Eddie Pfannenstiel
Chief Man of Confidence
Stalag IX-B Bad Orb


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 America 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 California for more training.  It is quite an irony for Eddie that vacated facilities at Camp Robinson were later used for holding German POWs.  In California 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 California 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 Omaha 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 Belgium to rest."

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 Battle 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 rescue us."  

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.

On 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 work.  

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 his grandchildren.

Source: Oren M. and Patricia Windholz and James Osman
Page last revised 08/09/2009
© James D. West  www.IndianaMilitary.org