Christmas day, 1944 was a gorgeous bright sunny day
which allowed our P-47's to get into the air and help the fighting during
the "Battle Of The Bulge". All airplanes had been grounded due to very thick
clouds which hung low to the ground. The lack of air support allowed the
German penetration north of us to be very successful. Much more successful
than allied headquarters had ever expected. The element of surprise also
played a part too. Several previous days we had gotten up at 4:00 A.M.,
dressed, had a breakfast, and gone to the flight line to be briefed for a
mission, be briefed for the weather, and then advised to go back to our
quarters, remain in our flight gear, so if the weather allowed us to get off
the ground we would be ready to strike out for our mission. During the
bad weather days I had spent as much as seventeen straight hours
playing bridge with one of my closest friends, George A. Lehmann, whom I had
known since going through Stone, England, where he taught me to play bridge.
He was an exceptionally gifted player as were most of the others we played
with. We played for one tenth of a cent per point and I never recall
losing or winning more than two dollars at any given time.
On Christmas day I flew two
missions. One was the early mission with a 4:00 A.M. wakeup and the other
took off mid-day. I don't have any recollection of either of the missions
where we went or what we did. December 26, 1944 was the fateful day
for me. As usual I was assigned to the early mission as well as the mid-day
mission when we got back. Although I have no specific remembrance of the
first two missions I very well remember the third mission of the day. Major
John Leonard, our squadron commander, came through looking for volunteers to
fly a third mission of the day. I did not have my parachute packed that had
been issued to me because it crowded me too close to the rudder pedals
because of my long legs. I was six feet tall and fighter pilots were not
always that tall. In as much as I didn't have my own parachute I went
looking for one to borrow. I couldn't find one that fit me and in looking
for one I came across George Lehmann and asked him if he knew of one my
size. He responded that I might borrow his. I said, but yours is a back pack
isn't it? He said yes it is, but if I can wear it then you can too. He was
the same height and about the same weight as I was. I said 0 K where is it.
After we found it I picked it up by the bottom straps and threw it over my
back and was walking out the door when for some unknown reason he said to me
"HEY I WANT THAT BACK'. I yelled to him over my shoulder "IF YOU DON'T
GET IT BACK YOU CAN GOD D*MN WELL HAVE- MINE". This is the first time I had
ever worn a back-pack parachute. He didn't get it back either because I
bailed out in it.
I do remember having a "Hung
Bomb" on my eighth and last mission. The reason I remember it so well is
because I was told to find some place to drop it. I was flying over Dijon,
France so I approached to town with apprehension, but nothing happened. I
knew d*mn well they were going to let me have it when I pulled out of my
dive so in order to protect myself I picked the center of town, shank my
wings, got rid of the hung bomb and promptly rotated ninety degrees to pull
out of my dive. When I looked back every gun in town had opened up on my
expected dive pullout. They even had the shells timed to explode where they
thought I would be on my pullout.
After I got rid of the hung bomb
Major Leonard led our squadron across the Rhine River within sight of
Strasbourg, France and Offenburg, Germany which is directly across the
river, down a valley which I believe is in the "Black Forest " region of
Germany. We were flying at approximately 7,000 feet and when we got about 25
miles east of the Rhine he spotted three or four locomotives with steam
coming up. He ordered the rest of the flight to remain at altitude and
advised that he would take Red Flight down to check it out. I was flying off
his right wing tip and second in position, thereby I was known as Red 2 in
the flight. Major Leonard started a wide circling swing and descended with
full power. The P47 is exceptionally heavy and to descend with power you
build up a maximum amount of speed. As we descended the ground fire opened
up on Red Leader. In the number 2 position I could easily determine where
the gunfire was located. After Red Leader cleared off target I gave a short
burst with my eight 50 caliber machine guns and as was my usual procedure I
alternately pushed my rudder pedals to purposely spray the area. Usually and
in all my previous missions the targeted gunners would duck for cover
allowing me to concentrate on a specific target. On this
particular day the ground fire kept coming.
After years and years of
thinking about it, without a doubt, I simply stayed on target too long,
because as I was pulling out of my dive I was hit. It didn't make as much
noise as I would have expected, but the cockpit immediately filled with
severe smoke. So much so that I was forced to close my eyes during the
pull-out of the dive. I opened an eye just long enough to make sure my wings
were level and kept them closed until I could get my nose above the horizon.
I then toggled the canopy open to get the smoke cleared out of the cockpit.
I then started scanning my instruments to detect any malfunction. Everything
seemed 0 K. I must confess that I simply froze, staring a the instrument
panel for a split-second and then told myself that this was no time freeze
up. I then looked at both wings and even looked in my rearview mirror to
check my tail section. I didn't observe any damage. I then pushed my head
close to the cockpit on the right side. Everything looked 0 K.
I repeated the same on the left side
and there I found a hole about three feet in diameter. I could only see
about two-thirds of the hole. It was approximately where you would normally
step over into the cockpit. The bottom was frayed downward and the top of
the wing was frayed upward, The hole was adjoining the turbo supercharger
intake and I was immediately able to determine where the acrid smoke had
come from. I then observed fire inside, the cockpit behind my left shoulder.
I calculated real quick that I would have to stay in the cockpit for five
minutes or bail out. No pilot can tolerate fire in the cockpit in addition
the explosion and rupture of my turbo intake adjoined the approximate area
of the main fuel tank which was made of neoprene rubber. I had used enough
of the fuel that the whole might easily explode. My decision came instantly
I had to bail out.
Once I made the decision I even
forgot to unbuckle my safety belt. I literally tried to jump out of my seat.
I bailed out at approximately 350 miles per hour and only 800 feet. About 2
to 3 miles from the target I had fired upon. When I decided to
"hit the silk", I was astounded to remember something that I read in
pilots information file, which directed pilots to go forward and to the
right when bailing out. This was an easy decision because the damage was on
the left. When I arose from my seat I tried to go forward but the slipstream
blew me back into the cockpit. Thus I decided to go out the back right. This
turned out to be a problem when I was half way out and didn't have anything
to pull myself out. I, therefore, realized I would have to push myself out
with my feet. I don't know yet what I pushed on but with one solid push and
I was out of the cockpit.
Even though I calculated I was
only about 800 feet I decided to delay the chute opening because I was
directly over a small populated area. After a momentary delay I grabbed the
"D" ring of the parachute and gave it a quick jerk then grabbed both straps
of the chute in the area of my shoulders realizing that the back pack chute
might cut me in the crotch when it opened. Surprising, the chute didn't
open. The pin that contains the chute pack was very short and I had expected
the cable to have very little stack from the "D" ring but anyway I grabbed
the "D" ring a second time and pulled it with my arm fully extended and
again grabbed the shoulder straps the same as before.
In about two seconds I realized
my life had just changed because the noise of my plane decreased almost
instantly and a deafening silence made me aware I was about to be a prisoner
of war. When I came down I was wearing a 45 caliber army issue pistol. It
was a shoulder holster but I had always worn it "cowboy style" with it
hanging on my hip. This was "hot" as well as convenient. I had never
considered that it might be dangerous to bail out with it that way. I was
also wearing heavy fur lined flying boots over my low cut street shoes.
Obviously I had given no thought or planning to the possibility of getting
shot down. I can't even calculate the odds of getting on the ground with the
boots on as well as the pistol, but they got all the way to the ground with
me, I was wearing a leather flying helmet as well as tight fitting gloves
when I left the cockpit but they were gone. The twenty-eight foot chute took
good care of my 147 pound body and when I hit the ground only one knee
buckled. Again, I remembered my instructions from "escape and evasion"
lectures, I gathered up my chute and rolled it up in a ball and hurriedly
stuffed it into a slight gully then started trying to run up a small
hillside with my fur lined boots on.
You can well imagine how fast I
was running. I was completely out of breath and panic stricken as well. To
make matters worse, the whole village was hot on my heels. I know how a fox
feels during a fox-hunt. I was the fox. Also, to make matters worse I
noticed that one guy was carrying a rifle. The thought ran through my mind
that If I played my cards right I would also end up being shot in my back,
There was no way to escape.
In order to keep from getting shot in
the back I turned around and held up my hands as well as walking back down
the hillside. I reached down and pulled out my pistol and handed it to a
civilian. There were a couple of uniformed individuals mostly they were all
Civilians. They were all ages and approximately 40 to 50 of them, As we were
walking back down the hill the guy I gave the gun to was attempting to get
the clip out of it so I stuck out my hand, he handed it back to me, I
removed the clip and handed it back to him.
In looking back on this, it was one of
the most foolish things I could have done. It wasn't real bright of him
either. The whole crowd walked back into town, My thought was that I had
better look around and try to find a common name, so that I would know where
I was shot down at. When I came to the middle of town I expected to find a
name on the railroad station, but there wasn't any name on the station. I
did notice a wrought iron gate around the station with an engraved metal
plate with the letters "EINGANG' on it. So I immediately assumed I had
been shot down in EINGANG, GERMANY. A couple of months later I found
out the word was German for entrance.
When we got to the center of
town we stood in place for a few minutes and I heard a kid shout something,
and as I turned I caught a glancing fist off my chin. I immediately
and instinctively doubled up my fist and realized that I was about to make a
big mistake. Fortunately, this was the only instance of my entire captivity
that there was intentional mistreatment. Others were not so lucky. Four
members of a bomber crew in my room bailed out within sight of the
interrogation camp but only two made it to the safety of captivity.
Civilians were much more likely to take your life than were the military. I
was taken to some sort of jail facility. The name of the town was Haslach,
Germany. I had a small bunk and a bucket of water. And that was all that was
in the room. I was shot down at 4:45 P.M. so it wasn't long before dark, I
had a few hours to think and look forward to my new situation before trying
to sleep. It was cold and there was no blanket of any kind.
Sometime during the night I tried to
sleep and several times during the night I heard myself telling George
Lehmann, "If you don't get it back you can d*mn sure have mine". He also
mentioned "If you try it you will never use any other chute again". For a
couple of years I felt this had come true because this was temporarily the
end of my pilot years. The following morning I was enthused to hear a flight
of P-47s flying through the valley and dropping bombs somewhere. I hoped it
was on the same marshaling yard that had shot me down. I never did
find out. Later that same day I was let out of my cell and given a bowl of
stew. It wasn't too bad either. My guard was a very very old man who told me
in very broken English that he had been a British POW in WW 1.
We couldn't converse much but I did find out the name of the town from him.
Late the following day a single military person brought me out of my cell
and we proceeded by foot for a brief period, then by a vehicle, to the town
of Freiberg, Germany. I was again thoroughly searched, removing my clothing
and searching all of the inside lining etc. The officer decided he would
like to keep my fur lined flying boots and I never saw them again. This left
me with low cut dress shoes which I had purchased in England. We were
expected to wear our GI issued, high topped, shoes but I never expected to
parachute either. I was lucky to get on the ground with low cut shoes.
After being searched and questioned I was taken to a prison facility like
you might see in movies. It was a very large building with large stone walls
and with a single window near the top of the cell. The window had the usual
bars on it and no glass. The door of the cell was exceptionally thick with a
small opening in the middle of it. The opening had a little door on it which
could be opened . Late that night a person opened the little window and
yelled to me “ Spraken ze dutch ?, I said no, then he asked Parle vou
France” I answered no again. This was the only words spoken to me.
I had no blankets in my cell despite the extreme cold. For a bed there
were two bags of excelsior, or wood shavings. I will defy anyone to stay
warm with these. One corner of the cell had apparently been designated for
toilet facilities. I suppose this was intended to make a person’s stay
memorable. To top it off we were periodically being shelled by our own
forces which were just across the Rhine river from us. We left the prison
late the following day and as we walked through the streets they were
excavating unexploded bombs. This was obviously a dangerous place to be in
Again the single soldier which was assigned to escort me took me some
distance outside of town by foot. We eventually were loaded onto a truck
with numerous other civilians. The soldier carried a very menacing machine
gun strapped to his shoulder and it was leveled for action most of the time.
In addition he was very solemn faced all the time and appeared very serious
and did not communicate with the civilians. I couldn’t talk or communicate
with him either, for the entire trip.
We eventually came to a railroad some distance out of town and very late
in the evening. Our route took us close to Switzerland. I would imaging
within 25 miles, but it was dark and I couldn’t see the mountains. I had
seen them by air but not up close.
Our railroad car was not heated and it was exceptionally cold. My low cut
shoes made it seem colder. At one point I placed my feet across the aisle
against my guard’s legs. I was surprised that he allowed me to do so and it
really helped a lot.
We stopped about bedtime somewhere along the way and it was in some sort
of military installation. I was left inside a barracks facility with
numerous German soldiers. This made me apprehensive, but there was no
incident that arose from it.
One of the soldiers, who was a corporal, looked me over carefully noting
my rank as an officer and asked how old I was and how long I had been in the
service. He then mentioned that he had been a soldier for many years and had
only risen to the grade of corporal. Another interesting event at this
location happened when the commanding officer, a Lt. Col., learned of my
presence. He invited me in to share a wiener with him and later that night
he ordered a cot to be brought in for the night and stay in his warm office.
We had an interesting conversation too. He could speak English quite well
and had visited the United States some years back, having flown over the
Grand Canyon. He was very impressed with the sight.
The following morning we proceeded by train toward Frankfort and Oberusel
and passed through Stuttgart, Germany. I noted that all the locomotives had
heavy armament protecting them and wondered how we were so fortunate to
destroy them. That night we arrived in Frankfort, Germany and somehow I was
taken to a civilian gathering in some sort of beer garden where all of them
were rather loud and boisterous. I was more than somewhat apprehensive about
my safety. The civilians at Frankfort were known to take out their wrath on
members of the Air Force. They had been bombed severely for quite some time.
Later that morning we arrived at the railroad terminal to make connections
to Oberusel, where the interrogation facility was located. The terminal was
an impressive facility where all the glass ceiling had been destroyed.
Another guard came up with another airman and we carried on a conversation
until we got to Oberusel which was a short way away. I didn’t think of it at
the time but I realized much later that he might have been a German who was
posing as an American in order to collect information. I think he might have
We arrived at Oberusel midday and I was immediately put in solitary
confinement again. This was the third time I had been confined to solitary.
The room had the usual heavy door with a peep hole in it. It had one bunk
with no blanket. It had one window of the type that obscured the outside. It
had an electric radiator for heat which came on for about an hour during the
early hours of the morning before daylight. In the event you needed to use
the bathroom you could call a guard and he would take you and bring you
back. There were marks on the wall which seemingly were put there by others.
Some had as many as 30-45 scratches. It occurred that these might have been
placed there to help soften our will with regarding to intelligence
information. We had been briefed never to lie during our interrogation. I
did, and got away with it, but I was lucky I suppose. Our food was famous
among the air crew POW’s. I am certain that it mainly consisted of GRASS. In
later months we referred to it as “Oberusel Stew”. Everyone knew what we
were talking about too.
The following morning we were called from our room and a person met us at
a desk in the hallway. We were expected by our military to answer only to
questions concerning our Name, Rank, and Serial Number. These were asked and
answers were given. Then we were asked our home address. When I refused I
was told “You must realized that you are not yet a POW.” This came as a
shock to me. I told him he must be kidding since it was obvious I had bailed
out of the P-47 and surely they knew it. He said that even so I might be
classified as a spy or some kind secret agent.
guy went on to explain that Germany had signed the “Geneva Convention” and
they fully intended to abide by its provisions. He said he knew how we had
treated the German prisoners too. He then asked me for my home address.
Although it was beyond military regulations I fully intended to divulge this
information so that they could send the customary MIA (Missing In Action)
telegram to my mother. I was really more concerned for her than myself. I
knew that being a POW was going to be pretty tough on her. When I enlisted
in the Air Force the only thing she told me was that she hoped I would never
fly. When I signed up to take flight training she had to give permission for
me to do so, since I was under the age of 18. She gave me permission to do
so, not because this was something she wanted, but that it was something I
wanted to do. After the interview I was led back to solitary to spend the
rest of the day with no contact. I spent another cold and uncomfortable
midday the following day I was escorted to the interrogation officer, which
I knew was to come. There was only one chair besides the one behind the desk
that I felt certain was his. I came into the room and sat down. I was alone
in the room. I think I was left alone purposefully because all around the
upper portion of the walls was the various Squadron and Group markings for
various units in the Air Force, including ours. 8N for the 405th
Fighter Squadron, USAF. This was not surprising to me. We certainly had not
tried to conceal or unit identity. Eventually the interrogator came in with
the best and most friendly manner possible. He was dressed in his complete
uniform and he appeared supremely confident. His English was absolutely
perfect. I asked him where he learned it. He mentioned that he used to live
in Panama some year back. I failed to mention that his desk had a vase of
artificial flowers on it.
I presumed that it also contained microphone in order to record the
conversation. I never did find out whether it did or not. He finally got
around to asking me which base I had flown out of. I told him this was
information that I could not give him. He informed me that they knew ! I
told him I was confident that he did but I still couldn’t tell him. We had,
some while back, been flying out of Dole, France, and then recently changed
our flights out of Tantonville, France, near Nancy France. I felt certain it
was recent enough that he was not aware of it. So I told him I would play a
game with him. He agreed. I told him I would give him the second letter of
our base if he responded immediately with the first letter and it had to be
immediate or I wouldn’t tell him anything else. He agreed. I said O and he
responded D. I said well then it is DOLE. He responded in agreement. I later
learned that a plane came over our squadron the night I was shot down but
the information had not reached him yet. He then told me where I graduated,
and the date I graduated . I asked him how he knew this and he told me it
was by my air force serial number. He asked me how many missions I had flown
and when I told him eight he practically threw me out of there assuming I
didn’t have any worthwhile information. He was correct.
that evening they moved me to another part of the interrogation center. We
had to remove our shoes and place them outside of the door. At least there
were other prisoners in the room and it was not solitary confinement. The
next morning we were led down the street a short ways to the local railroad
station for our short trip to Wetzlar, Germany.
next morning we took a short walk to the Oberusal railroad station where we
stood outside in the exceptionally cold morning air. I have no idea what the
temperature was, but I would estimate that it was probably in the area of 15
degrees. Bear in mind that this was early January and early in the morning.
The only coat I had was a regular flight jacket, flight suit, low cut dress
shoes, no hat of any kind and no gloves. We waited outside of the station
for over an hour for our transportation. I was thoroughly chilled. When the
train arrived, as usual there was no heat on the train. Luckily the trip to
Wetzlar, Germany, our next stop, was a distance of approximately 40 miles.
By the time I got there I felt like and was probably running a fever and
likely about ready to come down with the flu. When we arrived we were given
our first opportunity to take a shower. To this day I remember how wonderful
it was but to make it complete we were handed a cup of tea which was hot !
It was wonderful, and I have remembered it many times over the years. It
probably saved me from being terribly sick. I felt bad enough that I checked
into the dispensary where an English doctor offered me one of the two
available beds for the night. The room was a little bit warm and I made it
pretty well. The next morning several newcomers came in for sick call and I
lost my bed to a guy that looked like he had black freckles from a flak
shell that had exploded near his face. He was in a whole lot of trouble
compared to me. I spent the rest of the day in bed, covered up with one
blanket, and made it through almost 60 years without being hospitalized
following morning we were all awakened by a person shouting “Alright all of
you baby killers, terrorfleigers (what the Germans called the P-47's) “ get
out of bed ! It was a Catholic Chaplain. We all got out of bed with a smile
on our faces. He seemed to have a great way of talking to the guys. He was
always engaged in conversation with someone.
Later in the day we were again taken to the railway station to continue our
journey to Barth, Germany. Many if not most of the POW’s were transported in
what was called 40 and 8's. This was the standard mode of transportation in
WW1 and was used to transport 40 men or 8 mules.
They are still called this. They are quite uncomfortable, as well as
unsanitary and not restricted to 40 POW’s. I got lucky though because my
four day trip was to be made in a regular passenger train with compartments.
This is because we were Officers, so we were actually treated a bit better
than the enlisted persons. Our compartments were unheated and very crowded,
so heat was not a big problem. The compartment had seats for eight persons.
Four persons faced forward and four faced backward. The only problem was
that we had 10 persons assigned to each compartment. The answer to this was
for each of us to take turns on the two overhead baggage racks since we had
no baggage. Our trip took four days and nights. A lot of the time we were
sitting in various marshalling yards which we all knew were prime targets
in case of bombing attacks. We got lucky again because despite going through
Hanover as well as other major cities we made the trip without being
involved in a bombing attack. One thing happened which was quite funny .
Early one morning after trying to sleep a switch engine slammed a boxcar
into us with a rather hefty jolt. The guys on the baggage racks got the
worst of it. On one side one of the guys bumped his head real good and he
was mad about it while we all laughed at him. The guys on the opposite side
came flying off the racks and landed on the knee’s of those below. This same
thing happened in all the compartments of the railroad car.
make the trip we were each given an item that we would become vitally
familiar with in the future. We were given a “RED CROSS FOOD PARCEL”. This
was a 12 pound carton of food which was supplied by our own U.S. Army, but
distributed by the Red Cross from Switzerland through out Germany to various
prisoner of war camps. It contained an assortment of food items including
powdered milk (The brand name was KLIM), also such things as a cam of “C”
rations, a 4 ounce “D” bar of the best chocolate known to all POW’s. Also
included was a few prunes which we certainly didn’t need. A small can of
sardines which I not once stooped low enough to eat. I decided I would
rather starve to death than eat them. There was a small can of “Pate” which
was a spread of some kind, but without an adequate supply of bread it wasn’t
especially beneficial. The idea behind the parcel was that the Germans would
furnish us with the bulk foods and the parcels would supply us with the
necessary calories. We also had a few vitamins included and also a couple of
packs of cigarettes which were useless to me. I didn’t smoke.
After a four day trip by train we arrived at Barth, Germany which is
straight north of Berlin and is situated on the Baltic Sea. We arrived
during the late part of the first week of January 1945.
Barth is a very small village which has a long history. The town originally
was a walled city that dates back to the 1200's. As a matter of fact when we
arrived we were marched thru the town and out the main gate which still
stands. They have a beautiful church the steeple of which towers above
everything else in town. Our prison camp was located beyond the town a short
distance but we could see the steeple from our prison camp. Our camp was
Stalag Luft 1. Stalag is the German equivalent of “enclosure”, the Luft was
a derivation of Luftwaffe or “Air Force” and the 1 indicated it was the
first one. It was originally established for WW1 Air Force pilots.
camp had 4 enclosures or sections called compounds, West, North 1, North 2
and North 3.
spent my time in North 3. The West compound was used for English POW’s, then
the North compounds were established as additional POW’s arrived during the
war. When the war was over and we were liberated there was a total of
8,900 American and English POW’s in the camp.
Late in the war about 2,000 enlisted personnel of air crews were brought
into the camp from Poland which was being liberated by the Russian armies as
they advanced westward. The Germans moved the prisoners in order to keep
them prisoners. The remaining 7,000 or so were all officers of various
airplane assignments, Pilots, Co-pilots, Bombardiers and Navigators. When a
single B-17 was shot down for instance, there was a total of ten people in
the crews. Only 4 of which would normally be taken to Stalag Luft 1, and
there were other Stalag Luft camps too. Each compound was able to retain
Stalag Luft 1 was enclosed by double Barbed wire fences approximately 10
feet high. The fences were about 5-6 feet apart with Barbed wire
entanglements in between. This barbed wire had 4 pointed spikes on each barb
which is twice what our American farmer has on his fences. Inside of the
fences was a short wire below knee high which was a “warning wire”.
Prisoners were subject to being shot if you stepped over the warning wire.
In addition to the several guard towers there were guards patrolling with
dogs on the outside of the fences at night, and other guards with dogs
within the compounds after being locked in at nighttime. Prisoners tried to
dig a tunnel in other compounds but in our compound the barracks were
elevated so that digging was impossible. Also the ground in our compound was
of a swampy nature below ground too. In our compound I never did hear of a
serious escape attempt. We were called out twice a day for a head count by
the German guards to make certain all were present or accounted for. We
stood in formation while this count was being taken. During this count the
Germans would often go through the barracks to locate contraband or escape
tools if any could be acquired. Sometimes we would move while in formation
just to screw up their count and agitate them, sometimes more than once
until they would get mad about it. We would also exercise during this period
barracks consisted of 10 to 12 rooms and our room had 24 POW’s in it. The
room I was in was 20x20 estimated size. One side of the room had most of the
bunks. It consisted of racks of three tiers high. We slept feet first in the
rack. The rack had flooring under my bed made from the first cut of a tree
with one side rounded and the other side flat. Wouldn’t you just know that
they provided us with the round side up ! We were provided with a bag of
paper strips as would be jokingly called a mattress of sorts. This would mat
down and was always bumpy regardless how you pulled it apart and laid back
down on it. We were provided with a single “G I “ blanket.
room had one double window one table with two benches on each side of it.
There was one stove which was to be both our heat as well as to be used for
the cooking that was done in the room. There was no paint on anything, just
bare wood. When we first occupied the building it had recently been
constructed and the wood was usually wet to the touch from the sap in it.
This caused us to be rather uncomfortable for the first couple of months.
January 10, l945 we were escorted to the headquarters building to be
photographed. The photos were to be used on our “Locator Card Files” which
consisted on one page of 8 ½ x11 sheet containing their official record of
my presence. Luckily I obtained my own record when we were liberated by the
Russians April 30th and before we were flown out of captivity on
shows my disposition toward my German captor when he jokingly turned to me
an said “ NOW Smile”. He was real proud to be trying to agitate everyone by
saying in English “For You The War Is Over !”
were also placed in a large room, which had individual tables with a chair
at each. We were given a single 3x5 file card as well as a pencil and we
were told as follows “This card can be addressed to any person you wish and
you are allowed to write 5 lines of normal size handwriting and upon
completion it will be transmitted to the American Red Cross in Geneva,
Switzerland and thence by “Short Wave” to the United States. This caused me
to concentrate deeply, wondering how I could accomplish two major bit of
information in such a short message. I knew my Mother would be terribly
worried by my experience as she was prone to do even under normal
circumstances. I also expected that she would seriously be concerned about
by personal well being. She was a natural born worrier and I had caused a
substantial portion of it in my youth with many scratches and injuries which
she tended to as I was growing up. I even thought that she might not believe
that it was truly me. I had to clearly use words and phrases to assure her
of my physical as well as mental state of mind. I finally decided what the
message that I wanted to send and say, then I found that it wouldn’t fit on
the card. When I was growing up I would tell my mother “It’s just as
scratch” as she would try to stop the blood from various cuts etc. They used
to cause her really serious worries. The main message I was trying to get
across to her was that “I wasn’t even scratched”. I changed this to
“unscratched” because of space.
have gone into detail about this note because there is a BIG mystery behind
it that will never be answered until I get to heaven. The message WAS
transmitted by short wave radio. It was also received by ham radio operators
and the first one called my Mother from N. Carolina and read it to her.
Several called her from the Oklahoma City area a couple wrote her by mail
and the government subsequently sent an official message relaying the words
that I had written saying “UNSCRATCHED”.
Official POW telegram:
Report just received through the International Red Cross states that
your son second lieutenant George R. Simmons is a prisoner of war of the
German government. Letter of information follows from Provost Marshall
Telegram with George's message to his parents:
Following enemy propaganda broadcast from Germany has been intercepted.
Quote - Quit worrying about me, I'm OK. I was unscratched and am
in good health. My new address is Stalag Luft I, Germany.
You can write to me as often as you want. A few packages also
would be appreciated. Give all my love to Mable. I think of both of you
all the time. Keep your chins up, I'll be OK here. Love, George
Prior to receiving all the messages my worrier Mother had attended a movie
at one of our local theaters. At intermission a performer by the name of
Illano Doss performed several instances of some sort of mind reading such
as telling patrons what was on grocery lists etc. He offered private
sessions later for $5.00. My Mother had received no information at that time
except the usual ” Missing In Action” telegram. She paid the $5.00 and was
told several things that later turned out to be EXTREMELY ACCURATE. He said
to my Mother that “you came here to ask about your boys” (correct), he said
you are most concerned about your youngest. (Correct) He advised her “He is
a prisoner of war and he isn’t even scratched” (again correct and the exact
language I tried to write but had to change to unscratched because of the
five line limitation, THIS TO ME IS BEYOND HUMAN UNDERSTANDING) He also told
her another son would fully recover (correct) My brother contacted Typhus
Fever in south Texas while serving in the army, he was hospitalized later
for Tuberculosis and was confined to a hospital for a year. He did recover
fully. My other brother served in the CBI. My Mother was told “don’t worry
about them THEY WILL ALL HAVE CHRISTMAS DINNER WITH YOU” WE DID, and that
was before VE day and V J day ! Think about it. My Mother relayed this to me
immediately when I returned home. By telling this story I am not trying to
convince you of anything except that it is all true and related to you as
best I can. My two brothers and their wives had Christmas dinner at home on
December 25, l945. My brother Roy got his first pass from his hospital
confinement, my brother John spent 30 days during November aboard a troop
ship and arranged a furlough to have Christmas dinner with the family. In
turn I also brought my future wife to that dinner and to meet most of the
family for the first time. An uncle also joined us along with his wife, my
aunt. He was a minister and at that dinner we asked him if he would perform
the ceremony. He Did.
When I arrived at Stalag Luft 1, in early January 1945, our camp was already
in a crisis with regard to an adequate supply of food. As I mentioned we
were supposed to receive one Red Cross Food Parcel per week. Due to the
shortage our ration had been cut to 1/4 parcel per week. Actually one parcel
per four persons. This was due to problems receiving shipments from
Switzerland. Our own forces had cut our supply lines. The routing was
changed to receive parcels from Sweden, since they were also a neutral
country . The parcels were shipped across the Baltic to Lubeck, Germany
which was about 90 miles away. This was fine, except our camp was left off
the list to receive them.
received two rations of 1/4 parcels and then our supply of Red Cross Parcels
were depleted for eight weeks. We referred to this period as the starvation
period and it truly was, in every sense of the word. I was told that the
camp commandant had intercepted a train shipment of “Dehydrated Vegetables”
which was destined for the eastern front. I have since read that it was
seaweed and it could have been either one. We existed during this starvation
period on one bowl of dehydrated vegetable soup per day, plus a ration of
bread. Our “Bread” was called “Holzenbrot” (sp) which was said to be as much
as 70% wood pulp. I will guarantee that it was not digestible. We also had
some “Ersatz” coffee (coffee substitute) which was made from roasted acorns.
Only one cup per day of that. I didn’t drink coffee at the time but I drank
this because It was warm on my hands. After the war I brought some home for
my brother to drink and he wouldn’t touch it. We had no way to strain the
grounds except through our teeth. The stew was supplemented, somewhat
liberally with “Rutabaga”, (Non-Parboiled, and they were bitter ) they are
a cousin to a turnip. Occasionally, maybe twice weekly, we would get two
pieces of potato. About every two weeks we might luck out and get a piece of
meat about the size of your thumb. We used to joke it was probably some
horse that got shot by one of our guys strafing. This might have been true
too. The ration for the bread was one loaf per seven persons. It was sliced
in really thin slices and depending on who sliced it there could be 3 or
four slices. Each of us had our own bowl and before anyone ate the bowls
were placed on the table and apportioned equally so that the ingredients
were equal in each bowl. Adjustments were made in the various bowls until
everyone was satisfied. Then we all sat down wherever we could and ate. We
occasionally received word that we should slice the bread thin because the
German bakers had inserted ground glass in the loaves. We received this
warning about three times as I recall. On two occasions we had a bowl of
Barley for breakfast. It had worms in it and was not fit for the guard dogs
to eat so they issued it to us. We simply closed our eyes to what we were
eating. It was pretty good. On one occasion one of the guys traded for some
sort of cheese from one of the guards I suppose. The cheese was real mellow
and stunk to high heaven. Some of the guys would eat it but not many.
Somehow a mangy stray cat passed through the compound. I saw one of the
Krieges grab it and jokingly place it under his jacket. I heard it rumored
that the cat didn’t get out of the compound alive and I would not doubt it a
the spring we found some dandelions growing under our barracks and someone
suggested they would make decent salad food. They did ! There had really big
healthy leaves and we would do anything within reason to survive because we
were actually under survival conditions. Food was a big topic of
conversation during the daytime and we even shared our dreams of food. We
would think of various delicious foods and talk about what we were going to
eat when we got home. I remember one guy who talked about how he was going
to put a banana through the middle of a doughnut and eat the whole thing at
one time. Anytime one of the guys had a dream about food he would tell us
about it the following morning by saying “you know what I dreamed about last
night ?” Each Red Cross Food Parcel came with a single 4 oz chocolate bar
called a “D” bar. It was exceptionally good chocolate. It was a solid
chocolate bar. You will never understand or appreciate how much we valued
that item or how carefully we cut it in pieces to share it with each other.
I was offered $25.00 for one near the end of our confinement and refused it.
I had no question that the guy would have paid me for it.
each had lots of time to concern us besides food. We were all interested in
how the progress of the war effort was going and believe it or not we had a
wonderful source of information which daily brought us up to the latest. By
means of using cigarettes to bribe the guards almost anything was possible.
Our compound didn’t have access to many cigarettes but some of the older
compounds did. I was aware that somewhere in the camp that we had access to
a radio. It was a camp secret and we made no attempt to learn where it was.
Nightly we were locked into our barracks and somewhat later an individual
came into each room and read the latest war news as reported that day on
B.B.C., the British Broadcasting System. This information was the best
source of war news and it was delivered to us nightly and even typewritten.
I don’t know yet where they acquired or hid a typewriter. The radio was
hidden inside a wall and when two nails were touched with a wire it would
Salvation Army did a good job of supplying us with items to make our lives a
little more enjoyable. They provided us with various kinds of books which
the Germans allowed to be exchanged between compounds. I read several
religious books and a couple on psychology which interested me. I also read
one I remember till yet, “Ordeal By Hunger”, the story of the Donner party
which eventually turned to cannibalism in the Sierra’s during the wagon
trail days. This made for a lively conversation during our starvation days.
We were provided with a couple of decks of cards, which were used for all
kinds of games. We liked the ones, which were impossible to win. I also got
my hands on a pegboard chess set which I brought home and still have today.
One of my fellow squadron members and I played innumerable games. His name
was James Schleppegrel who lived in Hibbing, Minnesota . I also discussed
his Catholic religion with him and yet a few years back he was unable to
remember me at all. He did remember my chess set though. Strange things
happen to the mind. We had a couple of guys who went “Round The Bend” due to
their confinement. In an adjoining barracks an individual assumed himself to
be Jesus Christ and passed judgment on each of his roommates.
was very difficult to maintain the proper hygiene in camp life. Absolutely
nothing is sterile. We were unable to have really hot water at any time. We
didn’t even have warm water. Soap was scarce as was tissue paper. We shaved
by brail since the mirror was usually 15 or more feet away with several
persons trying to use it at the same time. We shaved in cold water and used
razor blades. Each of us were issued 10 razor blades “For The Duration”. We
even honed the blades inside of our coffee mugs to knock the edges down
some. Fortunately I was quite young and my face scarcely had a noticeable
beard. One of the biggest problems from a hygiene standpoint was lice. We
had them progressively worse as time passed. Unless you have felt the
disease carriers crawling on your body and being completely impossible to do
anything about it, then you will be unable to understand some of the
tortures of being confined.
compound was blessed to have both a Catholic as well as a protestant
chaplain in it to perform services. When you consider the various stories of
near death experiences of various individuals in such a confined area we
were truly blessed to have some of the clergy to guide us.
I confess that from the moment that my feet hit the ground and I
realized what a narrow escape I had personally had that I felt that the lord
must have some purpose for me. I didn’t need a push to attend church
services, crude as they were. I also think this is why I read several
religious books while a prisoner. I remember Harry Emerson Fosdick in
would have been nice to have received letters from home, but during my 4 ½
month stay I was not able to receive a single letter. None of my other
roommates received any either. This made our stay a little more difficult to
of the continual serious problems that each of us had to deal with was
“Diarrhea”. This was one of the side effects of the sanitation that I
mentioned previously. During the daytime we were obliged to go to the
latrine which in my case was completely across the compound. At nighttime we
had about a six hole indoor facility which were emptied daily by the Russian
slave laborers. They were always given the worst duty that the Germans could
find for them. I don’t know how many men were in my barracks, but with 24 to
a room and 10-12 rooms, this is a crowd when all of them likely have
diarrhea. Six holes is scarcely adequate and you are locked down in the
barracks. The thought always concerned me about what the lice was carrying
too. That was not a happy thought.
During this period, approximately early April 1945,
after the starvation period, we were so weak that when we would stand up we
would “Brown Out”. In other words we would almost pass out. We would be
conscious but unable to see for a couple of moments. Personally I have no
idea how much I weighed, I can only tell you what the consensus was of all
the other roommates. They made a judgement based on how much “web belting”
material that I had donated to our “Kriege Lantern” for our room. Since I
weighed 147 pounds when I was shot down the estimate was that I weighed 120
to 125 pounds after the starvation period. I was a little over six feet
Our Red Cross Food Parcels had a pound of oleo in it. We scarcely had bread
for it so we used an empty sardine can with oleo in it and used a G.I. web
belt section about an inch long as a wick for a light in the room because we
had to turn the lights out at night. We called this a “Kriege Lantern”. To
this day whenever I smell a candle in a room, it reminds me instantly of
being a prisoner of war.
During April we finally started receiving shipments of parcels from Lubeck,
Germany and we then received our full allotment of Red Cross Food Parcels.
By that time I had a malnutrition pot belly that lasted a full ten years or
more. When I got home and removed my shirt one time along side my brother
Roy who had been in the Tuberculosis Sanitarium, it was hard to tell which
one of us looked worse. You could count my ribs across the room. One thing
though, we were always hungry and yet some of the foods tended to sicken me.
I remember ordering a strawberry malt on the last part of my trip home. This
was my favorite, but it made me sick to my stomach and I couldn’t even
finish it. You would never believe the amount of Miracle Whip I wanted to
eat when I got home. I simply couldn’t get enough of it .Some of the Krieges
simply went crazy in terms of their concept of what they could eat. One
fellow in another barracks made a prune cake and insisted he could eat the
whole thing. He Did, and he also died as a result of having done so. Since
prunes were suddenly plentiful I heard that another room that put their
prunes together and made some wine from them.
Even though we were prisoners, this didn’t change the fact that we were
still responsible to follow military orders. We had a command structure
within the camp and our commanding officer of the entire camp was Col.
Hubert Zemke. He had been the commanding officer of the 56th
Fighter Group, In England and perhaps the most successful individual fighter
group of the whole U.S. Army Air Corps. Also, Lt. Col Francis S. Gabreski
was the commanding officer for the North 3 compound. He was the leading ace
with 28 kills and was also a member of the 56th Fighter Squadron.
They also flew the P-47. Col Zemke had an illustrious background and was a
truly great commander and just the person our camp needed toward the end of
our stay at Stalag Luft 1. At the end of April on the 30th day
our camp was destined to face other challenges in connection with our
liberation by the Russians.
Several times during our internment we were ordered to prepare to evacuate
our camp and march. Most camps were forced to march in order to evade the
oncoming armies. At times the Germans feared we might be liberated by the
allies and were told to march eastward. Later when the Russians approached
we were told to prepare to march westward. Fortunately we didn’t have to
march in either direction. You should be aware that in that day and time
when you marched, stragglers were simply shot. Obviously it was fortunate
that we didn’t have to march, especially in view of our physical condition.
There were other instances where we cold have faced a demise. I have heard
as many as five times we were sentenced to death. When the allies bombed
Dresden near the end of the war there was terrible loss of life and there
was no military target involved. We heard that Hitler had ordered all POW’s
killed and the ashes sent home in “Klim” cans (one of our Red Cross Food
items). Also at the end of the war we heard that we were to be killed rather
than to be liberated. We didn’t take any of this seriously. We had not heard
of the extermination camps at that time and we didn’t know that the biggest
one was only a short distance away.
April 28th our German camp commandant met with Heinrich Himmler
and he was again ordered to remove all prisoners rather that allow them to
be liberated by the Russians. Our camp American commander, Col. Hubert Zemke
told the commandant that he would not order his men to march. On April 30th
late at night the first Russian arrived. Our men had taken control of the
camp and had manned the towers to replace the Germans. In the next few days
Col. Zemke negotiated with the Russians in our behalf. He was fluent in both
German as well as Russian and was an ideal commander for us.
1991 I undertook a serious study of what developed at this particular point
in my life. I had a concept from what I thought I knew and had heard about
the following 13 days of my life from May 1st to May 13th. These
were crisis days and many things were developing due to our situation as
well as the world. The war ended with a surrender of Germany on May 8th.
That particular day we heard that the Russians had said “You seem to enjoy
being prisoners, we may just keep you prisoners” and with that Col Zemke
ordered the towers torn down and the fences torn down also. A couple of
weeks prior a German guard had yelled at me from a guard tower because I was
flicking loose rocks off the incinerator. I didn’t hear him and he leveled
his rifle to shoot me. This was one of many close calls and possibly my
closest call. That evening of May 8th after I had personally torn
down that guard tower we got BBC hooked up to our barracks public address
system. Our first broadcast was “Your Hit Parade”. The broadcast was
interrupted to announce that the war was over and that Hitler was dead. We
were quite excited as you might expect, but of all things as the tunes were
played and we wondered what was #1, when they announced the #1 tune of “Your
Hit Parade” it was “DON’T FENCE ME IN”. None of us had previously heard it
heard that the Russians were planning to evacuate or camp and to take us to
Odessa on the Black sea, some 1500 miles to the east of where we were “FOR
REPATRIATION” of all things. In preparation for doing so I was brought in to
give my Name Rank and Serial Number As well as a THUMB PRINT, at 2:00 A.M.
before a panel of Americans and Russians. Memories of this event in my life
unnerve me to this day because in recent years I have developed information
which proves to my satisfaction that literally multiplied thousands of
American as well as English POW’s were taken prisoner by the Russians and
NEVER RELEASED. I know this is not common knowledge and I would not mention
this if there were any doubt in my mind that it is true. I first heard about
this in 1987 by reading it in the Wall Street Journal. When I read it I
didn’t believe it. There was a book by the name of “Soldiers Of Misfortune”
by Jim Sanders which was published in 1992 which says on page 44 that our
camp was allowed to be liberated in exchange for a division of
anti-Stalinist soldiers who had agreed to fight Stalin on behalf of Hitler
and then with the allies. I personally believe this is what enabled me to be
returned to FREEDOM. Since 1991 I have spent literally thousands of hours
reading books and the Internet to develop POW-MIA information concerning all
“Soldiers of Misfortune” tells that when Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met
at Yalta, that the principal purpose of the meeting was the division of
Germany and the exchange of All prisoners.
There were literally millions of Russians who had been removed from Russia
as slave laborers and Stalin wanted them returned. Likewise we had many
thousands in various camps which we wanted returned. Agreement was made for
this division and return of prisoners. We also agreed, at Stalin’s
insistence that we would not fly over their territory. Subsequent to this
agreement someone realized that all of the German rocket research, their
rocket scientists, including Werner Von Braun, who developed our Saturn Moon
Rocket for the moon - was on an island, near us, in the Baltic Sea in the
Russian sector. It was decided to remove him and bring him to the United
States along with his team of scientists. It may be that this is what caused
the Russians to hold American prisoners in WWII, Korea and Viet-Nam. It has
been reported that we left in excess of 20,000 American POW’s behind in
WWII, in excess of 8,000 are missing from the Korea conflict and likely we
left somewhere around 700 behind in Viet Nam that were alive in 1975.
Henry Kissinger promised 4 ½ Billion Dollars “Reconstruction Aid” in order
to get the 591 POW’s out of Viet-Nam. President Nixon was unable to fulfill
this promise of aid because of the Watergate scandal and we didn’t get the
remaining prisoners that Viet-Nam held back. The above information is likely
more accurate than anything that might be reported in our press.
May 12, l945, late in the afternoon, we were overjoyed to hear and see lots
of B-17's. About 2000 English POW’s were flown back home. They had been
there the longest. Early morning we heard numerous B-17's all day long. We
were unbelievably excited. We were about to be freed and go HOME! Altogether
there were about 300 bombers which kept a single airstrip as busy as
possible it was a beautiful mission for all the pilots and their commanders.
The planes landed, broke the end of the runway, circled back, loaded 30
POW’s per airplane as soon as possible and taxied out for takeoff without
any delay whatsoever. In the 3 days they removed roughly 9,000
POW’s from Stalag Luft 1 and I was one of them. The thought of it brought
tears to my eyes as I write this 58 years later. Need I explain? This is
probably why I have waited so long to put this on paper and why others have
never done so.
flight at low level took us over Germany over the Ruhr Valley and Cologne to
visually see what we had done in order to conquer Hitler. We proceeded to
our landing in France. Trucks arrived and we were transported to a temporary
camp for the night. I was touched because a lot of French people greeted us
on the way despite the fact that it was midnight. I was impressed. When we
got off the truck we were greeted by a mess hall which was waiting to feed
us. You would never believe it unless you were there. The sight of so much
food was astounding, especially the bread. The following day we were flown
to “Camp Lucky Strike” near Le Havre, France where we awaited transportation
home. We were there for 30 days. I realize that a lot of things were going
on pertaining to the war but I couldn’t understand such a delay. We had lots
of food but the nights were cold with inadequate blankets. None of us were
Eventually our ship came in. It was the USS Mayo, a military troop transport
which was on its maiden voyage. Victor Mature was among the crew and the
crew was very considerate. We were on our way so all were smiles. After
several days we arrived at the harbor in Boston, Massachusetts. We
disembarked into the dirtiest building you can imagine I actually and
unashamedly KISSED THE FLOOR TO BE ON AMERICAN SOIL. The tears are flowing!