World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

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2nd Lt. Don Hyerdall- Bombardier and POW in  WWII
 2nd Lt. Donald J. Hyerdall
Bombardier96th Bomb Group, 337th Bomb Squadron

Shot down Sept. 19, 1944 over Frankfurt, Germany, on 23rd mission.

Stalag Luft I Prisoner of War - North 1 Compound

Don died on July 4, 2004 from complications of ALS.  He and his wife Violet hosted 32 years of 4th of July parties, but his 2004 party was not to be.  His son Jim hosted the party that year, Don was in attendance visiting with his many, many friends and family, and passed that evening knowing he made it through his favorite holiday.

Click here to email his daughter

96th Bomb Group, 337th Squadron,  Snetterton Heath  -  Crew C-59
1/Lt Ray W. Bauman Pilot  
2/Lt Harold Culver Co Pilot
2/Lt John C Sullivan Navigator
2/Lt Donald J. Hyerdall Bombardier
S/Sgt  Milan T. Bolech Radio
Sgt. Edward J. Harness Engineer ****** (Not On The Crew When Shot Down)
S/Sgt Joseph R. Wahner Waist Gunner
Sgt. Charles R. Mckinney Waist Gunner
Sgt. Leslie C. Freeman Ball Turret
Sgt. Edwin E. Beal Tail Gunner


Military Service:

Enlisted - 1942    Joined Army Air Corps - 24 AUG 1942

Cadet Training - San Antonio, TX  (Ground School - SAACC) - Feb., '43

Pilot Training, Primary (Phase I) - Brady TX, July, '43

Pilot Training, Secondary (Phase II) - Waco, TX

Pilot Training, Advanced (Phase III) - E. P.  (Eliminated Pilot)

Gunnery Training School - Laredo, TX, August, '43

Bombardier Training - Midland, TX, August, '43

Commissioned - January, 1944 - then Home Leave

Crew Make-up - Salt Lake City, UT, February, '44

Overseas Training Unit (OTU) - Dyersburg, TN (2 months of intensive training: formation flying, bombing (with runs to TX), navigation, ditching, bailing out, etc...)

Plane Assignment - Kearney, NE -  Flew 5,000th B-17 to Ireland:  Route - Kearney, NE -- Grenier Field, NH -- Gander, Newfoundland --Nutts Corner, Ireland ... crew shipped out to Stone, England   ("his" 5,000 B-17 arrived here a week later)  This was the 5,000th B-17G manufactured by Boeing, and was signed by every person who worked on it as it passed through the Boeing plant.  It survived the war, and was wanted by the City of Seattle for the Boeing Museum, when a delay and mix-up in paperwork caused it to end up in the "boneyard" in Arizona where it was cut up for scrap.

Assigned to 8th Air Force, 3rd Air Division ("the Square C"), 45th Combat Wing, 96th Bomb Group, 337th Bomb Squadron - Snetterton Heath, Eccles Road, East Anglia, England.

Shot down over Frankfurt, Germany, on 23rd mission - 19 SEP 1944

Don's Story:

"The War was getting really serious, so rather than being drafted I chose to enlist so I could choose my branch of service.  I was 19.  I think my folks were with me as I chose my future - I would have been drafted soon anyway ... why not take the initiative?

I was irate that my cousin enlisted 4 or 5 months after I did and was called about 3 weeks later to CTD (College Training Detachment).  I went down to the recruitment center and raised h*ll, telling them about his being called before me.  I was called up within 3 weeks and reported to SAACC (Cadet Training) in San Antonio.

I arrived at Snetterton at the end of May, and my first mission was 7 JUNE. I missed D Day by one day.  On the 7th, we were bombing behind the German lines, trying to keep them from coming forward - bombing bridges, crossroads, etc... to slow the German advance.

[Don's first mission was Mission #145 for the 96th Bomb Group - 7 JUNE 1944 -Nantes, France.  24 planes left at 1615 to hit the rail junction.  Because of a malfunction in the lead plane's invalometer, two runs were made.  The bombing was poor, and two planes sustained minor damage.  As the last plane returned safely to its hardstand, the crash alert sounded.  Ju-88 intruders were in the area, but no attack was made on Snetterton.  It was around this time that the crews were now required to fly 30 missions to complete their tour of duty, instead of 25.  - - book, "Snetterton Falcons"]

[During June, Don completed many missions over France, supporting the invasion troops.  He flew at least one of the missions to Munich on 11, 12, & 13 JULY.   He flew the mission to Stuttgart on 16 JULY, hitting the Daimler-Benz factory (all planes returned).  He flew the mission over Regensburg on 21 JULY, where the group encountered flak, and lost two planes.  Also on this mission was Bombardier Jerry Johnson (Don's Best Man in July, 1945), who was shot down by enemy fighters and spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft 3.   On this mission, crews were reduced from 10 to 9, due to a decrease in opposition – exchanging firepower for speed.  One waist gunner was cut.  This equaled less ammunition, less armor plate, less weight, more speed.  It caused a weakening of morale.   It is possible Don participated in the 31 JULY mission to Munich, with no plane losses.    It was during this month that the famous plane, The 5 GRAND, arrived at Snetterton.  (This was the plane Don's crew flew to Ireland from Nebraska.)

On 24 August 44 (96 BG Mission #198), we were bombing an oil refinery (probably the 18th mission for Don) at Brux, Czechoslovakia, and on the way there, one of our engines went out, bad (B-17G #42-97166, "Old Gatemouth").  We started to fall behind in the group, which we were very worried about, so they told me, "Don, drop the bombs!"  So, I had no target, but I waited until we got somewhere where I could see some industry, and I let them go.  I don't know if I hit them or not.  By lightening the plane, with three engines we kept up with the group, but we did not fly in formation - we stayed with the group, though, because if we had not flown in formation, the ME 109s and FW-19s would have clobbered us.  The closer we are to our group, we have that fighting power.  They started approaching the IP (Initial Point), to bomb the oil refinery at Brux and we cut inside 'em, because we knew after they dropped the bombs they would turn to the right, so we cut in on the right-hand side, so as soon as they went over the target - which had a lot of flak, by the way - they dropped their bombs, and then as they started flying this way, we cut in and got in formation with them again.  Well, we started back, and we lost another engine about an hour later, and now we were in real trouble.  We were losing altitude, but we were losing altitude purposely, because the faster we flew, the less chance we had, hopefully, of a fighter getting at us.  We got over Belgium, and we lost another engine.  In the meantime, we had thrown our machine guns and all our ammunition and everything OUT, because we wanted to make England. Well, Tony Bolech, my old buddy I was in Cadets with... I got him in our crew.  He was our radio operator - a d*mn good one.  Ray Bauman (Pilot, died 26 DEC 99) told him, "Tony, here's our rate of descent, and we're located here." Because we gave him our information about where we were, and predicated on our rate of descent, we weren't going to make England.  We were going to ditch.  So we told Tony, "Get on the radio and tell our people we're going to ditch within a half-mile of where we're going to hit," and get the air-sea rescue out for us.  We did, and we ditched. We came in at the appropriate speed-75 mph- with half flaps, so when we came in we would land in between the waves.  Just before you come in, you pancake, and we did, landing half a mile from where we said we would, and the British PT boats are coming from Great Yarmouth, and the Germans were coming from another direction.  Well, we were lucky - the 355th Fighter Group, the P-51s - came over from the English side and saw us in the water, so they were directing the English PT boats to come and get us, and as soon as they came over us they wiggled their wings, then they went over to the Germans and shot the hell out of the Germans. They turned around, came over us and wiggled their wings and then came back to the British PT boats and guided them to us. They did that twice - came over us, shot the hell out of the Germans, and turned back.  Then the boats got us. The plane stayed up about 21 minutes, it was practically out of gas, and we sat there until it went down.  They were going to put some gunfire into it and sink it.  So we turned around, and they gave us a shot of brandy, and we spent the night at Great Yarmouth, in the officer's quarters there.  The next day, they called our base, and they picked us up in a 6-By.  We got a three-day pass.  Ray and I took one day of our pass and went over to the 355th Fighter Group and tried to find the pilot who had done this for us, but he was on another mission so we didn't see him.  We talked to his CO and told him what happened, that we appreciated his effort.

The Brits carpet bombed at night, and we (the Americans) chose to fly precision bombing by day.  August 17, 1943, was the first 8th Air Force strike "You can't do it!" they said.  We disagreed.  In the first year. we lost two out of every three airmen.   We had the Norden Bombsight by then, though.  By the summer of '43, the 8th flew an attack every few days - 200 - 300 planes per mission.

[ The Norden Bombsight ranks as one of the most important developments of WWII.  Developed by Carl Norden, a civilian consultant, this bombsight incorporated a gyro-stabilizing auto-pilot to keep the plane straight and level during bombing runs.  This bombsight was used first in B-17s.  Moving control of the aircraft from pilot to bombardier, US aircraft could now more accurately bomb the targets.  The technology of the Norden Bombsight was so highly classified that if crewmembers had to ditch the aircraft, they were required to jettison the bombsight to keep it out of enemy hands. Eventually this new device was installed in B-29s, allowing the Super Fortress to fly higher and faster and more accurately deliver its bombs. This increased safety for its crews.  - AFRTS ]

(Don flew the 5 SEPT mission to  Stuttgart, bombing the Daimler-Benz aero engine and truck works, in which all planes returned.  He again flew on 9 SEPT to Dόsseldorf, where 38 Forts hit a metal works.  After many hits, damage, and bomb release malfunctions, all planes returned.)

A week later, we went on the 11 SEP 44 mission (#209, probably Don's 21st) from England to bomb Chemnitz, Germany (SE of Berlin), then flew to Mirgorod, Russia (60 miles S of Kiev, for three days). We then we bombed an industrial area in Miskolc, Hungary and landed in Fossia, Italy.  We dropped supplies to the French Marquis (the French underground) in the French Alps and then returned to England. That was a 5-day deal.

[ The B-17 carried a crew of 10 ( 5 to fly, and 5 to protect).  The ball turret gunner took the brunt of the hits.  They would take off, assemble (scary on a cloudy day, with hundreds of planes assembling), then form a Combat Box, which concentrates the guns for doing the most damage.  They flew over the English Channel and tested the guns.  They stayed in position until returning to the Channel.  Fliers had to shave closely for the oxygen mask to fit tightly, but it still caused sweat irritation.  The temperature was - 40, - 50 degrees F, and they wore electrically-heated, fleece-lined suits.   Sometimes icicles would form on the eyebrows and frostbite marks would show on faces around the mouths (they looked like raccoons when on the streets later).  The gunners were constantly moving to search for attackers ("the Messerschmitt Twist").  All they could do about flak was sit and bear it.  It accounted for more losses than the fighters. 210,000 airmen flew, 26,000 died. 12,371 B-17s were built, 3,500 (almost one-third) were lost.  ]

(Don's 22nd mission, #210, was to Miskolic Diosgyor, Hungary, on 13 SEPT.  37 B-17 Forts bombed the iron and steel works northeast of Budapest and proceeded to 15th AF bases in Italy.  Dust storms delayed their return until the 16th, when the crews brought back fresh cantaloupes, almonds, and melons.  It was on this return when another discovery was made: beer could be kept cool in the chin turret - sometimes frozen, but always good. While the crew was gone, penicillin was introduced in the Snetterton infirmary.)

On 19 SEPT 44, we flew a mission (#212) to Wiesbaden (B-17G, #42-29759, "Jiggs Up"). Over Frankfurt we were shot down (Don's 23rd mission).  We always had escorts - we started with the P-47s, and then the P-51s took over.

[What's the significance of "25 missions" ?   In the first three months of American bombing, 80% of the original crews were lost.  By August of '43, plane losses were amounting to 10% per mission.   Moral was dangerously low.  So, some generals decided to hold out a carrot – 25 missions and you go home.  But only 35 out of 100 aircrews could expect to complete their tour of 25 missions in Europe.  The introduction of the P-51 Mustang fighter in December of '43  - escorting all the way to target and back – changed everything.  "Jimmy Doolittle"]

[By the time Don began flying, the introduction of the P-51 long-range fighter had improved these percentages significantly.  "We never tried to get too close to other guys in the Bomb Group," says Don, "except our own crew.  You send planes out, and 3 or 4 don't come back."]

We were in the IP (Initial Point - when you then fly straight - flak or anything, you don't move - you follow that thing until the bombs are released).  We were flying deputy lead and were hit by flak and our #2 engine was on fire. As they say, according to the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), you have 30 seconds to get out of the plane, otherwise it goes through the firewall.  Well, we were only 10 seconds from the bomb release, so we did that, and we released WITH the head plane.  As soon as we did, we dropped the wheels and pulled out of formation, because if we WERE going to blow up, we didn't want to take a whole bunch of planes with us.  We went left, toward Weisbaden (Our target that day was the Frankfurt Marshalling Yards - they hit the devil out of them.  They clobbered them.) and started dropping back because we had no power. Ray told us, "Fellas, bail out - OUT!"  So we bailed out, and in 15 or 20 seconds it exploded - a big ball of fire. I could see it as I was on my way down. ..our plane!  There were 9 of us, and we all got out.  We were a very lucky crew.  One thing we did - Ray was a hard-nose, and he was right - every week we would practice bailout procedures and ditching procedures.  To make a long story short, when we had to ditch, everyone knew what to do  It was boring.  "This is nuts!"  But when you think about it, when we ditched, everybody did their job, and nobody was hurt.  When we bailed out, everybody knew what we were doing.  I landed between Frankfurt and Weisbaden.  When I went out at 27,000 feet, I had a good chance of getting anoxia so I held on to the ripcord, and that is exactly what happened ... I must have passed out.  The first thing that happens is your hand goes like this with the ripcord, and the 'chute's open.  Well, I must have pulled it around 16,000.  It was quiet! Oh, was it beautiful! Beautiful countryside ... and then I started looking down, and I could see the farmers, and pitchforks, and all that cr*p, you know? So I took my 45 and took the clip out and threw it this way, and at the proper time, I threw the 45 that way.  Then, I saw a blue car coming to the same area – it was a Luftwaffe car. When I landed, the farmers beat the hell out of me, and luckily, not a minute later, that car drove up with a Lieutenant and a Sergeant. He gets out with a Luger and says, "Nichts! Nichts! Verboten!"  They all backed off.  I thanked the Lieutenant - I didn't know any German - I said, "Danke!", whatever that meant, you know, and I said, "Amerikaner! B-17!" and all that.  You don't tell them much - name, rank, and serial number, that's all.  They took me to the Wiesbaden City Hall, and then took me to the Police Station jail and put me there temporarily.  About a half hour later in came a Luftwaffe Major, a doctor.  He sewed me up and I thanked him. He could speak a little English.  I'll never forget him name: Major Lehmann (after you're liberated they ask if any Germans help you).  He did his job.  That's important.  We would have done the same thing. We went into Dulag Luft at Oberursel, into solitary confinement, and my second day there they took me in to interrogate me. There was a Lt. Colonel, a German, who could speak perfect English.  He asked questions - of course I didn't tell him anything.  He put me back in solitary for another week.  Quietly.  He said, "OK, do you want to tell me some information?" I said "No. My name is Don Hyerdall, 2nd Lt., Air Force number, and all that."   He said, "I want to tell you something about yourself.  He walked over and grabbed a thick file folder. He opened it up, and told me where I lived in Chicago, the date I was commissioned, that I flew 22 (it was actually 23) missions, the names of my crew members, my CO - Colonel Warren, the squadron I was in, what group I was in, this and that - I couldn't believe what he was telling me!     I thought, "Someone has to be talking!"  to confirm what he was saying.  I didn't say anything.  I was dumbfounded at what they had.  These were my orders from the day I was commissioned! Copies! Originals!  Can you imagine that? I couldn't believe this! It was something else. Then we waited after that.  About two days later, they gathered up a bunch of POWs and we went to the train station, the one we had bombed!  It was back in working order -this was about a week later, with trains coming in and all that.  We were all standing around on the platform, waiting to grab this train that will take us to Barth, Germany.  Civilians are trying to push us in front of the train coming in.  Luckily, we were stronger and more of us would push them back.

About four days later, 180-200 miles, we arrive there.  At night, the RAF was always bombing Berlin, you know, and we were in Berlin overnight - I was scared; I thought we were going to get it. They got us out of there the next morning, and we were on the way to Barth - 130 miles north of Berlin ... beautiful Barth on the Baltic ... 60 miles from Sweden. We were about three-quarters of a mile out of town, in Stalag Luft I. We were there almost 8 months, and liberated May 1, 1945 ... by the Russians.  It was scary - they were Mongolians.  Little guys, about 5'3", with IQs of about minus 1.  All they would do was shoot those burp guns.  They would r*pe the women in town; we could hear them screaming at night.  We wouldn't go out at night at all; we'd go out during the daytime, and always with a group of guys, not alone.  Two days before the Russians arrived, our German captors took off.

There were 9,000 of us in the camp: 1500 British - some of them caught at Dunkirk - and the rest Americans.  We had four compounds: South (where the Brits were),  North I, North II, and North III. I was in North I, with Colonel Zemke and  Lt. Col. Gabreski (who later moved to North III as the Commanding Officer of that compound).   It was all Air Force, with some enlisted men.  All Jews were held in Block 11.  In 1941, two Brits were successful in there escape attempts and made it back to England.  I worked on a tunnel for a while, but it was near the end of the war, and I would have been shot if caught, so it wasn't worth it. When the Russians started moving toward Berlin, the Germans took those enlisted men in the POW Camps in the East and marched them – we got some of them on 19 February '45 from Stalag Luft IV and VI.  We didn't have much food then, and all of a sudden we inherited about 600 enlisted, and they're Americans.  We'd feed 'em, so we had to cut our rations back by half.  We started losing weight - we were down to one bowl of potato soup a day.  We knew it was going to end pretty soon.

Some of those guys were in bad shape.  They had marched about 600 kilometers on up to our place.  After the war, I attended 8th Air Force meetings the first Wednesday of every month, and a couple of guys there were from that camp. They came in and I didn't know them, but I know them now - boy, they can tell some stories.  The camps were separated by service and rank - enlisted and officers.

I had a chance to write three letters and four postcards a month.  I never received a letter.  I still have the ones my mother and dad got. Occasionally, I would receive Red Cross packages.    [It has been told that the Germans punched holes in the canned rations from the Red Cross so the prisoners couldn't store them for escapes.]     When we were liberated, we had to stay in the camp for two days while they cleared the area around the camp for bombs and such.  Once we were able to leave, we walked to the flak school about a half-mile away, and found they had 10,000 RC parcels.  They had food in them - one parcel was good for a week!  They had them, but they didn't give them to us.  So, of course, we took them all, and started eating good. The Russians took a lot of cattle, and someone knew how to butcher them, so we had steaks two times a day, and we started gaining some of our weight back in the 13 days since liberation, and felt better.

In Barth, a Ju-88 field was about three-quarters of a mile away from the camp.  We walked over, and saw a door open underneath the tower and we opened it up and the stench was terrible!   All of a sudden a little guy came out, speaking minor English, and said, "Don't come in here!" So we asked him what it was, and he told us about 200 people were down there, but only about 50 were alive - down in the well where the stench was.  So we went back and talked to Col. Zemke and he sent a crew over there.  I told him, "Take the gas masks!"  So they went over to the flak school and they got some German masks and went down there and started clearing it out.  It was terrible.  There were prisoners - Belgiums, for example - it was like Dachau.  Two days later we found another place - 300 - 400 people, and we couldn't get in there.  It was a political deal - French, Russians, Belgiums.  DPs (displaced persons).  That stuck.  A little guy came out – a doctor, about 80 pounds - who spoke broken English, and said, "Don't come in here.  We've got bad things happening - people are dead..."  At that, we told Col. Zemke about it, and he sent people over to help them out, too.  But we didn't have much to give them, for God's sake.

Ray Bauman and I bought a car from a German.  We gave him two packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes and took it back to his garage - the Russians hadn't gotten to it, yet - and the first thing we did was check the gas.  It was about three-quarters full.  We took it out, but only during the day.  At night, the Russians would shoot anything that moved with those burp guns.  We drove into camp and they were flabbergasted – we drove in with a car!  We were careful to check our mileage.  We got done traveling like that, and we had about a quarter of a tank of gas left. We left it when we were done with it.

Hubert Zemke was a hard-nosed, good man - bless his heart, I wrote a nice article for the Air Force Times about him - but before we got in the war, he was in the Air Force, and he could speak German and Russian.  So they sent him over to Russia to teach the Russians how to fly P-40s and P-39s.  He knew a little bit about the Russian way of thinking. When we were liberated, the Russians wanted to send us by train down to Odessa, by the Black Sea, and maybe get us back to the U.S. - I say maybe; we didn't know. Zemke raised hell!  We had contact with BBC when we were in there.  We knew more about what was going on than the Germans did - every night we used to get BBC at 10 o'clock (we had a radio hidden). As soon as the broadcast was over with, they dismantled the radio into three parts - one guy walked this way, one this way, and one this way - and they hid them.  That night they typed up a news report, and the next morning every barracks got one of these things.  We all got together and one guy would read it, and as soon as he was done reading it, he burned it.  So when Zemke found out they wanted to ship by train down to Odessa, he said, "Yea, sure.  They'll never take us to Odessa, they'll bring us back to Russia!"  So he raised hell.  He got hold of the British and Americans in England, and on the 13th, 14th and 15th of May, the 91st Bomb Group, Triangle A, came in with plywood in the bomb bays, and took about 30 of us in each plane (Germany had surrendered on the 9th).  It took three days.  They took the British out first - they had been there the longest, 5 years – and they took us out of there in three days.  I got out on the second day. They took us to Reims, France, then by Six-by to Camp Lucky Strike at Le Havre, then I eventually got home. Zemke gave us a speech when we were liberated - "I want you guys staying here."  There were always some guys who wanted to get out and have a good time and all that, some taking for Belgium and such.  He was really honked off, but what are you going to do once they leave?  They got to the British First Army, and then who knows where ... they just wanted to take off.  I'd say maybe 150, 200 people took off out of 9,000.

I got in a lot of trouble when we got to St. Vallory (Camp Lucky Strike).  I was eating chicken three times a day, so I asked the commander, "Sir, is there any chance of me getting back to England?  How long will we be here?"  When he answered, "About three weeks," I asked again, "What's the possibility of me going to England?" He said, "You can leave this afternoon if you want to!"  Every once in a while they had a plane going over to England. So the first Sergeant cut an order for me, and I went down to London with a P-38 pilot, Don Diesenroth.  We arrived, went down to London, and visited the officer's club, and here he is, Major Fischer, who was a POW with us.  We sat at the table with a deck of cards, all of us guys sitting there drinking, thinking, "God d*mn, we're back in humanity!"  He says, "I got 16 trips to the States tomorrow - who wants to go?"  Of course, we're all interested!  So, we drew cards - 16 highest got to go.  Well, Don Diesenroth drew the Jack of Hearts, I'll never forget it, and I got a 3 of Spades!  We had to be in Liverpool in the morning, when 6 destroyer escorts were leaving at six in the morning.  I said, "Don, I'll bet a bunch of these guys are going to back out - I'm going with you!  Let's have a drink, and leave a note downstairs that we want to be awakened at about one o'clock, because the train leaves at two for Liverpool.  We'll get over to the station (which wasn't far), and we'll hop on the train and go!"  At one o'clock, they woke us up, we got dressed, went down to the station, got the train, and arrived in Liverpool about 5:15.  We started walking about a mile and a half to the quay.  We saw these beautiful, U.S. Coast Guard destroyer escorts.  It was their first time over to England.  We looked up and saw a guy, "Can you take us to the States?" "Sure!  Come on up!" (USS Hurst, DE 250)  Now, I have no orders, and neither did Don, so Don and I and a couple of other guys, and Lt. Col. Griswold (of the OSS [now CIA]- in charge of putting airfields in France after we liberated them - P-51s, B-26s and all that) boarded the boat, and we had a ball.  We ate the best food! (We were escorting the USS George Washington on the way back.)   To make a long story short, after I got back, I received a bill from the USS Hurst (DE 250) for $9 for 6 days of food. 

So, we're starting to approach Pier 6 in the Brooklyn Naval Yards, and the colonel had a little bit of power  with the commander.  "Say, is there any chance of you dropping me off here in Prospect Park, in Brooklyn?  I have to make a phone call to Washington, DC."  The commander thought it no problem to drop a little dinghy.  I went with him.  They dropped us off in Prospect Park - we could have been spies, for God's sakes - and we head to downtown New York.  He gets one room, I get another, and get on the phone to Elinore (Marv's mother).  "I just made it!  I'll be home in a few days!" Yack, yack, yack  (mom wasn't home).  We were supposed to return to the Naval Yards by six o'clock. Not the colonel, just us guys.  So I get back, and - Jeeesus Chrrist! There must have been 150 MPs there! As soon as we gave our names, they grabbed us, handcuffed us, and took us to Ft. Dix.  We were in detention barracks for three days.  They were honked.  No orders.  About 12 of us actually had the guts to do it [leave Liverpool].  We were going to chow under guard, and looking out 2-bar windows.  Finally, about the third day, they got us in there, and some waffle-butt jerk  Captain says, OK, you guys, you broke a lot of laws here.  We're going to send you back to St. Vallory, France!"  Major Fischer says, "Just a minute! We just saved the government $150 a head on our own way back!"  Another officer and I were on the same orders to go to Ft. Sheridan, and that's where we ended up.  We were a little worried, there, thinking we'd be court-martialed or something. We didn't know what was going to happen to us.   Awww, we were POWs; what the h*ll did we do wrong, you know?

I arrived home June 4th or 5th.  Then they gave us 30 days' leave, and I was supposed to report to Miami Beach, but a week before that, they gave me another 30 days' leave and said to report to Nashville, TN, and a week before that another 30 days, and report to San Antonio.  About the middle of September we drove down to TX [married on July 28, 1945] and lived with Marv and Norm about a month, month and a half. Jerry Johnson was here with Marv and Norma at the same time.  The three of us had a ball; had more d*mn fun. Marv was flying out of Randolph Field on B-29s.  I was discharged December 24, '45  [around the same time as Bob].  I can't remember what the h*ll I did from September to January - I forget. I do know I spent 90 days enjoying myself around Chicago, where I lived. [Bob went to the World Series].  If I hadn't been married, I believe I would have made the military my life."


I believe Doolittle's raid over Japan was a "lift" to the country's moral which was badly needed at the time [the country was experiencing heavy losses in the Pacific in early 1942] .  He was a fantastic man and it was an honor to later serve under him in the 8th Air Force in England.   My feelings toward the A Bomb were mixed.  First of all, we didn't start this fiasco.  If the Japs had the A Bomb - believe me - they would have used it.  Unfortunately, the innocent - women and children - take the brunt of all's stupid.   I'm with President Truman – he had a very difficult decision to make.  Better to eliminate the Japs than thousands of our men landing and, hopefully, occupying Japan. Lots of thinking done on the alternatives.   I really don't know if I would have been sent to the Far East to fight the Japs.  The War was going our way at this time and I don't think (being a POW) we would have been needed.  If the War was not going our way - yes, I think I would have eventually been sent over.

The story continues ...

"I drove to NM.  I was thinking about taking a job down in Albuquerque with an outfit I knew from Celotex.  I spent a day there and talked to them, and they interviewed me and wanted to give me a territory selling acoustical materials.  From there we went up to Denver - a roundabout way of coming home.  I should have begun school in January, like Bob. That's where I made a mistake.

After returning from the War I joined the Active Reserves at O'Hare Field with the 437th Troop Carrier Wing, 84th Squadron, flying C-46 Commandos.  Being a "week-end warrior" each month and 15 day active duty each year, we stayed current in our flying duties.  These guys gained lots of experience in WW II - flying the Hump, North Africa, etc...  It was in the Reserves where I met the guys I went to Korea with.

I was recalled to Active Duty 10 JULY 1950, and trained at Shaw AFB, Sumter, SC.  Then I spent 2 weeks at Ellington Field, Houston, TX, for Navigation updating.  I arrived at Japan in late October after leading a flight of 6 C-46 planes from McLeland Field, Sacramento, CA – Hickam Field, HI --  Johnson Atoll -- Kwajalein -- Guam  --  Brady Field, near Fukuoka.  I worked with the 84th Squadron of the 437th Troop Carrier Wing.  I then flew one mission dropping the 187th Regimental Airborne over Munsan-ni, North Korea.  Then, I flew 16 spy missions over NK out of K-37s, under detached service of the 8th Army – General Ridgeway. [Don also flew F-80s, and flew with John Doolittle - Jimmy Doolittle's son.] In April of 1951, I was spending 5 days of R & R in Tokyo (even spent time helping the Air Force bicycle racing team, by pumping tires!) when I saw General McArthur relieved of command [fired on 11 APR, departed on 16 APR 1951], before 300,000 Japanese bowing in respect. [He was staying next door to MacArthur's HQ in the Imperial Hotel (MacArthur's residence was in the US Embassy).  He watched this from the Daichi Building.  He enjoyed R&R in Kyoto, also, and the mountains of Kyushu, an island which held 12 WWII POW camps.  He visited Hiroshima in 1950.  Besides Brady Field in the Kyushu Industrial Area, he also mentions Itiguki.] I returned to the US in November, 1951, and was stationed at Portland, Oregon's International Airport Military Section until 1952 [Here he again flew with John Doolittle, who stayed in the AF and retired as a full Colonel. "Nice guy," says Don].  I was discharged and went into the Reserves.  I put in 11 and 1/2 years active and reserve active, 7 years inactive, for a total of 18 and 1/2 years.

Don earned the Air Medal with 3 Clusters, the Purple Heart with 2 Clusters, the French D Day medal, and the Russian WW II medal.  He was up for the Distinguished Flying Cross, but being shot down ended his chances of completing his missions to earn it.

Snetterton's first B-17s arrived on 11 JUNE 1943 - two days after the Memphis Belle returned to the States as the first plane to achieve 25 missions. In the first four months of 1944, the 96th had the highest loss rate of any Group in the 8th Air Force. From April 1944 to D Day, the Group lost 100 aircraft and almost 1,000 crew members.  Some Groups did not lose this number of aircraft and crews throughout the whole of their service in Europe. 96th BG total lost aircraft:  187 The 96th Bomb Group at Snetterton had the second highest total of casualties in the whole of the 8th Air Force. B-17 airmen suffered more casualties than all of the Marines. Of 210,000 airmen, 26,000 never returned.  Almost one-third of all the B-17s built were lost.   Half of all Medals of Honor in WW II were awarded to B-17 airmen.

August, 2001:  Congressman Michael Honda states - The fatality rate for American POWs captured by the Japanese in WWII was 32%.  Only 1% of American POWs held by Germany died.    As of January 1, 2000, only 16% of American POWs the Japanese held were still alive - while 48% of POWs in Germany were still living.

Don remains active with the 96th Bomb Group organization.  His England base is now a motor raceway about 12 miles east of Cambridge.  They support a prep school in the local community - the Eccles Road School - which now has a museum to the 96th in the quonset hut that used to house the mortuary and the ambulance.  Down the road, in Quidenham, is St. Andrew's Church, which has the first memorial (a large stained glass window, in The American Memorial Chapel) dedicated in England, in honor of the 96th.

Geoff Ward is a local historian who became involved with the organization after the war.  He can be reached at 41 Skelton Road, Diss, Norfolk, England   IP22- PW   Telephone #011-441-379-643762

Also in the area is the American Air Museum, Duxford, East Anglia.

Letter of 10 JAN 00

"I called a friend of mine I was with in Stalag Luft I, "Lumphead" Skoubo in Boardman, OR.  I had received a letter from him with a Daily Bulletin dated Feb 26 1945.  We were very low on food and the bulletin clearly indicates some of our problems.

By the way, Lt. Col. C. R. Greening was a captain when he was on the Doolittle Raid off the Hornet - 16 B-17s - that bombed Tokyo in 1942. He died in 1957, Bethesda Hospital in Washington, DC.  He was a wonderful man."

In September, 1999, on the 55th anniversary of being shot down, only Don and his pilot were remaining of the three officers (copilot was the third) in his crew.

Ray Bauman, Don's crew pilot, died December 26, 2000.


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This site created and maintained by Mary Smith and Barbara Freer, daughters of Dick Williams, Jr.