, and his gums bled. After a month, the Germans marched their prisoners 415 miles to the west, to stay ahead of the advancing Soviet armies.
2/14/45 Valentine's Day. Evacuating Stalag 8‑A on foot. We do not know where we are going. The guards are silent. We know they want to get away from the Russians. The guards are older men. They wear long grey winter coats and have little the red triangular patch on the lapel that shows they have had service on the Russian front.
3/2/45 We are all so skinny, our clothes hanging like rags. My hips have bruises on them because I have no meat on them. My combat boots are loose on my feet. Several have dropped out from exhaustion. I don't know what happens if you do.
Each day the sky is filled with vapor trails from the bombers. They are flying at very high altitudes and must be B‑17s. Somewhere the Germans are getting a shellacking. That is the only good sign we have right now.
3/9/45 Walked 17 miles today. . . All we talk about and think about is food. I have written menus for just about everything there is. We will be talking and someone will start telling us about their favorite recipe, like basting turkey with cola or making peanut butter fudge.
3/14/45 One of our boys was killed last night. He tried to get some sugar beets that were in the barnyard and one of the guards shot him. George and I volunteered to dig his grave.
4/12/45 (In an infirmary near Helmstedt, Germany) For two weeks now I have had extreme stomach cramps. I am really getting weak. . . can barely walk. We have been told that American forces are on three sides of us. The German doctor asked us to please tell our doctors that he would have taken better care of us if he had medicine.
4/13/45 Liberation 10 a.m. Friday the 13th. An American artillery captain just walked into the infirmary with a large box of cigarettes, chocolate and K‑rations. He says he is happy to see us. If he only knew how happy we are to see him. I couldn't help it, I had to cry.
Later, in a U.S. field hospital, Kline saw himself in a mirror.
4/17/45 I am skin and bones, with bruises on my hips, and the skin is taut over my face.
On April 26, he was flown to Paris, where he was hospitalized for another week. He was flown to the United States on May 5, 1945. After two more weeks in hospitals, he was allowed to go home on sick leave to Terre Haute, Indiana. He was discharged in December of 1945.
“When I came back, I had to put my nose to the grindstone and get to work,” he said. “I had a family (a 10 month old son). That probably helped me.”
But he couldn't shake the bad memories, the nagging guilt. “Watching the former prisoners returning from Vietnam, even those people breaking through the wall now in Germany, it affects me,” he said. “There are times when I drive down a road and into a forest of green pine trees and it reminds me of the Ardennes. This time of year, when it snows . . . ”
He used to attend meetings of former POWs, “but I made excuses that I was busy, it just didn't set right with me. I know it does some of those people good, but I didn't think it was for me.”
He heard about the 106th veterans association in 1987 and attended a reunion. He found people from his company and they talked about the fighting, the prison camps, the guilt. Somebody recommended the MacDonald book, and Kline read it.
When the association's magazine needed an editor, he volunteered. Now he encourages veterans of the 106th to share their stories in the quarterly, which he publishes out of his basement. “I relive the war just about every day, as the mail comes in,” he said.
He hopes the disturbed veterans who write him read “A Time for Trumpets,” by Charles B. MacDonald, then come to the next reunion. If they do, “they will wonder what they have been worrying about all their life.”
(This article appeared in the Minneapolis, Minnesota Star‑Tribune on 1/7/90. A total of 30 phone calls and 5 letters were received. All were encouraging. Seven were former 106th Infantry Division men. Other callers (not to name them all) were from the 3d Armored Division; A 2d Division company commander (the outfit we relieved on the front line); an 8‑inch rifle (artillery) man who had been near Aachen firing into the Huertgen forest. A B‑24 pilot; a B‑17 pilot who had a brother killed in the Bulge, and 5 persons who were born in 1944 or after. Maybe at another time I can give you the history of some of the interesting people who called. Not one person criticized me, or the 106th for our action... J. Kline 1990)
Reminiscence and Return – Stalag IX‑A
by Richard W. Peterson Ph.D. 423/I
The tanks of the 6th Armored Division arrived almost too late to use what remained of the daylight. But before darkness came on Good Friday in 1945 they roared down the main street of Stammlager IXA, Ziegenhain, Germany, liberating over 6,000 Allied prisoners of war, including me. We cheered them until we were hoarse, and begged for cigarettes and food. The tankers did not know they would find Americans in the camp, and had made no preparations for the starvation they discovered. They gave us all their own rations, promising to send more food and medicine to us the next day.
Forty two years later I returned to Stalag IX-A. The cold afternoon light of spring in Germany contributed to the chill than ran down my back as I entered the main street. The trees which had been but pitiful sticks in 1945 now hid the buildings behind their 50 year old bulk. Only the clock tower could be seen as I approached what had been the main gate. An involuntary shudder went through my body. How often had I checked that clock praying for the hours to pass faster to bring us closer to meal time or liberation. Surprisingly the reliable German clock works still provided the right time.
The guard towers and the barbed wire are gone. Paving and the growth of shrubs and trees acted as camouflage for the desolation and filth I remembered. Some buildings now wore paint or aluminum siding. New buildings and homes sit on what was the periphery of the camp including a handsome Catholic church, but Stalag IX-A has changed little since 1945.
In 1940, French prisoners of war built Stalag IX-A not knowing that for the next five years it would be their home. During the war years it held over 3,000 French soldiers. Included among them until he escaped, was Pierre Mitterand the present President of France. In January of 1945, 1275 Americans arrived from Stalag IX-B. Later in the year about the same number of British and an assortment of prisoners from other Allied forces filtered into the camp. These emigre's swelled the population to over 6,000 just before liberation.
As I drove down the main street in 1987, the emotions that flooded over me were too much to handle. Memories of hunger, cold, fear, and hopelessness felt by dying prisoners of war rushed back with a frightening intensity. I almost fled back to my hotel, realizing that I needed some time to adjust before searching further into my past.
I found Roland Stimpel waiting for me at my hotel, the Rosengarten (built in 1620). Stimpel is a writer for the German magazine Stern. Horst Munk who was to be my host during my visit had told him of my coming. Roland wanted to explore Stalag IXA from the viewpoint of an American prisoner of war. He was doing a “then and now” article on the old camp which would appear under the title “Das Lager” in the August 1988 issue. Our visit had to be cut short because of my weariness from travel and the effects of seeing Ziegenhain again.
I awakened about 4 o'clock the next morning. While taking a shower I realized that I had never experienced hot water in Germany before. I went down to the lobby, looking for breakfast. Deja vu ‑ here I was ravenously hungry again in Zeigenhain, relying on someone else to feed me, and no food in sight. Four English businessmen were also prowling the premises grousing that they had been promised an early breakfast. I allowed that the feeding capabilities in Ziegenhain had always been found wanting as far as I was concerned.
Later in the morning I was met by Herr Wickert, the local bank manager who had answered some of my original letters inquiring about the old camp and a young man from Africa who would be his interpreter.
We proceeded to Stalag IX-A, now Trutzhain, a village separate from Ziegenhain. There I met Horst Munk who is now a good friend and Rudiger Geil, a teacher who has a keen interest in the history of the camp. We were joined by Roland Stimpel. Fortunately Geil and Stimpel spoke excellent English to offset my poor German. We spent the day together exploring the old area. Trutzhain is now about three times as big as the original camp. Many new houses have been built around what was the barbed wire perimeter.
Rudolph Plotz lives in what had been a guard barracks which has not been changed since 1945. The American Army utilized the camp as a prisoner of war enclosure and used some of the buildings. On one wall an anonymous American GI painted the Statue of Liberty. Rudolph keeps the fading picture covered with opaque plastic. He is proud of the care he takes of it and worries about its deterioration.
In the early post war years the Stalag was a refugee camp. One of the old barracks, now an artificial flower manufacturing plant, was used as a synagogue and has a huge Star of David painted on the ceiling. On the walls not covered by shelves one can still see the white Greek style columns that were painted against a deep red background.
The two and a half barracks in which we Americans lived are factories now. They are covered with corrugated steel siding. The front doorways are closed in as are most of the windows. Both of the plants were closed while I was there so I did not get to look inside them.
The old kitchen across the street from the barracks 499 others and I lived in is now a home for two families. It has a covered porch running its full length. The whole front is painted white and there are pots full of bright flowers hanging from the eaves. The rear looks just like it did in 1944, except for an abandoned Mercedes in the yard.
In the back of “my” barracks only the latrine foundation remains. It was through the latrine the one unsuccessful escape effort was made. One man was killed in the attempt. No one escaped.
What had been the revier (first aid hospital) is now a small banking facility. The office building at the main gate in which the commandant and his staff operated is now a restaurant and bar. On one wall is a large painting of the original structure.
The Roman Catholic church is built in the shape of a pup tent in memory of the quarters used by French who built the camp and its first church, Notre Dame. During the war there were two churches built in the Stalag. Six Priests stayed with the men during their captivity. Among them was Abbe Pierre Dentin of Amiens, France. He is still active in the church and with Les anciens du Stalag IX-A, a group of French soldiers who were former prisoners.
In the new grade school built since the war is an excellent small museum. It was part of the effort of the late Paul Goudineau. Goudineau started the reconciliation effort which built the present friendship between the former French prisoners and the local Germans. These people really work for peace and understanding through regular visits and personal relations. I consider myself lucky to have been invited in 1988 to become a part of their comradeship. Horst Munk has done a great deal of work to upgrade and expand the museum since Goudineau died a few years ago.
The cemetery holds no prisoner of war bodies any longer. One enters it through gates carved as stylized barbed wire strands. A monument in the form of a grieving woman carved by a French prisoner during captivity stands in a prominent place. A bronze plaque commemorates by name and year those who died or were killed in the two air raids on the camp. The last air raid was on March 20, only a few days before liberation. 15 French men were killed and 42 wounded in the still unexplained attack by an American P‑47. In a separate cemetery down the road over 600 Russians are buried. Both cemeteries are well kept.
At the memorial service there were many German organizations in their colorful uniforms. Many German war veterans were among them. Prayers were said for the dead and for the well being of the living by French and German priests. The bürgermeister of the area and other governmental officials spoke quietly to the group. A unit from the German Army placed a wreath with ribbons of the red, yellow and black of Germany on the memorial. It lay next to the one with the red, white and blue ribbons of France put there by the men of Le anciens du Stalag IX-A. There was a unity in the feelings of grief expressed for the dead of both sides. It no longer mattered in which uniform a son, father, brother, or friend had died. The group of old soldiers and their families seemed to melt together in the mottled sun light under the trees. Any sharp divisions that may have existed dissolved in our common sadness.
Once I thought I would never leave Stalag IX-A. When I did I had no thought of returning. My two visits seemed to be enough revisiting of the past. But something draws me back and I will again rejoin the French this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the camp. I wonder why I want to return once more. Certainly not to visit the scene of some of my greatest trials. More than likely it is to go back where I lost forever the child that was once in me. I have never found that child again and I know he's not there. But perhaps I might find some of his feelings.
(C) 1990, Richard W. Peterson. All rights reserved.
Successful Readjustment of Ex‑POWs
Richard Peterson joined “I” Company, 423d Infantry in Fort Jackson, South Carolina in March 1943 and served as S/Sgt in the Weapons Platoon until the regimental surrender December 19, 1944.
He spent most of his adult life in the banking business, retiring in 1987 as Vice‑Chairman and CEO of the Continental Bank of Las Vegas, Nevada.
After retirement he earned his Ph.D. in Psychology, writing his dissertation on the “Successful Readjustment of a Group of Former WWII Prisoners of War.” Part of the dissertation follows. It is a study based on a sampling of former prisoners from Stalag XI‑A, Ziegenhain, Germany where Dr. Peterson was held.
He presently serves on the faculty at the University of Phoenix, San Diego, and works with Viet Nam veterans as a Readjustment Therapy Counselor for the Veteran's Administration. He has taught at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and National University, San Diego.
He lives with his wife, Beverly, in Cardiff by the Sea, California.
Comments on My Return to the Battle Area at Schönberg
by Dr. Richard Peterson 423/I Apr‑May‑Jun 1990
John, How nice to visit with you on the telephone yesterday! (June 1990) As I said you can use any or all of my letter to you.
The comments on p.i. of your diary are factual and well presented. I am glad to read that you are a romantic as well. The archives hold records that are dry and hopefully factual. One must set the stage mentally for the time in which they were written and put flesh and blood on the people about whom they are written. Your diary does that well for me, and I thank you for sending it on. It will hold an honored place in my library. I was most impressed with your reaction to the area around Schönberg. It was mine as well, and surely others have experienced it too on returning to the area.
(note by John Kline... I expressed in my diary the feeling I had when I returned to the area in 1980, on my first visit since the war. My wife questioned me if the visit to my point of capture bothered me as we stopped near the woods southeast of Schönberg, I said, “ It did (bother me), for I was remembering the events of December 19, 1944. I was trying to remember what the area looked like then. I could see the men on the battlefield, I could hear the wounded screaming for medics. I was sure I was near the woods where so many had been killed. I could visualize Germans in white snow suits and camouflage. I could not understand my emotions. I had to leave. I could not stay...”)
From Dr. Peterson's dissertation Successful Readjustment of a Group of Former World War II Prisoners of War.”
In April, 1987 when I made my first trip to Germany since World War II, the Ardennes forest in the Schnee Eifel had frightened me. A flood of hazy but still unnerving memories made it impossible for me to find the courage to even open the car window, much less step out of the door into those cold dark woods. A lone moss covered stone cross at the side of the road marking the grave of a German soldier had not contributed to my mental comfort. “There are a lot of ghosts in those woods, and they scare the hell out of me”, I had admitted to General Oliver Patton who as a First Lieutenant had been part of my regiment. “Go sit in those woods and the ghosts will come”, he had written, “It will be a special kind of personal exorcism.”
While my courage was in better shape, I wondered what might happen. Would some German gray or American olive drab cloaked spirits move cautiously out of the woods with bayonets fixed on rifle muzzles aimed at chest level? Would I be able to see their faces, pinched by the coldest winter ever in Europe or watch them step gingerly on the crusted snow to avoid the mines and to make the least possible noise? Or would the ghosts be just my old and now familiar gut‑grabbing memories of fear, cold and hunger returning to haunt me as they had so often during the last forty years?
Now a year later the June sun warmed my back as I sat in a forest clearing on a hill just above the little town of Schönberg, Germany. I was reminded that I was a winded old soldier as I tried to regain my breath and quiet a pounding heart. Walking the hills of Southern California had kept me in fair physical condition, but nothing could have prepared me for the emotional upheaval of being on this particular hill in Germany again. The locale was as exact as the combination of a 64 year old memory and a 50 year old German military map could establish. Here on December 19, 1944 the 423rd Infantry Regiment in which I had served for almost two years ceased to exist as a fighting unit of the American Army. I became a prisoner of war and thought my personal battle with the enemy had ended. No ghosts from that overly diagnosed battle came out the dark green of the Ardennes to disturb my ruminating, but Sammy Pate's face came back to me. I remembered his vitality and how he would stand arms akimbo with a grin on his face reflecting the invincible self confidence of a strong young man. And I felt the pain reflected in the crumpled face of the Colonel when he said, “I should have been sitting there” as he contemplated a bullet hole in the windshield of his jeep.
Ollie Patton had been right. A special kind of exorcism did happen for me when I returned to the places that had haunted me for so many years. Many of the ghosts finally disappeared. The memories I held since the war had become more real from the conversations with my comrades from IX‑A. The survey information they had shared about their feelings gave me a deeper insight into our collective reaction to events. The maps Ollie Patton had directed me to and over which I had pored became real ground as I wandered through the battle areas. Many people I would meet as I trudged this road again would help to finish this incomplete chapter in my life.
To arrive on this particular hill I had followed the same maps used in World War II. I was surprised to find we had not moved very far from our original positions. We had come very close to breaking out of the trap sprung by the German forces who had taken advantage of our thinly held lines. We had been frightened and confused when we were first captured and were convinced that we had been deserted by those who were responsible for the well being of the division. We felt abandoned by the Army when the promised cavalry had not come to rescue us. Our feelings of insecurity and acute anxiety that came at the time of capture would not be alleviated for months. We had no idea what to expect from our captors. As surely as the regiment had been surrounded by forces too powerful to overcome each of us had been trapped by the invincible developmental forces in our backgrounds. Those forces would continue to affect our very survival as prisoners of war.
I drove slowly back toward our original positions on the high ground, passing the hills that had been regimental headquarters and the fields over which we had trekked. The woods thickened as I turned into a logging road and searched for the huge bunkers that had been the front line for my company. Instead of bunkers I found huge broken chunks of moss covered concrete, some raised on end and all surrounded by chain link fences. The reinforcing rods that still held some slabs together looked like exposed blood vessels. Momentarily I thought the bunkers could heal themselves if they chose. These broken monuments to war seemed to have a life of their own. Neither the weapons of war or the dynamite of the conqueror had destroyed them. They would only disappear in future centuries from the inexorable force of nature. It was not difficult to locate the remains of the huge bunker that had been company headquarters. Across the road where we had dug in the mortars the earth was a different color where runoff had filled the holes. I stepped over the newer soil as if it were a grave not to be trod on. The woods were quiet and peaceful, but the darkness under the trees was depressing in this place that had seen so much death over the years. I drove slowly back toward Prüm reflecting on how easy it was now to escape a place of pain. Richard Peterson, Ph.D. Copyright 1989
The Christmas I Shall Never Forget (1944)
by Louis Tury, Jr 424/A
Oct‑Nov‑Dec 1990As my wife and I celebrate Christmas each year, I remember those Christmas that were special. I spent my younger days in Glen Alum, West Virginia. We had wonderful times cutting and decorating our trees. We used to sing songs, both English and Hungarian. I then spent more Christmas in Old Debray, an area southwest of Detroit, with my folks, brothers, sisters and friends. We always attended midnight Mass to celebrate the birth of Christ.
One Christmas that stands out in my mind, one that I vividly remember is the one I spent in Stalag 12‑A, Limburg, Germany. Like all camps, it was surrounded by barb‑wire and guarded by Germans with guard dogs. It was in 1944, after I had been taken prisoner, along with ten other buddies of mine, after defending the village of Winterspelt. It was the “Battle of the Bulge,” and the coldest winter, remembered, in Germany.
There were POWs in Stalag 12‑A from nearly every country; Canadians, French, English, Polish, Americans and Russians. Many of us were still suffering from battle wounds. All suffered from dysentery, and malnutrition. As prisoners we had little clothing and medical attention. Some of my comrades were beaten by the German guards. One boy, from Indiana, was shot in cold blood right in front of our eyes.
Being a POWs, at Christmas‑time in 1944, was the lowest point of our lives. Just to witness all the suffering, it was a sad day. It being the 25th Day of December, we all decided to celebrate Christmas. We took an old cardboard box, and by using my pen‑knife, carved it into the shape of a tree. Out of old German Army blankets, worn and thin, we made decorations for the tree. We punched holes in the cardboard and stuffed straw, from the floor, into them, to represent Christmas tinsel.
We all joined hands, together, in a big circle and started to sing Christmas Carols. While we sang, our eyes filled with tears, and we thought of home and our loved ones ‑ so far away from us. We thanked God that we were still alive. Outside, in the compound, our enemy heard our songs.
At noon the guards brought in some “Grass soup” instead of the usual rutabaga soup. Each man received two spuds, instead of one, each received two slices of bread instead of one. Even though many of us were suffering, our spirits rose as we sang the Christmas Carols together. We all wished each other a “Merry Christmas” and hugged each other.
A Christmas that I shall never forget.
Medal Honors American POWs
by P.J. Budahn Times Staff Writer Nov‑Dec‑Jan 87‑88
WASHINGTON — The image of an eagle surrounded by barbed wire and bayonet points has been selected as the main design for a new medal for the U.S. prisoners of war.
Defense Department officials say the medal, which could go to more than 140,000 veterans, service members and next of kin, and should be ready for distribution later in 1987.
The final design was selected in June by a joint service panel from among 323 proposals. It was designed by Jay C, Morrison, a civilian employee of the Army's Adjutant General's Center here.
A description of the circular medallion describes the eagle as standing “with pride and dignity, continually on the alert for the opportunity to seize hold of beloved freedom.”
The back of the medal has a space in which the recipient's name would be engraved. It also contains the inscription: “For honorable service while a prisoner of war.”
DOD officials estimate more than 142,000 service members were taken captive in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and at least 17,000 died in captivity. The services will issue specific eligibility criteria for the decoration, DOD officials said. The bill authorizing it, however, permits next of kin to receive posthumous awards and permits only personnel with honorable service as POWs to get the medal.
The new medal is rated as the highest decoration for service. That places it behind decorations for valor and for achievement.