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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George Simmons - 1943

 2nd Lt. George R. Simmons 
 Chickasha, OK
 P- 47 Fighter Pilot 
 371st Fighter Group - 405th Squadron
 Stalag Luft I - North III Compound


Shot down on Dec. 26, 1944 over Haslach, Germany on his 8th mission. After the interrogation period at Oberursel he arrived at Barth around Jan. 10, 1945.   After the war attended the University of Okalahoma at Norman and worked in the insurance industry becoming an Independent Insurance agent. He married and had two sons and identical twin daughters.

I am sorry to report that my friend George passed away on March 31, 2005.
 Rest in peace, George.

Click here to see list of his roommates in Stalag Luft I


George Simmons - Stalag Luft I POW photos

George Simmons in 2000

POW Photo ID

 George Simmons 


POW Experience:

     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 many ways.

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 been.

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.

The 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 night to. 

About 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. 

Late 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.  

The 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 overnight. 

The 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. 

To 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.

The camp had 4 enclosures or sections called compounds, West, North 1, North  2 and North 3.

I 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 2000 prisoners. 

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 . 

Our 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.

The 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. 

On 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 May 13th.

It 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 !” 

We 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.  

I 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”. 

POW telegram

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 General.


George's message to his parents

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.

I 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 bit. 

In 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. 

We 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 play. 

The 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. 

It 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. 

Our 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 particular. 

It 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 bear. 

One 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 tall. 

 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. 

In 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 ! 

We 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 wars. 

“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. 

On 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. 

Our 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 very patient. 

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! 



George Simmons with wife and children

 George with  his wife and children


The Vanishing Breed

Over 1,300 veterans of World War II disappear each month. The "Greatest Generation" is quickly slipping into the past and becoming a vestige of memory. On this July 4th, the public has an opportunity once again to shake their hands and remember the extraordinary contributions of the Vets.

The theme of remembrance was a portion of the motivation for the writing of THE SECRET ROAD HOME. Robert L. Wise traveled across Europe, following the advance of the Allied Army during the European conflict in preparing this novel. Driving across Germany, Belgium, and France, he observeded the battle lines where the most severe conflicts of the war were fought. Out of this exploration, his story emerged. Later during a monthly gathering of prisoners of war survivors, Wise met George R. Simmons, a pilot who was shot down over Germany in his P-47. After being captured by the German military, Simmons spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft 1, North III Compound. The extraordinary pilot became the model for the hero in Wise’s book.

When Wise received his first copies of the new book published by Broadman & Holman, he drove to George Simmons’s house with a copy for the pilot. The man who answered the door was unknown but introduced himself as Simmon’s son. Wise responded that he had a book for his father.

The son paused and said slowly, "Dad died four months ago."

Shocked by this unexpected turn of events, Wise found himself faced with the same dilemma confronting Americans today as these giants of the past fade from the current scene. One of the reasons that Wise writes is to capture the fascinating stories they leave.

While World War II is sixty years behind us, the ideals of that conflict remain vital and instructive to contemporary Americans. Coming out of the Depression Days of the Thirties, Americans had faced hard times and demanding circumstances. The average solider was the product of farm or small town life where communities stood close and families hung together. They understood the meaning of loss, struggle, the value of integrity, and the necessity of standing against international tyranny. These ideals were the qualitites that defined their excellence. The Thirties set the stage for what would follow.

While the Forties were part of a different world than what exists today, the times were an era when issues were less complex and more straightforward. Flag-burning would have been unimaginable. Political strife remained a definite reality but division over the support of the troops or winning the war was an unknown. The country stood arm-in-arm with Rosie the Rivetter working next to Mac the Hammer, taking care of the nation’s business. Clarity of purpose sprung out of the ashes of Pearl Harbor and was stained through the intense conflict.

Wise describes characters that pursued their destiny with this same vigor in his novel. When the pilot is shot down after a bombing run on Germany, he is severely burned and must elude his captors while attempting to endure excruciating pain. The relentless chase is on and without the help of a Madam Brusselman, a woman who hides soldiers in her Brussel’s flat, he would have been lost.

Julien and Ann Brusselman were real people who with their children Yvonne and Jacques were honored by the Belgium, British, and American governments for their services to escaping soldiers. THE SECRET ROAD HOME ran through their living room. At the risk of their own lives, the Brusselman family helped countless soldiers escape the Nazis pursuit. Even though of a different nationality, people like the Brusselman’s are part of the July 4th story.

The diversity of participants in World War II reminds Americans on this 4th of July that the nation is a composite of many nationalities joined together in opposition to the Reich. While different in many respects, their diverse skills blended into a unity that proved impossible to defeat. Their stories remain beacon lights for the future.

Today’s military bear a striking similarity to the men and women who fought in the Forties. Contemporary military personnel continue to believe in their cause and the role they play in maintaining the stability of American life. Often, they are critical of how their operations are described and many believe their successes are not accurately and consistently reported. Like their World War II forebearers, they take great pride in the schools, service centers, public utilities, and other vital installations they build and maintain. The average solider still has an eye out for helping children when it is possible. The social and political issues are more complex but the motivation of the military has not changed.

This year’s Independence Day celebration with rousing Sousa marches and rockets bursting in the sky offers another opportunity to reach out to these hero’s of yesterday and learn their stories. Often, they have been reluctant to tell their tales of the near-misses with death and sights that are too traumatic to speak of easily. Nevertheless, these stories of bravery and courage can put us in touch with the ideals and values that have made this country significant. It is a time to remember before we lose those who offer the stories we must not forget.

To learn more about Robert L. Wise, visit

By Buzzle Staff and Agencies
Published: 6/30/2006


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