Updates

D-Day as a POW in Stalag Luft VI

(Posted: June 6, 2013)
Today marks the 69th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion! This is a page from my Father’s POW notebook.  Notice how he has notated June 6, 1944, differently than other days.  Even though he was behind barbed wire with German propaganda echoing in the air, he knew of the D-Day Invasion!!!  It was because of the POW ingenuity in the building of the crystal radios.  They smuggled parts into the camp to build the secret radios that they would keep hidden from the German guards.  It would drive the guards nuts trying to find out where they obtained their information!  This is proof that as isolated as the POWs were, through their perseverance, determination and innovation, they did everything they could to keep faith that they would some day have their freedom!

October Programs 2011

(Posted: October 4, 2011)

I spent a great evening October 3rd with the Bemus Point Ladies Study Club. The meeting was held at St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church and I was invited to dine with the group before my book presentation. There was quite a spread of everyone’s favorite dishes. These creative women coordinate fundraising for the Bemus Point Library sponsoring activities that are enjoyable as well. I was impressed by the hospitable group and enjoyed sharing the tale of my pursuit of my Father’s WWII experience with them. I mentioned how grateful that I was to them for inviting me there helping me to keep the memory of the price of freedom alive. I was pleased for the opportunity to leave books that will be available for sale at the Bemus Point Library.

C-17 At Joint Base Lewis McChord

(Posted: September 5, 2011)

It may be gradual but I want to continue to add the details of the Seminar on August 8th and 9th at McChord Base.  As these memorable days came to an end, it was a bonus for us to be asked by Sgt. Swan if we would like a tour of the C-17 before we left the base. What a welcome opportunity it was and totally unexpected!  It was an exciting offer that the three of us were thrilled to take advantage of!

This ”Globemaster”  is absolutely HUGE!  It was interesting to be given the tour by the young sergeant,  who is also the mother of a two-year old, whose role is as needed in both the mechanical and medical field.   Sgt. Swan is one of an impressive group that I can’t say enough about.  They are dedicated and selfless individuals; dedicated to us and our Country.

“Operation Deep Freeze”

(Posted: September 3, 2011)

In commenting on the Seminar that was held August 8th and 9th at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, home of the 446th Airlift Wing, I am beginning at the end because I’m anxious to tell about the gifts that many of the presenters were given. I never expected to receive a gift. It was a gift for me to be there! It was the greatest honor for me to receive a flag that was flown to Antarctica in “Operation Deep Freeze.”  Read more about the kick off for the 2011-12 Season…

Notebook Page – “Fate”

(Posted: June 26, 2011)

 

This poem written and sketched by my father is “in memory of W/O Raymond Stevens of the Royal Air Force” as it states. I have found that the correct spelling is “Stephen”. I believe when reading the words that it is self-explanatory but I did question my friend, Ex-POW Joe O’Donnell, about this unfortunate occurrence in Stalag Luft IV which he remembered well.

Joe states that every indication from my father’s poem and picture tells him that my father may have been in B Lager. It is noticeable that the small huts that my father has drawn are not barracks but the huts that the RAF POW’s slept in. The fact that he knew the name of the RAF POW which was Warrant Officer Raymond Thomas Stephen who was RAF # 944044 , killed July 29, 1944, makes it clear that he was very near him. Other POW’s say they heard or that someone told them someone was hit by lightning. My father had to be very close to the incident and may have even known this POW well from the months they could possibly have spent together – the months from February 21, 1944, until that fateful day July 29, 1944. The American and RAF POW’s were together for a period of time at Stalag Luft VI and then brought together by boat and boxcar to Stalag Luft IV. It is very possible this Raymond Thomas Stephen was more than just a name to my father.

It could also be that my father was in D Lager as it is a fact that this Lager housed most of the RAF POW’s as well as many of the Americans transferred from Stalag Luft VI.

This poem really touched me when I read it. Every one of the POW’s had been through their own ordeal en route to becoming a Prisoner of War. This British gentleman would have had a close call having been shot down and then captured. As the poem states “He lost his plane but not his life”. He may have had quite a story of survival and luck may have been with him a number of times. He, according to the poem, also had been a prisoner for years prior to my father’s capture and internment. That solidifies my feeling that my father knew this man as he knew he had been imprisoned a while. They most certainly had been together at Stalag Luft VI and perhaps were on the same boat and even in the same boxcar when being transferred to Stalag Luft IV. They knew that peace was so near according to the lines “What Fate had he who flew so high. When peace so near but to die”. They had heard the gunfire in the distance and knew they were being moved away from the advancing Russians.

The meaning of this poem is obvious. Here this man had survived the terror of being shot down and how unfair that by fate he was to die in such a tragic way when it seemed that “freedom, liberty and his land” were so near. He lay sleeping in what were called the “dog huts” and the men were laying five in a row when lightning struck and went through all of the men with the last man, Raymond Stephen, being killed as the ground for the lethal bolt.

This occurrence was another sadness that my father would witness that he would never speak of and surely it would have had a lasting effect – another incident that would remain buried deeply in his memory. From this simple sketch and poem, it is momentous to be able to determine approximately where my father lived during the time spent in this Camp in Gross Tychow. Without him to ask and with the possibility of finding a roommate who remembers him there becoming bleaker with time, I can never be certain but it does seem to me to be a significant addition to dad’s story in more ways than one.

There is, however, the possibility that my father copied this sketch and poem from another POW as this was a common practice among the Kriegies. But, it fits in with the writings and sketches that I know are his so I believe that he is the author and artist for this poem entitled “Fate”. Dad had to wonder what his own fate was and if he would ever walk the earth freely again.

I would love to hear my father explain this incident to me and learn just what his relationship was with Warrant Officer Stephen. I would love to be able to ask him which Lager that he was in which made him aware of and inspired him to write about this event. I believe that it has been documented that this brave airman was buried at this camp and then his remains transferred to Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery in Poland. I would love to be able to tell my father where Raymond Stephen, who was more than likely his friend, is now commemorated for eternity.

A web site concerning the history of the Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery was located that gave the following information concerning the courageous British Airman (notice that the date is July 29, 1944 – this would have been only 11 days after my father arrived at Stalag Luft IV. This, to me, emphasizes even more the possibility of the closeness of my father to this unfortunate lad. I suspect that they arrived at the camp together otherwise he wouldn’t have been so aware of who he was only being there 11 days and probably wouldn’t have been so impacted that he would write about his death.)

In Memory of
Warrant Officer RAYMOND THOMAS STEPHEN

944044, 15 Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
who died age 24
on 29 July 1944
Son of Alfred John Watson Stephen and Mary Craighead Stephen,
of Ripponden, Yorkshire.
Remembered with honour
POZNAN OLD GARRISON CEMETERY
Commemorated in perpetuity by
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Following is an interesting and amazing comment made concerning Marian Niewolski, who survived the lightening strike in Stalag Luft IV.  It is important to highlight the extension of this story graciously shared by his son, David!! . . . .

My father, Marian Niewolski, was in the hut that was hit by lightning while he was held as a Polish Airman in the Royal Air Force. He said very little about his time during the war, but did talk about being hit by lightning and another man dying. Seconds before the strike, he called a fellow over to his bunk to show him something in a magazine. That movement took him out of the worst of the strike and he credited my father with saving his life. I have the pocket watch that my father carried at the time of the strike. He pointed out marks on the case of the watch that he believed were caused by the strike. He described the injury to his body, saying that his electrified skin looked like the veins of a maple leaf.
Another memorable story attached to this incident is a chance meeting with a stranger. My wife and I invited my friend Bill Desimone to a Christmas dinner in 1988. Bill brought along Howard Lopez, who was a little older than my dad. It didn’t take long to get to their wartime experience. Howard had also been shot down during the war. As a prisoner of war he had one story he had to tell. On a warm summer day, with a strong rain storm sending rivulets of water streaming off the roof of his hut, Howard ran out to shower in the downpour. With his elbows on our table, he flattened his hands above the table and wiggled his fingers as he described the seeming approach of a sheet of lightning over the ground. It hit one of the small metal huts nearby. He said that a number of men were injured and one was killed.
My father broke in by saying, “You know, Howard, I was one of those guys!”
In an instant, 44 years vanished and we were all brought very close to this terrible and incomprehensible moment.
Thanks for your effort. My father and Howard have been gone for many years, but there is so much that is available on the Internet. I am very grateful to everyone who works to keep these memories alive.
Thanks,
David Niewolski”

Joseph P. O’Donnell – Part 2

(Posted: June 7, 2011)

Part 2 has been added of Joe’s memories of his journey to a transit camp in Frankfurt for Interrogation and processing before being assigned to a permanent camp.

Joe O’Donnell – Part 1

(Posted: June 5, 2011)

Joe O’Donnell , a B-17 ball turret gunner in WWII, was shot down, bailed out over enemy territory, and evaded capture for 24 hours.  Read about his one day of freedom in German-occupied Austria by clicking on his name.

The Cook Crew B-17 Indeed!

(Posted: April 18, 2011)

As a followup to the B-17! post, I am happy to add the latest:

The bomber is indeed that of my Father’s crew as verified by eye witness, Jaak Ramakers.  Please read his response to the letter that I sent to him inquiring on the photo, http://www.remember-history.com/the-story/b-17/

It is another development in my Father’s story that I find absolutely incredible!  To think that this picture would surface at this time 67 years later amazes me.  You have to read of how it came about; the perfect timing making this discovery possible.

It’s difficult to put into words how I feel when I look at the photo realizing that moments before my Father had manned his station. This is a sight that my Dad had never seen. I can only imagine his reaction to this picture of the plane that took him on his last mission if he were here. He may well have wondered many times in his post-war years what became of the doomed bomber that he had to bail out of to save his life! I wish I could see that reaction. I know, like me, he’d be absolutely amazed!

The Story of an Evader

(Posted: April 6, 2011)

I am adding the story of one of the first heroes who I’ve met in researching my Father’s story.  Jetty Cook kindly responded to an article that I had written and was placed in the 92nd Bomb Group Newsletter.  He was a Podington “fly boy”, as was my Dad, and he also coincidentally bailed out of his badly damaged bomber over Belgium.  He was very helpful to me in the planning of my trip to Belgium in 2006.  He knows the area well, traveling the area during a most perilous time of his life and returning several times to reunite with the friends who helped him evade capture during WWII.  He tells a riveting story of survival that should be of interest to all.  It is an honor to have become acquainted with Jetty and his lovely wife, Wanda.

My Heroes!

(Posted: April 4, 2011)

I have felt very honored to meet so many individuals who have graciously shared their stories with me teaching me that, although they have had different experiences, there are many similarities. I realized that all of these stories were relevant to my father’s experience. I am so grateful to all of them and my plan is to introduce you to each of them and what I’ve learned about each of them. They are my heroes!