I received this email from one of my WWII Veteran friends who shared his story with me when I wrote my Stories of Liberation series…
Hope all is well with you out there in Kalispell, Montana. Has Winter caught up with you folks?
Sixty-three years ago tomorrow January 6, was my twenty-fifth mission in combat. Our cause was Independence, Liberty and Freedom. In the history of the good old United States of America that has always been our cause and it will continue. This to you is not only a reminder but a gift to you and all peace loving people.
This is an excerpt from my book.
MEMOIRS FROM MY POW INCARCERATION
Becoming a Prisoner Of War is not only a physical situation, but it is the greatest mentally degrading situation any human can endure. It was our descent into hell. [Since our plane had been shot down] there was great uncertainty and anxiety as to our survivability. This was enemy held territory, this was the war zone. With this the second day, the uncertainty grows even greater. We knew our co-pilot and engineer gunner had died from this incident, but we did not know the status of our bombardier and navigator. Under the point of a gun life as a POW has to go on.
We of McConnell’s crew, the “Four Horsemen” of the 91st B. G. we named ourselves, had to go on. We were taken by a guard on a ton and one half truck not knowing the destination. Later as we went along, we were going through Prum, Germany. At a Y type road intersection our driver was told by the guard to slow down and stop. A German couple came out into the street. They were about 40 years of age, speaking German to the guard, they wondered who we were. The guard told them we were POW American Fleggers. The couple said good, they put the bomb there let them dismember it and dig it out. Then on a real friendly type expression and speaking good English they wondered if any of us were from New York City? Of course the radio operator spoke up and said he was. Between them there was no relationship or friends known from New York. Sounded like they were of dual citizen relationship, American and German. They could speak better English then the guard and told us [our job that day would be] to dig up the bomb. Through them and the guard we non-com enlisted men pleaded the Geneva Convention. The guard put extra emphasis on the situation by firing his gun up into the air.
Our pleading came to no avail. They brought two shovels and a pick and with the emphasis wave of his gun, the guard meant business. He then went off to a distance of 100 feet in case it exploded. The bomb was a 250 lb. type, unexploded, probable dud. It had gone through a six inch wood plate on the barn structure, through 3 or 4 inches concrete driveway approach to the barn and buried itself 5 feet into the sandy ground. To us it was as dangerous as flying a mission.
We took turns digging in the sandy soil as we got down to where it lay. With finger dexterity we removed sand from around it, we had it setting on a pedestal in the center of the hole. The bomb had a large split down the side with powder leaking out into the hole cavity. Thank God, our waist gunner Rhiney Strecker was an armament experienced military man. He knew how to defuse that bomb, which he did. We all stood around that hole close in, it would kill all of us in case it exploded. I guess it could be called a form of suicide. That was our allegiance to our country and to one another, that is why I always say we were closer then brothers. Rhiney and Nichols (BTG), got down in the hole and handed the bomb out to Merritt (ROG) and I.
We asked the guard what did he want done with it, he said over in the creek about 100 feet away a stream of water about 12 inches deep was flowing past. With that satisfaction of the people and the German guard, we were ordered into the truck. Time was about 4:30 P. M. January 7, 1945, it was getting dark. Tired and hungry was the order of the day. Little did we realize this is the way it would be many times in the future.
This was all war zone so therefore not many German civilians present in homes. They all retreated Eastward with the German Army. As we went down the road in the truck toward an unknown destination. We four setting toward the front of the truck bed on what appeared to be mail sacks, the guard setting between us and the back edge of the truck, gun at ready. As I sat down [I felt] something soft against my back in one sack . I had flattened it a little bit but it made no difference. I was able to maneuver it around without notice to the guard, got my hand in the sack and behold it was a 10 inch fruitcake some German mother or girlfriend was sending to a German soldier fighting for his fatherland. I told my buddies and we side tracked that sucker. It was dark now we could get by without notice. We had not eaten since the evening before and I passed out cake by the handfuls.
We all spoke in quit tones so guard did not know what is going on. We filled our pockets with cake as we went along and soon arrived at our destination. We even had cake for the next day. Our situation convinced us there was a God and I am sure for myself and others prayers were said that day. God heard our prayer.THIS WAS THE EVENING OF INCARCERATION SECOND DAY
Gerolstein and Prum Germany were almost in a straight line East and West. The same roadway, railroad and streams ran along side of these two cities. Our destination was Gerolstein, Germany location of camp compound not too appealing it was an old large barn set off the main road about 100 feet. When we arrived there it was occupied by 50 American Infantrymen captured from the “Battle of the Bulge”. We four were the only airmen. The soldiers had been POW’s since the Bulge. That was on December 16, 1944 this was January 7, 1945.
Upon entering the gate our greetings stood out with an American soldier’s dead body displayed for all to see in the center of the barnyard. We were in good physical condition compared to the soldiers. We did not know if this soldier died or was shot, later we found out he was shot. These Wehrmacht soldiers were from the war front and had seen a lot of carnage and they were heartless, but who would know, but us.
The old barn was soon noted as “The Hell Hole Barn”. For sleeping accommodations we were assigned a three by three by four foot cubicle. You had to climb past other soldiers on the way up. These cubicles were stacked four high about twelve feet to the top one. To sleep there was no blanket from the cold, just bare boards. Thank God we still had on our electric heated suit inserts. There was so much suffering, men became like animals, no caring or consideration for others. There was dysentery, lice and heated arguments among the men. Survival of the fittest it was called.
After a couple days the cake had run out and we became hungry again. The German guards told us if we volunteered to dig out bomb victims bodies from the bombing we did on Christmas Eve we would get food. To eat we volunteered. The next evening we four airmen and four Infantrymen were taken to Gerolstein under guard and we dug out bodies. Due to the cold about 20 degrees above zero the bodies were frozen stiff, no odor. There were town officials to receive the bodies.
[For our dinner] there were lots of goodies, cake and cookies, some schnops. We ate well and filled our pockets with goodies for our compatriots back at the Old Barn. We did this for about four nights 8, 9,10,11th . Little did we know when we would eat again.
When we got back in early morning a German guard and an American soldier got into an argument, not understanding one another because of language differences the guards shot the soldier. They put his body out in the middle of the Barnyard for display they meant business. The guard who shot the soldier was asked name [so that] later [we could] turn him in, he yelled his name was Eisenhower. Of course it was not the German soldier’s real name.
THE BARN HELL HOLE
The German’s were having problems with the railroad running through town where Allied bombing had occurred and asked for volunteers to repair the track. We were promised food if we work. Two of we four, horsemen plus six soldiers went out working only at night. It was only about a quarter of a mile to work area. As we understood the situation, there were broken spikes and plates. We could get by with a lot in the dark. A lot of the broken plates we hide under the track, half spikes placed in ready made holes had no holding power. It was our way of sabotage. You get a group of Yanks together and this is what you get. We were still fighting the war. Our work caused more problems for the Germans.
We got by three nights, the fourth night as we approached the work area over to the side stood a SS Trooper with rifle. Before we could do any labor he came over and showed us the sabotage we had done. Without prompt he shot a few times in the air then swinging his gun butt he beat me up and one of the soldiers knocking us out cold. He told the guards to rouse [us] and take us back to the Barn. How we were returned to the barn I will never know. We came too our senses in early morning the next day in severe pain and head ache and were told we were lucky to be alive. He could very well shot us dead, why yet in my mind remains a mystery.
THE END OF LIFE AT BARN HELL-HOLE
We were there only four more days and on January 19, 1945 they started force marching us east along the same road from which we came. In 15 to 20 degree temperatures, 10 inches of snow, no food, scooping up snow and imagining it was a kind of food we like. As we went along a very disheartening trek, sleeping in fence rows and forest like hogs.
We were going to another unknown destination for 80 miles we came to Stalag XII-A Limburg, Germany. A trek of four days arriving on January 23, 1945 Limburg was an Infantry Stalag mostly American captured POW’s. We did get some food that evening and next morning. Our Radio Operator had walked in his felt liner shoes for most of the distance. They did hold up in great style. It so happens a soldier had died at Limburg overnight, and guess what, he had the same size feet our Radio Operator wore. Old George was really delighted with more rigid footwear to walk.
It began to look like we would not have a permanent home. Because of anxiety, lack of food, proper rest our energy physical level was diminishing fast.
THIS WAS THE 16TH DAY OF INCARCERATION
For some reason the Luftwaffe came into Limburg the next day January 24, 1945 and took us out of Stalag XII-A. Then we started another force march approximately 90 miles in the evening down to Oberursel for interrogation, then to Wetzlar, Germany Dulag Luft. Why we started walking to Dulag Luft on the evening of January 24, 1945 we would never know. It was another bad march. We arrived in the morning of January 28, 1945. We were imprisoned in small cubicles four feet wide by six feet long, it was not built for comfort. The bed was narrow, thirty inches wide by six feet long hinged on one side to tilt against the wall. The heated building was 66-68 degrees, a lot better than sleeping outside on the ground. They gave us one blanket to sleep on the board slats and use for cover. We four were put in separate cubicles, were not allowed to see one another, we did not see another person unless they walked past for interrogation.
Next morning we were given a slice of moldy bread, at noon a bowl of watery soup in the evening a slice of moldy bread, at least we had food. This is the place we were told, where the German seek information on our mission. On January 29, 1945 was my day. Due to my name being Hoffman (Hoofmun) my treatment was more severe. I could understand some German (not letting them know) and the guards delighted in getting me in for interrogation purposes. They prodded me with bayonets enough to draw blood and try to scare me into talking more readily, more freely. The first thing was to get me to sign the Red Cross Form, I refused.
With my name Hoffman I was accused of being a traitor to my country, Germany, a conspirator and threaten to be shot like a spy. It was part of a scheme to drive you to a low mental attitude, to break you and gain any information used to their good. Little did I know how near I was to a breaking point after three psychological visits to the interrogator. Yielding no information to interrogator, I would repeat my name, rank and serial number, he would get extremely mad. He was a good actor of course he held the best hand of the deck of cards. When he brought me in to his office he said I want you to verify what I will show you. He brought out this book about three inches thick. He showed me my mothers maiden name, the name of everyone of my seven brothers, six sisters. He ask why were you not flying your own plane Margie this day? Maps of where our 91st BG bomb storage dump was. It always seem to me that there was a spy from our home town in America had radioed all information about me and family. Back in my hometown there were those who belong to the German Bund before the war. They would’ve known the answer to these questions. On about February 4, 1945 with interrogation finished, we four were taken forced march to a holding camp at Dulag Luft Holding Camp at Wetzlar near Frankfurt.
THIS WAS THE THIRTY FIFTH DAY OF INCARCERATION.
While there we had one fairly good meal a day. But it was not to last. We spent only ten days to two weeks there. The Americans had a staff helping the Germans to control we 100 POW’s. The American Colonel Stark was a puppet of the Germans plus his staff of enlisted men, who appeared to be well fed. Everyone got rotated on a regular schedule to our share of KP duty. There was eight of us [that] became suspicious of the way the Dictator Colonel Stark made things happen. There were some of our POW [who] witnessed what was going on but did nothing about it. Question, who was getting the leftovers? To uncover the situation, six of the eight of us tried for second helpings one day and find out who was getting all the Red Cross Parcels? We got caught.
For punishment we were paraded before the rest of the camp POW’s, made to pulverize coal for the stoker furnace feeder and other menial jobs. We endured the punishment and we soon convinced the rest of the POW’s what the permanent party was doing. They were living like kings plus privileges from the Germans to live out the war. We had exposed the conspiracy. The attitude of the prisoners here was not good after finding out what was going on.
One foggy morning a young fellow with a bad mental attitude we had counseled with decided he had enough and went over the fence. The Germans did not hesitate, they shot him dead. Others around him said he had acted strange. The actions of this young man came across all of our minds. How much could we take of this inhumanity to mankind.
It was here we heard the big guns off in far distance, the sound was sustenance enough. We knew someone was coming and would free us if we just hung on.
ON OUR FORTY FIFTH DAY OF INCARCERATION
About February 18th, 1945 the Colonel to protect his own ass was getting rid of us trouble-makers, from there with 50 other Airmen, we were sent forced march with four guards down to Frankfurt, where we nearly got killed from English bombing raid in railroad marshaling yard while setting in a railroad car waiting for transport South.
AND THE STORY GOES ON…
Thank you Marion for letting me share some of your story!