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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Ray Tombley Lt. Ray Trombley
P- 38 Fighter Pilot

48th Fighter Sq. 14th Fighter Group, 15th Air Force
Stationed north of Foggia, Italy

Shot down November 1, 1944
Prisoner of War at  Stalag XIII-D, Nürnberg and Stalag VII-A

Click here to email Ray
I was with the 48th Fighter Sq. 14th Fighter Gr, 15th Air Force stationed north of Loggia, Italy. On November 1, 1944 after a weeks rest on the Isle of Capri, I took off on my 17th mission to Vienna, Austria.

As we approached Vienna we hit a solid front and started splitting up and losing each other. I was by myself so I called  and asked for permission to return to base. I then headed south and five minutes later I saw another P-38. I called and asked him to identify himself, he was a Major who had just joined our squadron. I told him to fly my wing, soon I saw a large concentration of trains and locomotives. I called for permission to strafe and that is when I got shot down. I had to go through the fire to get out when I crashed.

I spent a couple of months in a Catholic hospital in Kormand, Hungary. Then two guards took me to Budapest where I stayed in a hospital. The Russians were coming so they moved me to an airfield outside of the city where I was transferred to the Germans.  I joined six other Americans in jail. I could give a lot more details about what happened but it would take too long. The seven of us were guarded by two old German soldiers, moved by walking and train to Vienna, Regensburg, Nurnberg-, and Frankfurt.  After interrogation, we were moved to Nurnberg where I met Phil.   See story below.

The following is a wonderful, heart warming story written by Ray's friend Phil Wright.

Prune Face & The Brow

 by Phil Wright


       Stalag XIII-D, Nürnberg— The sight of a grotesquely burned  pilot, wandering lonely about the camp, was a shock to all who saw him. He had no ears, no eyelids, and his mouth just a hole in a face of hideously scarred skin drawn taut over a scull topped with hair the color and texture of a dead mouse. We tried not to stare.

       More than a hundred of us lived in a huge tent, crammed together on the ground  on straw ticks. Mess hall meals were sumptuous feasts of a thin broth garnished with bugs, accompanied by dehydrated black sauerkraut, and bread largely composed of sawdust. We ate it all!

       One day the grotesque pilot wandered over to my  area and said, "Hi Wright."

       Dumbfounded, I could only stammer, "I'm sorry, I don't know who you are."

       "I'm Ray Trombley," he responded. Stunned, I could only babble stupidly.

       The Ray Trombley I'd known so well in flight school was cherub-faced with curly blond hair, and an impish grin from Springfield, Mass. I was unable to comprehend this was the same person. Nor could I bring myself to ask him what had happened. Shamefully, I was relieved, when he wandered off, clutching a dirty piece of gauze to wipe pus from his eyes. It was a terrible moment—sympathy and revulsion intertwined. I was not proud of myself.

       When Ray had left, one in my quartet took me aside, stunning me when he said, "Phil, please don't ask Ray to eat with us. I couldn't take it." It seemed terribly cruel, but I understood. I said I wouldn't. The point was moot, as Ray never asked to join us.

       Only later did I learn that he'd gone on to fly P-38s in Italy north of Foggia. On his 17th mission to Vienna on November 1, 1944 he caught a wing tip on a tree while strafing a large concentration of trains and locomotives in Hungary and cart wheeled in. He was burned horribly climbing out of the flaming wreckage. Hungarian soldiers captured him and lugged him in a horse drawn cart to a Catholic hospital in Kormand, Hungary where he was expected to die. He survived, and in a month or so two Hungarian guards took him to another hospital in Budapest by train disguised as a Czech prisoner-of-war. On the train two German soldiers came up to him and put a gun to his head threatening to shoot him as a spy in disguise before letting him go. It was just one of the many close calls he was able to survive.

       By the middle of January he was believed to be well enough to join up with six other P.O.W.s, and  two old guards to go to Frankfurt-am-Main. On the way to Vienna they were chased by angry civilian crowds trying to hang them. In Vienna  they were made to stay on the top floor of a department store that was bombed nightly by Allied planes. From Vienna, they went by train and on foot for roughly 250 miles through the beautiful Danube valley to Regensburg. Coming into Regensburg they were strafed by P-38's, but fortunately no one was hit.

     From Regensburg to Frankfurt was another 200 miles. So, fifty-four days after leaving Budapest, and traveling at less than 10 miles a day, they finally arrived in Frankfurt on March 10, 1945. Saying goodbye to the guards, who had become good friends during the long trip, they were interrogated and deloused. Then the seven of them were led into a huge room where several hundred starving Russians were lying on the floor. The stench was so overwhelming one of the guys fainted. After awhile they were given bars of rough soap and led into a huge shower room to finally get clean. A  few days later they were all sent off to Nürnberg in miserably crowded boxcars that were the lot of all large groups of POWs traveling by train.

       Also at Nürnberg, from flight school, and flying P-47 Thunderbolts with me in the 36th Fighter Group, 9th A.F., were Harry Vibbert and Joe Schultis. Harry was shot down in September of '44. He suffered very severe burns on his arms, legs, throat, forehead, and broke his ankle when he landed in his parachute.

       The Germans walked him several miles until he finally collapsed standing at attention in front of a German officer seated behind a desk. But regardless of how rough a time Harry had he never lost his indomitable sense of humor.

       Joe was shot down during The Battle of the Bulge and evaded for five days. His feet were badly frost bitten crossing streams in the frigid December weather. He came that close to the lines that he could smell GI cooking and hear American voices before he was captured.

       I was shot down in March of '45 and suffered from two infected hangnails and bunch of flea bites!!

       Ray, on the other hand, was in terrible shape both mentally and physically. To sleep he had to roll his eyes up into his head. In the mornings he'd hold a little pocket mirror in one hand and wipe the caked pus from his eyes with the dirty piece of gauze, while staring at his horribly disfigured  face. Our hearts went out to him, but there was nothing we could do.

       In a way, Harry was Ray's savior. Though even more badly burned than Ray, his face wasn't as disfigured as Ray's nor was he as overwhelmed by his condition. But only Harry, with his unflagging humor, could allow him to get away with dubbing Ray "Prune  Face" and himself "The Brow"—from the comic strip characters in Dick Tracy.

       Whenever Ray sank into a funk, Harry would say, "Come on 'Prune Face,' I'm 'The Brow,' and I'm the boss," and Ray would buck up. It was beautiful to watch what those two men did for each other. One giving - one receiving - both gaining. It's a memory I'll  treasure forever.

       We were liberated on April 29, 1945 from Stalag VII-A at Moosburg, and Ray and Harry were flown home immediately for hospitalization. Later, Harry, Joe, and I had  a couple of wild nights out in Detroit, before going on to our life's separate ways.

   Years later, I visited Harry in the veteran's hospital in Detroit - he was dying of cancer - and he kidded me about getting bald. For Christmas that year he sent me a cheap red pen embossed with his name  and a dime store comb. I treasure them. He died shortly afterwards. I loved that man, as only men who share in combat can.

       Harry had given me Ray's address, and we still correspond. Photographs put the lie to the old saying, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." He looks great - just an older addition of that baby-faced blond guy I knew in flight school.

       But, "Prune Face" and "The Brow" will never be forgotten - God bless-em!

Prune Face & The Brow pics

Click here to email Ray Trombley


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