In Ellis County, Kansas a half dozen small ethnic
German villages lie close to Hays, the county seat. These communities
were founded beginning in 1876 by settlers whose forebears first
emigrated from Germany to Russia by a
manifesto of Catherine the Great, the German born Empress of Russia.
They developed the Volga region of Russia and, after some 100 years,
vast numbers took advantage of homestead land and economic opportunities
in the New World. It was 1938, before the Second World War that
would touch the lives of everyone in these communities.
Edmund "Tuffy" Pfannenstiel was enjoying a beer at the
Blue Lantern Tavern in Hays. He brought a date along whose pretty and
spunky cousin came in, alone and joined them. Before the night was
over Eddie took his date’s cousin, Loretta Kuhn, home. Two years later
they married at the Catholic Church in Antonino, followed by a
traditional German Hochzeit (wedding). The new couple
made it back to Hays in a blizzard to spend their honeymoon night in an
apartment loaned to them. The next morning Loretta's dad loaded
the newlyweds and wedding gifts in his car and drove them to
Salina where Eddie worked as a cook at the Lamer
Hotel and was a member of the Kansas National Guard.
His unit, the 130th Field Artillery, was
mobilized on December 23, 1940, and on January 2, 1941 they departed
for Camp Robinson,
Arkansas. Fred Kuhn came to
Salina to bring
Loretta back to Hays where she made plans to move to Little Rock. The following year was full
of fun and recreation for the soldiers and their families as evidenced
by the pictured filled albums they collected. Eddie cut soldiers'
hair on the side to earn spending money. He was a truck driver and his
experience from the Lamer Hotel also got him assignments as a cook.
His best buddy Dale Henderson remembered their time at the Camp as one
of the best years of his life. Dale said there were "six of us guys
together, we became like brothers." Their wives lived nearby Little Rock apartments.
When the sirens went off shortly after
entered the war in December of 1941, announcements were made that all
soldiers in town were to report to camp. Dale recalled he and
Eddie had been bar hopping and "the more the sirens sounded the more we
drank." When they returned to camp everyone was packing and three days
later they were heading for
for more training. It is quite an irony for Eddie that vacated
facilities at Camp Robinson were later used for holding
German POWs. In
his experience as cook and driver took a back seat to the enormous need
for combat infantrymen and he was transferred to a replacement unit.
After a couple of months, Loretta boarded a train for California and had a hard time finding a
place to stay. Eddie had to stay at camp during the week.
After becoming pregnant, she returned home where Patty was born on December 13, 1942. It
was another eight months before Eddie received leave to come home to see
his baby. Loretta made another trip to
with the baby, where she slept in a chest of drawers in her small room.
The young family spent their last time together, as Eddie was
sent to several other stations, then shipped to England.
Among Eddie’s letters to home from England, he mentioned the purchase
of some wonderful gifts for Loretta, but all were lost in the mail.
Loretta sent him a package with candy, sunflower seeds [a Kansas treat], cookies and Eddie's wedding
band. This was forwarded many times and finally arrived, flattened, back
in Hays in 1946, a year after he was discharged. Worms had eaten the nut meats and everything
was battered, but inside was his carefully wrapped wedding ring.
He put the ring back on for the rest of his life.
In July of 1944, Eddie boarded a "Cattle boat, scared
as hell" and then "waded ashore on
Beach in about four feet
of water." passing all manner of war detritus. His first
engagement in combat was in "Northern France in the hedge rows" assigned
to the 112th Infantry Regiment of the 28th Division. After
the Germans fled Paris, the 28th Division
assembled for the famous march through the city promised to de Gaulle by
Eisenhower. Still battle weary they marched on sore feet right
back into combat, with some units of the division encountering hostile
fire that very afternoon. Eddie in his post war log, "fought
against German S.S. Troops on line for 42 days, lost several good
buddies, never had a scratch but had hell scared out of me many times.
I spent 34 days in the Hürtgen forest in
Germany. From October 1st till Nov
10th, lost over half of the outfit, moved back to
During this break Eddie wrote a letter dated December
12th, which reached Loretta in January of 1945, saying he “was getting
along fine.” The rest ended on
December 16th, 1944, when the 5th German Panzer Division
attacked the 28th Division on the first day of the
of the Bulge. In the log, he recalled his "last major battle
before being captured. Fought for two days in Ouren, Belgium
and was captured on
December 18, 1944. Fighting was so fierce, the division
band and cooks grabbed rifles." The 112th received a presidential
unit citation for their action, an award Eddie never learned of.
Eddie was kept back as part of a rear guard assigned to cover the
withdrawal of his outfit.
Frequently when in danger of capture, senior officers kept a soldier
nearby who could speak German.
After the small group used all their ammo and
grenades they took shelter in the second story of a house. German
soldiers searched the house and did not discover them at first.
Hoping they were in the clear they continued to hide as the Germans
occupied the main floor. One came upstairs, lit a cigarette and
found the men who had no choice but to surrender. Our "Captain was
captured with me and four other boys at Ouren after being trapped for 18
hours by the German S.S. Troops, hoping our forces could return to
The POWs walked without food or water to the town of Gerolstein where they were loaded onto a train
after receiving a hunk of bread. The livestock cars smelled of
manure, soon to smell of human excretement, and the ventilated slat
siding allowed winter winds to blow through. Allied aircraft, not aware
POWs were on board, staffed the train which had to stop for repairs.
On one occasion an enraged guard fired into one car. Eddie told
his wife the worst part of the whole time as a captive was the train
ride. "We were starving and if you had to relieve yourself, it was done
where you stood. Spent Christmas eve in a box car cold and hungry and
thirty of us arrived at the prison camp day after Christmas still
hungry, got our first meal in nine days, which was one ladle of soup."
A German officer quickly took Eddie aside to use him as an interpreter
during questioning of captives.
January 15th, 1945, Loretta returned home from
shopping and brought along ice cream cones for her two nephews staying
with baby Patty. While she was gone a neighbor saw the telegraph agent
stop at the house and went over to pick up the telegram so it wouldn't
be left with the kids. When Loretta arrived, box under one arm and two
cones in hand, the lady gave her the envelope. Eddie was missing in
action. The rest of the day the large family gathered to console her.
She said "It was like a wake. After that every knock at the door, every
car that pulled up made me jump." The telegraph agent made a stop
again in April when Loretta and Patty were not home. He had left a
note on the screen door about a telegram arrival, but the wind blew it
off. Loretta and two neighbor ladies, who saw the agent stop, searched
and found the notice in the back yard. A neighbor man took her to
the telegraph office because she was too nervous to drive, fearing it
might report Eddie's death. He was a Prisoner of War.
Eddie was mostly quiet about his combat and POW
experience although the Hays newspaper covered it quite extensively
among their post war features. Even with friends he would only say
that he was the camp leader because he spoke German. His daughter
Patty first learned of it from the nuns who taught in her grade school.
She heard him tell his story for the first time 40 years after the war
when the subject was brought up by her husband. He opened up a
little more about himself after the POW medal was issued in 1988.
A newspaper interview about the medal revealed more
information than he had let his family and friends in on. In an
interview after the release of American POWs in Viet Nam, he said, "They will want
to be left alone. I feel good for those boys [returning] because I feel
like they went through a lot more than I did. They'll have more trouble
adjusting to home life than I did. Especially the ones that have been
in there five or six years." He was silent during that war when
protesters exercised their rights, dearly paid for by him and his
buddies. Eddie died in 1990. He was a life member of the
Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and cooking was his life’s
He served on the committee to erect a Veterans
memorial on the Ellis County Courthouse grounds. Eddie and Loretta
raised three daughters and three sons. He enjoyed fishing, camping and