Thanksgiving in London had barely become
a memory; in fact it was less than a week later that our outfit,
Regimental Headquarters of the 423rd Infantry, was alerted for shipment
across the English Channel onto the mainland of Europe. We had been
quartered in Nissan huts in the City of Cheltenham, a health resort in
Gloucester County, England, since October 25. But now, a month and four
days later, we were ready to leave England and the events that followed
were, as near as I possibly remember, in this order and on these dates.
I was an assistant driver on a jeep. Our convey, beaded for the port of
Southampton on the southern coast of England, left Cheltenham Nov. 29th at
7:30 A. M. As was customary in the wire section, our jeep pulled a
half-ton trailer loaded with wire equipment, the jeep itself carrying the
driver, Larry White, and my personal equipment. We experienced motor
trouble all the way, mostly because of the load. Twice we fell behind the
convoy and were very fortunate that we did regain our interval once more.
After a lunch of two sandwiches en route, I drove most of the afternoon
until we reached our point for refueling. Our day's destination was
reached when we parked our vehicles in a camp somewhere near Southampton.
Here we had hot "C" rations, following which we attended a movie. I
believe the name of it was "Klondike Katie" or something like that, for it
was about gold miners in Alaska. This was the last movie for me up until
this present date.
After a welcome rest, we again ate hot "C" rations at 4:30 A. M. Thursday
morning. Once again our convoy moved out in the dark, and by dawn we were
parked near our port of embarkation in Southampton. Following a two hour
wait, we finally drove on the runway of our LST (Landing Ship Tank}. The
crew directed us onto
the elevator which lifted as to the main deck of the
ship. After oar ship and several others had been loaded, we were allowed
to go back on shore for coffee and doughnuts provided by the British Red
Returning to the ship, every man had to chain his vehicle to the deck. All
the larger trucks and prime movers were parked on the tank deck, which was
just below the main or open deck. Our ship was manned by the U. S. Coast
Guard, and had been in the June 6th invasion of France, although it never
had suffered a mishap in its year of service. Alongside of us, ship no.
511, boasted four planes and two tanks. Our ship, No. 26, did not share in
any laurels for destroying enemy equipment.
We were assigned bunks near the crew's quarters. Each. bunk had a small
locker near it. We found the ship very clean. Latrines with showers, hot
and cold running water, glistening white sinks and clean rooms made us
wish we were navy men. But, more than that, the food was superb. Every
meal was well planned and prepared. A typical breakfast consisted of fruit
juice, cereal with milk and sugar, toast, butter and jelly, scrambled eggs
with bacon, and coffee cake. Coffee could be had twenty-four hours a day
from a self-serve spigot on the wall. The mess hall was clean and
furnished with radio loudspeakers, it doubled as a day room at other
times, providing a place for writing, reading, and playing games.
Thursday night, our ship hoisted anchor and proceeded with the ship convoy
out to sea. However, the channel was unusually rough, and the convoy
turned back and dropped anchor again. Friday at noon, No. 28 and her
escorts again put out to sea, and sometime on December 2nd, she dropped
anchor near Le Havre, France. The channel was extremely rough and
many of our men were suffering from seasickness. Even one of the
crew was slightly on the sickish side. Again the sea became rough,
and the chain holding our anchor broke, so that we were without an anchor
for the remainder of the trip.
The Captain of the ship ordered her put to steam, so we cruised back and
forth while we waited for a French pilot to guide us up the Seine river,
as it was dangerously mined.
Sunday morning I had a new experience. There was no Chaplain on board
ship, so I held my first religious service aboard this LST in the tank
deck. We had the portable organ and hymnals from the Chaplain's trailer. I
had posted notices Saturday after I had received permission from the
ship's officers to hold a service. Many navy men attended in addition to
the doughboys, and they particularly enjoyed it, since the only other
service ever held aboard ship was the day before "D" day, June 5th. We
sang hymns, had prayers, and I read what I thought was an appropriate
scripture Psalm 107-vs. 23-31. Since this was my first experience in
speaking before a group of men, I was rather nervous at first, but soon
quieted down, and was most happy I had held the service.
Monday morning, our French pilot came aboard and we started the journey up
the Seine. Passing Le Havre, we saw some of the ships which had struck
mines and sank. The river trip was very interesting. Apparently German
troops had been taken by surprise on the southern side of the Seine, for
wreckage of German equipment and vehicles was strewn along the river for
many miles. At various points, we could even picture motor pools, for
vehicles were parked in lines under trees of an orchard. Not only was
there wreckage of vehicles, but few of the buildings along the river
escaped damage from bombings and artillery shelling. some towns were
completely destroyed. Yet, all along the trip, the French gave us a hearty
welcome with their waves and well wishes. Very noticeable was the absence
of both young men and women, all of whom were either fighting or interned
in Germany to work in factories or on farms.
Monday night we docked at a small town along the Seine. Early Tuesday we
again continued our journey, and soon reached our destination, the port of
Boven, 67 miles from Le Havre and about 80 miles from Paris.
Unloading and reforming our convoy, we pushed onto the soil of France.
It was approximately 30 miles north of Roven that we rejoined the
remainder of our company, who had already bivouaced along a main highway
for three nights. They had come over on an English liberty ship, and
landed at Le Havre:
Tuesday night, I drew guard duty, and as it usually happens, just as I
was nicely situated in my sleeping bags the little sleep 1 did get after
guard was in the trailer which I had half unloaded. Wednesday was rather
uneventful except for various duties on the vehicles. We had quite a few
French approach us with milk, cider, cognac and cheese, trying to trade for
"0", bars, cigarettes, soap, or gasoline. Wednesday night, I drove well
into the wee hours of the morning through a persistent rein, so again I
slept very little. Mud was very deep in the fields and tent areas, so I
slept in the jeep's front seat.
Thursday, December 7th, the third year since Pearl Harbor's attack, was
again spent preparing for the trip across France. Luckily, we were issued
overshoes that day, so my feet were dry for the first time since we
left the boat. That night, I helped load the supply room equipment and
then finished the night folding up tents. Packing our jeep and trailer
Friday morning so that four men could ride with all our equipment, our
convey pushed off.
The weather was cold, end had it not been that we enclosed the jeep with
shelter halfs, we probably would have frozen. As it was, we were able to
keep our squad gas burner lit cooking our rations as well as heating the
jeep. I had "moonlight requisitioned"' a gallon of chili concarne from the
kitchen the night previous, and that helped warm us no end. All through
France, civilians continually ran up to the jeeps at parking places-
trying to trade or begging food or cigarettes. In other cases, women came
out with hot coffee, perhaps
feeling gratified in paying some American for the indebteness because of
liberation. We were not fortunate enough to be I one of those jeeps.
Belgium came along, and scenes changed very slightly. Many French towns
bad been partly or completely demolished by bombs and shells. Belgian
towns were too. Civilians were very friendly - young people were a
rarity. French farmers were using oxen and cows with, or in place of horses, but
now I saw the famous Belgian horses, and fine looking animals they were,
too. Belgian forests were well kept, mostly evergreens, and plentious
in number. Buildings looked as though they were built well. We were still
on the Military Red Ball Highway, so civilian traffic could not be
observed. Bicycles were very prominent, however,
Climbing into the hills of Belgium, we encountered our first snow. As we
climbed, the snow became deeper and driving became dangerous. A few
accidents occurred, so on top of a hill, the convoy halted and the order
was given to put on chains. Once again we moved on until under cover of
darkness we reached our bivouac area some sixteen miles behind the front
Lance "Moose" Barsul and I slept in the jeep that night. We were both
plenty tired for want of sleep and because of the long trip that day. So
by noon of Saturday, we were quite rested and ready for chow from the
kitchen that had been set up that morning. A hot meal felt good again,
and how! Looking around, I found the scenery very beautiful. The evergreen
forests had been hand planted in straight rows. Snow was heavy on the
trees and ground converting the environment into a scene of wondrous
beauty; that is, it would have been beautiful if we hadn't had to live in
Strange as it may seem, back in England we were not allowed to have any
outdoor lights or fire at night, but here, a few miles from the front
lines, vehicles displayed full headlights and camp fires were flaming
our bivouac areas. I know, for that Saturday night I again walked guard and
spent my off hours around eafire with the other guards. At 3:30 that
Saturday night, or should I say Sunday morning, Maj. Helms, our regimental
supply officer, heated some water and shaved by the fire no sleep that
night again... it's tiring now that I think
Sunday morning, instead of the customary
church service, we made more preparations to move up to the front lines. Rumors were many and various. Sunday, after dinner, we cleaned our
rifles for inspection. At 2:00 P.M. the padre announced that services were
about to begin. A few of us dropped our cleaning and congregated about the
organs. Little did we realize that this was our last organ music for
sometime. Later that night, we sat around the fire talking of our movement
into combat on the morrow. From all reports that we had heard, life on the
front lines was not so bad.
December 11th was the day - our first day of combat. As the 2nd Division
moved out, the 106th Lion Division moved in. We used the same houses, the
same communication lines, the same setup as the 2nd had. Our 423rd
Regiment replaced the 38th Regiment. Because my wire crew had to pick up
wire back in our bivouac area, we did not leave for the front lines until
noon. Then we had only a list of towns we had to go through, to find our
Passing through St. Vith in Belgium, a town partly pro-nazi, we saw most
of the tanks used with 2nd Division's Infantry, leave the town by another
route. Later we passed a sign saying, "You are now entering Germany Keep
your eyes and ears open". (We may have kept our eyes and ears open, but we
find it hard to leave Germany). A GI road sign cautioning traffic of "S"
curves showed a girl in a bathing suit - the GI never loses his sense of
On we went through Oberlascherd and Radscheid 'til we reached our home for
a few days, the town, of Bucket. Message center and wire section shared a
house. Our portion was in what was probably a woodshed. Thirteen wire men
slept in this room, the bunks being straw covered wooden slats in tiers of
three. A large table occupied the center of the floor surrounded by chairs
and settees of all descriptions. The room was heated
by a pot belly stove,
upon which set a large can of water. In one corner near the stove was a
coal bin. Back against the banks set an open row of shelves which were
soon filled with a case of "K" rations.
George Strong of Seattle, Washington, was my 'bunkie". He and I were
the only non-smokers in the crowd (and we both liked fruit juice very
much) so he reserved a top compartment for us. He had brought along some
homemade fudge which he had received in England, so between both of us, we
had fudge and fruit juice each night before turning in.
Tuesday morning, I became more acquainted with the setup of our
Headquarters Company and the system of communications. From the
switchboard room came a jumbled mass of wires, many of them obsolete, and
it was some time before we were able to distinguish even vaguely which
wire went where. Our first move then was to ascertain where our lines went
and identify them by means of tags. Somehow 2nd Division had operated in a
lackadaisical manner as far as wire was concerned, but we were not content
to continue doing so, especially since we did not install the wires.
By Tuesday night, our ears were accustomed to the sound of our artillery
shells passing overhead, and also the occasional incoming German shells. We also had learned that anyone showing a light outside at night would be
shot, for as yet our guards were "trigger happy". Even luminous wrist
watches and compasses were covered.
Food in Headquarters Company had always been very good. In combat it still
was. Our kitchen was located in a barn about fifty yards behind our house.
While we had to eat standing up, tables were provided about waist height,
and eating was quite enjoyable. Breakfasts usually necessitated a
flashlight. In addition to three squares a day, the wire men delighted in
"mooching" enough food from the kitchen for a 9 o'clock snack. This meal
we cooked on the pot belly and squad burner. It consisted of boneless
canned chicken, fried
potatoes, bread, butter, and cocoa
made from "D" ration chocolate bars and evaporated milk. For dessert
we had our "K" ration candy. What a wonderful feeling it was to
gather around a table with a tablecloth, and eat food of our own cooking.
All the cares of the day seemed to float away as cleaned up our meal in
the dim candlelight. Then we'd retire after gathering around the
candle to write a letter or two back home.
Wednesday, my crew received an assignment to
repair a line from Buchet to Winterscheid where the 18th Reconnaissance
Troop was quartered. In order to reach Winterscheid, we had to pass
through a town under constant German observation. Belialf was the
name of this town. Whenever there seemed to be too much activity
through this town, Gerry's artillery would drop in a few shells.
Signs were posted to "Keep Moving" and we needed no second invitation.
By Wednesday night, we had accomplished very little and since the distance
from Winterscheid to our home in Buchet was about 14 miles, it
necessitated starting back early in the afternoon. That night we
again enjoyed our chicken dinner before retiring.
Thursday, December 14th, we started
early in the morning on the same repair job. Most of our work took
place right in Belialf where artillery had knocked the lines out. By
talking cover behind buildings and trees, one kept out of sight as much as
possible. Our crew consisted of Moose, Russ, Mac, and myself.
Russ was checking a cable joint on a pole when two shots whizzed by his
head. One of the guards stuck his head out the window of a building
and told us to move out. Belialf was defended by Anti-Tank company,
and this guard was a member of that company.
Thursday night, two of the wire men
were out to the latrine when they heard noises in the shed where the jeeps
were parked. They saw someone run into the valley so they opened
fire. This brought us all out with loaded rifles and threw quite a
scare into some of the boys. After everyone was satisfied that no
one was snooping anymore, we returned for our chicken
dinner. I had just about
finished when the wire chief, Bob Grimes, came in and said we were going
to post guards around the building that night. I was one of the
guards. It was cold and quiet, and the remainder of the night proved
uneventful except for challenging men going to the outdoor latrine.
Friday morning as soon as it was light, I
searched for foot prints around the jeep shed and sure enough found what I
wanted in the snow lying on the ground. Tracks showed where someone
had crouched next to the shed, and the prints showed his return into the
valley on the run. So those who thought the two men were just
"trigger happy" changed their minds about the whole affair.
Since I had not slept all night, I was
allowed the day off. Most of the afternoon I spent cleaning and
revamping our living quarters. Friday night, we again gathered
around the table for our meal. Bill Ingerson sat next to me.
He was telling how his brother was having a pretty good time in
Guadalcanal before he was killed. His other brother had been killed,
too. I remember well how he jokingly remarked that maybe he'd get
his too. We talked a bit on the subject and promises were made to
visit the other's family in case one of us didn't return to the States.
We were awakened exceptionally early
Saturday morning. Bob came in with the news that artillery had
knocked out many of our lines during the night. We were sent out as
soon as possible. My crew went out on the line to Anti-tank Command
Post in Belialf. We found that they had no communication whatsoever,
and no one to operate the switchboard. It was impossible to repair
the line without an operator to answer our call, so we drew straws to
determine who stayed behind as an operator. The job fell upon me.
The line from the CP to the various outposts in town was the first to be
fixed. The outposts reported Gerry infantrymen moving in towards
Next call came in from Regimental headquarters. My crew had fixed the
line. About ten minutes later, it went out again. Reports from the
outposts continued to come in. A seargeant had been killed. Others were
wounded. Could we send up reserves? - How about artillery
About noon, Bill Ingerson's crew came in with another line from Regiment.
quickly installed the wire in my board. The colonel was given a report on operations, and then
artillery was reached through Regimental's switchboard. Firing directions
were given through the three boards, and soon Anti-tank men were taking
Gerry prisoners. Time bursts rather changed their minds about attacking. They dug in like ground hogs.
Action was reaching a new fervor. Shells began
bursting around the house. The first seargeant and I were alone in the
switchboard room. We hit the floor. I laid against the door, and he laid
against me. With every blast we both flew half way across the room. I
crawled. back against the door every time, for windows were shattering
all about as. The shelling stopped. Wounded were being carried in. German
prisoners were being congregated outside for searching and removal back to
the interrogation officer at Regimental Headquarters.
The first seargeant of Anti-Tank yelled, "We'd better get out of here!" So I hooked in a party line, and went downstairs. A man with a back wound
in and I ripped off his shirt. I went into the kitchen. Two cooks were
frying rabbit and pork chops. I grabbed a piece of rabbit and a slice of
bread; then I went to see how the boys outside were doing. Bill Ingerson
and Larry White both had their clothing ripped by shrapnel, but
fortunately no wounds. Most of the others were shaking, but unhurt. So
returned to the kitchen. Shells began falling again. The cooks hit the
floor. I decided I had enough of that, so while the cooks lay
on the floor, I fried pork chops. And then I didn't have time to wait
until the pork chops were finished. Oh what irony.
Back to the switchboard, I listened to all the instructions and reports
being given. Reserves were supposedly on the way. The situation was fast growing tense and grim.
Under" their first fire, Anti-Tank's
men held out remarkably well. Two lines to Regiment
were now working. The line to the post went out,
but was soon fixed. About 4:00 p. m. Col Nagle, assistant Regimental
Commander, came up and wanted a forward command post established, so
that he might control the situation easier. Bill Ingerson's crew laid the
line down to the new CP, and had to remain there since it was too dark to
return to the Company. Capt. Avery, our communications officer, also was
marooned there as he supervised the installation of radio communications. The forward CP's
complement now consisted of about 15 men.
German artillery reached a new intensity that night. Rockets, buzz bombs,
and heavy shells flew over head continually. Through the earphones came
the reports. Reserves had not come up; artillery had not been heard from;
Gerry patrols were moving in. I had no
relief or company, food or water since noon. My feet were freezing, but I
was hot with excitement. About 2:00 A. M. Ingersoll came thru the line. He
said in a voice I shall never forget "We're surrounded. Can't you help
us? They're firing machine guns in here now." I felt like going down
myself, but knew my job was on the board. About 4:00 A.M., our building
seemed to be in danger of capture, so the officer in charge gave the
orders to move out. It seemed that only five minutes later everyone had
left the place by truck except me.
Basic training had taught me to destroy communications equipment, so I set
about destroying the equipment in the room. I burned all instruction
books. Next I opened up the back of a walkie-talkie radio set and smashed
all the tubes with my foot. My heel care down on a M-209 converter used
for encoding and decoding messages. With the bayonet, I slashed all the
cords from the switchboard. Piling all the equipment up, I
wedged a hand grenade under the board, tying a piece of wire to the
firing pin. I grabbed my equipment, went out of the room, pulled the wire,
and wrote finis to probably $2,000 worth of army equipment.
Leaving the house at about 4:30 A.M., I knew my situation was precarious. It was 3 miles to Buchet. My own men would probably get me if the Gerries
didn't. I started crass country taking advantage of cover and making as
little noise as possible. I knew approximate where an old road leading to
Buchet went through the woods. Through my mind ran a part of Psalm 121, "I
will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help". I kept
making my way for a steep hill running up into a forest, for I knew I
could wait there until daylight. By continual prayer and God's help, I
reached the woods, and felt much relieved. Ten minutes later I watched
Gerries storm into the house I had just left.
Day-light seemed a million years later, and when it did come, I started
ascending the hill carefully, for
I knew it was booby-trapped. Upon reaching the road, I heaved another sigh of
relief. Proceeding up the road, the first American I saw was Col. Nagle,
he a welcome sight. I told him my story, and then he told of his escape
from the advanced command post. He had been hit in the hip from a Gerry
spraying the room, with a burp gun. He smashed through a window and
I continued walking back to Headquarters, where I again related my
experiences to Bob and the boys. The Company was packed and ready to move. I had had no food or sleep for some time. I gnawed on a niece of candy,
and then we loaded up. Sunday night we bivouaced near 3rd Battalion
Headquarters, after laying more lines to our various units. Coffee was
served for Supper that night. The food and water situation was Critical. We learned for the first tires that we were cut off from supplies.
Sunday afternoon, Capt. Avery and some of the boys came back. They had
held off in Belialf all night. They related how Gerries marched up the
street in formation. Upon being halted, the command "Achting" rang
out. The Gerry patrol dispersed. Larry White knocked off six of the Huns. Had our boys have had automatic weapons, the whole patrol
could have have
been wiped out. Toward morning, after crawling for almost a mile under
sniper fire, our boys reached cover, and finally Headquarters. Bill
Ingerson must have had that premonition of death, for he was hit in the
head, and never moved again. About 2 dozen Gerries paid with their lives
for his death.
After digging in Sunday night, we prepared to
sleep in our fox holes. "Moose" and I dug ours together, and had enough
room to sit up. We slept only from sheer exhaustion. Monday morning, I ate
my last GI meal - that is for a while. Not having eaten in two days, that
breakfast as one I shan't forget. Powered eggs and oatmeal, as well as
coffee. Three times I had my mess gear filled, and now I know it was only
half the number of times I should have gone through the line.
We loaded up and waited to move. Confusion was evident amongst the
officers for they knew not which direction to go. While waiting, a few of
us congregated at my jeep where we held a carol sing and prayer service. (Strange, but every man who attended that service came through urharmed). All day we moved, but didn't go far. By nightfall, a new CP had been set
up and again we laid lines, only this time in the dark. Before we could
lay one line the CP moved again. We started on another line. I trudged
through mud knee deep half the night. and finally learned the CP had moved
All of the 423rd regiment's vehicles were taken down a mud road and
parked. The distributor rotors were removed, and preparations made to
abandon the vehicles if necessary. We slept in the woods for the
remaining portion of the night. Bright on early Tuesday morning, the fatal
Tuesday morning, the drivers replaced the rotors and prepared to move.
Only a few
got up the hill When all hell broke
loose. Shells began falling all
about us. We moved about 200 yards to a clump of trees. Shells continued
to fall. I saw many of our men hit. Medics were gathering the wounded. Chaplains were administering last rites. Men were digging in with their
bare hands. It's surprising what a hole one can make when he needs to.
Determined to fight our way out, patrols started moving on foot when the
shelling had subsided. Throughout the day, we moved a little, waited, then
moved again. Rifle and machine gun fire was increasing. The weapons were
all in favor of the Gerries. About 2:00 P. M. we seemed to meet stiff
resistance as we dug in again. I had just finished digging another hole
with my hands when the order came back to destroy our weapons and
Tuesday, December 19th, 1944 was the day -
4:00 P.M. was the time. German prisoners of war --what a sickening
feeling! Hands over head, we were double timed to an open field where we
were searched. All GI equipment was taken away. We were marched out behind
German tanks and emplacements. The Colonel and all his remaining men, as
well as most of the men of the 422nd Regiment stretched out into a long
column of tired, hungry, beaten soldiers.
Up the road that night came a long line of German equipment. Huge "Tiger"
tanks forced us off the road. Intermingled in their convoys were horse
drawn pieces. All vehicles were well camouflaged. German soldiers stopped
us and removed our wallets, wrist watches, cigarettes; just about
everything they can pilfer, they took. I slipped my watch in my shoe, so I
lost very little as a Gerry hastily went through my pockets. We walked
about 8 miles that night.
Reaching a small town, we had visions of sleeping in a warm build ing. Like so many of our later dreams, we were disappointed, for the night was
spent in a barnyard. I gave my overcoat to a wounded man, so like many
others, found the night very cold.
The next morning we were reassembled and began our journey to a prison
camp. We walked behind the great Siegfried line. It was sickening to see
American soldiers lying stiff and frozen beside a wrecked armored car,
their shoes removed for use by some Heinie. About noon, the procession
stopped at a turnip field and we were allowed to grab some large raw
turnips for our dinner. Having had no food for 2 1/2 days, turnips took on
a new taste - more like a steak dinner I guess.
Continuing behind the Siegfried lines pillboxes, we saw mine field after
mine field. Tank barriers of all kinds were set in the fields. Trees were
cut through with charges set in the cut, so that road blocks could
be quickly made. Fake gun emplacements set on both sides of the road. Some
of the vehicles we had left behind were already parked along the road with
our clothes and equipment in them. Drivers saw our vehicles being used by
the enemy and it added to our heartsickness. In the afternoon we passed
through Pruim. German civilians smiled as though they
defeated the whole America Army, but 3,500 of us was only a small portion
in an army of 3 million front line soldiers. Undoubtedly this drive had
netted the Gerries more prisoners than ever before in fact, the soldiers
were boasting that they would be in Paris by Christmas, but much as
Pruim's civilians smiled, we smiled back, for not one of the buildings in
the town was untouched by bombs. Many were completely demolished.
On and on we walked, till men started falling by the wayside. We drank water
from the ditches along the road. Our total journey for day they was about
40 kilometers or 25 miles, quite a journey without food, water or sleep. We again
stayed outdoors that night, and were promised food. This was
supposed to be a PW camp. My hips had become so stiff with rheumatism,
that I could hardly stand. Men were being carried into the small medical
office in great numbers.
Somehow the night went quickly and I received no food. I was now separated
from my company. Soon I was herded into a column of men and we were walked
back into town finally stopping at a railroad station. Daylight broke
and we read the name of the town, Geroldstein. After we had stood for about
2 hours, a truck pulled up, and we were given two small bags of hardtack
crackers each, and a can of cheese similar to limburger for every six men.
A train of boxcars pulled up, and we were counted off into groups of
sixty. Officers loaded first, but only fifty to a car. I kept dropping
back in line until I met two men from Headquarters company and went
with them. Gerry guards were pitching horse manure from the car
before we got in. It was approximately 10:00 A. M. December 21st when we
saw the boxcar door close behind us.
On the boxcar were men from both the 28th and 106th Divisions. Part of the
28th was captured in the same drive, and they had been walked to
Geroldstein from Luxembourg, a distance of about 60 miles. Now 60 of us
were sharing a car no bigger than the "40 and eights" of World War I
days. A sliding door on both sides of the car were the entrances. One
screened window in each of the corners of the ear, with hinged wooden flap
provided our daylight. Another set of ventilators near the floor kept the
car floor cold , and uncomfortable at night.
We left Geroldstein about 4:00 P.M. The train was jerky and had frequent
stops and backups. Next morning we were still in Geroldstein, our only
move having been to change sidings. Sleeping conditions were terrible.
There was room enough for all 60 of us to sit down by one men spreading
his legs and another sitting between them. Needless to say, the nights
were long and not much sleep was realized by anyone. We received no food
or water Friday; neither were we allowed out of the car. Sometime Friday
night, the train started again. It seemed that the only travel was under
cover of darkness.
Saturday morning we found ourselves in the town of Diez. From guards, our
German speaking comrades learned that there was a prisoner camp nearby.
Our hopes rose slightly. We were allowed off the train for five minutes
and six men were allowed to fetch water. Steel helmets were filled, and
most everyone received a drink. About noon of the 23rd, we received food.
Each man was given 1/4 of a loaf of black bread and a spoon of molasses. The molasses
was good, but the bread tasted mighty peculiar then. Little
did I know that some day I would look forward to eating
The night of the 23rd shall remain
long in my memory and not only in mine but in everyone's in that trainload
of probably 3,600 American prisoners. Darkness had fallen, and we had our
seats for the night. An air-raid alarm sounded. Bombs started falling a
short distance away. Each bomb fell a little nearer. Allied planes were
bombing the tracks in Diez, and our position was perilous. Someone broke
out in a lord's prayer. Almost instantaneously, every voice was heard in
solemn prayer to almighty God for deliverance. There were no atheists then.
The last bomb hit so close that stones splattered against the car as it
trembled on the tracks. The bombing subsided. A Catholic man broke out
with the Rosary, and many joined in. I led the car in prayer, followed by
the Lord's Prayer before our fears were quelled and we returned to our
sitting-sleeping positions. Prayer had worked wonders, for quietness
again fell in the car and men dropped into slumber.
The day before Christmas we received no food or water. The tracks were
out, and we were still in Diez. The prison camp nearby was full, so it was
evident we were going elsewhere. Eight men had been killed the night
before; 35 were injured. Christmas Eve came around. I led the car in
service and prayer. We sang carols; I prayed, and then talked briefly on
the birth of Christ and its meaning to us.
The only Negro in our car gave us a review of Dickens "Christmas Story''. Another gave a short story review by Guy De Maupassant.
Our prayers for food were answered. Christmas Day we received British Red
Cross boxes - one box for five men. We were told this must last us for two
days. Before we opened any of them, I was requested to give thanks to God.
This I did. The box contained powdered eggs, oatmeal, condensed milk,
sugar, salt, cocoa, salmon, crackers, jam, corned beef, cottage pudding,
and a chocolate bar. It was a mighty slim ration for two days, but it sure
made the day more like Christmas.
We even received water Christmas
Day as well as a five minute airing.
Tuesday we were still at Diez and again we received water. Wednesday
afternoon the train started moving and by jerks we reached the city of
Frankfort late that night. Instead of two days on that Red Cross Box, it
was three. Some of the men's eyes were getting glassy, as though their
minds would crack under the confinement. No food, no water, no exercise,
no sleep, no cigarettes! Fine treatment when we thought of German P.W's
riding in coaches in America receiving the best of care and food.
Thursday morning the train backed up a one track railroad, and we arrived
at the town of Bad Orb. Eight days in a boxcar - our only German food
being a quarter of a loaf of broat. We were much relieved to alight from
the car. Marching through the town, we saw many hotels and tourists
houses, giving evidence of a resort town. About 3 miles up the road
arrived at our new home, Stalag (Prisoner Camp) IX-B. It was located high
on a hill amidst evergreen forests.
Our first move December 28th was to be searched and registered. Officers
went first, then noncoms, followed by the privates. Some of the searchers
again grabbed fountain pens and personal items. After registration, we
received German dog tags. Next we fell in line for chow. It was a new
experience eating from a steel helmet. My dog tag number is 25708. As we
passed one window, we received a quart of greens, most likely sugar beet
tops, in a greasy water. Passing another window a cook threw in a handful
of unpeeled potatoes. Not having washed or shaved for nearly half a month,
we looked pretty pitiful gulping down this warm food, but it did taste
wonderful. I guess hunger shows no respect for taste, for we would not
have given our hogs food that bad back in America.
After dinner we were ushered into a barracks, 42B by number. 300 of us
were to sleep in this one room. There were no beds - just a plain wooden
with two radiating heaters in the center. Again
there was not enough room for everyone to stretch out, especially since we
needed aisles so that men could use the latrine at night. There were
electric lights from 7 to 9 P.M., but after that time,
men continually stepped on one another. Arguments were many, and the un-comfortableness increased every night.
I slept next to Frankie DeLorenzo. I had become acquainted with him on the
boxcar and we became more
and more friendlier. We picked out a spot near the
door, and found it to our advantage later. Ed Cornell slept next to him. Then came Fred Roys, Francis Roselle, and
Joe Purl. When we later formed
into six man groups, these were the six and this same group has been
intact ever since.
We settled down, more or less, just before New Years. We received
coffee with sugar in the morning, a liter (1.06 quarts) of soup at noon
and black bread, margarine and tea at night. Six men received one
loaf of bread weighing approximately 4 lbs. Altogether these three meals
would equal about 1/2 of an American meal. The soups for the first week
greens. About every third day, we received a bean soup or a carrot soup,
or a pea soup. These were much tastier.
Greens had caused another problem. Nearly everyone had a case of diarrhea from the new diet. Our day
latrine was outside. At night the only convenience was a 10 inch hole in
the floor. 300 men had to use that hole, most of them many times a night. Every morning found our hallway and latrine room a filthy mess - worse
than our hog pens have ever been.
Sunday, December 31st we had church services,
New Year's Eve slipped by unnoticed as did New Years
Day. During the week, we received straw to sleep on and wood for our stoves
at night. Improvements seemed
on the way. Cardboard was furnished for the broken
windows, and a German blanket was issued. A hospital was set up with no
medical supplies. A collection
was made of supplies from the men in camp. It all helped for a little
Russian cooks gave us our food. We needed a German interpreter to talk to
the guards who needed a
Russian interpreter to talk to the cooks. Much
trouble was had by the German guards in keeping us from slipping back into
the chow lines for doubles. I managed to slip back in for bean soup a few
times. We had to stand in the cold and snow for at least 1/2 hour to
receive our soup. Our other food was brought to the barracks.
On January 6th, we wrote home on PW stationery. Most of us requested
packages from home, three days later we received post cards, and I asked
that my packages be discontinued, because it sounded rather hopeless that
we should ever receive them. We never did.
The cigarette situation was critical. Cigarettes cost 1000 francs or
each. 1/6 of a loaf of bread sold for 500 francs. Watches were worth
and good fountain pens brought $100. One man who was fortunate enough to
bring along an ample supply of
tobacco made a young fortune. G.I.'s would take their jewelry to the
Russians and French and trade for American Red Cross cigarettes. Potatoes
would sell for $1 each and a half-ration of soup went for $5. Inflation in
America Mould be no problem after this.
On January 10th, the officers shipped out. Those who remained were three
medical officers and two chaplains who volunteered to stay behind. Lt.
Sutherland, Capt. Buxton, doctors, Capt. Eder, dentist, Chaplain Neel, the
protestant chaplain, and Chaplain Hurley, the Catholic chaplain comprised
our staff of officers. Kasten and Eddy were the American
representatives for the camp.
The officer's shipment was quite a break for us. While they ate the same
chow awl received almost the same treatment as we, they had the best
barracks and they did sleep in bunks. The bunks were wooden slats built 3
high. Excelsior was
piled on the boards. We had already been put through a sulfur delousing
process, but that was of little help when we mowed into the officer's
barracks, 42A. Germany's collection of bed bugs, fleas and annoying little
bugs is both unique and complete. Many a sleepless night has been spent
because of those little German friends, or should I say enemies. Hand
delousing is a daily routine with the majority of men. Unconsciously,
various fellows have scratched so much, that they have received fingernail
infections. All in all, though, I was very glad to get off the floor at
night, as well as in a warmer barracks.
American cooks, all privates, took over our kitchen on January 12th. Meals were a little worse for a week. Ladles of "lawn mower stew" became
smaller until the cooks knew how much to make. An oatmeal soup bolstered
our opinion of the GI's cooking; in fact, it was our best soup thus far.
On January 14th, we received our first news, through the Germans. The
Russians had started a new winter offensive. Two days later, admission was
made that Germany was in its darkest hour. By January 23rd, Warsaw and Kralsow had fallen; Czeckoslovakia was cut in half; upper Silesia was
invaded. Rumors said that Russia was 60 kilometers inside German.
A Red Cross representative visited our camp on the 24th of .January. Our
food and fuel improved that day, but fell back to normal the next day. Germans started giving us cheese, marmalade, and sometimes meat with our
bread and margarine. Tea and coffee was void of sugar, and we had to wait
some time for sugar to some in.
Saturday, January 27th was another long remembered night for the prisoners
in Stalag IX B. About
11:00 P. M. our doors were opened and in rushed guards with steel helmets,
rifles and bayonets. "Ouss, ouss" was the cry, and they started using the
butts of their rifles. The barracks was cleared in short order.
Even the very sick were forced out into the cold night. Snow was at least
8 inches deep. Many fellows had no overshoes, some had no shoes. One man
was barefooted. It was very evident that something "big" was up. We were
taken under spotlights and searched. After 3/4 of an hour in the cold,
we were locked in the barracks again. It was then we learned the meaning
of our treatment. A German guard making his final check in the kitchen had
been attacked by two men. He had seen a man's feet under a table. Ordering
him out, someone hit him with a hatchet. Fourteen times he was hit, but
before he lost consciousness, he had summoned help and described the
slayers as Americans.
Sunday morning, all Americans were again lined up in one group. Machine
guns covered us from all angles. An ultimatum was given by the camp
commander Either we Americans apprehend the guilty party or we would
receive no food, water, or fuel. We returned to the barracks, a heavy
feeling in our hearts. 2,800 of us suffering for two men, and conditions
looked black indeed. I know I prayed and probably every one else did too.
Each individual barracks started their own investigation. Our door had
been found open by the guards the night before. The barracks leader
swore that our German guard had locked it. All clothes, overshoes, and bunks
searched. A pair of bloody shoes were found on an upper bunk near mine. More bloody clothes were found. The owners were questioned.
came in and furthered the investigation. By 2:00 P.M., confessions had
been signed and we received the good news that not only would we receive
our bread, tea, and margarine, but soap as well. We later received a half
ladle of thick oatmeal soup. So relieved were we, that I jumped upon a
table and lead the entire barracks in a church service. The
next day our barracks received extra soup for the
fine work of apprehension. German officers were so pleased with our cooperation than
they sent up a bag of tobacco and papers, enough for a 'roller! apiece. Our
On the 1st of February we received our first Red Cross package. These were
loaned to us by the Serbian prisoners, so no credit is due the Red Cross
for these. Four men had to share the box designed for one man. All cans
were opened necessitating the disposal of the food within 2 or 3 days. It
was good of the Serbs to give as their boxes, but pathetic to think every
nationality was receiving American boxes except Americans. Our box
consisted of the following
items: 5 packs of cigarettes, 2 chocolate bars, 1 lb. of powdered milk,
span, salmon., liverwurst, corned
beef, 1/2 lb. sugar, coffee, biscuits, preserved butter, jam, and Velveta
cheese. Cigarettes helped, a lot, and trading food for cigarettes occupied our minds
for a few days.
400 men shipped out on February 6th. In the
afternoon, American P-47's dive-bombed Bad Orb. Four planes strafed our
camp, killing four Americans and wounding seven. Many Russians were also
three. Later we heard that it was an accident and that our Air Force knew
this was a PW camp. This information came from a captured flyer.
Stealing amongst the GIs never helped our situation. Our possessions were
few, but we did value them. We did have those weak minded Americans who
although everyone was hungry, persisted in taking another man's bread. Thefts were numerous and some-times almost unbelievable. Smitty, the
fellow in the
bunk below me, and I had soup on his bunk which we
had intended to warn up the supper. Someone emptied
the helmet even though we never left the bunk all day. It's a pity that men could be so low as to steal the hosts from the
Catholic Chaplain. I guess this life is the real test of a man.
Our meals were fairly good ever since the GI cooks were out in the
kitchen. A blackboard listed our meals daily with the weight of each item
listed. 453 grams equals one lb. A typical pea soup consisted
of 50 grams of peas, 550 grams of potatoes and 40 grams of meat. In other words, if we received
piece of meat, usually horsemeat, weighing 1-1/4 ounces, our limit was
reached. At night our rations consisted of 300 grams of bread and 20
grams of margarine or about 3/4 of an ounce. Twice a week we received
marmalade, usually 50 grams. On Sunday night we almost always
received sausage, mostly liverwurst. This was again 40 grams. Sometimes we received
a head cheese sausage. They also gave us cheeses occasionally. One was a
round cheese almost like limburger. Twice we received 125 grams of cottage
Chaplain Neel carried on many religious activities in camp. On February
8th, barracks 42A won the Bible quiz. Royal Meservy, Hank Hoen and I
were the barrack's entries, and we finished the contest with a perfect
score. On Wednesday afternoons, the Chaplain held a Bible class. On
Friday afternoons, he held a community sing. Both religious and secular
songs were sang, and specialty numbers provided added entertainment. Chaplain Neel introduced the Stalag IX B theme song, "Come and Get Us
Georgie Patton". At a community sing, I soloed the song I wrote, "The
Spud Soup Serenade". Chaplain Neel has done a fine job. In fact I
daresay we can attribute more lives saved to the work of both Chaplains
than to any other factor.
On February 9th Royal Meservy and I initiated a nightly prayer for the
barracks. We'd sing out patriotic song, offer a prayer, and then sing a
religious song. Royal and I alternated on giving prayers. Upon
recommendation that Royal be a church soloist (for he has a fine voice)
Chaplain Neel chose him choir leader and a better choice could not have
been made. He organized and directed a fine choir whose singing has been
the camp. Chaplain Neel also organized
prayer groups for each barracks. I was chosen chairman of the group in 42A
and have led a Bible class every morning. This was quite a new experience
to teach the Bible to over 15 men, since I've never taught any class
before, especially not a Sunday school class.
Our allowance of 2 letters and 4 cards a month gave us some diversion to
keep up our writing ability. Of coarse we never expected to receive an
answer from any of them, but we did hope our letters were reaching home. Paper was more scarce than snow in Florida, but most everyone saved the 2
sheets a month toilet paper allowance. On these went diaries, news,
addresses, and recipes, mostly recipes. What concoctions some fellows
dreamt up. Every conceivable way of fixing every conceivable food was
discussed and written down. Every man's dream was to learn how to cook
when he reached home, and many of them will, but in my opinion, as soon as
some of our hungriness is relieved, we'll forget a lot about revamping our
old styles of cooking. In addition to foods, topics and plans ranged from
gardens to businesses, Army life to church life, hobbles to jobs, and past
parties to future banquets.
The Germans were getting jittery. A recreation hall was opened on February
12th. Musical instruments , a gramophone, playing cards, checkers and games were provided. The 'rec' hall was also used as a chapel. Later
tables and benches were placed in the hall along with a ping pong table.
An increasing number of men used these facilities every day to help pass
By February 15th, the weather
had warned considerably. Bombers flew overhead continually. Hundreds would pass over every clear
day. Almost every day and night, Bad Orb's siren wailed. News was better. On the eastern front, Russia had bridgeheads over the Oder. Germans
daily, and when the Germans admit anything, it's usually
mach worse for them than the news they release. On the western front,
Prium was taken. Americans were attacking all along the Rhine, and the
Gerries had to retreat to the eastern bank of the river in some spots. Germans claimed. to stop a British drive by flooding the Ruhr valley. Rumors stated Berlin had fallen and that von Ribbentrop was in a peace
conference with Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin.
For the remainder of February, our existence remained about the same.
Because of transportation difficulties, Our scan meat did not cone in
regularly. At the and of the month, more PW's were being marched in. A
group from the camp at Geroldstein marched eight days. Americans were
getting close in that area. Our spirits were raised by the sound of
artillery in the distance. Russians were gaining near Berlin, Breslau was
reported under attack. Americans still had not crossed the Rhine, but
rumors almost convinced us that they had.
March came in like a lion. Despite the cold weather, the Air Corps flew
over day and night. Rumors had it that Roosevelt said this would be our
happiest Easter. It seemed like an all out offensive was launched. Bad Orb
was bombed one night when someone became careless with a light. Seven
Germans were killed. From then on we had no more electric lights in
camp. Fires had to be extinguished at 6:30 P. M.
From March 1st to March 10th, life was still a dull routine. The weather
was gloomy, and our spirits fluctuated with new rumors. On March 1st,
barracks 42A was pitted against barracks 29 in a "Take it or Like It"
quiz. Royal Meservy, another man, and I were the representatives from our
barracks. 29 beat us, but I came out on top for high score, and won the
only prize, a pipe. This is another souvenir of stalag IX B.
News continued to sound better and better. Tanks had taken the whole
western bank of the Rhine by March 10th. Street fighting was reported in
and American troops had joined forces. Russia was still
making gains and breakthroughs but their rapid advancements seemed to have
Rumors of Red Cross packages had practically disappeared when on March
12th, Eddy, the chief interpreter, came in with the news that packages
had arrived at Bad Orb and that we would get them soon. We did receive our
packages on March 14th. Three men shared a one-man package. Our package
consisted of prunes, cocoa, cheese, oleomargarine, biscuits, jam, sugar,
salt and pepper mixtures, corned beef, chicken pate, coffee and sardines,
as well as 5 packs of butter.
Weather warmed considerably about the middle of the month. The warm sunshine
invited us outdoors for the greater part of the day. All was not well in
camp, however. A case of spinal meningitis had broken out, and Americans
were quarantined to their area for ten days. This threw a scare into all of
us, especially since we had no medical supplies. The man died. Throughout
the winter we had very few deaths considering our situation. Men coming
in from other camps reported high fatality rates. Our hospital was full of
pneumonia cases. Hot chocolate from a Red Cross package saved one man's
life. Deaths were increasing mostly because men had no reserve energy from
the small amount of rations to fight off sickness. It was a pity to have
these American soldiers die helplessly, especially after coming through
News continued to sound better and better. Our hopes for liberation in
the month of March increased. Our nightly prayer always concluded
a petition for freedom in March. A rumor circulated that the
in the South Pacific had fallen. Yanks were still driving, and had
crossed the Rhine at Remagen. Artillery was heard in the distance. At night
flares were reported seen.
Russians were still attacking heavily. The Rhine crossing sounded very
good, for on March 21st, Germany news reported the 1st Army was driving
hard on the Audubon highway, and that fighting for Koblenz was taking
On March 20th, 400 British prisoners were brought in. They had been walked
clear across Germany, a distance of 400 miles. Walking for six weeks
straight, 800 men were lost on the way. Oh, how happy we can be that we
haven't moved from this camp. These chaps reported many civilians as pro-British. German towns were leveled all along the way. Other
shipments of British Indians reached camp. They had walked for eight
weeks, averaging about 15 miles a day. Russians were close to their camp
near Breslau, on the Polish border. It seems that this camp is the last
resort. Pressure on both fronts must be terrific. Why doesn't Germany
Rations were cut on March 13th. Bread was reduced from 300 grams to 250
grams. On Wednesday and Saturdays, we dropped to 210 grams or
8 men dividing a regular six man loaf. Marmalade was cut out. Margarine
dropped to 1/2 ounce per day. Soup meat was lowered to an ounce a day, and
sometimes none. Salt was not to be had and our systems soon suffered from
the lack of it. Dizziness was prevalent throughout our camp, mental
blackouts were frequent, Sugar was reduced to 1/4 of our regular amount. Soups were flat,
and only half of the regular potatoes were allowed. Rye flour made the soup
thick. German "C2" rations seasoned it a little, but it was still flat and
rather untasty. We couldn't say a word against it, though, if we'd only
remember the greens they once served us.
Morale increased by leaps and bounds. On March 23rd, artillery smoke was
seen on the horizon. I actually saw a burst of artillery the first
since combat. Vehicles were heard moving on the road. A
vehicle around here is an innovation. All travel is
on foot, or by horse and wagon.
Immediately, we all assumed that Germans were moving out of the area.
Hopes for liberation in March increased.
On March 24th, another case of
spinal meningitis broke out. The quarantine was again stuck us for another
ten days. It was almost a daily routine to line up along the kitchen
street and pay our last respects to another American soldier.
processions were taking place regularly, it seemed.
Malnutrition or "German pneumonia" was taking its toll. Those who made the supreme sacrifice
in a PW camp took their last ride on a two-wheeled cart. No casket was
provided - blankets covered the body. Burial was made in a small cemetery
outside of camp. Crosses printed in German script marked the graves of the
deceased. Oh ! why must wars be fought and men suffer so ?
Sunshine and warm weather helped morale a lot. The sun was warm
enough that some received burns on the face. A beach atmosphere prevailed as everyone lay on their blankets
with their shirts off. Morale again leaped on March 25th.
Rumors were that the
camp commander had signed the camp over to the Americans
and had taken off. Other guards were leaving for home that night. Spirits were very high as we talked of powdered eggs and "K" rations for
Easter. American PW's acting as military police were placed inside the barbed
wire fences to prevent any of us
from trying to escape. Our safety within the garrison almost seemed a
Oh joy! Liberation seemed almost at hand. Souvenier hunters
started working, and on March 27th, we again recieved American Red Cross. packages.
Rumors had placed the number of boxes sufficient for one per man.
Cigarettees sold like hotcakes for $23 a pack. About noon we
watched 20 fighter planes mostly P-47's, continually circle our camp. On
the Plaza near the the hospital, a huge white PW had been painted with
lime. One pilots had swooped down, tipped his wings and waved with his
showing his recognition of us. Watching the planes maneuver overhead
was a thrilling sight. A target would be found, and one by one the
planes would peel off in a dive, at the same time opening up with their
machine guns. Our Red Cross boxes were a target, or so the Germans say. On the way up from Bad Orb, two wagonloads were
claimed destroyed, as well as the four horses. When the news was
divulged, smiles disappeared. What boxes we did get were enough for
11 men on a box - just a good mouthful of food. We all believe the
Germans story of those wagons being strafed is a lot of poppycock. Some
Germans are probably eating good American food today, but if the story
is true, we should have a lot of horsemeat for our soup. You can't keep
an American doughboy down!
This is March 28th. My diary has now been brought up to date permitting me
to write in the present tense at various times. Today was another tense
day of waiting. Hopes are still high for freedom by Easter. German
guards were giving away bread. A number of them were seen leaving camp
with suitcases, evidently for home.
Again today our heels clicked together and the hand salute was given to
two more men who have given their all for their country. Oh, please, dear God,
send in our Army that we may have the medical supplies to save these
American comrades. Our death rate is increasing. Today, also, two barracks
were quarantine because of diphtheria; another disease to contend with.
Holy Thursday has passed away. News released by the Germans through their
"newspaper ", "The Wermacht Express"' placed Yanks 14 miles from Bad Orb.
Another Spearhead has bypassed us on the south. Better news than that is
the news we hear of combat within the area. Early in the morning, and
again in the after noon, German convoys of tanks and trucks rambled down
the hill past our camp towards Bad Orb. From our map, we believed one end
of this road has been cut off. Late this evening, blasts of tank guns
were heard probably four or five miles away. Apparently the
Germans have been trapped on this
road, for vehicles are coming back up the road.
We also have some new prisoners. A
prisoner brought in last Tuesday was a captive of four days.
Wednesday another came in having been captured but two days. This
morning, a wounded Yank came in and he was taken just yesterday evening.
His reconnaissance car had been hit and destroyed. Walking to Bad
Orb, he stayed overnight, walking the other three miles this morning.
It can't be too long now.
Today also the finals of the camp quiz
contest "Take it or Like it" came off. Camp Champion is a man from
barracks 24. I was one of the four men entered in the finals, but
did not end up so well. Questions were asked on several topics.
Some were history, geography, religion, sports, radio, movies, science,
current events, sociology, personalities, food, and many others.
It's Good Friday and with all due
respect we remember the death of our Lord Jesus Christ nearly 2,000 years
ago. In commemoration of the three hours He spent on the cross, the
Protestants held services from noon to 1:30 P.M., while Catholics held
mass from 1:30 to 3:00. The Protestant service was an all musical
service presented by the choir. Holy Communion was participated in
at the Wednesday service. Liberation by Easter! Will those
Yank soldiers make this hope a reality? Our water supply will last
but two days. Fuel for pumping the water is practically gone.
Food supplied from Bad Orb is cut off. While our rye flour soup was
very think, and tasty today, we received no bread, or brot as the Germans
called it. In place of it, we were given three large potatoes or
four medium spuds, many of them rotten, but then we are used to rotten
potatoes, having eaten them every day for 92 days now, peelings and all.
The spuds were boiled with the skins. Our regular 1/2 ounce
margarine improved the flavor greatly.
News is very encouraging. This
morning an American .50 caliber machine gun was heard. The infantry
can't be too far away. This afternoon, fighter planes supported a
terrific barrage of artillery. Bad Orb must be taking a beating.
Civilians were reported rushing wagons, baby buggies, and carts full of
personal equipment on the hill past the camp. The Gerry guards are
still leaving for home. This morning wood details were sent out of
the gates without a guard! The end must be close!
The surprise of all surprises came last
night when it was announced more Red Cross boxes were found somewhere in
camp. Enough were found so that 20 men shared one man's box, a
ridiculously small amount. Yet it did supply five cigarettes for
each man, and God only knows how many men have suffered in this camp for
lack of them. Someday I'm going to the Red Cross and ask to buy one
whole box. I'd like to know how it feels to eat one by myself.
Unofficial liberation! This
Saturday, the last day of March, has brought with it good news - excellent
news. While official liberation is still pending, spirits arose to a
new high as barriers between nationalities were torn down allowing our
Allied prisoners to exchange greetings. A near riot occurred in
front of the kitchen when someone started a rumor that the Yanks were
here, but like so many rumors, this was only a temporary morale raiser.
Artillery was again pounding away, and small arms fire was very distinctly
heard. In this evening's closing hours, tracers from a 30 caliber
machine gun or a Browning Automatic were seen over the ridge.
That wood detail which went out
yesterday really went out further than they needed to; in fact, two
fellows took off for the front lines. Keeping well in the woods,
they saw the German's line and the approximate American positions about
four miles from Bad Orb. They went to a farmhouse where a German
woman fed them well, showing that some Germans must want a cessation of
this brutal war and that they do not all hate the Americans, as German
propandandists have taught them to do.
Evening surprises are becoming a regularity. Instead of bread or potatoes
this afternoon, we were given another ladle of that thick rye flour soup
we enjoyed this forenoon. In addition to that, every man was given 2 packs
of French cigarettes. I hope these last until the Yanks do bring in
Easter Sunday! What a grand, glorious day, even for a Prisoner of War. Sure, we attended church services in a drab, cold, combination recreation
hall, chapel and barracks, but the hope of soon rejoining our loved ones
in our own church back home unlifted our spirits to a new level. Both
Protestant services and Catholic mass were well attended. Chaplain Neel
baptized 3 more men at the morning service, bringing the total number of
baptisms up to 25 since the entrance of Americans into this stalag.
Easter dinner! More thoughts of home, Baked Virginia ham, Easter eggs,
sweet potatoes, candy – its all a dream this year. We lined up in our
usual lines with our steel helmets, tin cans, and pails, passed by one of
the four windows where a GI cook stood beside a barrel of soup, and
watched the usual liter of spud soup fall into our container. It was a
delicious soup, flavored with peas, and heavy enough to support the ounce
piece of meat. No matter what or how little I get, I'll not fail to give
thanks, for deep within me are the remembrances of foodless days. A
lesson this life has taught me!
After dinner, morale dropped to a new low. In every barracks, a quiet
tenseness prevailed. Never before was waiting so trying. Our liberators
are out there, but why don't they come? Rumors had died out; the water
supply was again cut off, our usual black bread and margarine was
distributed and devoured. But evening came, and with it a surprise, and
what a surprise!
Hardly a shot had been fired all day. We almost believed our troops had
been driven back. About dusk all heIl broke loose as mortars, machine
rifles blazed out in a steady volley. Barracks were emptyed
as we rushed out to hear the fireworks more distinctly. "This is it" said
everyone, as they watched smoke arise from the valley. Morale soared
higher than the mercury of a thermometer in hot water. I don't believe
there should be any break between
Sunday and Monday. Due to "Jerry Bedbug", hardly anyone has had a nights
sleep for a time. With the additional news Sunday night that liberation
may come at any moment, it seemed foolish for us to even think about
sleep. Accordion music and singing, followed by the nightly prayers, kept
spirits soaring. Noise and confusion died down slightly, and many of us
tried to catch a few winks of sleep.
Monday, Easter Monday, April 2, 1945 is here.
It's a day not one of us shall ever forget. I was lying on my bunk
reading my Testament. No one seemed to have any rumors or news.
At 8:15 A.M., our barracks leader returned from a meeting. "Boys,
we're liberated" he exclaimed. "There's three tanks at the gate,
now". A wild cheer went up throughout the barracks. Leaping
out of bed, I rushed up to Royal Meservy grabbing his hand. Together
we were able to quiet the barracks. I asked that every man kneel
down on the floor while we thanked God. Three hundred men responded
by falling to their knees while I offered a short prayer of praise to
Almighty God for our deliverance, followed by the Lord's Prayer.
11:00 A.M. of November 11th shall never equal this time and this date.
I shall always respect it, by repeating every year my actions of this
Rushing out of the barracks, we saw our first powered vehicle
of the year, an American recon car; at least we saw a very small part of
it. Both of the Chaplains were riding. More recon cars, a jeep
and some tanks came in. The mob of prisoners went wild as they
fought for "K" rations, souvenirs, ammunition and autographs. Tanks
were stripped barer than Gypsy Rose Lee in her prime. What a sight!
Everyone happy, cheering, waving, shaking hands, crowding the tanks.
Paris girls reception of American doughboys couldn't possibly equal this.
Our liberating party was the 71st Cavalry troops of the 2nd Corps, part of
Gen. Patton's 3rd Army. Official liberation time was 6:15 A.M.
Sunday evening. Eddy, the chief interpreter, was taken to Bad Orb.
He was told that the Germans would surrender the town and camp if the
Americans would cease firing. Eddy started for the Yank's front
lines and here we are back in the custody of the United States Army.
Some boys were lucky. They managed
the vehicles for "K" rations. One
fellow secured a can of chopped pork and eggs. I was given a taste
of these eggs. Who said there is no Easter Bunny ? Another man
was given a live chicken. Having been a cook in the Army, he stuffed
the bird with potatoes and onions, and then roasted it over an open fire
in the furnace. It takes a hungry PW to appreciate food American
style. As for us who were content to wait for a chow truck to come
in, our usual ladle of flour soup was dished out. Someone gave a
taste to one of the liberating party. He spit it out. At
night, the usual loaf of bread for seven men and a pat of margarine were
distributed. Never before have I been so hungry,. Watching
other fellows eat crackers, candy, cheese and chicken is a bad thing to
do, especially when there's no way for one to do the same.
the afternoon of liberation day, we were told to prepare ourselves for
immediate evacuation. Rumors that we were to fly back kept popping
up all over camp. Estimates as to when we'd get back home varied
from ten days to two months. Everyone was happy.
around. The white flag still fluttered over Stalag IX B's clock
tower; no evacuation as yet. We prepared for another miserable
night. They seem so interminable when there is no sleep to be had.
I hope this is our last night here. I've had the same clothes on for
105 days. In that time I've taken three showers and consider that
more than the average number for each of us. Most of us shave once a
week whether we need it or not. So far I've had one haircut since
November. Our bodies are bony, and most of us have lost at least
four inches at the waist line. Many former "fat Boys" have dropped
eight inches. What a shame that this must happen to civilized people
- that men must endure such conditions ! May we never experience an
existence like this again.
Another sleepless night passed away. Tuesday morning we received no
tea. High hopes of GI chow for dinner faded away, when we again
passed through the familiar food lines for a ladle of thick flour
soup much like the flour paste Hitler probably used
to hang wall paper. Were we liberated or weren't ? A barracks
guard was placed at the door allowing none of us to leave the building.
Still there was no evacuation, except the hospital patients who had been
taken back by ambulance within four hours of our liberation.
great announcement came. "C" rations, cigarettes and candy bars were
on the menu for the evening meal. A cheer went up just as though we
were liberated again. How many times have combat troops become
disgusted with "C" rations? They have not been prisoners, or with me
and 2,800 boys, they'd agree that these two cans of food were designed for
kings and royalty. Many of our boys have never tasted these
delicacies until tonight, especially what we call the "new" rations.
Noodles, and beef, meat and beans, ham and eggs, beans and frankfurters,
spaghetti and meat balls - these are just a few of the delicious canned
meals. And then the improved biscuits with jelly and candy! Oh, joy!
German food was still being used, but in a different way than usual.
Prisoners of all types were leaving the camp to capture ducks, geese,
rabbits and foodstuffs from the surrounding farms and Bad Orb. The
lost art of cooking "tin can" style is very popular again. As far as
German rations were concerned the new American commander of the camp had
this to say: "The stuff they've been feeding you is not fit for a dog to
eat. The remainder of the soup from today will be spilled on the
ground. From now on you will eat three meals a day of American
evacuation in order to clean up and live, we had but one other thought
preying on our minds. Had our folks back home received word that we
were prisoners of war? Chaplain Hurley announced this afternoon that
a buddy of one of the prisoners had seen a picture of his hometown friend,
in the local news. The hope that if this news reached one man's
parents, it reached ours also enlightened us all.
Now all we need is a letter from home!
Oh! that GI chow. I guess
maybe we're not as well as we think. Most of us are sick again, this
time not from lack of food, but from over abundance. Our stomachs
have to stretch a little more to live the American way. Diarrhea has
hit many of us, along with stomach cramps. We should be put on a
liquid diet for a few days, but until we are flown back to another
country, we'll just have to resist our long-suffering appetites.
Most of us sit up all night adding to our discomfort, for our German
"buggy" friends still have their front lines intact. A shower and
new clothes should make a successful counterattack on the Krauts "57
Varieties" of lice.
April 10th is here. It hardly seems possible
that I'm still in Stalag IX B, but it won't be long now. Within 20
minutes, a convoy of trucks will be here, and our stay at the largest
prisoner of war camp in Germany shall come to a conclusion. I regret
not having been here. I only ask God that I or any other American
won't ever experience suffering such as we have experienced in the 105
days of our captivity.
Farewell, Stalag IX B. May the memories of
you instill in us ideals for a nobler, richer life.
Good-bye foul living
conditions, rotting potatoes, rye flour soup, black bread, bedless
barracks, sleepless nights, filthy latrines! May the recollection of
you encourage us to be more thankful for the American way of life.
Adios, Germany! May the end of this war bring about a peace that
shall never be disturbed by you or any other aggressive nation.
no words more fitted to conclude this story than those expressed by Don
Blanding in his poem "Interview."
"What did you see,
What did you see at war?
I saw such glory and horror
As was never seen before.
I saw men's hearts burn naked
In red crucibles of pain;
I saw such godlike courage
As I'll never see again.
What did you thing, soldier,
What did you think at war?
I thought how strange we have not learned
From wars that were waged before,
Except new ways of killing
New multiples of pain,
And all the blood that men have shed
Is blood shed all in vain.
What did you learn, soldier,
What did you learn at war?
I learned that we must learn something
That wasn't learned before.
That victories won on battlefields
Are victories won in vain,
Unless in peace we kill the germs
That breed fresh wars again.
What did you pray, soldier,
What did you pray at war?
I prayed that we might do the things
We have not done before.
That we might mobilize for peace
Nor mobilize in vain,
Lest Christ and man be forced to climb
Start Calvary again.
STALAG IX B THEME SONG
Tune: Battle Hymn of Republic
We're a bunch of Yankee
Living deep in Germany
We are eating soup and black bread
And a beverage they call tea
And we're going to keep on singing
Until Patton sets us free
And we go rambling home.
Come and get us Georgie Patton
Come and get us Georgie Patton
Come and get us Georgie Patton
So we can ramble home.
THE SPUD SOUP SERENADE
Tune: Stormy Weather
Don't know why
There's no cake or apple pie
For our dinner
Haven't had a piece all this winter
It's spud soup all the time
Just don't see
Milk or sugar in my tea
Night or morning
Goes through my kidneys without warning
I'm running all the time.
Since we've come to camp we've
had a lot of troubles
Slipping into chow lines trying to get doubles
Just another ladle full of cooked cat stubbles
Can't get along on one.
And that broat
It's so heavy it won't float
Don't be blue boys
GI chow is on it's way thorough boys
Keeps coming all the time
February 6, 1945
Presented through the
courtesy of Judith Shelton,
daughter of Mr. Myron "Mike" Klinkmen.
Page last revised