My Journal – 2007

WRITTEN BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER MY VISIT TO SILUTE, LITHUANIA, FORMERLY HEYDEKRUG, EAST PRUSSIA, SITE OF STALAG LUFT VI – MY FATHER’S FIRST HOME AS A POW 

I’m certain that this will be it – my last chance to walk where Dad did as a young POW.  I want to feel that I am satisfied that I have followed his path completely – that is as completely as a daughter can without her Father as guide. I want to return home from this trip capable of achieving my aspirations of writing my Father’s experience which has now meshed into mine. 

It is a special feeling that I get that is in a category of its own.  It is so difficult to explain effectively.  I might compare it loosely with the discovery of a possession from your childhood that was hidden away for years – an item that brings memories of your past flooding back – recollections that may not be pleasant but once remembered give meaning or an explanation to certain difficulties as well as sensitivity in your life.  Although this is not my past it is a hidden past of my Father’s. Certainly visiting places in which he traveled or lived for a period of time would bring back so many thoughts and visualizations for him that he suppressed slightly similar to the resurrecting of the article from one’s past.  

Although this is not my history I feel so strongly that my Father is returning to live it again through me.  It is fate that I am reviving that life.  He did not talk about it as he survived the ordeal and went on with his life.  He was not an “I” person.  Maybe he knew that his daughter would tell it for him.  I will never forget the compelling and motivational feelings when viewing his notebooks.  There was no doubt from that moment after his death that I was inspired  to do exactly what I have been doing for over 3 years – reliving his role in WWII.  There is no doubt now that I will complete his journey in my visit to Lithuania on September 24.  This upcoming trip will involve the entire route of my Father as a Prisoner of War.  No doubt memories of his experience will come flooding back as I continue to remember for him playing his role in my mind.

9/21/07   It’s 4:55 and I’m sitting at JFK Airport waiting for my 7:20PM flight to Berlin.  It was just an hour flight from Buffalo to JFK and already I’m exhausted.  My backpack is almost too big and heavy for a carry-on and my shoulder is bearing the brunt of it.  The 2 notebooks that I made of copies of my father’s things are the heaviest and the computer weighs about as much.  I had to bring them.  There is nothing that I could eliminate and they did not fit in my borderline weight suitcase.  I did check a suitcase and a duffel bag so I write sarcastically that it will be great fun to carry four heavy things when I arrive in Berlin.  My purse has gotten heavier with the things I’ve taken out of my heavy backpack to try to make that smaller.  I had to do it because I tried to put the backpack in the “Sizewise” unit and it didn’t fit.  Hopefully it will now with the transfer of things.  I’m almost afraid to “sizewise” it again.  The attendant on the first flight from Buffalo to JFK put the bag in the empty seat – luckily there was one.  It was such a small plane that it couldn’t be squeezed under the seat or in the overhead and I was sweating it.

It was a smooth flight from Buffalo with beautiful weather.  I had to take a rest sitting here and really don’t feel like carting my heavy things to get something to eat.  Eventually more than likely I will at least have to venture to the bathroom with them. 

I hope all goes well in Berlin and I figure out where to get my tickets for the Vilnius, Lithuania, flight easily.  It does bother me some but there’s no sense worrying when maybe I don’t have to.  The reservations have already been made but they wouldn’t mail them and an e-ticket was not available.  The tickets just had to be picked up at the airport and that was it.  I know our tour guide, Gib,(Ellis Gibson) was worried about me getting them as it appeared that the hours that the office to obtain the tickets from were not open until afternoon and my flight was due to arrive at 10:10 AM.  There is nothing that I can do about this until I am in Berlin so I want to think and write about other things – perhaps reminisce a bit in my trusty journal.

It was 2 years and 4 months ago that I took my first International flight in pursuit of my father’s route in WWII.  I sat at the airport and wrote and wrote about my mission.  It was a big step for me to leave the Country by myself not knowing anyone that I would meet up with. I’d never done anything like that before but I was motivated as I am still.  It was a thrill like no other to visit the POW Camp my dad was interned in 60 years after he was liberated.  Thrill may not be the correct word.  I don’t know if my feelings are definable and if there is a suitable word.  I felt that I was in another world when walking the area reliving his life then the best that I could knowing very little at that time – only the details of a page in my father’s notebook.  The page gave facts of the date liberated and the time and date that the Russians arrived and the American flag was flown in the Camp.  It’s as though I am crossing over to a different era.  It is a period of time that I feel has become mine.  The regions that I travel are becoming so familiar to me. 

There has been one place, however, that is foreign to me to this point in my venture – an area that I have felt that I needed to visit – another evocative segment that I couldn’t get off of my mind.  I sensed for a brief period returning from an unbelievably comprehensive trip last year that I’d completed the path as thoroughly as possible yet Stalag Luft VI kept resurfacing.  As I would read of different events that occurred during the dates dad was a POW there it weighted heavier and heavier on my consciousness and I realized that I needed to walk where dad’s POW experience began if in fact it could be possible. 

I talked to Joe O’Donnell, my mentor when it comes to the POW experience; Claude Watkins, ex-POW in Stalag Luft VI and IV; and Greg Hatton, son of ex-POW Hy Hatton, as well as Gib, of my ardent desire.  Gib was working diligently to find a way to get me there.  It seemed more and more impossible let alone way too expensive.  I wrote a letter to the Lithuanian Embassy as well as the US Embassy in Lithuania.  Fortunate for me Chief David Ickes from the US Embassy volunteered to take me to this area I felt compelled to walk even if all that remained is the ground.  This is another trip that I believe is meant to be and know that my father is pulling for me.  I know he’s interested himself and is visiting these areas, that he would surely have had so many memories of, through me. 

What an effect that dad’s experience would have on him in his life – I can see in his existence as my father the things that certainly carried over from his camp life as a POW – not only results of his life as a POW but as a young man leaving his home and loved ones to defend his Country – to train as an airman and gunner and then to fly missions over enemy territory.  It all combined to define his life as I knew him.  My one day in Lithuania is so important to me as the missing chapter.  And to be able to visit all 3 of the camp areas that he was held in in one trip is a dream come true.  What an emotional feeling inside that consumes me when I think of the upcoming days.  The first 2 trips were so rewarding – Belgium last year with mom could never be duplicated.

I know it isn’t going to be easy to write about dad when not everyone feels the extreme interest that I do in his experience but I am committed and it is my way of giving back to my father – he – who to me – is a symbol of the thousands of heroes who sacrificed for our liberty.  It’s the least I can do and all I can hope is that I can put it together so that it is captivating to everyone.  To me it is exceptionally fascinating and I get so excited about every tiny detail that I find.  How to get others to feel the same way is not an easy chore but that is what I will attempt to do and will not give up until I do so.

I know I have repeated many times that my dad is an icon to me of thousands but it is a fact – it’s about dad which in turn makes it about every airman and every POW.

I met a nice German woman in a coffee shop and sat with her in the airport.  I overheard her say that she was from Berlin and my ears perked up.  Maybe I could ask her about the ticket office in the airport.  As much as I wanted to quit worrying about that until I had to worry, hearing “Berlin” brought it back to my mind and I struck up a conversation with her.  She did not have a clue about the ticket office but that was okay.  We sat together and it was good to have her watch my bags while I went to the bathroom as they’re so damn heavy (pardon my language but they are).  We’re not sitting together on the plane though and she might be glad about that because I may have talked too much.  She said her English wasn’t that good so I had to talk slow. 

We’re just getting ready to take off and because it’s my mission I don’t even think of the long flight to Berlin.  It’s like my parachute jump – can’t compare to what it was like for my father.  I know Berlin was the target for many of the missions of the 8th Air Force – my father did not make any of those missions. 

9/22/07   I can’t sleep and it’s 12:30.  Maybe writing will make me tired.  I can’t get comfortable and people keep talking.  I’m really too tired to write and it’s too dark and my eyes are bothering me.  Guess it was worth a try but I’m going to try to sleep.

We are probably an hour from landing.  I may have slept a couple of hours but feel like I didn’t sleep at all.  I will have some caffeine with my breakfast being served now.  It won’t be long until we land in Berlin and I am hoping for the best in collecting my flight tickets to Vilnius.

I have to say things went quite smoothly for me in the Berlin airport.  I found a man almost immediately while waiting for my luggage who spoke English and my luggage showed up quickly.  He gave me directions to the ticket place and it was easy to find and was open so I could take care of the Vilnius flights as soon as I arrived which was a great relief for me.  I also, as long as things were going so well, decided to try to change some US dollars to Litas, the Lithuanian currency.  It was not going to be possible to do that.  It would have to wait until I get to Lithuania to change it at the airport so I can pay the taxi driver.  It was easy to get a taxi at the Berlin Tegel airport and I gave the driver 20 euros for the ride.  The bell boy at the hotel met the taxi and took care of my luggage.  I made arrangements at the desk to leave my 2 bags there in the morning until my return from Lithuania as I would be spending 2 more nights there when joining the tour group.  I also advised the receptionist at the desk that I would need a taxi early in the morning.  I felt pretty good because things had been taken care of that had me worried even before I left home and it was easy.  I was feeling pretty confident.

It was an excellent idea that Gib had that I stay overnight in Berlin so that I would not be so rushed and tired for the important time that would be expended at the Stalag Luft VI camp site in Lithuania.  I totally agreed as I wanted to relish every second spent there. 

I walked around Berlin for a while and finally was able to go into the beautiful old bombed church which has been left as a reminder of the devastation incurred during WWII.  The church is very near the Steigenberger Hotel where I am staying.  I’m happy to be able to view the inside as in previous visits it was closed during the times we had free.  I walked around quite a while and bought a brot for dinner.  It was so early when I returned to the hotel that I had a beer – Berliner Kindl – sitting outside all by myself.  It was a beautiful and comfortable afternoon and I felt lucky and happy to be there.  I wanted to stay awake as long as I could as it was so early I wanted to try to adjust to German time and get some sleep at night before my early morning wake up but I’m afraid that upon my return to my room I fell asleep pretty early as I just couldn’t stay awake any longer.  My eyes were just too heavy. 

 I woke up at what I thought was 4:30AM and it was only 10:30 PM and still Saturday, September 23rd.  I tried to read, compute and watch TV but figured I’d better try to sleep.  It took a while but I finally managed to nod off.  I woke up at 4:30 and everything went well for leaving luggage at the hotel and getting a taxi.  I’m sitting at the airport now waiting to check in and anxiously awaiting and deliberating on what tomorrow will bring.

I had a problem with the zippo lighter that I put in my purse in going through security.  Because it was new they let me keep it.  I would have cried if I couldn’t take it as it is a gift for David Ickes.  Now I have an hour wait.  I need nail polish that I realized that I forgot and luckily the duty free place just opened.  Hopefully it won’t cost an arm and leg. I checked, I’m back and it costs an arm and a leg so I didn’t get it. 

Getting back to tomorrow….I’ve thought about it a million times and tried to visualize what I will see and what I will need to see.  I get so wrapped up that I could miss something and I don’t want to leave feeling that I’ve forgotten one single thing.  I always wished that I would have walked more at the crash site – really scoured the area or picked up a stone or a rock.  I was so busy listening and the excitement and exhilaration of being there took me over.  But that is a normal feeling for me after anything I do or any place I go concerning my father – I always want more time to walk longer to cover more territory, to look around more, to feel more.  I always want more pieces of brick or glass or broken concrete pieces from an original road.  That’s just the way that I am.  I always want to be positive that I’ve gotten the most from whatever area I explore.  Our days in Belgium in 2006 were extremely fulfilling and the only thing that could have made it better was staying longer.  It is not unusual for me to want more time in each area significant to my father’s previous lifetime.  I am not complaining.  I am satisfied that I have come this far.  It is just that all of these places now become so special to me as do the people that I meet along the way.  They are vital components in my journey which began as my father’s if that makes any sense.  It makes perfect sense to me. 

I can’t speak to one single person as I sit here because not one person speaks English.  I know because I’ve tried to talk and people just shake their head.  Maybe though they really do speak English but just don’t want to talk to me.  I can’t imagine that would be the case.

I hope that I will be able to change my money without too much trouble at the Vilnius Airport when I arrive. I’m not too worried because I can just charge but I would rather not.  I don’t like carrying the money that was brought for that purpose.

I keep thinking of Stalag Luft VI and the places I want to make sure that I cover.  I need to definitely concentrate on where the American Compound was located and if they may know where the latrine would have been situated.  If the American area is where a mental facility is now I may not be able to tell a whole lot but I will still value my presence in that area where I’ve written before I know part of my father is still there – the blood, sweat and tears that he shed from February 21, 1944, when he began his role as a POW (2 days before his 21st birthday) to July 15, 1944, when the camp was evacuated.  I often wonder if my father mentioned or even thought of February 23rd being his 21st birthday.  He has the months and dates drawn in his notebook and I looked on the February 1944 calendar and the 23rd is crossed off like any other day which leads me to believe it went unobserved.  Imagine how his life had transformed as a Prisoner of War.  A birthday would mean nothing in this unfamiliar place with men you only just became acquainted with.  It would not be like my father I’m sure to say that it was his birthday.  There would be other more important thoughts that he would focus on such as survival and the wonder if he would see another birthday.  Certainly at home his loved ones would think of him and wonder if he was dead or alive.  They would question the possibility of him reaching his 21st birthday.  At that time they only knew that he had been shot down and was classified as Missing in Action.  They would have hopes that their beloved son and brother was still alive and fears that there was the chance that he wasn’t and they would never see him again. 

I feel certain that dad knew Sgt. Nies who was shot when he was going to the latrine.  It was an error that their door was not locked by the German’s the previous evening and he had to go – my father told my aunt the fellow had to go to the bathroom.  My friend, ex-POW Oscar Wagelie, wrote that the German’s forgot to lock the door and because it was open Sgt. Nies as well as Oscar and another POW thought it was okay to go out.  They realized as soon as they walked across the grounds that something was wrong.  The German in the guard tower yelled something and shot Walter Nies.  He survived being shot down and lost his life so senselessly when it was not his fault for entering the outside area to go to the latrine.  He now lies somewhere in the small cemetery area near the camp.  This is a painful memory for Oscar to recall.  Although he does not remember my father specifically, his memory of this incident and my father’s recollection in repeating it to my Aunt indicates to me that the 2 of them as POW’s in Stalag Luft VI were very near each other.   I am sure that this is one of the many dreadful occurrences that my father most certainly witnessed. 

In my notebook, I agreed with the quote written on the page “I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.” Isaac Asimov

 A second fellow POW killed at Stalag Luft VI was Sgt. Walker when trying to escape.  His was another needless death.  I have read that he was surrendering with his arms up in the air and it was obvious he was going nowhere and they shot him.  Knowing that these men died on these grounds and the probability that my father knew both of them floods my mind with the grief that all must have felt when either observing or being told of their deaths.  It will be emotional to visit the cemetery having learned of these tragic incidents and imagining the feeling that my father felt.  The third death of an American POW in this Camp, Sgt. Teaff, was from dyptheria.  When I think about it, one of the deceased could very easily have been my father and I could be a daughter paying her respects to the area where her father is buried rather than a daughter retracing her father’s route – a daughter who was fortunate to have had him in her life for 54 years. 

I will want to know the way the men were taken out of camp and to the railway station.  I have read that the port of Memel where the POW’s were loaded into the old coal steamers is now Klaipeda which it is so appropriate that Klaipeda is where I will be staying for two nights. I’d like to look at the water.   I’d like to see as much of my dad’s route in and out of camp as possible and try to get photos even though I’m not so great at taking them when so absorbed in what I am doing.  Last evening in Berlin I panicked because I couldn’t get the photo card into the camera.  I was trying to put it in upside down.  I said a prayer after I swore a little and the prayer overrode the bad word thank Gd. 

Speaking of prayers, I have to mention the turbulence in our flight from JFK to Berlin.  I said a lot of prayers and it lasted a long time.  It was a little “choppy” I think was the word the pilot used.  It was not comfortable.  I was hungry and they couldn’t serve for a while.  It worked out.  I prayed that I would live to tell about it and that’s what I’m doing.  This flight is only an hour and 15 minutes and it’s a flight that you have to pay for everything including water.  Water was l.45 Euros. 

I’m at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Klaipeda.  The fellow who was supposed to meet me at the airport from Autorenta was waiting for me with a sign.  He was a young curly-haired college student from Vilnius.  He waited for me to change my money and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t as expensive as I thought.  I should have some money going home.  I do have to change it back at the airport and they open at 6:15 so it should be OK to take care of it when I return.  I think it’s wiser to change it at the airport rather than the hotel and I’m not really sure that they will change it at the hotel.  

I walked around the block to get some nail polish and when I came back I went to the bar because the dining room wasn’t open until 6 and it was 5.  I ate a Caesar salad with chicken and a Svyturys beer which was really good.  The beer had been recommended by the taxi driver during one of our conversations.  My dinner cost me 30 Litas which is probably 15 USD. Now I’m back in my room and am going to read a while.  I probably will have a tough time sleeping with the anticipation of the day ahead.  How fortunate I am to actually be here – a place that not so long ago seemed unreachable to me.  I believe that it is another segment of my mission that was meant to be.

9//24/07 – Monday 

I have the most gratifying feeling returning from an astounding day of reflection in my Father’s initial environment as a Prisoner of War.  My absorption of the area where my father began his travel through the Stalags will last a lifetime.  I cannot possibly adequately write my inner feelings as I immersed myself in this venue.  It is existent to me now as it was to my father 63 years ago.  

I was picked up as arranged at 9AM by Chief David Ickes.  It would be approximately a 45 minute drive from Klaipeda to the site and the weather could not have cooperated more for this important day.  We collected David’s friend, Mike Karpuzovas, Assistant to the Commander of the Lithuanian Navy – and he served as translator for the historian who we were to meet – Stasys Melinauskas.  He was a great addition and I would find that Stasys would provide a wealth of information in the history of Stalag Luft VI.

The weather cooperated beautifully for the time spent in this special and significant area.  It was a comfortable sunny day.  I wondered what the weather would have been like the day my father arrived on those grounds on February 21, 1944.  I think it would have been miserable even if the weather had been warm and sunny.  I doubt that my father even noticed what type of day it was.  He had to be absorbed in the fact that he was no longer a free man and what it would be like in his first home in captivity. 

We first stopped at a small museum which is the original building where I believe that the POW’s were locked up in solitary confinement cells, the building that I have heard referred to as the “cooler”.  After receiving directions from Roza, a kind woman at the museum, on where we would meet Stasys, we then took a short drive to where he was waiting for us at the cemetery.  It was quite a somber feeling as we approached and observed this sacred place.  We sauntered along as Stasys gave a history of the different nationalities who had been prisoners of war in this area from 1939 to 1947.  I was transfixed in the solemnity of the words I was hearing and the atmosphere once again recalling memories that were not mine to recall.  It was believed that there are approximately a thousand POW’s of various nationalities buried in this revered area.   

The graveyard contained so many graves with no names, just mounds of grass-covered dirt.  I couldn’t help but wonder about the stories associated with those whose lives ended in this Prisoner of War Camp.  It was interesting to hear how the roles reversed with the Russians as prisoners of the Germans and after the war the Germans being held by the Russians. There are memorials placed throughout representing the different nationalities interred in the area.  In the case of the American and Canadian monuments, the names of the deceased are inscribed but the remains are elsewhere on the grounds in an imprecise location.   Pine trees provide a serene setting for the American monument etched with the names of the 3 Americans who died as prisoners in Stalag Luft VI.  There are commemorations for the Polish POWs and the German POW’s in the area to the right of the American monument.  The Canadian monument is identical to the American and a short distance to the front of it.  There is a memorial for the Russians who perished as German prisoners, and a large cross in memory of the Belgians who died as Prisoners of War.   

There were some graves decorated with flowers indicating that the deceased buried there were identified and remembered.  It did appear to me though that most were unknown.  It was quite sobering to say the least when considering the stories surrounding these precious lives.  It is hard for me to imagine the pain inflicted on these poor souls and what a lonely death they suffered and how horrible for the family never learning where the remains of their loved ones lie.  I could not help but wonder if the families of the three Americans had ever visited this area or if they knew that somewhere in or near this cemetery are the remains of their dear husband or son.  I could feel deeply that I would not forget these brave young individuals who never made it home.  I also knew that sometime in the future that I would try to find out if in fact the families were aware of these graves.  I was almost certain that they would have to be but I knew if I put myself in their place it would give me relief to hear from someone who had paid homage to my dear father or uncle or brother.

I tried to absorb all that Stasys was saying but my mind was reeling as it does when I am in this other world.  He thoughtfully gave me some papers that he had brought containing facts of the history of the area which I would look forward to studying.  He also gave me sheets of black and white pictures of the burials of S/Sgt. Walter Nies and S/Sgt. George Walker.  Their deaths were documented in my father’s radio operator, Jay Joyce’s notebook, with dates of murder and burial.  Dad and Jay Joyce were good friends and in all 3 camps together.  Judging by the dates of the deaths of the American POW’s, I’m certain my father would have known them but just how well he may have can never be verified.  I have wondered if perhaps my father in fact was a participant in the funeral processions of disconsolate fellow prisoners.  I have studied the photos and the faces of those involved in the burials and do not recognize my father among them.  The pictures are not very clear but still as much as I would like to see his face I am unable to identify any of the distinct faces as my father.  I put myself in place of those participating in the funerals and this would add such grief and depression to all of the already insufferable emotions a person in this seemingly helpless situation would assume when he has lost his freedom.  One would have to wonder when this anguish would end and if he would be the next victim and the subject of the funeral procession.  How heartbreaking that it would be to partake in or bear witness to this sad march of weary and distressed comrades.  Although depressing, this was a very grave and genuine component of War.  This necropolis served as a solemn reminder.

After leaving the graveyard area we continued to the location of the American Compound in the former Camp.  There is a foundation of what was labeled on a diagram that Stasys brought as building H there and a mental facility occupies a portion of what was the American Compound.  In my father’s sketch of Stalag Luft VI in his notebook, he has written Lager E.  On maps in the documents that Stasys gave me, the American Compound is labeled as “Compound E” and the buildings were labeled as “E”, “F”, “G” and “H”.  Dad walked the perimeter of the area to try to keep in shape according to my aunt so I’m certain that I walked at least near where he did.  Stasys described and pointed out that the camp area went all the way to the road so I made sure I walked across on the foundation, through the grass to the road.   He explained that there had been a guard tower near the area as well.  

 I could imagine my father mingling with his roommates and perhaps walking the area with a friend.  He was one of the early arrivals and would have been in the thick of things.  His camp leader was Frank Paules and he is notated as such in his notebook.  Frank Paules was the elected Man of Confidence in the Camp.  My father I believe would have been involved in the voting process.  There are so many times like this that I wish so I could ask my father the questions that come to mind – in this case about Frank Paules and what he was like.  When first studying dad’s notebook I always felt that if I found Paules that he could tell me about my father as a POW.  Of course, I was searching too late because he was deceased.  When I read interviews of Frank Paules I think of my father. 

 Stasys pointed out a large tree that certainly would have seen my father 63 years ago.  I was absorbing every inch of ground and taking in every view of the area that I could including the grass and the trees – even the blue sky.  I was overwhelmed by my presence there realizing even though I could not determine what my father viewed, there certainly were trees and grass and the ground and sky that he had walked under, on, or through just as I was doing.  These factors all combined to take me back to the era I was seeking. …….It was a dream to be there in the place that I could picture my father as a brave yet frightened young man learning how to survive under unfavorable conditions in the control of the enemy.

 I should mention that I did manage to take some pictures which to me is not an easy task when I am just so immersed in the surroundings and the information that Mike was translating.  Something as simple as taking a picture can be forgotten at times like this.  I am absorbing my own pictures at the same time visualizing a different time.  I needed to take a photographer along with me.  I was so fortunate that Chief Ickes took control of my video camera and I am grateful to him for that.  After satisfactorily scouring what was the American Compound area, we returned to the Museum and the kind lady Roza gave us a tour and explanation of the different exhibits in the small “cells”.  It was sobering to me to think of the misery that took place in that building. Just briefly, I was locked in one of the cells and what a feeling in those seconds imagining how it would feel to be locked in this room for days being given maybe a thin soup once in a while.  It would be freezing in there in the winter and of course there were no bathroom facilities.  I don’t know how long that I would last and fortunately it is not something that was necessary to find out.

 I was quite taken by the displays in the museum. One of the most impressive to me was a case containing a photo of Staff Sergeant Nies, dog tags, and other relative items.  There were remnants of barbed wire and artifacts of the former camp in another area.  A small wall display exhibited items from Greg Hatton whose father was a prisoner at Stalag Luft VI. Although this former building that appeared to have been used to implement solitary confinement is small, there is so much history contained within the four walls, as there is on the grounds as well now vacant of the buildings that housed those men who were interned there.  In one “cell” there were many photos of Russians who had been prisoners and the end of the hallway contained a list of those who died in that role; however, it is not a complete list.  That is what is hard for me to fathom and what really saddens me – the fact that there are human beings who died here and remain unknown. What thoughts would cross their mind as they took their last breath? They surely had loved ones who were tortured by the fact that they never heard from their son or husband again and the grave realization that they never would.  So many representatives of so many nationalities passed this way and many never left.

 We ended our tour of the museum in a room that was the area where the German Guards stayed in keeping charge of the prisoners who were locked up.  None of the other rooms were heated but there was a fire place in this particular room so that the guards would be comfortable.  There was a desk in this area so it was here that I brought out the notebook that I had brought with copies of my father’s things, the Missing Air Crew Report, his notebooks and other information.  I wanted to leave it there as I had left notebooks that I had made the previous year in Belgium, Barth and Poland.  It was important to me that my father and his crew be remembered in these areas that were so critical to his life as a POW.   I felt good, too, because they seemed so pleased that I brought this information and were so happy that it was given to them.  Roza said that they would put it on exhibit in this building.  It’s all I could hope for that my father and crew would be remembered in each camp area – the reason for the notebook.  This was the last area that it was necessary to leave the information that I had gathered for the past 3 years.  I guess you could say “mission accomplished”.

 We took a couple more pictures of all of us and I said my goodbyes to Stasys and thanked him for his time and information and just for being there.  I tried to pay him but he would not take it.  I don’t know if he realizes how important that his presence and the knowledge that he shared was to me.  It is priceless.  And the same goes for David, Michael, and Roza.  They have made a dream become realty in this visit to this area.  They all played a significant part in this segment of my father’s story.

 From the camp area, Roza rode with us to the Tourism/Museum in Silute.  In the drive, we went past a road and could see the railroad station.  Another visualization entered my mind – that of the beginning of my father’s route as a prisoner in Heydekrug.  He would have come through here when being brought by boxcar to the camp and would have traveled out of the camp the same route when being transferred to Stalag Luft IV. 

 Roza kindly gave us a brief tour of the Museum in Silute.  There is quite a collection of history books of the area which are referenced by the area college students.  The museum pamphlet contains interesting information about the area which I won’t go into because I am trying to focus on my main reason for the visit but I am so thankful to have it and welcome the history.  It is another cherished possession from a world that was once part of my father’s young life.

 I was leaving another kind person in my expedition and said my goodbyes to Roza.  We were on our way to the hotel and I tried on the ride to express to David and Michael, how important that this visit was to me and how appreciative that I was to them for making it possible.  I tried to stress it so that they realized what they had just helped me to accomplish.  It was another incredible feeling for me and how fortunate that I felt and it was all because of them.  I will never forget them or their thoughtfulness.  We came to the end of the ride in our arrival at my hotel in Klaipeda.  They walked me in and I took one last picture of the 2 of them and gave them a good bye hug.  My list of special people who I am indebted to has grown with this important stop in Silute, Lithuania.

 It is so rewarding to know now that I’ve completed the route of dad as a POW in my very presence here.  I felt that this was the missing chapter and now I’ve captured this special place – another area that I’ve paralleled in my father’s path. 

  As I sat in my room replaying the amazing day that I just experienced I decided to take one last walk around Klaipeda, an area once again that my father would recognize as he was transported to this port for a treacherous ride on the Baltic Sea to his next home as a POW.  I looked at the water one last time, the cruises now so much different than in my father’s time.  I returned and ate in the bar about 3:45PM.  I was told about a fried bread appetizer with a garlic cheese dip so I just had to try it with a Szyturys beer and I can see what the talk is about.  It was way too much for me but I enjoyed what I managed to eat.  As I sat there, a group of English-speaking fellows walked by and in a conversation with one of them, I found that they were a group of  retired Navy Seals who were going to spend a couple of weeks with the Lithuanian Navy.  I thought that quite ironic. They most likely would be spending some time with Michael, the person who I had just left and who contributed to such a rewarding day.   I shared some of my fried bread with them.  I followed my bread appetizer with a delicious chicken and avocado dish.  It had a sweet sauce and was so good.

 I asked at the desk in the hotel if they could change my money for me and they couldn’t.  They referred me to a bank that was close by but it was just a few minutes to closing.  I made it on time by running but had to go to a different bank on the opposite side of Town and I had to change the Litas to Euros rather than back to American dollars but that was okay.

When I returned to my room I did some e-mailing of thank yous because I was afraid I wouldn’t have time for a while.  Having to rise at 1 AM, I needed to get some sleep.  I could rest easy after this most memorable day. 

Stalag Luft VI - Monument in Remembranced of 3 Americans who died in Camp

Monument for Americans who died as POWs in Stalag Luft VIStalag Luft VI - Cemetery

Stalalg Luft VI-5

Stalag Luft VI-Cemetery

Stalag Luft VI-2007-3067

Stalag Luft VI-Cemetery-4

Stalag Luft VI - CemeteryStalag Luft VI

Stalag Luft VI-American Compound-3072

Stalag Luft VI - American Compound

Stalag Luft VI-8

Foundation - Stalag Luft VI

Stalag Luft VI-11

Stalag Luft VI-German Quarters-Isolation Building

Stalag Luft VI-12

Stalag Luft VI-Isolation Cell-Walter Nies photo

Stasys, David, Michael Karpuzovas in German Quarters of Isolation Building

Stalag Luft VI-23

Stalag Luft VI - David Ickes, Roza, Candy, Stasys Melinauskas

 To Be Continued…….