The Shoe Leather Express – April 15, 1945 PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT DIED

(Posted: February 13, 2012)

When I read the following pages 26-27 from Joe O’Donnell’s “The Shoe Leather Express – Book 1,” it prompted me to check the calendars that were drawn in my Father’s POW notebooks.  I wondered if he marked April 15th, 1945, differently than any other days and I am adding the page to this post to show you what I found:

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*Notice how my Father has April 15, 1945, circled.  I have read that the German guards were amazed that the prisoners knew of the death of their President.  The POWs wore black armbands.  They had hidden radios in the camps which helped them to get the accurate information rather than the German propaganda.  However, Joe O’Donnell, and the thousands of POWs who evacuated Stalag Luft IV on foot February 6, 1945, were on the move and didn’t have access to the news as they did in Camp.

Joe writes . . . . . .

“APRIL 15, 1945        PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT DIED

Somewhere in Germany, at another barn;  One hundred yards from the barn were two large potato mounds, covered with straw and dirt.  Bribes of two cigarettes to the guard would allow a Kriegie to go to the mounds and fill his shirt with potatoes.  Lacking cigarettes, I tried to bribe the guard with a religious medal with my Air Corp, serial number and name engraved on the back.  The guard would not accept the medal and I was not allowed to get to the potato mounds.  I finally got my opportunity to sneak to the potato mound, undetected by the guards.  I extended my arm into the hole in the potato mound, retrieved my bounty of potatoes and returned to the safety of the barn.  I still have my religious medal.

The German guards sympathetically announced the death of President F. D. Roosevelt.  The announcement of President Roosevelt’s death was made during a rest period on our march.  There was a special and positive comradeship that existed among the POWs and the sad news of our President’s death kicked off an unexplainable magnetic desire to group together against adversity.  During the rest break, we were allowed sour milk, if we wanted it, also we were allowed some black strap molasses.  We accepted each.  Mixing the sour milk and molasses together made a palatable drink.

I recall, on this date, helping to push a cumbersome “sick” wagon because horses were not available.  (See Dr. Caplan’s “Death March Medic”).  Only the very sickx or dying were permitted on the wagon.  We took turns pushing or pulling the “sick” wagon, usually in groups of 20 or more POWs.  On many occasions, some of the POWs that should have been on the “sick” wagon made an effort to assist, but they realized that their attempts were futile.  They then would require a helping hand or a shoulder or two to lean on and someone else would share in carrying his shoulder pack.  These acts, by the sick POWs to willingly share in the hardships and knowing that they would be unable to continue for any distance, were part of that unexplainable magnetic desire.

Pushing and pulling the sick wagon down the farm lane and out onto the country road was a ponderous effort.  The four wheeled wagon was a vintage piece of farm equipment that had seen better days and was in dire need of repair.  The weathered, buckled and warped planking indicated that the wagon was of no further use to the farmer.  The rusted metal gussets and wheel rims showed signs of collapse, as did the POWs.  A green slimy moss-like substance covered the water logged floor of the wagon and mold fungi encrusted several small piles of rotted horse manure; a fetid-odor that we became accustomed to.

We encountered little difficulty in steering the wagon down the two-rutted farm lane, but we dismissed any idea of maintaining any true steerage on the country road.  The wagon balked at our attempts to stay on the road; a few drops of oil would have sufficed.  After 5 miles of pushing, pulling and trying to steer the sick wagon, we arrived at a small farm village.  Our problems were just beginning; cobblestones.  On our march across Germany, we had, on several occasions, marched through small farming towns and saw our first cobblestoned streets.  Through the centuries of travel, the cobblestones were rounded and very slippery, one of the POWs pulling the wagon slipped and fell beneath the wagon.  He missed being crushed to death by several inches.  Several small children walked beside us chanting, “T, Flieger,” “T, Flieger,” this was German slang for terror flier.  We were a sad looking bunch to be called “T, Fliegers.” 

Dr. Leslie Caplan requested medical treatment and hospitalization for the sick and dying POWs but he was adamantly refused.  That evening I was separated from the sick wagon and never saw the wagon or those sick and dying POWs again.  I can only surmise that they were left behind, eventually liberated by the Allies, or captured by the Russians and very likely the dying were permanently liberated.  Our group continued marching; we marched to another small town.  We arrived at a barn at night and again it was total confusion trying to find a place to bed down.

The night of April 15, 1945, was a night for prowling, the complete and total darkness was just what the Kriegies needed to secure some food.  “Tommy” Harry R. Thompson from Seminole, Florida, describes one of the raids.  “One thing I remember on the march was staying in a barn with no food or water (about 100 of us).  During this time there were only several guards around the barn.  Late that night 3 Kriegies got out of the barn, slipped past the guards and went into town, (in farmland Germany the farms are the small towns), the 3 Kriegies sniffed out some sausage and took same and returned to the barn. 

The following morning the 100 Kriegies were called out for formation and a German Captain (Red-headed) wanted to know who took the sausage.  The German Captain threatened to shoot every third Kriegie if he was not told who the thieves were.  No one said a word and no one was shot.  Tommy said he had to settle for some dried peas but they were so hard that it was almost impossible to chew them.  On that same day 3 Polish girls came to the barn with a pot of hot cabbage soup.  The guys were like animals trying to get the soup.  Not all of us had any of the soup and I remember the 3 girls crying.  Later the group moved out and marched through a Naval Installation, there were lots of German sailors and we marched by a submarine docked at the wharf.”

Louis Wayne Dirickson’s “log” confirms the April 15th raids.  “A farmer gave us some milk again this morning.  Left at 11:30 A.M. and walked 18 kilometers.  No spuds/no water.  Some of the boys had to sleep outside.  Two boys were caught in the farmer’s cellar and were told they would be shot unless all of the food was returned.  Everything came out O.K.”

A mischievous bunch of little devils.  We were as much of a problem to the Allies after our liberation as we were to the Germans during our captivity.”

One response to “The Shoe Leather Express – April 15, 1945 PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT DIED”

  1. Great artical, had no problems printing this page either.

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