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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Lt. Sterling Tuck Lt. Sterling L. Tuck
Pilot - 446th Bomb Group

Shot down April 11, 1944

Stalag Luft I POW       


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April 11, 1944. On this day, the lives of ten men changed drastically. We were scheduled for a bombing mission deep in the enemy briefing was in the early morning and there were the usual groans when the target was revealed. We were a seasoned crew and had gotten over the adrenaline shock but you could see the concern on the faces of the newer crews. Our regular plane the Banger was in the shop for maintenance and we were scheduled to fly #572 which belonged to Lt. Wylie.

And of course he was there to remind us that it was his airplane and it was fairly new and we were to bring it back in one piece. Yes, he was serious. #572 had two names. On one side it was the Werewolf and on the other it was Princess O'Rourke. Take off was normal. The climb to altitude, the gathering of the formation, the flight over the channel, and the approach to enemy territory was uneventful.

 B-24 and flak

On the way to our target, we were required to cross the Dummer lake area. We had been there before and knew what to expect. The flak in that area could be moderate or heavy. One of our planes flying the low left position dropped out of formation and turned back toward England. I flew into his position and shortly thereafter, we encountered more flak bursts. When a flak shell bursts, there is a bright red flash which disappears almost immediately to be replaced by a starkly black cloud. You very seldom see the red flash but you can see quite a bit of the black cloud. It is frightening because you know that the probability of damage is at that very moment. Those black clouds enlarge and take on an ominous shade of grey.

The first indication that we were hit was a violent jarring of the airplane. A shell had burst directly below our number two engine. When flak bursts, shrapnel is blown upward. The worst place to be is directly above the bursting flak. Our engine was knocked out of commission and was burning fiercely.. Our first action was to hit the feathering button. Lt. Poore, the copilot, turned off the fuel to that engine. The propeller failed to feather. Sgt. Korte, the engineer, appeared quickly and tried to assist in putting out the fire.. We were having no luck and knowing that a fire of that type could easily spread to the wing fuel tanks, I pulled slightly off the left of the main formation so that if my plane exploded, the other planes in the formation would not be affected.

What I didn't know at that time was that we had a hole in the waist of the plane that was large enough to jump out of and the entire fabric cover on the inside of the left vertical stabilizer was blown away. My engineer informed me that the engine was starting to melt off. I turned and saw the cowl flaps melting away. It was only a matter of seconds before the flames reached the fuel tanks. For some reason or other, I accepted the fact that we were going to die and only a miracle would save us.. I believe that at that moment, shock began to set in and I became very mechanical. I pulled the plane away from the formation and turned back toward England. I gave the order to bail out. I saw the bombardier's head appear in the glass hatch directly in front of me. Lt. Day's face was one big question mark. He had been so busy in the nose turret watching for enemy aircraft that he did not know the seriousness of the situation. However, he did notice that the navigator was gone. I gave him a nod and a hand signal.. I then had to keep the plane level so that my copilot and Lt. Day could safely leave the aircraft. When I saw that the copilot was gone from the flight deck, I moved from my seat and retrieved my chest chute from behind my seat. Everything I did was very methodical.

 B-24 hit by flack with parachuter

Drawn by me while in prison camp on lined tablet furnished by Red Cross.


I knew I was not going to make it and there was no reason to hurry. I got to the edge of the flight deck only to find that my copilot was lying on the cat walk staring up at me. He had picked up his chute by the rip cord and had tried to get out with the spilled chute in his arms. However, he could not go out because the spilled chute was trailed up on the flight deck where I was. Had he rolled out, he would have been killed. I turned and gathered up his chute and carried it to the edge of the flight deck and dropped it to him. My heart went with him as he rolled off the cat walk into the slip stream.. It's bad enough to bail out of an airplane but when your only means of survival is gathered loosely in you arms, it can be horribly frightening. One panel of his chute was ripped open as he slid past the ball turret guns. He received a bad gash on his knee but he made it safely to the ground three miles below. I don't think Lt. Poore ever recovered from that traumatic experience. When the war ended, he returned to civilian life and did not fare well. He died before reaching 60.

I crawled down to the catwalk and rolled out. Suddenly I realized that I was not going to die. My body was turning and flipping rapidly. Remembering the little training that we had received, I went into a spread eagle position. Immediately, I straightened out, flat on my back with my arms and legs slightly bent upwards. I had lost my flying boots and I saw that my heated slippers had come off but were still attached to the cord which ran down the legs of my trousers. There were those two slippers about six inches above my feet. They appeared to be frozen because there was no whipping in the wind. The heated cord which came from my waist also was standing straight up. I worried about that cord because I was afraid that it might tangle in the chute when I opened it. When I reached up to pull in the cord, I changed my spread eagle position enough to start rolling.

That was an uncomfortable feeling but I felt the need to store that cord was more important so I reeled in all three feet of it and stuffed it into my trousers. My oxygen mask was still attached to my head. I do not remember detaching the oxygen hose from the aircraft when I left the pilot's seat. And of course the hose was standing straight up from my face. The wind going by the hose caused a venturi effect and created a slight vacuum making is hard for me to breathe. I yanked the mask from my head and threw it away. Much to my surprise, it dropped up. It was then that I saw a very large explosion well above me. It was not flak so I assumed it was an airplane and probably ours. I dropped about 15,000 feet and when I could see the windows in a farm house, I opened my chute. Another surprise occurred. The sudden deceleration gave the sensation of going back up and after falling all that way, I certainly did not want to go back up again.

Lt. Tuck parachuting to enemy territory

While floating to the ground, I saw a fighter aircraft which appeared to be a P-47 flying at low altitude. I didn't float very long before hitting the ground. My landing was very hard. I came in at an angle toward what looked like a barbed wire fence. In order to miss that fence, I slipped some air from the chute and landed directly against the side of a ditch. My knees and arms took most of the impact. I wasn't knocked out and fortunately had no broken bones. An older man and a young boy were standing very near where I landed. I asked if they were Dutch. The old man replied "Ja, Deutsche". Not being versed in the language, I believed that we might have gotten back to Holland. I insisted that we were friends to no avail. I later learned that Deutsche means German. Since I was having no luck with them, I decided to get away from there as quickly as possible. The nearest trees were about 100 yards away. Then I noticed a German soldier walking toward me. He was too far away for me to see if he had any sharpshooter medals pinned on him but since he did have a rifle, I thought it best to stay put.

I was taken to a small village where I was united with my copilot, navigator, bombardier, and two of my enlisted crew members.


I just learned in 1998 that records show that #572 crashed on a road to Wagenfeld near Ströhen west of Diepholz. This will give me a lead in finding the village where we were captured. I plan to go there some day.

We were not put into a jail but were kept in the village square under guard. The townsfolk were very curious and it seemed that they had never seen American flyers before. They did not appear to be openly hostile. Irv.., our bombardier, had some sulfa powder which he applied to the copilot's injured knee. Eventually we saw and heard the bombers on their return home. There was no attempt by the villagers to take cover. Although they knew they were not the target, there was a siren alarm which sounded the all clear.

It was now late afternoon. A large panel truck arrived and we were loaded into the rear where we noticed several canvas stretchers and shovels, all of which were stained with dried blood. It entered my mind that we were going to be forced to dig our own graves. I am sure that the rest of the crew were not very optimistic about what was going to happen. We were taken to a field where a B-24 had crashed. We had about 5 German soldiers guarding us. One of them made me think of Napoleon. He was dressed in a very impressive uniform. Later in prison camp, I drew a picture of him from memory and still have it. We were required to gather up what was left of the bodies and carry them to a corner of the field where we covered them with the remains of a burnt parachute.

We were then driven through the farmland and stopped in front of a farmhouse where we were joined by an American officer who was determined to tell us nothing more than his name, rank and serial number. After we informed him of what we had been forced to do, he volunteered that he was a crew member on a B-24 that had crashed nearby and while in the farmhouse he had heard bombs exploding. He was the bombardier on that plane and knew that there were delayed fuses on those bombs. Even the Germans were not anxious to go near the crash site. Finally, the Napoleon decided that the bombs had all exploded and we could get on with the clean up. Upon arrival at the crash site, it was obvious that some of the bodies had been blown apart and others had been burned. It was not a pleasant smell nor was it a pleasant sight.

Being the officer in charge, I decided it was time to invoke the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Surprisingly enough, Napoleon understood the words "Geneva Convention" because he repeated them and laughed. He kept shouting a word "arbutin". I threw my shovel to the ground and said "No". He undid the flap on the gun holster and glared at me. I said "No" again. He removed the gun from the holster, cocked it, and pointed it at me. I wisely picked up the shovel, turned to the crew members, and told them to stay there while I went into the wreckage and looked over the situation. I then turned to Napoleon and requested that one of his guards go with me. He understood what I wanted and turned to one of the guards and gave him instructions. The guard did not like that at all. I walked into the center of the wreckage and was unable to determine whether or not all the bombs had exploded. From what the bombardier had told us, it had been well over two hours since the last bomb had exploded. I figured the sooner we got the job done, the better our chances of getting away from the possible danger. The crew started to work but as time went by, more and more of them got actively sick. Eventually I was alone in the center of the wreckage with my guard.

Burial squad in Germany

The bomber had gone in at 30 degree angle. The pilot and copilot were in their seats and the engineer was standing directly behind them. It appeared that they might have been trying to pull out of a dive. All three were badly burnt. As I tried to remove the body of one of the men, I found that I could not extract his arm. It was entangled in some metal, and without getting that person out, there was no way to get the others out. It became apparent to me and the guard at the same moment that the arm would have to be severed. He gave me a look that said "You wouldn't dare". I raised the shovel high in the air and jabbed it sharply into the arm just below the shoulder. My guard then joined the actively sick. I followed him out of the field and Napoleon decided there was no use in continuing. I don't know why I did not get sick. It might have been that I had already seen a sight similar to this. (In about 1936, an interurban train had crashed into a freight train in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Some 50 people were killed in the resulting fire. The scene and smell were very similar. I was 15 then and was very upset viewing that wreckage.)

We were then taken to an airfield where we were put into cells very much like a small jail facility. About ten o'clock in the evening, we were allowed into the center hall where the Germans had placed a table with dark bread and a jam made with beet sugar. I think I was the only one who ate an appreciable amount. Most of the crew ate nothing. I really think I was in a state of shock that continued well into the first month of prison camp.

Prisoners in a cell at German airfield

The next morning we were joined by an American Air Force pilot. He had been shot down while on a low level strafing mission. He was captured by civilians who were very angry and accused him of killing a small child. He was very frightened because they had threatened to kill him. He was actually rescued by soldiers who eventually brought him to join us. I later tried to compare his frightening experience with my own. He was white and shaking and I had gone into shock. The circumstances where not quite the same.

We were put on a train and taken to a small town where we were allowed to leave the train and stand on the passenger loading platform. I heard someone shout "Hey Tuck". About 40 yards away was another large group of prisoners. I saw my other four crew members waving at me. I knew then that we were all alive. We reboarded the train and eventually arrived a Frankfurt where the interrogation center was located. We were herded into an open area in front of a barracks. Every few minutes, a German soldier would appear at the door and call out a name. That name was usually that of an American pilot. Very shortly after the pilot entered the barracks, the German would reappear and call the names of the crew members of that pilot. It appeared that they were using a very effective method of gaining that information. I whispered to my copilot that I would not give them any information other than my name, rank, and serial number. Soon my name was called and I entered the barracks. I was taken to a cell and locked in. There was no interrogation on that day. Later my crew informed me that shortly after I entered the barracks, the names of all my crew members were called. There did not seem to be any way that the Germans could know that we were a crew. My crew wondered how the Germans had gotten me to talk so quickly. As it was I was not even asked who I was.

Late that afternoon, I heard some German commands outside my small window. I looked out to see a squad of German soldiers with rifles, leading a blindfolded American prisoner to the far end of the building where they disappeared behind a row of bushes. There was a volley of shots. The Germans reappeared this time carrying a stretcher on which there was a covered body. Later I learned that I had witnessed a little show that was seen by many other prisoners at Dulag Luft. I doubt if anyone had ever been shot there.

On the morning of the 15th of April, I was interrogated. A young German officer who spoke very good English, asked me several questions to which I answered by saying that I could not give him any information other than my name, rank, and serial number. Midway during the interrogation, he pulled out a book that looked very much like a large picture album. In that book was an aerial picture of our airbase. Sections were numbered and by the legend one could determine what was at each location. They knew right where the bomb dump was. I was surprised at how much information they had on me. They knew where I had gone to high school. They knew the number of my airplane that I flew regularly. They knew where I had trained in the United States. There were several pictures in the book. One was a picture of my commander but the caption said he was a Major. The German officer said "You might notice that he has been promoted". I had the impression that there was nothing I could tell them that they did not already know. But I also knew that they were trying to give that impression. It was a very pleasant interrogation and I was not required to give anything more than the name, rank, and serial number.

The officers and the enlisted men were then separated and sent to the various prison camps. My crewmen went to the famous Stalag Luft 17B. The officers in my shipment went to Barth, Germany where Stalag Luft 1 was located. We traveled north in a boxcar. Four German guards had one end of the boxcar and about 40 of us were in the other end.

Boxcar with prisoners of war on the way to Barth

Another of my drawings.

There was straw on the floor and no facilities. We traveled both day and night. We arrived at Berlin one night and were taken below ground during an air raid. We must have gone 5 floors below ground to a room where there was a pot bellied stove. We huddled around that stove turning so that our front sides and back sides were warmed. You can imagine forty men trying to stay warm around one stove. No one slept that night. The next morning we were put back on the train which continued north. In order to sleep, we had to lie like sardines. If one man turned, all the rest of us turned. I was still wearing my flight slippers but some of the prisoners had shoes. One very tall American had shoes and very big feet. After being pummeled several times by those big shoes, I decided to give him a hint that I did not like it. I kicked him in the shins and woke him from a sound sleep. He sat up and tried to determine who had done it. But of course we were all asleep. It seemed to make a difference because he was more careful about where he put his feet. In order to relieve ourselves, we went to the door of the boxcar and performed.

On April 20th, we arrived at Barth only to find that the houses were decorated and the townspeople were out to meet us. It struck me as odd that they would greet us by decorating the houses but when they started to throw rotten tomatoes and eggs at us, we knew that we were not the cause of the celebration. April 20th happened to be Hitler's birthday. Lt. Tuck's prisoner of war ID photo

At the camp, we were taken into a holding area where we were divested of our clothes and run through a debugging process. From there we territory of Germany This was to be our next to last mission. One more after this and we were going home. Not much was different. The were taken to an entrance area where we were greeted by the prisoners who now lived in the camp. They hollered at us and asked what the latest news was. Several of them recognized friends among our group. Suddenly a fight broke out among the group inside the fence. Two guys were really going at each other. Then we realized that it was all put on. Those two comedians put on many a show for the entire camp. Our fenced area was called North Compound 1. The south compound was primarily British some of whom had been there two or more years. My copilot who had the damaged knee was put in the South compound. My bombardier, navigator, and I were assigned to North 1. I went to a 16 man room in barracks nine. One of the first things I did was to take a shower. Nine days without a bath or a shower is just a little too long. I started my 13 month stay as a clean prisoner.

Almost every room in the compound had a map on one wall.  In the first months we received air raid information and shipping reports. Then after D Day, we received data on the location of the front lines. As the allies would move across France and Germany, we would color map with a different color for each month. The German guards who entered the rooms during roll call or for some other reason, would study the maps and wonder how we got the information. They never did locate our radio. Course, there never was a radio. We got the information from a cooperating German Major.

I was assigned to a 16 man room in barracks #3. I may be wrong about the number of the barracks but on the drawn map, it is located in the proper position.   Here are the names of the 15 men in my room.

North 1 -  Barrack 3  Room  "Unknown"   
Robert F. Bogner Chicago, Illinois
Jack R. Bonham Bluefield, West Virginia
Malcolm E. Daniels Fresno, California
James W. Davies West Pittston, Pennsylvania
Toivo E. Eloranta Bozeman, Montana
Tom L. Gardner California
Van Hixson Salt Lake City, Utah
Jim W. Hutchison Mt. Vernon, Washington
Joseph F. Krejci Cleveland, Ohio
Peter V. Lovero Santa Ana, California
H. F. Morrison Rosemead, California
Ralph H. Stowe Portsmouth, Virginia
George E. Syme Colorado Springs, Colorado
Sterling L. Tuck        see also barrack 1 Akron, Ohio   
Henry J. Varela Salt Lake City, Utah
Robert C. Westmeyer  see also Barrack 2  Room 14 Los Angeles, California

If you have seen the movie "Stalag 17", you know what the rooms looked like. The movie set was very realistic as far as portraying the looks of the barracks and the rooms. We had wooden double bunks. There were no springs and the mattresses and pillows were burlap filled with hay. The hay would mat very quickly causing us to fluff the hay about every other day. We had a small charcoal stove. It would amaze you to see what some of the Kriegies had done to the stoves. Some had blowers to help in starting the fires. Of course these blowers were usually used in escape plans but we couldn't let the Germans know that.

The term "kriegies" is short for Kriegsgefangener which is (I think) the German word meaning "captured at war". Prisoner of war is more like Haftling kriege. As you can see my German is very limited. On a recent trip to Germany, we found that we very seldom had to speak German. We stopped at a little restaurant-bar in Prum and our waitress did not understand English so I tried to order in German. I said that I would like a beer and my wife would like white wine with ice on the side. The waitress walked away and said something laughingly to the bartender as she passed. I then realized that "ice" can be interpreted as "eggs". I called her back and after going through several explanations, I got her to understand that ice was sehr kaltes wasser, (very cold water with knocking on the table). Ah ha, she understood ice cream. We got the ice and our meal was delightful.
A little about the guys in my room. Eloranta was a tall blond Swede who was a whiz at bridge playing and not too bad as a first baseman on our softball team. Krejci was from Cleveland if I remember correctly. Morrison worked in a lumberyard and had a mathematical mind. One day I was working on a math problem. Someone asked what I was doing and I replied "I'm trying to find the fourth root of 456,976". Morrison was lying on his bunk reading a book. He put the book down and after about 5 seconds said "Twenty-six". I was shocked because I had never considered Morrison to be on the intellectual side. About that, I never did change my mind but one thing was for sure. He had a mathematical mind. Tom Gardner. I don't know what Tom did before entering the service but I classified him as a used car salesman. He was a sharp trader. He knew I did not smoke and had saved several packs of cigarettes. He suggested we set up a dice table outside our barracks. Of course, I put up the money (cigarettes) while he made the table in real Las Vegas style. We did very well for about three days except that cigarettes were getting a little shabby. Some were reduced to tobacco. Eventually, a lucky shooter came along and we were cleaned out.

Ralph Stowe was the only person in our room who was successful in escaping from the camp. He was eventually captured and returned. The wheels who were in charge of escape plans, tried their best to find our how he did it and he would not tell them anything. I have a good idea because he discussed his plan with me. He and I were to make German work uniforms from the bed sheets. He made a jacket and I made a pair of trousers. I had no intention of escaping with him because his plan was to watch the guards in the towers and when they were both looking in the opposite direction, we were to run to the barbed wire fence, crawl up, jump over, and casually walk down the road. Physically it would take a very good jump because the barbed wires were in two rows spaced about 6 feet apart. The advantage was that the posts had been staggered and the opposing fence sagged slightly. We spent several days watching the guards and timing the opportunities. There were many times that they looked away from our position for as much as 2 minutes. That would have been plenty of time to get over the fence. As I saw it, it was a big risk because there was no assurance that the guards would turn around. And the fact that we knew the guards would shoot, made it less desirable. One day at roll call, it was obvious that someone was missing. Yep, it was Stowe. I looked under my mattress and sure enough, my trousers were gone. I was not upset and wished Ralph the best of luck. He was captured because it was cold and the potatoes were frozen under the ground and dogs love to bark at strangers.

Stowe is the only person in that room that I have talked to since leaving the camp. A few years ago, I talked to him over the phone and he still would not tell me how he had escaped. He seemed reluctant to talk to me and I have a feeling that he did not remember who I was. It wasn't the kind of reunion that I expected.

George Syme. Nice quiet guy who pitched for our softball team. He didn't have that big round up pitch which is so prevalent among softball pitchers but he did have a big arc and could really zing the ball across the plate. Jim Hutchinson. He was my favorite. Red head from the State of Washington and had attended either Washington U or Washington State. He played shortstop and was one of our best hitters. I played third. We didn't do too well in the league. Finished somewhere in the middle of the final standings. But we did enjoy playing.

While I am into sports, let me tell about boxing. I was talking about boxing one day and I guess the guys considered I was a blow hard. So I asked if anyone wanted to put the gloves on with me. No one wanted to but they managed to talk Hutchison into it. I don't think Red wanted to box but he was sort of pushed into it. Well, Red was no boxer, and the match did not last very long. On one of the holiday gatherings, Colonel Zempke, the fighter ace, challenged anyone in the camp to a boxing match. I believe it was to be staged on July 4th. Naturally the guys in my room wanted to see their blowhard get his head knocked off. They insisted so strongly, that I agreed to challenge Zempke. When I went to the wheel barracks, there was a long line. Must have been 30 guys there to challenge. I decided not to stand in the line but I must admit that I was curious to know just how good he was. He finally accepted the challenge of a paratrooper. The bad thing was that the paratrooper had been wounded and I don't think he was back in good shape. They had the boxing match and I was sorry I wasn't up there in the ring.

My big mouth got me into another match. A couple thousand enlisted men had been brought in from Latvia or Lithuania. They were housed in an area behind our mess hall. One of those young men was from Akron, Ohio and looked me up to talk about home. We struck up a casual friendship and during the course of the conversation, I mentioned that I boxed. Not professionally but kind of neighborhood stuff. The kid took the story back to his barracks and wouldn't you know but I was challenged to a boxing match. I accepted and when I arrived in the enlisted area, I found that they had set up a ring, appointed a second for me and had a huge crowd of heavy bettors and were anxious to see that "officer" get his nose broke. Someone mentioned that my opponent was a former Golden Glove fighter from Chicago. We fought three two minute rounds. It was a very good fight and I ate lots of leather. Neither of us was bloody but both were tired and sore. Since the judges were all enlisted, I figured I did not have much chance of winning. I was truly surprised when they called it a draw. I had a feeling there was much respect in that crowd for both of us. We had given them a good fight.

Football - We had a six man football league. Hutchinson was our quarterback and I played end. Red could really throw a pass and I was able to catch them. We won the league. It was tag football but blocks were allowed. The games could get a little rough but it was good exercise.

When I arrived, there were only the south and north compounds. The south compound was for the British but several hundred Americans were in that compound. As the north #1 filled up with about 2,000 men, the north #2 was built. When north 2 reached 2,000 men, north 3 was built. I am pretty sure that north 3 also held 2,000 men. All of these were officers totaling about 6,500. Toward the end of the war, the enlisted men came in and were housed in the area labeled enlisted area. They had come in from camps in either or both Latvia and Lithuania which was being overrun by the Russians.

When those enlisted men arrived, they were tired and hungry. We did not have very much food ourselves but a collection was made and food and some other items from our personal supplies were made available to the enlisted men. Sometime later, I heard that the enlisted men were complaining that they were not getting as much rations as the officers got. They received the same rations. There may have been some misunderstanding because several of the officers had managed to save personal items which had been mailed from their families.

We all pulled duty as KPs (kitchen police). I was on the roster about three times. We spent the whole day peeling potatoes and turnips and cutting away the bad cabbage. Since we had to do that only once every 150 days, no one complained.

Speaking of food. When I first arrived at the camp, we each received a Red Cross parcel once a week. The parcel usually contained a can of powdered milk which we called Klim. There was (you may say were if you wish) a box of raisins or dates. a D-Bar which was a chocolate bar, six packs of cigarettes, a can of Spam, some coffee, and a small can of liver patê.

The parcels along with the German supplied potatoes, turnips, cabbage, bread, barley, and beet sugar, served us adequately for a couple months. Then things got a little worse. The parcels started to come in once every two weeks and then one parcel for two men and then hardly any at all. Those parcels, which did arrive now, showed signs of having been opened and quite often, there was no coffee and fewer cigarettes. During the decrease in parcels, there was also a shortage of food from the Germans. Following D-Day, there was very little movement of supplies. The heavy bombing and the low level strafing kept the trains and trucks from moving during the daytime. I understood that the parcels were shipped by train from Switzerland, which was a long way from our camp. After the Battle of the Bulge, we started to feel the pangs of hunger. Being hungry was not as bad as the lack of proper nutrition. Our breakfast consisted of a bowl of barley, which was cooked up in the kitchen of the mess hall. The best way to eat the barley was to not look at it. A barley worm looks very much like a piece of barley even when it is cooked. So if you did not look, it was very good. Occasionally we had meat but the boys in the kitchen - some of whom had been butchers in civilian life - said it was horse meat. I weighed about 170 lbs when shot down and when the war ended, I was down to 140 lbs.

One day we noticed that the Germans were erecting another building across the street from our barracks. Naturally since we had nothing else more exciting, we spent quite a bit of time watching the construction. It looked very much like our barracks. After completion of the building, we watched the Germans carry several boxes and bags into the building. Then we noticed that some of the boxes were marked with the symbol for dynamite or explosives. A building just across the street loaded with explosives seemed just a little dangerous. One day and order came down stating that almost everyone in our barracks would be required to move to another barracks wherever we could find a vacancy. I moved into a room in the barracks where my Bombardier lived. Another order followed the first one. This one required all the Jewish men to move into our former barracks. On our dog tags we had P for Protestant, C for Catholic, and H for Hebrew. There is not much doubt that the Germans figured that if the explosive loaded building ever blew up, several of the Jewish men would go with it. Fortunately that never happened.



As for our clothing, we tried to salvage and maintain the clothes we were wearing when we were captured. The Germans did issue some very large and heavy coats to be worn in the winter.  The accompanying snapshot shows several members with their American uniforms. The one in the upper left is our bombardier who I think was born with a tie on. The person on the left in the front row was Gilbert "Shorty" Klaeser who spoke fluent German and one day almost walked out of the camp. Unfortunately he was recognized by one of guards and forced to return. I believe these men were my room mates in the second room that I lived in. I recognize Logan, Wallace "Chief" Tyner and Levins.

 POWs at Stalag Luft I

From left to right - Back Row - Irving Day, P. J. Kiefer, Unknown, Brown, Andrew Logan, Wallace Tyner, Bush
Front Row  - Gilbert Klaeser, Albert R. Johnson, Quinn, Earl Bason, and William Levins


I think I can best describe our dental facilities by recounting my experience. I developed an abscessed tooth, which started to be very painful. Our dental clinic was in the south compound and had three dentists who I believe were captured in the Anzio beachhead. When I finally arrived at the dental clinic, my jaw was slightly swollen. The dentist said the tooth would have to come out. He asked if I would like some anesthetic. Then he told me that it would not do much good because it was so weak, it was practically useless. We decided to forego the anesthetic. He then started to loosen my tooth. Then he proceeded to pull it. Suddenly, he stopped. I asked if the tooth was out. He said that he hadn't pulled it yet. I asked why. He said that I was about to pass out. I told him that I didn't care if I did pass out but to go ahead and pull the tooth. He did pull the tooth. I asked why he thought I was going to pass out. He said that he was watching my pupils, which had gotten very small and indicated that I was about to pass out. Many years later, I went to a Veterans Administration dental clinic to see if I could get dental care. I was told that if I had dental work done while in prison camp, that I could have work done on that portion of my mouth. The VA said they would send for my records. I knew there were no records kept of that work so I figured I would not get the care. A couple weeks later, I was informed that they could work on the upper left part of my mouth. They actually knew which tooth had been pulled. I was amazed but later remembered that when we had been returned to the United States, we were taken to a dental clinic and given a complete examination. Evidently, I told the technician about the incident. Then later on, the VA decided to work on the teeth of prisoners of war if they had been detained for 6 months. And I think there have been changes since then. As it is, I have had all my dental work done by the VA and fortunately, I have had excellent care. Just recently, I had a 1½ hour root canal without anesthetic. The tooth was dead so there was no need for the anesthetic. Dr. Christian is an artist.


Our band and the fire

We did have a band and the musicians did a good job of entertaining us on holidays and during the supper meal. We had a pretty good vocalist. As I remember, we had a piano, drums, trumpets, trombones, saxes, and strings. There were actually two bands. One was the classical and the other was popular. And of course our comedians were usually there to keep us laughing. Oddly, I don't remember anything about the fire except that the mess hall where the instruments were stored caught fire and when it cooled enough to search the debris, all of the brass instruments were found flat and I am not talking about the pitch. They had melted. Fortunately the other compounds had instruments and our band was formed again. That band did a lot in keeping the spirits up.


Hot Water Brigade

After the morning roll call, several men from each barracks had the duty of getting the hot water for morning coffee in each room. I was one of those who stood in the ranks with my bucket waiting for the command "Dismissed!" On the dismissal command, we would run toward the gate that led to the mess hall. During roll call, the gate was closed and guarded by a German soldier. From experience, he knew that he had to open that gate as quickly as possible because there were about 40 men running toward him at full speed. It was imperative to be one of the first in line because there was just so much water and only the first 20 men were sure of getting their portion.

On this particular morning, it was cold and snow covered the ground. Compounding the situation was the fact that the gates opened inwardly. For some reason or other, the guard was a little slow in opening the gates and unfortunately was standing right in the path of the thundering herd. Down he went along with about 10 of the runners. It was a snowy mess. I only wish someone could have taken a movie of that because it would have made a great scene. After that, the guard opened only one side of the gate and stood well to the side.


Guard Dogs

All the dogs that I saw were German Shepherds. After we were confined to our barracks for the night, the dogs were allowed to run free in the camp. We had an officer who lived in our barracks but not in our room. He was a very attractive man. Stood over six feet tall, blonde and well built. Also very affected. He wasn't very well liked by the men in our room but would occasionally come in to talk. I don't think he was well liked in his room either. One evening he was in our room sitting on the window ledge telling us how great he was. I don't know what prompted him to get up and leave the window. He was very lucky because a dog had seen him and attacked at the very moment the guy moved. We all saw the teeth and heard the snap, but the dog missed. We laughed ourselves silly and Pretty boy did not come into our room after that.

In the summer, the guard at the gate would be accompanied by a dog. We, while we were standing in roll call formation and being crazy Americans, would taunt the dog. Of course the dog would bark and growl and pull at the leash. One day the dog broke away from the guard and came charging toward us. We all faced the dog with intentions of tearing it pieces. Evidently the dog sensed the situation because he slid to a stop, put his tail between his legs and slunk back to the guard. Then we felt sorry for the dog which got a severe beating from the guard.



We called the guards "goons". When a guard would enter the barracks, someone would holler a warning "Goon up". Occasionally a guard would ask "Was ist der meaning of "goon". We explained that it meant German of Noncommissioned rank. That seemed to satisfy them.

NOTE ---- For the youngsters. In the comics of those days there was an awful looking creature called a goon.



Yes, we had booze. Barrel staves were made from the wood slats of the beds. The German bread made a good paste for fitting the staves together. Then with the fruit from packages and beet sugar, the brew was made. It was allowed to ferment and the alcohol was drawn off. There were some very ingenious stills in the camp. Sometimes potatoes were used. I can honestly say that not very many of the prisoners drank brew. HOWEVER -- The room next to ours decided to make a batch of booze. One of the men in that room was named Koch. He was not a drinker and decided to abstain. They knew that with 15 drinkers, there would not be much booze to go around. So, they elected to allow the fermentation to go a little longer than the usual recipe called for. Finally the day arrived for the party. Several of us tried to get a taste of the booze. We were turned down. That night they had their party and it was a lulu. We had to sit there and listen to them having all the fun. The next morning, their room was a mess. Poor Lt. Koch had his hands full. Hardly any of the drinkers could walk and several had fallen out of their bunks. The room was filthy and smelled to high heaven. It was two days before most of them recovered enough to walk.



One morning, I looked out the window and there on the barbed wire fence was a cross and on the vertical board was an arrow pointing down. On the horizontal board was written "Congratulations #100". So I assumed that the Germans kept track. That particular tunnel came from the room next to ours. A tunnel could not be dug deeper than 8 feet because of the underground water level. And once you got that deep and started to dig in the horizontal shaft, you could go no farther than eight feet because of lack of oxygen. We made use of the empty tin cans to construction an air delivery system. The air would be piped through the connected cans to where the workers (moles) were digging. Bellows were used to force the air through the piping. One room had pedals hooked up to run the bellows. The digging was also done with cans. The sandy soil made it easy to dig but also dangerous. Many a bed slat went into the construction of tunnel supports. Getting rid of the sand was another problem. There was so much sand stored in the rafters, that we were afraid the building would collapse. Sand was flushed in the toilets but that had to be stopped because the toilets would become plugged. Sand was loaded into trousers and we would walk around the camp gradually letting the sand fall to the ground. None of these systems worked very well because the Germans would send their ferrets (German soldiers) under the barracks at night and they were very good at discovering new tunnels which were eventually filled with barbed wire and sand. If a tunnel reached 20 feet horizontally, that was considered to be a fairly good attempt. To my knowledge, only one tunnel worked and that one was dug from the British area, went under a German building, and was very long. The Germans did not expect a tunnel to be attempted in that manner. The escapees were captured very quickly.

I'll be back later to write some more when I find time. ...

Sterling Tuck at 84

Sterling Tuck at 84.

Click here for Sterling's personal website.




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