World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


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Robert Keith Jones - Stalag Luft I Prisoner of War Robert Keith Jones

461st Bomb Group

Stalag Luft I POW


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World War II Experiences

by Robert K. Jones


As I sit writing this I note that it is July 25, 1995 and 51 years since that fateful day over Linz. Tonight Peg and I are going out to celebrate “Chop Day”, as we Kriegies affectionately referred to that day when we had been shot down. I’m surprised at the few details I remember and most of them may hardly be worth recording. Enough of that! I’ll now get back to prison camp details, which really don't make very interesting reading but can fill a few rainy day moments.  

I may as well go into how we got things that were not in the German or Red Cross rations. The main way was to ask the designated POW trader for our compound to get the item and specify how many cigarettes you could provide. The trader spoke German fluently and was the only POW authorized to even speak to the guards beyond a curt greeting such as Goot Morgan! If I wanted yeast or leavening or seasonings he could probably get it and I had lots of cigarettes. As I recall I was one of three in the room who did not smoke and some had trouble getting by on 5 packs a week which each Red Cross parcel contained. 

As you will note and as I’ve said before almost all of our thoughts and actions were  centered on food. On the German black market a cigarette was worth the equivalent of one American dollar and a bar of American bath soap was worth in the range of $5. The reason for the rigid control over trading had to do with the principle of not giving ‘aid and comfort’ to the enemy. This was, in spite of the fact, that the enemy could and in some instances did rob the parcels prior to issuing them to us. 

There were naturally some violations of the trading regulations and one violation in January 1945 led to one of the most important incidents of our stay. The POW  Commander of our compound was Col. Spicer, a large imposing West Pointer and fighter pilot who had been shot down a short time before me. He, like many of the men including myself, sported a heavy handlebar mustache, which seemed to impress the Germans greatly. He was very well liked and respected by all of we POWs as well as by the Germans. 

One afternoon he called a meeting of everyone in the compound. All 2500 of us stood in front of the raised open-air podium next to the Wheel’s headquarters barracks while Spicer berated us about illegal trading with the Germans. The German guards in the compound stood around listening too. At any rate after reiterating the problem several times and pleading with all to cease the practice he finished with, as I recall, “I, for one, would be willing to stay here forever if they would just kill every German in Germany.”

All of the prisoners cheered and thought nothing of it until next morning, when a group of guards came into the compound and marched Spicer out to the cooler, where he spent the rest of the war in solitary confinement. 

He was charged, officially, with “insulting the German race” which carried a death sentence if convicted. As much as it seemed laughable to us, they were dead serious. They did convict him by military Tribunal, and sentenced him to be shot. This did stir up we POWs but there was nothing we could do except watch and wait. The Germans seemed in no hurry to carry out the sentence and kept him in the Cooler for quite a while with an almost continual string of visitors at 10 minutes each. Finally the Germans transferred Spicer to a different prison near Berlin and from then on our only information was by rumor we heard that he was to be exchanged for a German Col. held by the US under the same sentence for a similar offense. The war ended before the exchange was consummated. 

The next time I saw Spicer was many years later when in Albuquerque, where I was in the operations office when he landed in his private P-51 as big as ever and looking none the worse for wear with that handlebar mustache spread all over his face. He went back out to his P-51 and took off, simply telling the tower when asked, “This is Spicer, heading west”. I should tell about our clothing, which in my case was something else. When shot down I was wearing the gabardine heated suit and GI boots and underwear.

At the Dulag they took away the heating insert but at least left me the shell. When we got to the Stalag and after delousing and shower we were issued new clothing that was supposed to be US Army standard issue uniforms which our country had supplied through the Swiss Red Cross. Since I was not as large as most of our men the German Guard Quartermaster issued me a blue British NATO Blouse and overcoat with Olive Drab trousers. It looked like hell and to my loud complaint they told me that I could get another issue when my size came in. The war ended and I was still in blue with a large bust. They issued some kind of GI underwear and T-shirts and two pair of socks and it was still holding together when I got back to civilization ten months later. We

had no way to launder clothing or take a bath although we tried occasionally. That stuff was washed not more than once a month and was still wearable. Just proves what I say about wearing out our clothing by washing. 

 In our compound we had no showers as such but I did try to take a whore bath at the washstands once a week. Not as often as some whom I considered overly fastidious, to the point where I wondered about their sexual orientation. The latrine had no warm water, which made it very difficult to get excited about personal cleanliness. All drinking and cooking water had to be carried from the latrine to our room in a 4-gallon bucket that each room was issued. Trying to cook and have water to drink and wash up dishes would have been impossible without the utensils we made from Klim cans. Klim was powdered whole milk, which was packaged in one pound cans, and was a major item in our Red Cross parcels. I saved every Klim can and by hard work and some very rustic tools managed to make various sizes of cooking pans and water containers. They didn't last too long so the task was unending. 

After the initial delousing we were marched to Compound one every three months for delousing and a welcome semi-warm shower. I was fortunate to only get lice once and managed to get rid of them without too much trouble at the next delousing. I don't know what they used but it looked and smelled like lye! 

Each man had two bed sheets and the Germans exchanged one for a clean one every month. There was a roll of American type toilet paper in each Red Cross parcel, which was a real boon. The German ration included some TP but I never got desperate enough to use it except for cleaning up tables and floors etc. (I have since found similar toilet paper in areas of Europe and even talked to people there who liked the stuff because it had “fetch”) I had a towel and wash rag of some type which they also exchanged for clean ones about once a month but I don't remember any details. 

I tried to shave about every other day, which was not a problem except for lack of hot water. To get any hot water I had to take a pan of water in from the latrine and heat it and then go back out to the latrine and shave. (The latrine was 50 feet from our barracks). We had plenty of shaving hardware as provided by Gillette in the Red Cross parcels. I never envied the frontline GIs who never had it as good as we did as far as cleanliness was  concerned. 

In the vein of this thinking I must detail my closest brush with death. I had been napping one afternoon as was my habit and woke with a desire for a BM, which was also my norm. At any rate I grabbed my roll of TP and proceeded down the hall and blithely out the door toward the latrine, which was about 50 feet away. I was about twenty feet from the barracks when a voice behind me said “Hey Jonesey don't you know there’s an air raid on?” Before I could answer or even come to a stop a bullet went whizzing past my ear and I’m sure I made it back to the door in one jump and slid through as another Kriegie held the door open at some hazard to himself. Looking out afterward it was easy to see that the guard, who had shot, was very shook up and distraught. He was looking at his rifle like it had done it by itself. I, however, was the one in error and was lucky that I got only a mild chewing out from my fellow POWs. It could have been much worse since the bullet went through the side of the next block and very close to another

POW. Most everyone including myself blamed me for the incident for we had very explicit instructions to stay in the blocks during air raids. I obviously was unaware that the alarm had sounded so had some excuse. Following that incident we initiated a system to be certain that everyone was aware when the air raid alert signal sounded. 

Stalag-Luft I was on the Barth peninsula about 130 miles north of Berlin and 75 northwest of Stettin. The USAF and MAP often used the Peninsula as a navigational turning point and this caused us to have many air raid warnings. When I was first  interned we could and did go out and watch the Air Force fly by 20,000 feet up and cheer and yell to the increasing danger of the guards and German hierarchy. They finally ordered us to stay indoors with doors and windows closed and no waving or cheering during air raids.  

One afternoon prior to this order we were treated to a real good Air Show when, as we were watching 5 or 6 training planes from the local training base doing basic maneuvers over our heads, there suddenly appeared three British Mosquitoes, which came in from seaward without any warning and shot down three of the trainers and went back out to sea without us ever getting a siren. The Germans were furious as we cheered. 

A favorite sport of all was talking when we should be listening which led to many bets with odd stakes like the one where we all tried to convince the guards that the war was over so a POW Colonel could win his bet. Several bet losers went swimming in the sump pond but one of the best was on Christmas day after evening roll call and before we were dismissed the doors of the Wheel block opened and two Kriegies came out followed by another carrying a wash basin and warm water and a towel over his arm. They mounted the podium and with all due pomp and circumstance the one dropped his pants

and the second washed his ass with soap and water before the other to the accompaniment of cheers and jeers placed a big smacker on the washed spot. It seems that in the heat of argument in early September when Patton was rolling the one man had said, “If we aren't out of here by Christmas day I will kiss your ass in front of the entire compound”. The Germans just laughed and shook their heads at the antics of crazy Americans. 

I must relate something about the men in the same room with me for some nine months. Of the 24 I can only remember 5 or 6 very well but I will try to tell some things that I think were of interest. The most impressive and strangely my best friend, although he was a leader in teasing me was a big man named Messerschmidt. (I can’t for the life of me remember his first name.) He was 6’ 4” and initially weighed 225 with the perfect yes-shaped build that very few of us had. I guess that the best reason that I can’t  remember first names is because we didn't use them, only last names or nicknames and few of the latter. 

At any rate Messerschmidt was a former steel production foreman from Pittsburgh. He had worked in a coal mine when first out of high school and then went into steel production. I don't know how old he was but probably around 24 and rated my admiration. He didn't have to take any guff from anyone but he also didn't dish out any. Why we got along well is beyond me but we did, and I think, to my great benefit.

It was always a pleasure to watch the way the guards treated him. They obviously admired him if only for his huge stature and mustache in addition to his name, which was like a household word in their circle. When ever they had to call his name for roll call or some other reason they would always stop, look up and ask “relative of Willie” and chuckle. He and I talked for many hours about farming from my side and steel and mining on his side. He worked out a lot with calisthenics and used to tease me for not doing the same, to which I always replied that it was silly and I could do anything he could in that line. He was fond of doing sit-ups on the end of a bench while I sat on his feet and made fun of him. He was never able to do 100 at a time and I goaded him into betting me that I couldn’t do a hundred. The bet was five chocolate bars, which he dearly loved. At any rate I immediately did the hundred and when finished bet him I could do a hundred more. I was glad he didn’t take the bet but it certainly got his attention and respect. 

Another good friend was Boychuck (shortened by his Russian father from a family name of Boychukoffski or such). He too was tall but thin and was of Russian, Jewish ancestry and from Brooklyn. He was a typical outgoing Brooklynite, New Yorker who was always able to converse at length on any subject, and even ones he knew something about. He was always trying to hang a nickname on each of us and I feared that he would succeed when he came up with “can-o-woims Jones" but it was too hard to say so passed me by in a few days. His background was such that he had better command of Russian language than any one else in camp. He was used as an interpreter when the Russians relieved us. He somehow succeeded in keeping the Germans from knowing he was Jewish. I played Gin Rummy with him a lot and we walked around the compound some. I will mention that many of the men didn't play cards much, even when we had lots of cards after Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Another of my roomies was Costantino who was a wheeler-dealer from Boston and about my size. He was the one who advised me that the best thing to do if we survived the war and got home was to use our GI bill benefits to go to Harvard or Yale and then use that base of operations to meet and marry a rich girl from Vassar or such and live the good life from then on. He was probably right but I never was too smart. We were all Second or First Lieutenants but rank was ignored and most didn't have any insignia. When we flew our combat missions, I either wore second Lt. insignia or none at all so after capture I told the Germans I was that rank and it reduced the hassle. 

I don't even remember the name of the guy who burned the potatoes but we were friendly enough. He just didn't know how to cook and had no sense of responsibility and no taste. All of the men served their stints at kitchen police without complaint and it was really easy since they only worked two days out of twenty or so. 

One other man who I counted a friend was named Manierre. He had an older brother in our compound who was a Major and lived in the “Wheel” block. This gave our room good access to what news was available which leads to another item of interest. 

The co-pilot of our crew lived in our room also and I got to know him fairly well. He was 2nd Lt. Captain Emory Jones and had come on the crew when Fisher was made first pilot. His name continued to bug the guards as it had just after we were captured. He was from San Antonio, Texas and was a great guy who, like most of us had never done anything of note until he joined the Air Corps. Some will say that is nothing of note but we  universally thought it was. I never did know how or why the pilot of our crew, Robert Fisher got himself in a room in the “wheel shed” but he did so I did not see very much of him. 

There were some other men in the compound who I feel are worthy of mention; Major William Burke who was leading our 461st Group on the day we were shot down and one of the few men I’ve seen from the Stalag since we were repatriated. He was a real good man and was a fair-haired type with the 461st until that fateful August 25th day. When I went to the 46th Recon wing at Little Rock in 1958 and went to meet the Wing  Commander it turned out to be Col. Burke so we exchanged a few reminisces. 

Another was Major Barriers who was one of the toughest little men I've ever met. He was about 5’ 10” and weighed no more than 150 but in an exhibition boxing match with Col. Zemke, who had been a West Point heavy weight boxer, he cut Zemke to ribbons and never got hit once. He was also the one of our group who went out to meet and lead the incoming Russian troops to our position when we were first freed. He was misunderstood to the extent that the Russians ran him about 5 miles at gun point before they found out what he had set out to tell them. No one else in the camp could have survived that treatment. 

Then there was Major McGee C. Fuller who was a slightly built man of about 130 pounds but proved to be the heaviest eater I’ve ever met. For entertainment we put on a pie eating contest one nice Saturday afternoon and the Headquarters Barracks, “Wheel

Shed”, entered Fuller to the loud laughter of we spectators when he sat down amid the group of big hulking entries from the other blocks who had been in starvation “training” for days. Our pies were chocolate filled crusts made from K-2 biscuits and oleo and if possible were heavier eating than my previously described cake. There were 11 entries and they sat down at a large table with their mouths watering and each with an 11” by 15” by 2” deep pie in front of him. When the signal was given they all started in pushing the pie in with their hands and trying to stow it away as fast as they could. All except

for Fuller who sat and calmly cut his pie into 12 pieces, which he ate rapidly. For the first half of the contest he was somewhat behind the competition but by about midway though their pies about half of the entrants had either gotten sick or quit to go to the latrine that was disqualification. As they proceeded all ultimately vomited save Fuller who by now was laughing at the rest and far ahead when his last opponent vomited along side him and Fuller, laughing, went on to finish his pie. He was a proven champion and the jeering spectators laughed on the other side of their faces. His prize was a huge chocolate pie. He was another kriegie that I ran into later when he joined our B-36 crew at Travis as Second Pilot and we had many laughs with our friends and families about that incident. 

Another character who merits mention in this chronicle is Haven B. Fairchild. He was a tall (6’1”) emaciated looking type who made me wonder how he ever got into the Cadet program. He was from Hollywood and had a high-pitched voice such that no one ever

referred to him other than as “Fairy”. If the reader has seen “Stalag 17” he will understand if I say the character who played the Kriegie intelligence officer must have been modeled on Fairchild. He was married to a girl named Molly and was always going around singingJust molly and me and baby makes three in my blue heaven”. He lived in the room next door in our block and was the designated Intelligence officer and dispenser of the clandestine news from BBC. He really put his heart and soul into his work. We could expect him to appear at our room every day at about 5 PM to dispense the latest bits from the radio for that day. Men from other rooms would congregate in the hall outside in hear him. We had to station our men around the block to watch for and alert us if “goons” or “ferrets” approached. With much pomp, Fairy would read from his single page, all that was worth knowing about the conduct of the war and where it was heading.  Peggy and I stopped in Hollywood on our way from Randolph AFB to Travis AFB in 1952 and contacted Fairy and his family for a few minutes and she can verify that he was still the same “Fairy” and that my description is no exaggeration. Other POWs who had known him told that he was a very aggressive pilot who really loved to fly combat but was shot down on his fifth mission with no Germans to his credit. However we referred to him as a German Ace and he couldn't deny it since he had 5 American planes to his credit. It seems that when he was in training two of Joe Foss’s Marine pilots making practice passes on Fairy’s plane collided. On two other occasions he had crashed training planes and somehow was exonerated by good luck or political pull. At any rate he lost his fifth American plane when he was shot down, strafing a flak tower. 



Birth: 9/25/1922   Death: 11/4/2006

Interment: Tahoma National Cemetery, Kent Washington

Robert K. “Keith” Jones was born in Reserve, Kansas, Sept 25, 1922, and died Nov 4, 2006, in Olympia, Washington He was the oldest of three children born to Paul and Leona Jones. When he was a small child, the family moved to a farm near Washington, Nebraska, about 25 miles Northwest of Omaha, where he spent his childhood, attending the rural Mattes school with 10 grades attending together in two rooms. From there he attended South High School in Omaha, graduating in 1940. When WWII broke out, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Corps, serving as a navigator. He was shot down over Austria and was a POW for 10 months at Stalag Luft 1, Barth, Germany.

After the war ended, he returned to the University of Nebraska, and began seriously dating a girl from the same rural farming community, who was also attending the University of Nebraska, Margaret “Peggy” Renard. Keith and Peggy had had only a couple of dates before he came home from Europe in July 1945, but like many returning GI’s, he didn’t waste time. They were engaged by Christmas and married in August 1946.

In 1948 Keith graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and accepted an engineering job in Argentina. They stayed only a few months, but for two farm kids from Nebraska, it opened up a whole new world and they talked of it all their lives. Returning to Nebraska they lived in Omaha until the Korean War when Keith was recalled to active duty, so from 1950 to 1968 they were a part of the U.S. Air Force. Travel in the military took Keith on flights to many parts of the world and on assignments throughout the United States. Major events during this time included the birth of Jeanne in Spokane, WA in 1955 and Keith in Tampa, Fl, in 1959. When he discontinued active flight status, he continued with his civil engineering career, earning a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wyoming in 1963. He served one year in Thailand building bases during the Vietnam War. This made three wars he had served in: WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and a total military service of 26 years, so he decided it was time to try civilian life.

After retirement from the USAF, he worked for Napa County, CA, as a flood control engineer. He enjoyed checking out drainages throughout the county and talking with residents about their flooding problems. He often would load the family into the car on a Sunday for a ride to explore a pretty part of the county or interesting site that he had discovered in his work. When he first came to work for Napa County in 1969 there were about a dozen wineries, and many fruit and nut orchards. He and Peggy traveled to many places, but always enjoyed coming back home to Napa, where they lived for almost 40 years.

Peggy passed away in April, 2003, and Keith continued on, but a major focus in his life was gone. In November, 2005, his children persuaded him to move to Washington State to be closer to them, his grandchildren and his sister Paula, of Mill Creek, WA. He was active in the Napa Engineers Society and the Retired Officers Association. After retirement from Napa County, he was active in the Sons In Retirement, holding several offices. A lifelong golfer, he also enjoyed bowling, bocce ball, and numerous card games, including a regular poker game for many years. Up until about eight years before his death, he was a cigar smoker, and even those of us who can’t abide smoking concede that the ever present cigar was definitely a part of Keith’s persona.

He is survived by his daughter Jeanne, her husband Andrew and grandchildren Aaron and Laura, and son Keith, his wife Nancy and grandchildren Ben and Rachel. He is also survived by both younger sisters, Paula Wehrman, her husband Bud, of Mill Creek, WA, and Mary Jean Nelson of Ft. Collins, CO., numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and other relatives.

Keith will be buried with full military honors at Tahoma National Cemetery, Kent WA Friday, November 17, 2006 at 2:45 PM.




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