Oscar “Mick” Wagelie

Oscar “Mick” Wagelie is another one of “my heroes”. He took the time to respond to one of my articles printed in the 92nd Bomb Group newsletter looking for a crew member or room mate who remembered my Father. Mick, as the favored name he referred to himself by in his correspondence with me, was a B-24 ball turret gunner and was assigned to the 93rd Bomb Group; he was stationed alongside my Father’s group, the 92nd Bomb Group. He was shot down and became a POW in Stalag Luft VI and Stalag Luft IV and thought that he may remember my Father. I sent him a letter and pictures and that was the beginning of a lengthy friendship. He and his wife, Nora, became special friends without my ever meeting them personally. Although I always thought I would love to travel to Washington to meet and thank Mick in person, it would never come to pass. I always told him that I admired and appreciated his sacrifice. I would send him pictures from my visits to the areas familiar to him as well as a summary of my travels. He always wished that he could return to these places from his past but it was not going to be possible for him. Mick knew that I was writing my Father’s story and he was a great source of information. He so generously sent me his unpublished story that he said was written years ago at the request of his sister. I feel honored that he sent the story to me. I am disappointed and saddened that both Mick and Nora passed away before my book was published. I had not heard from him in quite some time and I sorely missed his wonderful letters. I regret that Mick could not see that I did finish what I started in my mission to keep the memory alive of what he, my Father, and all those who they symbolize to me, alive. I feel that in posting Mick’s unpublished story that it is a fitting tribute and details his experience as a ball turret gunner based on facts he graciously documented and so kindly shared. Mick’s is another story that is relevant to my father’s journey. Following is “The Story” as written by Sergeant Oscar “Mick” Wagelie. May his memory live on . . . . . . .

My Army Life Begins

I was not prepared for the lifestyle the military offered. It was a matter of hurry up and wait. But we soon became used to it.

On the day we were to report at fort Lewis, just south of Tacoma, we had to be in Bellingham by 5:30 in the morning to catch a North Coast bus. This we did and arrived in Seattle about 7:30. An Army bus met us there and transported us to the King Street Station of the Great Northern Railway. This made no sense to us until we realized that the train took us right into the very center of the fort. We arrived there about 9:45. We had a reception committee awaiting us in the form of a Corporal. He began barking orders and informing us that we looked like the worst bunch of would-be soldiers he had ever witnessed. We took this in our stride but were further harassed by a group of draftees marching by with the remarks that “You’ll be sorry!”

Our names were checked off of a register and they found two men missing which did not really concern us very much. We were marched to a building and the first thing they did was to take our fingerprints and a blood sample. We also had to fill out a form to indicate our next of kin names and address. We were looking forward to getting uniforms but that was not to be until later in the day. They then marched us to a building and we waited for about 30 minutes until someone came in and produced a set of dog tags for each of us. We were told to never take them off under any circumstances. Then the fun began! When we entered the building we were told to take off all our clothing, EVERYTHING, and put them in a paper bag with our home address.

After this ordeal we were marched along a line and examined for dental work, mouth and ear and throat abnormalities as well as eye exams. Then, moving right along, had our very first Army style short-arm inspection plus a heart and lung look see. When we thought this had to be the end, we were given a series of small-pox, tetanus and other shots. Then, finally, we came to a sector where they began issuing our clothing. It was quite comical to see the staff eye-balling us and issuing the different sizes. Some had a shirt several times too large or vice versa. But, back in the barracks, we exchanged garments to better suit our sizes.

We were finally marched to our barracks and assigned bunks. A Corporal came in and gave us a 15 minute lesson on making up a bunk. When we practiced a few times we got the hang of it. Then we were marched to the mess hall for our first Army meal. More later….

For those who read this and have had experience in the Army you will no doubt concur with what I have to write about, at least in some instances. When we approached the mess hall, the Corporal in charge of our platoon, regarded himself as some sort of God or if not at least as if he were an officer. He stopped us with the word HALT, which means stop. Then told us we were not to move until he gave a further command. As we waited patiently he marched up to the head of the chow line and then yelled “dismissed.” Of course he was then almost in the mess hall and we had to rush to get in line. In the hall we were told to grab an aluminum mess dish and approach the feed line. The first KP on duty slapped a portion of mashed potatoes on my dish. I mean SLAPPED! I felt the potatoes splash in all directions, some on the floor and some on me. I advanced and was given a portion of food which looked like fried eggs. It turned out to be EGG PLANT. Since I thought it was egg, I asked for more. The KP looked at me as if I were a little dimwitted and slapped a generous second helping on my tray. I lived to regret that move because when I tasted it I realized I had made a mistake. When we had all finished our meal we were told to exit a door where a 2nd Lieutenant stood and told me to go back and finish my lunch. I told him I could not eat it and threw it in a disposable can. I expected to be reprimanded for this but I guess he realized that I just could not eat it and let me go.

We all finished our lunch and were told to “fall in” which means to assemble in a 2 column line. Then we went through the routine of “right face” then “forward march.” We learned this Army maneuver the hard way but finally got it through our heads so it became routine. The rest of the day was spent in orientation lessons and some films on Army regulations and so forth. We were kept busy until chow time in the evening. When we returned to our barracks we were under the impression the days’ work was completed. How wrong we were! We were told to look at our barracks bulletin board twice daily and any information would appear there. When I looked I saw that I was scheduled to post guard duty from 10:00 until midnight. It was my duty, with completion of my guard duty, to notify and wake up the next one due.

So I went to bed until 10:00 and was instructed to take a wooden board about three feet long and guard the street in front of the Officers’ barracks. When there, I walked from one end of the sidewalk to the other. I thought this was a piece of cake until all of a sudden a whole bunch of Officers appeared from the movie on base and were heading for their quarters. I was supposed to be alert and challenge them. “Halt, who goes there?” Not having been told this routine I was soundly “chewed out” by a 2nd. Lieutenant and given the facts of life in regards to guard duty. After one or two more miserable attempts at acting normal I returned to my barracks, my duty ended for the evening.

The following day was a busy routine of mental and physical tests to determine our capabilities. They consisted of a series of questions such as: if gear 1 turns counter clockwise and meshes with gear number 2 and number 3, which direction does number 3 turn? I enjoyed these tests as it was a diversion from the routine we had been following.

The following day they gathered the 30 or so recruits in one assembly and informed us as to our possible future and destination. There were 3 other friends of mine from Blaine involved. They were Jerry Braddon, (who had volunteered for the Paratrooper.) and Rodney Dement, and Warren Beecroft. As it turned out, Jerry left, Rodney was sent into the Infantry and Warren and myself were placed in the Army Air Corps. This suited me fine as I preferred that to being in the Infantry.

The next day, only 6 of us Air corps recruits were shipped out together. To my amazement I was put in charge of us 6 and had to look out for their wellbeing on our trip to our basic training camp which was to be Fresno, California. We boarded a train which had appeared in camp and eventually found our way on the main line, headed for California. We, of course, had to change trains in Portland, Oregon, to the Southern Pacific. This trip turned out to be a real disappointment to all of us. Because of wartime we had no seats to sit in and had to rest from time to time during the trip in the vestibule where the conductor usually sat. Other times we rested in the women’s restroom which had been set up to store our barracks bags. So the trip went and we arrived in Fresno very tired.

We had expected to arrive in California in sunshine, but found fog and a drizzling rain. It did clear up later and we enjoyed the weather that Fresno enjoys in late October and early November.

Our basic training camp was a little different from any of the other camps I was later assigned to. It had been an internment camp for civilian Japanese, who were earlier transferred to the mid-central part of the United States. This camp was very primitive with shower stalls outside with privacy panels which let the wind and fog penetrate which made it very cold to take a shower. We thought at the time that it was a means to toughen us up.

So began our basic training which lasted only three weeks instead of the usual six. The war had been turned on high gear so everything was speeded up. I think that this was the toughest part of my whole army career. Besides being very tough on us to teach not only discipline but also marching and the various orders but, for my part, I was very homesick and had no friends that I had previously known. I did meet new ones, but they are never like your old friends.

At the end of our basic training we were given the option of being sent wherever the Army Air Corps decided, or sign up for some technical school training which would, upon completion, wind up us being aerial gunners. This idea suited me fine as I had always wanted to fly. So I signed up and we were immediately sent by train to Buckley Field, which was located in Denver, Colorado. Since this was around the middle of November we arrived in that location where winter was displaying it’s beginning. Besides being very cold nights it was also the fact that we were at an altitude of over five thousand feet. (Denver is known as the mile-high city.)

Just before we left Fresno I had become acquainted with a fellow from Oakland, California. His name was Tom Pelley. A likeable person with quite a sense of humor, we became friends; it was a lot more enjoyable for me and I lost my homesick feeling. I mention meeting this friend because of an incident I will explain later.

So we began our schooling which was the training to become an armorer gunner. This was very intensive and we had to become knowledgeable in all phases of the caliber 30 and 50 machine guns as well as the Thompson sub-machine gun, carbine rifle and Colt 45 pistol. Since I loved weapons I took to the program with great gusto. We had classes every day, Monday thru Friday with some orientation classes and a bit of physical exercises. So it was in no way boring and time went by very quickly. Before we knew it our classes were almost finished.

Just before we were to have our final exams the Army very generously gave us a weekend pass to Denver. This was our first one since entering the service. So Tom and I went to town. We were restricted as to WHERE we could go so after eating a civilian meal we went to a theatre to see a show. In the middle of the film, Tom got up and said he was going to the latrine. He left and after quite a while still did not return. So I went out and could not find him. I was really puzzled but the only thing I could do was to return to camp. The next day he still had not arrived. The second day the Officer of the Day came in the barracks, asked some questions and left. A week went by and no Pelly. We assumed by this time that he had gone AWOL.

Just as we were lining up about a week later, to leave Buckley Field for our next assignment, which incidentally was Clovis, NM, we saw a group of Guard House prisoners marching by. Sure enough, there was Tom Pelley, marching by! He looked our way and winked at me. Still his same old self! This was the last I ever saw of him and often wonder, even to this day, whatever became of him.

We left Buckley Field with no regrets mainly because we knew we would be going to a warmer climate. So we boarded a train and before we knew it we were in Clovis, New Mexico.

This base proved to be a much older establishment and was also out in the middle of the desert. Thank goodness we did not stay there very long, just a few weeks. The purpose of this schooling was to teach us all about high explosives, bombs, hand grenades and bomb racks as well as fuses. It turned out to be a very informative school and we all enjoyed it very much.

Up to this point in our military career we had been paid only twice and they were partial payments. Most of us had very little money to spend on cigarettes, candy and any other things that the Army Post Exchange had to offer. It was always the excuse that we would be paid when we reached our next base! At one time I even sent home for money.

Finally our tour of duty at Clovis came to an end and we were shipped to Fort Myers, Florida. This turned out bad for the beginning at least. We traveled by train and it took us 3 days to get there. As we progressed through the southern states the weather became warmer and warmer. We had only our olive drab class A uniform so the heat was unbearable. Arriving at our base, which was around 10:00 in the evening we sweltered in the high humidity and did not receive our barracks bags until the next day where we changed into our summer uniforms.

We began our training right away and liked it from the very start. We were only in class for three or four days before we began taking our very first aircraft flights. The type of plane was an A-T 6, which was commonly used for student pilots to train in. They were single engine and single wing aircraft with the pilot sitting forward with us students (one at a time) sitting in the rear. Our first “mission” was a splash mission whereby we were allowed to fire a 30 caliber machine gun, aiming it in the water. As soon as we fired our allotted 50 rounds the pilot had us sit down and fasten our seat belts in a sitting position and he would take us on a little joy ride, doing figure eights, loop the loops and so forth. This was really great, at least for some of us. A few washed out of the class because they couldn’t stand the flying. I guess this was the reason we flew very early in our class so some of them could be “weeded” out.

My stay at this Gunnery School in Fort Myers lasted for three months. I enjoyed it very much. The only thing all of us did not like was the high humidity and the hot weather. We normally had a class last for 50 minutes, then a break. At the break we all formed a habit of keeping a lot of nickels in our pockets so when there was a break we would rush to the “day room” and get 3 or 4 cokes, which were almost frozen and drink them. We would sweat out all of this moisture in no time. It would bring out the salt in our system and the backs of our coveralls would be white. This was an everyday routine. Also, we would never drink the coffee during chow time but rather iced tea, which seemed to quench our thirst better. We were always thirsty though, just because of the intense heat.

Fort Myers was in the heart of the Everglades, near the famous Okeefinoke swamp. It seemed to always rain for maybe 10 or 15 minutes each day, right around 4:00. During this time we would be doing our routine of calisthenics and would have to endure the rain. But even though we sometimes laid in mud puddles, the water would be gone in a few minutes after the rain quit, just soaked up in the sand. We were required to do a lot of exercise to keep us in shape. I enjoyed that. Some did not probably because of their age. There were men in our squadron around 40 years old! A part of our routine was a job around the camp which was almost 3 miles in circumference. We were usually very tired after this run and did justice at meal times.

We did not have as many changes for flight training due to the escalation of the war effort. They were trying to get us through the program as quickly as possible. We did, however, get a lot of training in firearms. One phase was Skeet Shooting. I had never fired a shotgun in my life and learned what it was to shoot a 12 gauge shotgun and what it did to your shoulder if you did not hold it firmly. My shoulder and arm was black and blue from the recoil until I learned to hold it properly. But despite this, I did make fairly good marks. (17 to 20 out of 25 hits isn’t that bad). We did a lot of training in gun turrets, the Emerson upper turret and the Sperry lower ball turret. They were very sophisticated for that time and we had automatic gun sights which were supposed to calculate the speed, bullet drop and trajectory all at the same time. One of the phases of this training was to fire at tow targets pulled by a plane flying parallel with the plane in which we were flying. Each student had bullets with a different paint color to identify each one’s hits. We had this same technique when in phase training which I will relate later.

A lot of weapons training concerned the caliber 50 machine gun which was our basic weapon in flying. It was a very dependable gun which had an effective range of 4000 feet and dangerous up to one mile. It was air cooled and could be fed ammunition from either left or right side. It could fire 7 or 8 rounds a second. I learned to love this machine gun and could field strip and re-assemble it in less than two minutes, while blindfolded. (This was a requirement to pass the course.) Both the turrets that we studied sported twin caliber 50 machine guns. This made a powerful defense against any enemy aircraft when mounted in their respective places. We did a lot of training with these turrets at ground level to more familiarize ourselves with their capabilities. It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed this phase of training very much.

Besides these actual mechanisms we had training on what was a sort of Buck Rogers type of thing. For instance, we sat in a theatre which had a semi-round set of seats, very steep, and we used a sort of camera type of gun which aimed and shot at airplanes which were projected on a wide screen. We never knew from which direction these “enemy” planes were coming from so had to be alert and quick in our reaction. It was a fun thing and of course we were given scores on our efforts. We also had to identify each aircraft, some of which were British or American; German or Japanese. It would be a blunder to “shoot down” one of our allies or our own planes!

We then finished our training at Gunnery School and were awarded for our efforts the rank of Buck Sergeant. I was now at this point, making $96.00 per month.

We then were sent up to Salt Lake City where we stayed for a few weeks taking a crash course in radio. We had to learn the Morse Code and be able to send and receive a minimum of 8 words per minute. This was all done so everyone aboard an aircraft could send or receive messages in an emergency. I did not particularly like this part, but we had to do it. We lounged around that area for a few weeks. Our barracks were located in the fairgrounds and we were billeted in what had been a cattle barn. The walls were white-washed to cover the old cattle “stains”, but were clean enough. On our off hours we were allowed to cross the road and watch baseball games being played by local athletes and enjoyed this very much. A few weeks later, we were put on alert and finally transferred to a base in Clovis, New Mexico. From that base, this was around September; we were finally given a 10 day delay en route furlough and were able to go to our respective homes. From there we had to report back to Alamagordo, New Mexico, to begin our final phase training preparatory to going overseas. I was glad to get to come home but New Mexico was a long ways from Blaine so I knew that I would be spending most of that time just traveling. It took me four days to come to Blaine and four and one-half days to get back. So I only had a little more than one day at home.

Before I left to come home I had to borrow money from the Red Cross, since I had no funds. They loaned me the money and charged a rate of 10 percent, which I thought was extreme and have never to this day forgiven them for it. When I got back after my furlough the loan was taken out of my pay which left me with very little for myself.

When I left the base to come home I had to go by way of Trailways Bus to Los Angeles and transfer there to Greyhound Lines.

I traveled to Portland, Oregon, from there and transferred again to North Coast Bus Lines which took me to Bellingham. Upon arrival there I had to wait until the following morning to get to Blaine. I had intended to hitch-hike but found no one going north since as I found out, gas was being rationed and no one was traveling any more than necessary. It seemed such a short time to be with our family. Mother was especially pleased that I could come home as were both Sisters and my Grandmother who was living at home with them at that time. My Father never said as much but I think he was glad that I was home. It seemed I had just gotten there when it was time to leave again. This was the hardest thing for me to do because I knew I would be going overseas soon. But off I went and was soon back to my new base in Alamagordo.

Upon my arrival found out that there were 50 men assembled. Since we were to be chosen to become members of a crew which would total 10 men, that meant we would be having 5 crews stationed to begin our phase training. I was placed with the first crew chosen and after we introduced ourselves, were told which position we were to be given on the crew. Of this crew, 4 men were commissioned Officers. They were the Pilot, Co-pilot, Navigator and Bombardier. The balance of the crew members were Non-commissioned officers. They were the Nose turret gunner, flight engineer, radio operator. Then those in the back of our aircraft were the waist-window gunner, ball turret gunner and the tail gunner. My position was the ball turret gunner and I was also delegated to be the armorer. This meant I was to be responsible for all the weapons on board as well as the care of the bombs in the bomb bay. I had been trained for this so was prepared for this assignment.

After we got to know one another better we became good friends and enjoyed our relationship. We were assigned training on a B-24 Liberator. I was a little disappointed because I had hoped to be on a B-17 since I had worked at Boeing. But all of us got to like this aircraft, it was very stable and a sort of “workhorse” of the two aircraft. These two, by the way, were the only four engine high altitude bombers the Air Corps had at that time. These aircraft could attain an altitude of 300,000 feet and were used in all three theatres of war; South Pacific, North Africa and European theatre.

I take this opportunity to relate some of the capabilities of the Liberator. It had a length of 97 feet, wingspan of 107 feet. The landing speed was around 90 miles per hour, take-off of 110. The cruising speed was about 200 miles per hour. It sported 4 engines, usually Pratt and Whitney make. Each engine burned a minimum of 50 gallons of high octane gasoline per hour. So you can see that over 200 gallons were consumed. When in overseas combat, our missions averaged 10 or more hours. That meant loading up with 2800 gallons to be sure we got back to our base from a mission.

We had four turrets: the nose turret, top turret, tail turret and lower ball turret. The latter was my assigned place and it hung outside of the aircraft on the belly of the plane. Each turret sported twin caliber 50 machine guns and had the storage for about 1500 rounds of ammunition each. My turret, the ball turret, could rotate 360 degrees in azmuth and 89 degrees in elevation. It was kind of fun to be able to spin the turret around to view anything in any direction. We also had our own oxygen piped into the turret as well as a plug-in for electric flying suits. Our uniforms for flying were, first, a flannel pajama type suit with booties and gloves made of felt. These latter plugged into the electric suit at the wrists and ankles. Over this suit we had our regular cotton flying suit. For head protection we wore leather helmets with a fleece lining, similar to helmets worn in WW I. With this and of course goggles the only part of our body not protected by the cold was our cheeks. The temperature could range, in winter time, from 40 degrees below zero to as cold as 80 below. Our oxygen masks would sometimes form icicles which we had to push away so we could breathe out.

During our phase training we usually flew 5 or 6 days a week and from 8 to 10 hours. Sometimes night flying to train both the pilots to fly by instruments. On occasion we would practice take-offs and landings, time after time so it became boring for us who did nothing but come along for the ride. During the daytime we would often practice shooting at tow targets which were being towed by an A-T 6 plane. Each crew member had different colored ammunition to identify his hits on the target. During the end of these night flying lessons we would arrive back at the base around 4 or 5 in the morning. The mess hall would be open to us and we could make our own breakfast, usually steak and eggs or anything that was there in the kitchen.

We trained until the first part of December 1943 and then just before we were to be assigned to base ready for overseas embarkation we were allowed a 2 day pass. We, of course, jumped at the chance and the whole crew, officers and all, (with the Pilot and Bombardiers’ wives along) left for El Paso, Texas. We had a great time and went into Mexico at Juarez. I think we all got to know each other better from that trip.

A few days later we were given notice to be flown to our base to where we would be issued a new B-24. Then we would fly our very own plane to the POE (port of embarkation). When we arrived at this base, it turned out to be Lincoln, Nebraska. Upon arrival there, we found the weather around 20 below and the following night and day we received two feet of snow. The wind was blowing very strong so it made the temperature that much colder. We stayed there just three days, and then took off for our POE, West Palm Beach, Florida.

It was quite a change, from 20 below to the 80 some degrees in Florida. At this point we still did not know just which theatre of operations we would be going to. It could be North Africa or better yet, the European Theatre which would be England. We had ruled out the South Pacific since we were leaving from Florida and not from the west coast.

Overseas We Go

We remained in West Palm Beach for three days. During that time the Army had lost our immunization records so we had to take all our shots over again; also, a final physical and of course a dental check. Then, on December 22nd, we took off not knowing just where our destination was to be.

We held an altitude of around 1500 to 3000 feet so we saw just the water for a time. Then land appeared and we were flying over a dense growth of jungle. As soon as we were over land we could feel the high humidity and our guns and a lot of the metal in our plane began to drip water. This, we guessed, was because we had a different temperature than the jungle. When we made our final turn to land, which turned out to be Trinidad, we could feel the intense heat and humidity.

Upon landing we were led to our quarters for the night. It was a surprise to see our barracks. Instead of walls the whole building was comprised of chicken wire walls and a corrugated metal roof. The floor was concrete with just rows of bunks, two tiers high. A warning was given us not to leave anything on the floor when we went to bed. In the morning we found out why. It had rained all the night and we had about 3 inches of water running through the barracks. When we went to chow (breakfast) wqe were surrounded by all kinds of tropical fruit, bananas, oranges and so forth. A bit different from the style we were used to.

It was now December 23rd and we once again took off for a base in Brazil, called Belem. This was on the northern central part of Brazil. This base was mostly jungle also and high in humidity. By this time we were tiring from the intense heat and were glad to be on our way the next day, December 24th, and were told what our next stop-over would be. It was to be Natal, located on the eastern end of Brazil and was about 2 degrees below the Equator. This area was mostly sand, quite desert-like and our base was on a high plateau overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We still did not know our ultimate destination, but presumed it would be Africa or England.

Our landing in Natal proved a surprise in many ways. First of all, we were billeted in tents, six men to a tent. So we enlisted men were in one tent and the officers of our crew were somewhere else as is the custom in the Service. We also found out that we were to stay at this base for several days(it turned out to be almost 3 weeks). This was because there were a lot of wounded to return to the United States through this route. They were North African Campaign soldiers. Also a lot of materials had been told to take this route by way of air lift.

I think the most disappointment was due to the fact that we arrived here on the day of Christmas Eve. Of course our thoughts were of our families back home. We were not allowed any phone calls nor permitted to send any letters from this base for security reasons. However, the next day, Christmas day, we were given a real Christmas dinner, turkey and all the trimmings. So we felt better, even though it felt strange to celebrate that holiday with no snow and just sand and wind.

Our stay turned out to be better than we had hoped for. Each morning around ten, we were loaded onto a G.I. truck and driven down the hill and onto the beach, reserved just for military. There we lounged around until four in the afternoon when we were driven back up to our base. The beach was fenced off and patrolled by MPs so we felt quite secure. We went swimming in the Atlantic; the water was around 70 degrees, the land temperature in the high 80s. There was a nice gentle wind blowing, so what else could be better? We also had native women who came by with pineapples. They would use a machete and cut the outer growth off, then toss them up in air and cut the top off before it landed, on the tip of their machete. The cost was one quarter. So we would buy one and after slobbering our way through it would go for a swim to wash ourselves. We thought this was pure pleasure and indeed it was! We had to detail to perform since we were transients. I think most of us could have stayed there forever! But all good things have to come to an end and we, after almost three weeks, were placed on notice and restricted to our tents for a couple more days. We had to watch the bulletin board each morning. If the name of our Pilot appeared that meant we would likely ship out the following day.

Sure enough, the next day we were notified to pack our gear and be prepared to ship out. We still did not know our destination but figured that when we were airborne the Pilot would tell us. So on January 12th, I believe it was, we were all fueled up and took off for the coast of Africa. We guessed the next place would be at Dakar, French West Africa, and from there who knows?

On this flight we had a different routine. Everyone had to be in their respective turrets or positions. We were given about 1500 rounds of ammunition per turret. We had to keep a watch out for any submarines, or aircraft. We flew at a very low altitude to avoid detection if there were any watercraft or aircraft about. This was very tiresome and boring. But orders are orders. Upon leaving Natal the kitchen Sergeant gave us a whole box of sandwiches, cookies and drinking water as well as iced tea. Also a lot of tropical fruit to eat on the way. We were allowed, one at a time, to leave our position to have something to eat from time to time. We had fueled up with an extra tank of gasoline, stored in the bomb bay. We used this tank up first and then opened the door and jettisoned it out. We also, after about an hour in flight, were told that our destination was to be England! This was terrific news as none of us wanted any part of the North African Campaign.

We knew this particular flight would be a long one. Our Navigator told us it would be over 12 hours. So we hoped we would not get into any headwinds which would burn up more fuel. It seemed like we were never going to get there. It was kind of scary to see nothing but water and more water and no land. But finally we spotted land a long ways ahead and our spirits picked up. Soon we were making our first approach for landing. When we made our final approach, the Flight Engineer leaned over the Pilot and told him he had better make this one good because we only had about 10 minutes of flying time left! When we touched down and were taxiing down the runway our number 3 engine ran out of gas! It was that close. We had been in the air a little over 13 hours which was the longest any of us had ever flown in a B-24.

As soon as we slowed down a jeep came out and directed us to our parking area for the night. Upon our stopping, a swarm of guys came and wanted any of the sandwiches we might have left. We gave them all that were left, not realizing that that was the last bread we would see which was made with white flour.

The base in Dakar was one of the best we had seen thus far. The mess hall was huge and absolutely immaculate. It was staffed by young African boys who acted as mess boys. We were astounded by the color of their skin, which was as dark as a gun barrel. That, with their white teeth and eyes, made them look sharp. This was the only base, ever, where we were waited on during chow. We stayed at Dakar for two days while the ground crews could check out our aircraft. During this time we were allowed to stroll around the perimeter of the field and see the edge of the jungle as well as the few native huts which adorned the edge of the base. We found Africa different than we had expected. It was not really too hot, but night came all of a sudden and the temperature became quite cold. We were glad to be billeted in barracks.

Soon our aircraft was readied and we took off for our next stop which was to be Casablanca in Marrakech. This would be our last stop before Great Britain. We looked forward to Casablanca as we had heard stories of that area and were told we could possibly be given an evening pass to see the town. This was a relatively short “hop” so we arrived there in not too many hours. All these flights, incidentally we gave great credit to our Navigator, who plotted our course for each flight. At anytime he would give us the exact time we were to arrive at our next destination., He was never very wrong for the time of arrival, maybe a half hour to an hour off. For his first time doing this we gave him credit.

We arrived in Marrakech early in the afternoon. This gave us time to take showers and clean up a bit. After we had gone to chow we anticipated our proposed leave to visit Casablanca. However, our Pilot informed us that one of us enlisted men had to remain at the plane to post guard. I drew the unlucky straw so to speak and was very disappointed that I could not go. So the rest of the crew was off and I remained back at the plane. I have to tell you the story of that night.

When everyone had gone I went to the back of the bomb bay area and decided to rest on some comforters. After awhile I decided to go outside and have a smoke. I was standing under the right wing, just about to light the cigarette when I felt something clasp me on the shoulder. I whirled around and saw a giant figure standing there. He turned out to be a French West African guard, doing guard duty like myself. His uniform consisted of tight fitting red shorts which came down to his knees, with a belt of ammunition across his shoulders as well as a gold colored shawl. The balance of his uniform was a red fez hat with a gold tassel hanging down. He had no clothing above the waist and was barefooted.

After I got over my initial shock I offered him a cigarette. He obliged by taking the rest of my pack. I did not object, what could I do in those circumstances? We stood there eyeing each other and he talked in French and myself in English. Of course neither one of us understood the other, only to a small degree. He was, by the way, a colored man. I am sure he was at least 6’ 6”. He was very affable and seemed to enjoy my company. We spent over an hour just talking and sizing up one another. Finally he offered me a smoke, one of my own of course, and we walked around the aircraft for a short time. I finally decided that he might as well do all the duty of guarding the plane, so I saluted him and went back up into the plane and went to sleep.

The next morning the crew arrived to change clothes and we all went for breakfast. Of course they were bubbling over with the tales of their wonderful night on the town! So I missed a great opportunity to see the famous Casablanca.

Initially, when we left the U. S. there were just three aircraft that were to fly together. This was done to not attract a lot of attention. One plane stayed back at Natal because of engine problems and the two remaining, we and the other, left this last base and our next stop would be England. After a few hours in the air we lost track of the other plane. When we arrived in England we never did see the other plane. I will tell you more about that a bit later in my story.

We flew over Spain on our way to England. Since we were in an area which was considered a war zone everyone had to stay in their respective positions. We saw nothing to attract our attention so the trip was uneventful. We arrived at an airfield of which I do not remember. I believe it was Dover, but could be wrong. I do know that it was windy and very cold. We stayed just long enough to let the British Military know of our arrival, were fed and bedded down for the evening. Our aircraft was re-fueled during this stop.

In the morning we flew a very short flight and wound up at a base near a town called Watford. This was the town, we found out later, where General Eisenhower had his Command Post. We enlisted men were billeted in a quonset hut quite a ways away from the main base. We enjoyed this privacy and just the six of us had a great time. Our only duty was to report to the Post each morning around 9:00 and read the bulletin board for any instructions. If none were there we had the day to ourselves. We saw the Officers of our crew only once during this stay which was about two weeks.

We had the opportunity, twice, to visit London which was only a 20 minute train ride from Watford. It was fascinating to visit all the famous places in London; Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, the changing of the guards, etc. England was in total blackout of course, so it was difficult to find our way in the evening. We witnessed one air raid during the time the Germans sent over a buzz bomb. The English took it all in their stride, however. After spending time in London, we confined ourselves just to the village of Watford. It was fun to go to the Pubs and drink their beer. We also found a place to get real English style fish and chips. We would usually get some on our way back to our hut in the evening.

We had been paid upon our arrival in Watford and it took some doing to figure out the English pound and all the coins they have. At first, a pound note seemed just like a dollar when in reality it was around $3.00 plus in American money. One day we went into a bicycle shop and each one of us bought a bike. We had become tired of walking to town each night. We did not realize at the time that we would be riding in the total darkness when coming back to our quarters. (That was a real comic the first time!) We enjoyed this stay in the Watford area very much. But we also knew that our “vacation” would not last much longer. And a few days later we saw our Pilot’s name on the bulletin board which meant we would be on our way the next morning. And so the next day we flew to our next base which we knew would be our permanent one.

Our Base of Operations

Our flying field was near the village of Norwich which was very near the English Channel. We were assigned to the 93rd Bomb Group which was part of the 8th Air Force Command. Alongside of us was the 92nd Bomb Group and was also a high altitude base but had only B-17 Flying Fortresses. Our group, of course, was only B-24s. Both groups flew missions as a coordinated effort.

We found many surprises here at this base. Security for one was on a high priority. We were billeted in Quonset huts with 3 crews per hut. Only we enlisted men were quartered here. That meant it contained 18 men. We had our own showers and toilet facilities, which were called “ablutions.” There was only one door to our hut and when we were to fly a mission the following morning it was lights out at 9:00 and we were locked in, with no one admitted or allowed to leave since it was guarded by an M.P.

Another difference about England was the landing field. These fields had been farmer’s pastures. The land was leased to the United States for the duration of the war. Instead of concrete runways we had metal inter-locking runways. These had many holes in them for the purpose of letting grass grow which helped to hold them in place. Whenever we took off or landed, we could hear this rattle of the metal. But they served their purpose well.

All of the buildings on the base were made of metal so could be easily dismantled at a later date. We also had camouflage above the buildings so it looked just like a farm scene from the air. It was total black-out, so to enter or leave a building one had to go through two doors with a draw curtain between so as not to let light filter through. All the vehicles had their lights blacked out with just a thin line of glass allowing very little vision for the driver. Gut those driving still whisked around and we could never imagine how they saw where they were going.

Our base contained 7 or 8 squadrons of B-24s with usually 8 planes to the squadron. So you can see that we had over 50 planes in our group. There was also a support group of fighter planes which were stationed near-by. They contained P-47s, P-38s and P-51s. They always flew escort part of the way when we flew on a mission. We were grateful for their presence. They would leave at different times and fly until their fuel was half used up, so they would have enough to return to base. The P-51s had the longest range so they were the last to leave base after we had left on our mission. The German Luftwaffe hated to see them I would imagine. I will tell more about this phase later on.

Our First Mission

The night before our mission we showered so to save time in the morning. I think we all wrote letters home that first night; then to bed. It seemed like we had just gotten to sleep when we felt a hand on our shoulder with a whisper to get up. We were allowed 15 minutes to get dressed, shave and ready to go. There was a jeep at the door and they bundled all of us six on to it and we went from there to the Mess Hall. We were treated royally whenever we went on a mission. It was fresh milk, eggs, bacon and the Army version of hash browns. Also toast was offered. From there we were taken to Operations for a briefing. At this place we were told the expected weather and where our mission was to be. From there we went to the Supply Depot and received our parachutes and harness. Then we were whisked out on the runway and soon arrived at our strip where our plane was parked.

The ground crew had the engines already warmed up and were topping off the fuel tanks. Since I was the Armorer on the plane the crew chief contacted me and gave me a slip of paper showing the kinds of bombs and type on board. The reason for this was because each bomb had two fuses and for safety, when taking off there was a wire stuck into the nose and tail fuse to keep the bomb from detonating in case we crashed on take-off or had to abort our mission and return to base with the full bomb load. It was my responsibility to keep track of these wires after takeoff when I took them out. If we aborted this mission EVERY ONE of the fuses had to be safely wired again.

It was always the thing to do before takeoff, to write a message to the Germans on the bombs, such as “Say hello to Hitler” or some such thing, just for our morale. Then we entered the aircraft and everyone but the Pilot and Co-pilot took a position against a bulkhead facing the rear. This was meant to give a better chance of survival in case we crashed on takeoff.

With the brakes set and throttles at full speed, we revved up ready to take off. There was a jeep just ahead of us with a mast about 8 feet tall. On the top of this was a green light which could not be seen from the air. Its purpose was to guide our course down the runway, since we had no runway lights. Just as we were about to overrun the jeep, it would veer off to one side and we would go thundering by. At this point we held our breath awaiting the sound which we could always tell when we were airborne. It was a thrilling moment for all of us! We marveled at our Pilot’s expertise in always getting us off the ground under such limited conditions. He was a good pilot.

As soon as we knew we were safely in the air everyone scrambled for their respective position except for me. I still had my chore to do. I opened the bomb bay door and stepped out on the catwalk, turned on the light and began pulling wires. When this was accomplished, I entered the Radio Operator’s section and waved to him to indicate my job was completed. I then went back through the Bombay and took my position in the ball turret. By this time we had attained an altitude of around 15,000 feet so it was getting cold and breathing was difficult so I hooked up to oxygen and also the electric flying suit. Soon we were up to our altitude which was over 28,000 feet. By this time we were in formation and were well above the clouds. If it were not for the fact that we were in war I think we would have really enjoyed the panoramic view! The sun was just beginning to show some light and the clouds looked like we would have imagined Heaven to look like; just beautiful!

But we had a job to do. Our destination, by the way, was to be a bomb run on Dresden, which contained a ball bearing factory. We knew this would be a long mission, around 11 hours of flight. It was customary to begin looking around for enemy aircraft. The Nazis had a nasty habit of flying over England just as we were taking off and following us across the English Channel. They would fly just out of range of our guns, flying at our altitude and speed. They would then radio this information to the emplacement guns located on the coast of France. (The Germans occupied France totally during this time before the invasion.) We had by this time check fired our guns to be sure they were working, so if we had a chance we could fire at enemy planes at this point.

For your information, it was customary, when flying, to act as though our aircraft were in the center of a clock and our direction facing towards 12:00 noon; then, if we saw enemy aircraft to our right for example, we would announce their presence by saying there was an ME 109 at 3:00 and low. Then everyone could immediately see just exactly where we were pointing. It was much more accurate than just saying “to the right.”

We had been briefed as to what to expect when we crossed the channel. From observer aircraft it was determined that the Germans had about 125 gun emplacements at the location we were to fly over. This area was known as “Flak Alley.” Each emplacement sported three or four anti-aircraft weapons, either 88 millimeter or 90s. They could shoot well over 30,000 feet and would send up a series of shells which would explode at various pre-determined altitudes. So it was scary and we always felt like “sitting ducks.” When the shells exploded there would be a flash of red, then a ball of black smoke, which stayed for quite a few minutes. The presence of these puffs of black smoke, though harmless since they had already exploded, served to make us nervous if nothing else. We were always glad when we passed by this area. Usually, quite a few aircraft had some shrapnel hit them. Also a few were shot down at this point.

On this particular first mission of ours, we came back with a few holes in our fuselage and tail section. The only one who knew of it was our tail gunner, at least until we came back from the mission. We were always plagued by the Luftwaffe fighter planes. The Germans had only two effective fighter planes. They were the Messerschmitt 109 which resembled the British fighter plane and the Fockwulf 190. This aircraft looked quite a bit like our P-51 and was just about as maneuverable.

The FW 190 would quite often fly right through our formation. They would come so fast we had no time to aim or shoot at them. It was a miracle we were not shot down by them. But the presence of our own fighter planes was good for our morale. As soon as our own appeared, usually, the German fighters would disappear. Sometimes we would see a real honest to goodness dog fight which would rival any you have seen in the movies. I am sure our P-51s were superior to any the Germans had to offer.

As we passed the “flak alley” area it was comparatively quiet so far as any other anti-aircraft fire was concerned. But we knew that it would be short-lived when arriving near our target. And we were right. Not only was the flak heavy, but the fighter planes seemed to be everywhere. This was our first real experience at aiming and shooting at an enemy plane. We had every 6th round of ammunition a tracer bullet, so we could see just where our shots were going. I was sure that I had some good hits, but with so many guns firing, who would know which gun actually shot down any plane?

We did a lot of evasive action when over the target, before and also after releasing our bomb load. This was to try and avoid being involved in a direct hit by anti-aircraft fire. It was really an experience to see our bombs explode, even from 28,000 or more feet. You could see the flash and then the devastation they caused. The lead plane in our squadron usually took pictures so we could see the results. After we left the target area it was comparatively quiet for the balance of the trip back to our base.

Upon arrival we were eagerly awaited by our ground crew and of course they wanted to know how things had gone. They had to inspect the aircraft to see what damage had been done. We were sent right to briefing and each person was interrogated so they could make an evaluation as to what happened. We were also given a cup of hot chocolate or a drink of whiskey. Of course we opted for the glass of hot chocolate. Also the Red Cross had doughnuts for us. We did appreciate this gesture as we were very tired and excited. So ended our first mission; with no one wounded or serious injury to our plane. Usually after a mission we were given a day or two of rest. But as the war escalated missions were more often.

I only made 5 missions before we were shot down. All of those were similar to what I have just described, except for my second mission. I rode the nose turret on this one because our operator was sick. On this mission I had the experience of seeing our friends who shared our hut with us blown up by a direct hit. It was very unnerving and we returned to our barracks after the mission feeling very upset. It made us realize the seriousness of war. To fly on a mission was one thing, but to witness this was another.

For you the War is over

The day of our “fateful” mission, I shall never forget. It was March 2nd, 1944. Our target for this mission was to Berlin. We all had a premonition about this, for what reason we could not explain. All went smoothly for takeoff and the various steps, to get to our altitude, arming of the bomb load, etc… It was a very cold day with snow in the offing.

We reached our altitude which was 29,000 feet. We were by this time in formation. Our aircraft was on the right wing just a bit behind the lead plane. Of course our formation was in likeness to that of a flock of ducks or geese, with each plane being a bit to the right or left of the plane ahead, depending on which wing we were in.

I had my turret operating and was scanning the skies to our right. It was not long until we all spotted an ME 109 German plane. It was at about “3:00 O’clock.” We had just reached the French coast. Without any warning, there was a sudden flash of orange-red followed by a loud –BANG-. At the same instance, almost, I felt the impact of a blast of material, glass and bits of metal, hit me in the legs. My two and a half inch glass window was shattered and I could feel the blast of icy air. My right face seemed dazed from the impact of the explosion. I noticed the number 3 engine was on fire and almost blown away with the propellers bent back. At the same time our aircraft seemed to fall up and away as the Pilot tried to fight the controls. Everything had happened at once, so it is hard to describe accurately what sequence happened first.

I tried to move my turret around to see what else had happened. Our plane was falling away from the formation so I knew we had a real problem. My turret failed to respond so I knew it was disabled. I tried to find the handle with which I could rotate the guns down so my door, which was at my back, would allow me to exit within the plane. The handle was gone! I felt at that moment that I was going to die. But my waist gunner had a means of rotating the turret and soon he had it in a position so I could open the door. The first thing I saw was two sheets of flame, coming from above the bomb bays and going out each waist window. The waist gunner’s face seemed almost white.

He motioned for me to get out, so I disconnected my electrical lines, ripped off my oxygen mask and climbed out. We both knew that we had to get out of the aircraft, quickly. So I crawled forward to the bomb bay bulkhead and retrieved my ‘chute. (I couldn’t wear it in the turret). We both went aft and pulled the camera hatch door open, which was located on the floor. Just then, the tail gunner came crawling forward, covered with blood on his shoulder. He dove out first, then me, followed by the waist gunner. We all dove head first, to avoid getting our head sheared off.

None of us had ever bailed out of a plane before. Nor had we ever had any instructions as what to do. First of all, there was absolutely no sensation of falling; just the whistling of air as we fell. It was, of course, bitterly cold (around 70 degrees minus). Also, there was little oxygen to breathe so we struggled for our breath.

For myself, I knew we were at a high altitude, so it was the thing to do, to let myself fall a long ways before pulling the ripcord. When I thought I had fallen about 10,000 feet I pulled the ripcord and was not prepared for what happened. While I was free falling I could stick out an arm or a leg and could this way turn over on my back or stomach. So as the ‘chute opened, I found out that I was falling feet first. When the ‘chute opened, all the silk and shroud lines swept past my face. But at least it opened! Soon I felt a sensation of falling, not steady but in sort of jerks. I looked around and saw our tail gunner’s ‘chute well below me. I could not locate the waist gunner.

All sorts of things came to my mind as I descended. First of all, a German fighter plane came up near me, waved and was gone. I did not realize at the time, but later, presumed he was radioing to the ground and informing them of our arrival. It seemed a long time in dropping near the earth. For a while it snowed a bit. Then the clouds swept away and I could see the ground as well as a part of the English Channel.

When the ground was quite visible one thing I noticed, was a French farmer. He was spreading manure with a two-wheeled cart and being pulled by two cows. As I swept past him, I prepared to land on what looked like a cobblestone highway leading into a village. It turned out to be Amiens, France. Bracing myself for the landing, I misjudged and struck the cobblestones on my face and chest. It stunned me and as I struggled to my feet was swept along the street. Finally I got to my feet, unbuckled the ‘chute and began to haul it in so I could hide it and make a run for it.

Just then, there were 2 or 3 shots and I saw several Germans pointing their rifles at me and yelling. I dropped the ‘chute and made a run for it, right into the arms of several more soldiers. I realized that I had no chance, so just stood there. In a short time they came rushing up and one soldier smashed me in the shoulder with his gun butt. In a few moments a Volkswagen came up and an Officer appeared. He barked an order and the guards retreated and stood by. He asked me, in perfect English, if I was English or whatever. When I said “American”, he made the remark: “Ah! For you Der Var Ist Ovar!” So this was my transition from a free man to that of a prisoner………………………………………………………………

I was still in a state of shock due to the explosion hitting near my right ear. (It ruptured my eardrum). From that and the landing, from which I was bruised badly, my equilibrium was a bit shaky when I stood.

I was shoved into the back seat of the Volkswagen and had my ‘chute placed on my lap. Then a guard came in with me and sat on the left side. He dragged his rifle in with him and it was kind of funny, because the rifle was useless as it stuck up on the ceiling. As we drove off I surveyed my door, hoping that I could open it and make a run for it. But the handles were missing. I guess they used this vehicle to transport picked up prisoners. We drove around the area and finally came to a huge depot. The officer got out and soon came back with two young girls. They opened the door at my side and were fingering the silk of my parachute and exclaiming in French. They kept glancing at me as if to say “you poor guy.” They then grabbed my ‘chute and took it away with them, up to the depot. The officer got back in the vehicle and away we sped.

We drove around a bit more and finally pulled up behind an Army truck. The officer opened my door, put handcuffs on me and motioned for me to get out and climb into the truck. It was very difficult to try and climb up with those cuffs on. But the truck curtains opened and a German pulled me up and in. As I sat down, here were my tail gunner and waist gunner. They both looked about as woe-begotten as me. I noticed that the tail gunner, Mike, had a bad wound on his shoulder. It was bleeding and he had only received a temporary dressing. We asked each other if any of us had been wounded. Just then, Mike remarked that he and I were sitting on a wooden box containing the body of Lt. Mankin, our Pilot. This was a real shock and we all felt very sad. It did not help any for our present morale.

We drove around a bit and finally came up to a two-story building where we were to be placed. We did not know at the time, but found out after the war was over, that our radio operator was standing on a street corner, in civilian clothes, and observed us as we passed him in the Army truck. The French Underground had gotten a hold of him and changed his clothes to that off a French civilian and shoved him out in the street. (He got back to military control in England in about 30 days, over the mountains and into Spain).

We entered the building and came to the second floor where we found two beds. They shackled us each to the bed frame and put a guard in front of the door. By this time the initial shock was over and we sort of surveyed ourselves and our situation. It was quite a transition to suddenly be thrust into the hands of the enemy. As we sat there we realized how hungry and thirsty we were. We tried to communicate with the guard and ask for at least some water but he could have cared less. Also, he could neither understand nor speak English. Finally, after a couple of hours, he was relieved and we had a guard who understood English. After a little thought on the matter he allowed us to go out to relieve ourselves. We were handcuffed again and led to a rear stairway and outside where we stood in the backyard. When we came back inside we were not given anything to eat or drink. After a while we just gave up and settled back and went to sleep.

It was quite a sensation to wake up and realize that we were not dreaming, but were in fact prisoners. As we lay there all kinds of thoughts entered our minds. We talked a lot to try and keep up our morale, still wondering just what the Germans had in mind for us. They let us smoke, so we shared one cigarette at a time to try to conserve our supply. Finally, a new guard came and opened his canteen and began to eat. It looked like cold mashed potatoes and a large chunk of baloney or sausage. He took his time eating and was making all kinds of noise, grunting, belching and what not. We watched every bite, of course, we were quite hungry. When he finally finished it was getting towards evening so we gave up our thoughts of getting anything to eat and we drifted off to sleep.

This first night in captivity seemed a long one. At least I kept waking up, usually because my wrist was hurting from being shackled to the bed. As before, it was a bad feeling to wake up and know that we were where we were. Finally morning came and we were herded outside. Then in a short while a very handsome officer arrived and, speaking excellent English, announced that he was to be our escort and we were moving out. In a very few brief words he told us that he would let us follow him and warned that if we made any attempt to escape he would be obliged to shoot us. This remark was understood loud and clear! So off we went, and were told to walk across the street and down the sidewalk. In a few minutes we entered what looked like a gymnasium. He told us to go to the far end and sit at a table. As we walked he issued orders to a group of soldiers who had been drinking beer at that table and they left with some hard looks towards us. We sat down and noticed 4 or 5 glasses of beer not yet drunk. We looked at each other and decided that, “why not?” and proceeded to drink the beer. It tasted so good and since we had not eaten for over 24 hours, made us a bit lightheaded. Soon we were told to come down to the other end of the hall and a lady in white indicated to us to each grab a bowl of soup and a partial loaf of bread. The soup smelled so good! And after struggling to hold the soup and bread with being handcuffed we went back to our table and enjoyed our first Nazi meal. We did not linger after eating, but were hustled out and up the street where we arrived upon a railroad platform. Just as we got there a passenger car backed up. The occupants, two soldiers and a civilian, were ousted and we three and the Officer entered the car. He seemed very likeable but spoke very little to us. Soon we were on our way to where? It was quite an experience to ride on a French train, hearing their weird whistles and looking at the scenery as we passed through Amiens and entered the countryside. We noticed that there was a lot of military equipment and German soldiers seemed to be everywhere. We were impressed with the many uniform colors and also the so very young appearance of a lot of the men. We did manage to talk and receive answers from our escort. He told us we were on our way to Paris and from there would be transferred to a German rail line and taken into Germany. We did not look forward to this, but were sort of excited to be able to see Paris! We kind of joked about it, saying that we probably were the first tourists to enter Paris wearing handcuffs and no shoes! Our morale picked up a little by this time since we knew that we were not going to be mistreated too badly. (If we had only known!)

We arrived in Paris around midnight and by this time it was starting to rain. They brought us into the huge train station and it was or at least had been a beautiful building. You could look up and see the all-glass skylight overhead, although a lot of the glass was broken from previous bombings. There was a makeshift wooden stairway at one end of the station and we climbed up and found ourselves in a very small room; no chairs or furniture. They left us there for several hours. Finally around two in the morning we were hustled out and boarded a train bound for Frankfurt.

We still had our coach to ourselves. Even the German trains had a coach which you could enter from a side door directly into the coach. The hallway was to the right side if you wanted to go from one coach into the other. We sat on seats facing each other. This trip was very monotonous. It seemed every hour or so we had to be side-tracked to let a supply freight train go by, usually hauling war supplies and equipment. We received nothing to eat on this trip but were allowed to go, one at a time, to the men’s room. Finally our train trip to Frankfurt ended and we left the coach and stood on a concrete platform awaiting an inter-urban electric train. While waiting there we witnessed what German populace thought of us American soldiers. There were a couple of little old ladies waiting for their train on an adjoining platform. Before we realized what had happened, one of them came running over to us and began jabbing us with their umbrellas and shouting profanity at us in German. We recognized the word meaning pig. Our escort did not let them get away with this for long and shouted an order and they retreated back to their platform, still shouting at us. We were very glad to have this officer near us!

Our inter-urban train finally arrived. We noticed that we were the only passengers on a two-car train. We traveled very quickly and silently up a long valley which swept up a gradual hill. Before we knew it, we had arrived at our destination. This place was called Dulog Luft, meaning interrogation camp for airmen. Here is where we were to be held for several days, during which time we were to be questioned and then shipped to our prison camp. We were very hesitant to enter not knowing just what was in store for us.

When we entered we were surprised to see no guards. A few of the people we first saw were American prisoners. They put all three of us in what looked like a small greenhouse. We had to lay on the floor. Our handcuffs had been removed. The German in charge of us took one of our dog tags and before long they called our waist gunner to come to the interrogation room. We wondered just what he was going to go through. After about 20 minutes he came back and whispered to us not to give them any information other than our name, rank and serial number. Of course we had previously, back in the States, been told this. So I went next. I was surprised to see, not a military man, but a civilian. I surmised that he must be one of the Gestapo. I was right.

I was not frightened to be facing this man, only apprehensive. He looked to be in his seventies with a very harsh looking face. He looked at me for the longest time, then said, “what is the name of your outfit?” I told him I was not allowed to do so. He asked me a few more personal questions about my military base and so forth. Finally, he yelled at me and said I had to answer him or he would not notify the Red Cross of my capture and my family back home would never know that I was a prisoner. When I still refused, he threw his pencil towards me and announced that he would tell me just where I was from and where I had trained in the U.S. He began by stating that I was from Seattle and had trained in California. This made me wonder just what kind of a spy system they had. But later on I realized that my dog tags gave them the information of where my Father was and his address. But they gave us no more of this kind of interrogation and we were finally ushered into another part of the place.

We were placed in a sort of simple barracks. I mean by simple that there was no furniture, only two-tiered bunks, all plain walls and no curtains on the windows. Little did I realize that this was the way all your prison camps looked. There were a couple of men already there who had been interrogated several days previous to ours. They apparently knew just where we would be going and when. They cautioned us to conserve on any food that was rationed to us because we were to take a long trip and there would be a little or no food on the trip.

One thing that we noticed right away was the fact that we had no heat. It was very cold and we only were allowed two woolen blankets and no sheets or pillow. We stayed there just overnight and were shipped out the next morning. They gave each of us one loaf of dark German bread and that was it. When we arrived at the train station to board our train we were surprised because they put us in a wooden freight box car. There were about 30 of us all crowded into one half of the car. The other half contained the soldiers guarding us. They took our shoes off (I had none, only my slippers), and also they made us remove our belts. We thought this was bad enough, and then they brought out some WWI vintage handcuffs and handcuffed two men together. We were now ready to leave.

This first leg of our journey deep into Germany was a lot worse than we ever had anticipated. First of all, we were 30 or so men crowded into this box car. There was a bit of straw to rest on but there were cracks in the floor and the walls so we felt the cold breeze at all times. We were so crowded that we were constantly lying on someone or their legs. We all sat or lay on the floor.

There was constant jerking and shifting of the freight car’s balance due to poorly laid rails. We tried to change positions so each person did not get all cramped up. It was not so bad the first few hours. But later on, some of the men had to relieve themselves. The only chance was for that person, along with his buddy to whom he was handcuffed, to arise and stand at the open door. There was just enough room to stand and not get through. It was quite difficult when just able to use one hand. When the time came for one to have a bowel movement, he had to stick his bare end out the door. It was mighty cold doing this, believe me! But we all persevered and managed to do what we had to do.

On this trip we were not told where we were going, but guessed it would be somewhere out in the unpopulated regions of Germany. We were quite often side-tracked as before, to allow military trains to go thundering by. Sometimes we would be sitting on a side track or spur for hours. As we progressed north into the country it began to get much colder. Soon it started snowing and a strong wind whipped up. We had no overcoat nor blanket so we just huddled together and made the best of it.

Finally, the guards told us we would arrive shortly at our camp. This camp turned out to be an abandoned Russian prison camp. It was quite old and had housed Russian prisoners during the battles of Stalingrad or St. Petersburg several years ago. The name the Germans gave it was Stalag Luft VI. This was to be our camp for about five months. It was located about 20 kilometers from the Baltic Sea and was at an elevation of around 3,000 feet. This height made it colder in the winter.

We were unloaded, given our shoes back, and no one got their own shoes! We then had to march about 1 kilometer to reach camp.

It was quite a miserable sight to view this rundown place! Without a doubt it did little to improve our already low morale!

Our camp was comprised of 4 compounds. These were set in a square and called, A, B, C and D. We were placed in compound D, as the other 3 were already full. Each could hold up to around 2500 men. In each compound were 10 barracks which had 10 rooms. A room held either 24 or 25 men. There was a back door and front door which one faced the fence and the other a sort of narrow street and was adjacent to the next barracks. No room contained any toilet facilities; that could be found in the latrine which was located in the center of the compound. Our barracks was just opposite from the latrine. We had no running water except in the latrine and were only cold water taps designed to wash our hands and face. Back of these faucets were a series of about 20 outhouse types of toilets and were just holes in a plank seat. If you had to use them in the middle of the night you were out of luck because we were locked in every night with no way of getting out.

Because of being locked in at night, we formed a strict rule amongst ourselves that no smoking would be allowed. If a fire broke out we could be burned up. It was also lights out at any time after we were locked in. The Germans controlled these lights. We had no bathing facilities; no hot water of any kind so washing ourselves was limited to just cold water. There was also no heat of any kind and we just had to keep warm at night the best way we could. We formed a buddy system, whereby the men in the lower bunks would be a buddy to the one above them. If one was sick or had any problem his buddy would help out.

This method worked very well. During the extremely cold weather we would sleep together. Each had 2 blankets, no sheets nor pillows. So we would put one blanket on the burlap mattress and lay the first two blankets over us with the fourth crossways to protect our shoulders. The bunks had four slats per bunk, but we found out that to give one slat to the upper bunk, giving him 5 of them and the lower one only 3, would help keep him from crashing down on the lower bunk at night, if we were sleeping alone.

Each barracks formed a barracks leader to keep peace and help to control any outbreaks of anger. He in turn could report to our camp leader, who was a Master Sergeant by the name of Frank Paules. This person was instrumental in getting a lot of things from the camp commandant that otherwise we would not get. He did a lot for us and really was responsible for our survival in many ways.

We were only in this camp about three days when we had an occurrence which I was involved in and which I shall never forget. At night, as I mentioned before, we were locked up with a bar put across our doors so we could not get out. The compound was patrolled by guards with dogs. When morning arrived they would come and unlock our doors and we were free to go out to the latrine. This one morning, they apparently had forgotten to lock our door. When morning came, my waist gunner, another man whom we had not yet become acquainted with and I found the door unlocked and went out.

We had to hug the barracks because of the deep ruts which were frozen. There was about an inch of snow on the ground and it was very cold. We passed beyond the end of the building and were almost half-way to the latrine when we realized something was wrong. There was no one else about, only one guard in the distance with his dog. Just then the guards in the tower shouted and began shooting at us. I spun around to return and when I bumped into the man behind me, turned again and ran for the latrine. The man in the middle was shot and our waist gunner was pinned against the barracks by one of the dogs. For myself, I made it into the latrine and climbed up on a partition separating the faucets from the toilets. As soon as I got up there two dogs came rushing in. They climbed up on the tray which was below the faucets. They kept slipping on the metal lining of the tray and were barking and howling. They could not reach me but a few moments later the guards came in and called them off.

I was ordered to come down. The dogs waited patiently beside the guards and never took their eyes from me. I was marched out and past the main gate. I saw the fellow who had been shot, lying in a pool of blood. They took me over to the German sector and placed me in a building which was apparently the guards’ mess hall. After they questioned me I was put into a small cell in the end of the room. It was about 5 feet by 5 feet. There was no window, just a slip in the wall to let a bit of light in and ventilation. I was taken out once and interrogated. They said I could be shot for attempting to escape. When I explained what had happened they just looked at me and said they would investigate. Back in the room I went. I stayed there for 29 days.

In my room there was no bed, chair nor blankets; just a bare room. I sat on the floor and pondered my situation. This turned out to be one of the most terrible times of my imprisonment. There was no heat, no lights, just like a closet. I was left alone for the rest of the day. When I had to relieve myself I just went to the corner. When the evening came, I could tell because it was almost pitch black. It got colder. I tried to swing my arms and do some exercises to keep warm. I found out that if I stayed on my hands and knees and kept my shoulders and arms down I could absorb some of the heat from my legs.

This turned out to be the longest night I have ever spent in my entire life. I thought morning would never come. But when it did I was rewarded by a guard coming, opening the door and placing a dish of what smelled like barley and a cup of ersatz coffee. The coffee was hot and I placed it for a while between my knees to get the benefit of the warmth. I was given no spoon so I had to eat the porridge (if you would call it that) just as if I were a dog. But I was very hungry and even though it had no cream or sugar it tasted good. No one came the rest of the day until just at dusk. A guard came in again, took my bowl and cup away and placed just a cup of coffee for me. This was my dinner. I spent another cold night and though I kept getting cramps from the cold, it was not as bad as the first night. I think that the worst part of this ordeal was the fact that besides the cold, I was entirely alone. This solitude made me wonder all sorts of things with no one else to talk to. For one thing foremost in my mind was, what did they intend to do with me? The fact that they brought me some food and, also the next day they dumped an old bucket in for me to use as a toilet, made me think that I was to spend some time as punishment. This turned out to be the case. I wondered what had become of our waist gunner. I could not hear anything but tried tapping on the wall in case he was in a cell near me. I heard nothing so assumed he had been taken to another area.

This present circumstance went on for more days each one just the same as the one before. Some days they would bring me a thin soup and other days nothing. I lost track of time and could not remember how many days I had spent here. To keep up my morale, I tried all kinds of things; reciting what I could remember of the Village Smithy poem, also the Commandments and a lot of my school days things that I once had to learn. It helped to whittle away the time. I thought a lot about home and our family, wondering what they were doing. But most of all, my thoughts centered on warmth, and food, in that order. I would have given anything just for a few minutes of standing in front of a hot stove.

I could hear nothing from the outside but in the mornings I did hear some footsteps within the building. I guessed that the guards had breakfast there because I could smell food, or was it my imagination? It may sound ridicules but after one has gone a few days without a lot of food, you don’t feel as hungry as at first. Naturally food was on my mind and I did look forward to whenever the door was opened, wondering if I would be given anything hot.

I knew I had lost weight because the floor kept getting harder and harder. There was no position that would be comfortable. And at night it was so cold that I usually cramped up, especially in the back and shoulders. But I re3solved to tough it out and hoped that eventually I would be released. Finally, that day came and one morning the guard came, opened the door wide and ordered me to come out. When I came into the room and especially outside, I could not see anything because I had become used to the darkness. I was also very weak and the guard had to help hold me up as I walked back to the compound. There was no explanation from the Germans. But all the men in our barracks apparently knew I would be released and a few of them waited at the gate to help me into our room.

Coming back felt like a grand welcome! When I came into our barracks, the guys helped me into my bunk and piled blankets on me. They had saved a bit of food and I ate that before I lay down. I fell asleep almost at once and slept most of that day. They told the guards I was sick when roll call time came, so I was not disturbed until chow time. It was a great relief to be back. Our waist gunner was released two days later but we felt sorry for the poor fellow who the Germans killed. It was very unnecessary. They knew very well that we had not intended to escape.

Our camp life returned to normal with a monotonous routine. Each day was about the same with our thoughts centered mostly on food and our situation. For amusement we played poker or some other kind of card game; or else read, if we could find anything to read. Books or magazines were very scarce. Most everyone walked each day to keep up our strength in case we ever had to move out on the march. Or, we found it relaxing just to lie in our bunks.

Each morning a team of two men, usually the upper and lower bunk team, would be assigned the task of being “mess boys” for that dayl. Their chore was to bring our breakfast and dinner back to our barracks. It was always brought from the camp kitchen in enameled pitchers. Each pitcher had our barracks and room number painted on it so when we received that particular meal it was jotted down at the mess kitchen so no one could be served twice. Our breakfast was usually one pitcher of either hot water or ersatz coffee. The other one would contain a barley porridge or cream of wheat type of hot cereal. There was, of course, no sugar or milk so the meal was very bland. For dinner it was coffee or hot water and a pitcher of some kind of soup, very thin, usually a turnip type cattle vegetable or what we called kohlrabi. On very rare occasions we would find a few strings of horse meat to give it flavor.

Sometimes the Germans, because of some camp infraction, would lock us in the barracks which meant no meal for that day. There were several times that a prisoner would climb the fence to try and get away from it all. They would never make it and were shot and killed. Our fences were double, spaced about six feet apart and were around 20 feet high. Interlaced with barbed wire it was almost impossible to scale. Towards the center of the compound from the fence was an 8 foot deep ditch. And again towards the center was a warning fence. Anyone going beyond that warning fence became “fair game!”

According to the Geneva Convention Rules, formed right after World War I, we prisoners were supposed to receive the same pay in German money that a German soldier of our same rank was receiving. All the time we were imprisoned we received nothing. There was supposed to be a commissary in the camp for us to buy toilet articles, cigarettes, etc. . Of course this was also non-existent.

We also had no heat or hot water so none of us ever had a bath or shower the entire time of our imprisonment. We did have a cold water spigot in the latrines where we could wash our underwear and socks. Otherwise, there were no appropriate laundering means. But we got along with what means were available to us. Everyone was in the same fix so it didn’t matter too much about our not smelling too great! That used to be a joke amongst us about our “B.O.”

The Germans rationed bread to us usually each day. Once in a while they would not bring the ration. We supposed this was just to harass us. We would be given either one or one and a half loaves of bread. Our “mess boys” had the responsibility to cut the bread into 25 equal pieces. They did this under our close scrutiny. Then we would take a deck of cards and place both the hearts and the spades on each slice. We would then shuffle the cards remaining, the diamonds and clubs. Anyone could pick a card and if you got the nine of diamonds, for instance, you would get the slice of bread which had the nine of hearts; red on red and black on black. This way there was no argument as to who got the best deal. It was a fair way and avoided any argument.

In our compound we had one group of prisoners who were English, Canadian or Australians. The Germans wanted them segregated but I never knew why. I mention them because they had smuggled a radio into camp, which was forbidden. Each day, around five in the evening, they would assemble the radio, listen to the BBC news and then take the radio apart again, hiding all the parts. During the entire time in neither Stalag Luft 6 nor 4 did the Germans ever find those radio parts! So we had news of the outside each day. When the invasion began, which was June 6th, we could find out exactly what was going on in that part of the world.

In conjunction with the above, the Gestapo, who really ran our camp, would periodically search various rooms and barracks. It was very embarrassing at first, but we became used to it. They would storm into our barracks at any time, place our table in front of the door and proceed in a searching routine. All the men in the room were forced to one end and then one by one would have to stand in the center of the room, take off all of his clothes. A couple of guards would search through the clothing while another would examine the prisoner. They would look into your hair, ears and mouth. Also spread your cheeks and have a look up your rectum. Then you were allowed to grab your clothing and walk outside to dress. It usually took quite a while so the first to be searched would have a long wait outside. It was especially bad if it was raining or cold weather.

We were fortunate in one aspect; that was the fact that all of our guards were veterans of the Russian war and most had fought in Leningrad or St. Petersburg. The Germans had failed in that attempt to conquer the Russians. So, all the guards were very much war-weary. They, who could speak English, quite often told us this. All they wanted was for the war to end so they could go home. For this reason, we were treated very well under the circumstances. I could never blame these old guards, just the younger ones with whom we had some harrowing experiences, especially when transferring from camp to camp. Those kinds were faithful to the Hitler regime.

We stayed at Stalag Luft VI for about 5 months. Then sometime in late July, were suddenly rousted out of camp and told we were to move out. We were not told where, but assumed that it would be far away since we had been hearing the big guns of the Russians for at least two weeks, getting nearer and nearer. Our compound was the first to go. We marched in groups of 250 men and had to walk about 2 miles t a railroad station. There we boarded box cars and were transported to a City called Memel. It was located on the Baltic Sea. There were two large transport vessels used to haul coal. We were told to climb down a steel ladder and found ourselves in the hold of the vessel. I don’t know how many men were there but we were crowded amidst coal dust. It was very dirty and breathing was difficult.

After several hours waiting we weighted anchor and were on our way for the Port of Stettin, quite a distance to the west. The sea was full of mines so we were quite worried about hitting any of them. But the trip was uneventful and after a long boat trip we arrived at that port and began unloading.

When placed in boxcars again, we were handcuffed, two men together. We arrived at what was to be our next camp. It was called Stalag Luft 4. We were placed in a column of 4 men and began to walk to the camp. But the Germans made the lead group run a few yards, then stop and then run again. This made the whole line of men bunch up, and then run to catch up. It was a ruse to get us to panic and break ranks. There were machine gun nests at various places and the Germans were waiting to gun us down. We were jabbed by bayonets and dogs were turned loose on us but we passed the word not to panic and but to stay in ranks, which we did. Finally we went past this barricade and later arrived at the camp.

When we got there we had to stay outside of the compound for two days because they had not quite finished building this prison. We were lucky it was summertime so our stay out in the open posed no problem weather wise. Finally we were allowed in and started to make ourselves at home. This camp, being new, was a lot cleaner than our former camp but the conditions weren’t much better. We still had no running water in our barracks and no hot water. Heat was out of the question so we looked bleakly forward to a cold fall and winter, if the war lasted that long, which it did.

Our barracks were a bit different than the former in as much as it had a latrine in the end of each barrack. Another room gave us an opportunity to wash clothes in cold water on a concrete floor. Otherwise, we had no comforts for living. We had 24 men to a room as before but they were a bit smaller so conditions were just a little more cramped.

Several months later, in the fall, some of the men did receive a parcel from their homes. It was a joyous day to see the things that they received. Wool socks, cigarettes, soap and a few other toiletries, which were much appreciated. Those of us who did not get a package were, of course, a bit envious.

Summer in our new quarters continued on. It seemed a long hot season and we sweltered at night being locked in. In the daytime it was better because we could be outside. We had been listening to the BBC broadcasts and following the war’s progress. After the Normandy invasion the Germans seemed less friendly to us and we were subjected to a lot of harassment from the guards. But the news of France being almost completely regained by the Allies gave us a lot of hope.

We had visits by the Gestapo almost every day. They wore a different type of uniform. One man in particular came every day to our sector. He wore a tight fitting coverall type with a large black belt on his waist. He carried a 3 foot long steel rod with a loop and fastened to his wrist. The other end was a sharp point. He would probe into our boxes where we kept our meager belongings. I guess he was looking just to be curious. When he entered our room everyone would maintain silence. We only answered him if we asked a question. We were sure he understood no English, because once in a while some smart prisoner would call him a foul name and he would just say “Ya, Ya!: We called those fellows “Goons”, and I think that fitted them perfectly. Once in a while they would become angry and smash at the bunks or break a box, then leave.

Summer soon passed and we had a lot of rain. Before we knew it there was a snowfall and winter had arrived. Having no heat made it very uncomfortable. We spent a lot of our time just lying in our bunks with a blanket wrapped around us. Nights were longer and when the real cold weather arrived we would; both men in each upper and lower bunk, sleep together for warmth.

We had been getting just one Red Cross Food Parcel a month and had to share it with another man. However, when Christmas came we were overjoyed to get one parcel per man! This was a real treat! We tried to save as much as possible for the days when there was little or no food. A typical parcel would hold four packs of cigarettes, klim (a powdered milk product), a bit of canned butter, some raisins, and an Army chocolate D bar, which we really relished. And, also, in each parcel there varied a handkerchief, socks or a pair of woolen gloves. Some of those items came in handy later on when we began our forced march.

We were not allowed to congregate more than four men in any one group, so trying to hold some kind of Church services was out of the question. We did, however, hold a Christmas service of sorts in our own room. This was the time of the year that we missed home so very much but that Christmas parcel did a lot for us.

Time went on with the weather continuing cold. We had quite a grapevine in our camp and we heard rumors that the Germans planned to send us out on the road. All the fighting fronts were progressing very rapidly and we knew that the collapse of the Third Reich would not be far away, or so we thought.

 On the Road Again

New Year came and went but winter was still upon us. At this camp we were at an elevation about the same as at Stalag Luft 6. So the nights were very cold and the days not much better. We still had not received much snow as yet. We continued to hope for the war to end. Then, on the first of February it began to snow and we had a real blizzard. And about 3 in the morning it happened.

We were hustled out of bed and amid a lot of confusion were told to prepare to leave camp. The Germans had floodlights glaring and a lot of guards with their dogs. They threw open the gates and we were ushered to a huge building. Inside, on the end, we were told to grab one or two Red Cross food parcels and begin our march. Of course most of us were prepared for this sort of thing and had made makeshift packs out of a field jacket or some sort of cloth. We had very little possessions other than spare underwear, socks and gloves.

So off down the road we went. We were told to march in columns of 4 men. We walked for about 2 kilometers and then allowed to rest. The purpose of this was to allow us to break open the food parcels and stuff most everything in our pockets. This we did and then were handcuffed, two men together. The cuffs were of WWI vintage, rusty and crude. They became quite a hindrance while on the march. Our wrists became chafed almost at once. But later on we devised a way to pick the locks by using keys found on spam cans or the klim powdered milk containers. So every night, when bedded down, we would take the cuffs off and put them back on in the morning. I think some of the guards knew this but said nothing.

We began our first two days marching by traveling over twenty kilometers each day. That was rough because we were loaded down and were not used to such a long distance. A lot of the men fell out of ranks and just lay there. Some were picked up by a wagon and others; who knows what happened to them? I was lucky to have picked my buddy. He was a tough guy, red headed from Macon, Georgia. He was a lot of support for me when things got rougher. His name was Tom Mullenix. Even though we had been together for so long during our confinement, I never heard from him again after we were liberated. The first night, we marched until dark, we bedded down in a huge hay barn. It was nice for us because the hay was a warm place to be in. We had few shelters like this on our 86 day forced march. Most of the time, we slept out in the open or in wooded areas.

After a few days of this marching we became hardened to the routine. Always in the morning our only breakfast was either a cup of hot water or ersatz coffee. Lunch was unknown to the Germans so we had to wait until we camped at night to get anything to eat. It was usually the regular thin soup made from stock carrots or turnips. But it was hot and most welcome. We tried to save our Red Cross rations for emergencies and this idea paid off later.

During most of the week we were walking in snow on roads which had very little traffic. Most were cobblestone and very rough to walk on. We had lots of blisters and frozen feet as well as hands. Our feet were wet most of the time which added to our misery. The wind was also very cold but we had to endure.

We could see what the Germans were thinking. They knew that the Russians were advancing right behind us and I am sure they did not want to be overtaken by them. We had been out two days when we saw a lot of German Officers go past us either on horseback or in staff cars. After a few weeks we never saw an officer because I am sure they went into hiding. All we had were German non-commissioned soldiers. We still heard the big Russian guns during both the night and the daytime. But as we kept marching their sounds diminished.

Our routine in marching was usually the same. We would go for about one hour and then be given a 10 minute break to rest. Then, we were up and at it again. We had been walking for about one week when we all became infested with body lice. This was miserable. They would not bother us when walking but moved around when we were sleeping at night. And, later on, a lot of us were blessed with dysentery. This was a miserable disease. The first day one who became ill would have a fever, feel aching all over. This was followed by stomach cramps, really severe, then diarrhea. This lasted for usually four or five days. When we had to drop out of ranks to be relieved, of course, our buddy had to stay with us. Sometimes we would not make it in time so would just go without dropping our pants. My buddy had it once and I was gifted twice. I think this was the worst ordeal of our whole 86 days.

As we neared the fighting zones, (British and American), we had a lot of areas to avoid. This meant hiding in the daytime and doing our walking at night. We saw a lot of our own planes in the distance and were involved in nearby oil dump bombings. But, if we got into a “pocket”, the Germans would find a way to get us out. One time we went up in a forested area to avoid being liberated. We had to keep quiet with the guards threatening us to do so.

As the days progressed, food became scarcer. On one occasion, we were placed in an abandoned cow barn. We were left there for 9 days during which time all we had to eat was snow and icicles. We knew we had to keep getting moisture even though there was no food or else we would become dehydrated. At the end of this period, we were very weak and were overjoyed to see a soup wagon appear and we could get food. All of our rations had long been used up as well as no cigarettes. We had been broken up into small groups by this time. In my group we numbered only 16 men. We had two guards. We, of course, never thought of escaping because we feared the German civilians more than we did the troops.

It was now April and the weather started to warm up, though with quite a bit of rain. But that beat all the freezing weather.

The End is Near

We were now in a very small group of men, I guess around maybe 12 or 13. We had four guards now instead of the two since more had appeared from nowhere. The guards seemed very nervous and it made us very apprehensive. Finally, we were placed on a side hill, overlooking a wooded valley. We could hear a lot of large weapons being fired. And, at one time, we saw several of our B-26’s bombing some kind of a target, presumably an oil dump because we saw a lot of black smoke.

The guards disappeared for several days and we were left without any food. We managed to find a small potato field that some farmer had planted. We dug those out and built a fire and roasted them in the ashes. Boy, did they taste good! Then the next day we were hustled out and walk several kilometers and were again left alone, for about 9 days. Here we had no food and were very weak by the time the Germans again appeared and fed us.

Then, finally, we marched along a well kept cobblestone road and as we approached a bridge, saw our very first American G.I. He was an MP and we were never so glad to see him! He welcomed us and soon we were ushered into the town of Halle. Here was a large base camp for the American Infantry. They gave each of us a pack of cigarettes, one K-ration kit and a couple of blankets. We had to go into a bombed out building which looked like a college dorm. There we spent the night under guard by the MP’s. The German guards had been taken away before we entered the town. I can recall them all throwing away their weapons and trying to march in with us. But we pointed them out to the MP’s.

When we bedded down for the night, we could hardly realize we were free at last! But we were very tired and could only lay there and talk until we fell asleep. The next morning we were brought into the camp where a gigantic tent had been set up. Each one of us was told to strip all of our clothes off, throw them into metal drums which were burning. They gave each of us a bar of soap and we entered the tent where we had our first shower since being captured. What a great feeling!  We laughed, cried and talked a blue streak while rubbing the soap on us and feeling that wonderful feeling of hot water and suds. When our allotted time was us they had us proceed further into the tent where we were blown dry by gigantic fans. Then we grabbed a rope, shielded our eyes and as we walked farther on were sprayed with a de-licing powder. When we got outside of the tent we were white with the powder. We had to leave it on so as to let the powder do its thing. After that we were told to proceed to another tent where we were given all new clothes. We were now in uniform and back into the military!

We were taken to an improvised hospital of sorts, just to give each ex-prisoner a physical and dental check. During this procedure I lost track of my buddy, Thomas Mullenix, with whom I had shared most of this last year’s experience. They placed me in their field hospital for 5 days to get me straightened out so far as food was concerned. I had gotten a hold of a chocolate bar and my mouth and lips ere puffed up as well as my tongue. My system could not handle all of that sugar. When liberated I weighted some 90 pounds. So, the doctors wanted most of us to control our diet and slowly gain back the pounds we had lost. It was tough at first to be told we could only eat so much.

It was really something to get food we had not tasted for so long. We had dreamed of steaks, mashed potatoes and the like for so long. We were amazed how fast we put on weight. When my time was up in the hospital, I was moved out with about 15 men. They flew us in transport planes to LeHarve, France. Upon our arrival there, we were again deloused to be sure we did not pass the critters off to anyone else. Then we boarded a liberty ship and began our trip back to the United States.

During this trip, which took 13 days, most of us became seasick. This was my first experience traveling on the ocean. It was up and down, twisting and turning, we just wished it could stay still for one minute. But after 3 days of this, we got over the sickness and enjoyed the trip home. We landed in New York City and were taken to a camp for 3 or 4 days for more physicals and just waited to be given our trip tickets to each one’s home state.

I traveled by train to Chicago, thence to St. Paul where I boarded a Great Northern train for Seattle. Upon my arrival there I transferred to the North Coast Bus Lines and came to Blaine by bus. It was a great feeling to get off the bus at Larson’s Café. There I was met by Louse Welty who took me home. She had my two nephews, Rick and Gary (whom I had not seen before). What an emotional feeling it was to see our home and Mom and Dad, Betty and of course Grandma Bruland. Also, to go down the street and greet Elinor! I don’t think I shall ever forget that homecoming!

The first few days seemed like I was in a dream; getting all that good home cooking and attention! I was given a 30-day furlough and then, because of the sudden death of my Father, I was given an additional 15 days. His death was the only dark moment of my getting home. I was so glad that I made it to Blaine before he died.

As I recall those days, it seems like only yesterday. Time seems to fly by, here it is fifty some years since. I thank God that I was taken care of during this ordeal.