Written November 10th , 1986
Source: Son of Roger V. Foehringer
These are the adventures or misadventures of Cpl. Roger V. Foehringer,
Serial #15317417, U.S. Army. The story really begins in the early part of
December 1942. The place was Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. The
football season had just ended, but that seemed insignificant considering what
was going on at the time. World War II was in full swing and the draft board was
breathing down my neck. As a result, on one of the first weekends in December,
a group of guys from Xavier decided to go downtown to the city hall to enlist in
the Navy Air Corp. So off we went to downtown Cincinnati, the Fountain Square
and the old Post Office…City Hall and the Navy Recruiting Office. After we
signed in, the first thing on the agenda as far as they were concerned was our
They took us on the various rounds with the first stop being a long narrow
room where the Officer there had all of us stand against the wall while the man at
the head of the line read an eye chart at the other end of the room. While the Officer was doing that, a corpsman was moving along the line looking in our ears,
nose and throat.
When he came to me, he examined my ears and after he did, he asked
me to step to the other side of the room, which I did.
When they completed the eye examination for the seven or eight men in
my group, the corpsman said to me, “I want you to talk to the recruiting officer”.
He motioned for me to follow and led me down the hall to the office of the Naval
Recruiting Officer. He talked to the Officer for a few minutes in private and then
said “Goodbye” to me.
“Sit down Roger I want to talk to you.” The Officer said. So I sat down
and he said, “From the Corpsman’s examination we believe you have recently
suffered a concussion which has resulted in a triangle tear of your eardrum.” The
Officer went on. “I know that you played football this year at Xavier and it
probably happened this fall while you were playing. I’m not going to ask you to
believe me as you probably don’t, so I’m going to call over to the clinic that
Xavier uses for the athletes and have them take a look for us.”
The clinic was known as the Decorsi Clinic, located in downtown
Cincinnati not far from the City Hall where I was. The Officer called and made an
appointment for me to go over immediately to be examined by one of the doctors
over there. I went over to the clinic and was immediately ushered into a Doctor’s
office, an eye, ear, nose, throat specialist. After examining my ears, he
confirmed exactly what the Corpsman from the Navy had already told me. He
went on to tell me that there was no way the Navy or Army would ever accept me
into military service with this perforated puncture of the eardrum. This kind of
made me a little non-plussed, I didn’t know what to do.
The following week there was another group of the guys in our R.O.T.C.
program going over to Fort Thomas in Kentucky to enlist in the Army Reserve
Corps. I said, “Let’s try it again” and over I went in a six by six with a bunch of
my buddies from Xavier R.O.T.C. to Ft. Thomas, across the Ohio River. We got
there and of course the first procedure when we got there was a physical
examination. In this case there were about ten or twelve of us and we were
asked to strip and were then moved from point to point, Doctors examining each
man. I finally came to the eyes, ears and nose area. I didn’t say anything to the
Doctor as he examined my eyes and ears. When he completed his exam, but
didn’t say a word. At that point I couldn’t tell if I had passed or not, but I sure
wasn’t going to say anything.
We moved along to the next positions and finally all of the physical exams
were completed. We were all told we had passed and that we had been
accepted in the Army Reserve Corps. They also told us we would be called up to
active duty in the relatively near future, but at what time they could not tell us… it
could be a couple of weeks…it could be a month…it could be four or five months.
So back to Xavier we went.
The University rushed our whole collegiate year as fast as they could
since they knew we would be going into the service very shortly.
I believe we finished our first year sometime near the end of March; it was
a very speedy year. I still had not been called up to active duty so I headed back
to Chicago and my family. I decided to just sweat it out until the enlisted reserve
corps called me up to active duty. I was already in the service but not on active
After a few weeks went by and they still hadn’t called so I got a job
working in a laundry. June of 1943, which was almost six months after I had
enlisted I got the call. It was December 13 th , 1942 when I enlisted at Ft. Thomas,
Kentucky and here it was June of 1943 that they were calling me to active duty. I
was to suppose to report to Camp Grant outside of Rockford, Illinois, which I did
around June 12 th .
Once I arrived they gave me a battery of intelligence tests from which they
decided I should continue with my 105 Howitzer training I had started in the
R.O.T.C. program at Xavier.
However before I could be transferred, the baseball coach at Camp Grant,
a man by the name of Bob Eiden said he wanted me to stay and play hardball for
the Camp Grant baseball team. It was not unusual in those days for each camp
throughout the country to have various sports programs, football, baseball, etc.
for the entertainment of the rest of the troops, probably morale builders also.
I went over and tried out for the team and made it as a second baseman.
For approximately ten days I stayed, then it became annoying that I wasn’t really
going to be doing any fighting. I was always going to be left behind and never
see any of the action of the war. So I requested to be transferred to Ft. Sill,
Oklahoma, where my buddies who had gone into Service with me had been sent
two weeks previously.
There I rejoined a goodly number of the R.O.T.C. enlistees from Xavier
University. They had just started their basic training so I hadn’t missed much.
We took the seventeen weeks of basic training there at Ft. Sill and on the
last day of the training I was advised along with another chap that we would not
be shipping out with the rest of our buddies as we were going to be given an
option on some other programs that the Army had in store for us. The rest of our
buddies were given a 10-day delay en route furlough and told to report to Ft.
Meade, Maryland P.O.E. (Port of Embarkation). They were going to go overseas
undoubtedly to Europe.
This other chap, who was from Salt Lake City, and myself were called in
individually to the Commanding Officer’s and given the option of going overseas
with our buddies, going to Infantry Officer’s Candidate school at Ft. Benning, GA.
or going to a program I never heard of called the “Army Specialized Training
Program”. I asked what the program was and they told me that it meant going
back to college. The army would send me back to College and educate me with
an Engineering Degree. That sounded very good to me so I accepted it. As you
can see my “Gung Ho” attitude no longer haunted me. The Army wasn’t what I
thought it was going to be and this “Army Specialized Training Program” looked
like a way for me to continue to get an education and not have to put up with the
They sent me to the University of Arkansas, at Fayetteville, Arkansas.
There were about 25 men from various parts of the country in the Freshman
Class I was in, that came there to join in the program. We continued on this
program at the University for approximately six months. Then the Army
disbanded the program saying that they needed men for active duty. We were
sent to Camp Maxie, Texas to join and become part of the 99 th Infantry Division.
They were going to give us another seventeen weeks basic training as
infantrymen. We would then be assigned to individual Companies as part of this
So once again I went through seventeen weeks of basic training, this time
in the infantry and again on the last day I was called over the loudspeaker
system and told to report to the orderly room, which I did. They told me that I
should get my gear together, a jeep would pick me up in a half hour and I was
being transferred to the 924 th Field Artillery Battalion. Needless to say I was very
happy, because believe me when I say the infantry is really a dog’s life. Because
the rules and regulations would not permit anyone to hold any rank if they were
back at college under the A.S.T.F. program, I was still only a private, so I was at
the bottom of the barrel as usual with the 924 th Field Artillery Battalion Service
My Commander was a Captain Cobb from Arkansas. Many of the men in
this unit, which numbered about 80, were from the South. Some of them, which
was very hard for me to believe, didn’t know how to read or write. It was the first
time I had ever run into anything like that.
This was an entirely white unit; there had been no integration in the
Services at this time. My Captain though he was not much of an athlete himself
really loved baseball. One day I made a couple of sterling plays. One in
particular, I was playing left field and ran back with my back to the infield and
caught a very long, hard hit ball over my head, “a la Willie Mays”. When I came
in to the bench after the inning was over, Captain Cobb came up to me and said,
“You just made PFC with that catch, I will notify the First Sergeant of your new
rating”. So there I was in athletics again and just made PFC. That meant a
grand total of $4.00 extra a month, making it fifty four bucks I was being paid for
each month I was in Service. Since I’m talking about pay I might as well tell you
that out of that $54.00 dollars a month came $18.75 for a war bond, $6.50 for my
G.I. insurance and $6.50 for my laundry. When I lined up to get paid and they
always paid us in cash, at the end of the month, I’d get a grand total of about
$15.00 to $16.00 dollars.
Finally in early September of 1944, I was given a 10-day furlough knowing
full well that when I came back we would be shipped overseas. And, that’s
exactly what happened. About the middle of September we were sent to a Port
of Embarkation, called Camp Miles Standish, near Boston, Massachusetts, then
we were shipped in a big troop convoy. There must have been 50 or 60 ships in
this convoy and I can recall destroyer escorts racing in and around us at times
when we were on alert to German submarine activity.
It took us fourteen days of rough weather to get to Greenock, Scotland in
the Firth of Clyde. By far the majority of the men were seasick. I was fortunate,
my stomach never caused me a problem whatsoever, in fact, they put me on KP
in the kitchen. As far as I was concerned the trip really was not that bad and we
had a lot of free time.
After we had landed in Greenock, we went overboard on cargo nets down
onto tenders that were bobbing up and down along side our troop transport. The
tender took us to the little town of Greenock, then we were taken to the railroad
station and put aboard cars, regular passenger cars. At a later date you’ll note
why I make this distinction of regular passenger cars.
We then spent the next 24 hours going from Greenock all the way down to
Plymouth and Weymouth in southern England on the channel coast.
Then an interesting thing occurred, a letter from my folks caught up with
me while at the small camp outside Weymouth, England. When my mother
wrote that I had relatives in the London area, well that was the only requirement
in order to get a pass to go to London, if you had relatives and could prove it. So
I was able to take that letter to the First Sergeant’s office and get a pass to go
It really wasn’t that much fun because I was the alone and didn’t have any
friends or buddies to go with me. Nevertheless I took the train from Weymouth
up to London, contacted the Red Cross at Charing Cross Station. They assigned
me to an apartment building they had transformed into billets for servicemen on
leave such as me.
The most interesting thing I saw that weekend in London was the damage
that had been done by the German buzz bombs and V2 rocket bombs. How
these people had suffered. Distruction, block after block, that had taken place
two or three years before I got there, these people had been suffering a long
time, that’s for sure.
While I was there I also tried to meet a friend, Burt Gardner. We were
supposed to meet under “Big Ben”, what I didn’t know at the time was, “Big Ben”
was a whole city block square.
Just a few days after I got back, the 924 th Field Artillery was put on small
LCT’s. These ships…these Landing Craft would hold a 6×6 Army Truck, a 105
Howitzer and about 50 troops. It was a flat-bottomed type of craft that we were
taking across the English Channel from Weymouth to Le Harve, France. There
were many of these small craft making the crossing. We landed in Le Harve on
what was a very wide, sandy and rocky beach. We didn’t land at a pier or dock,
but on the beach. Our 6×6 got stuck in the sand, but was pulled out by wreckers
that were lined up on the beach for just that very purpose.
We were on our way up to the Front Line, the beginning of the Allied drive
through France. I remember bivouacking in our truck along the road and having
French peasants, farm people coming up and talking to us.
I had taken four years of French and thought I could speak it fluently. My
first engagement with a French farm person, I realized we were talking two
different languages. My French was Parisian and theirs was from the country.
We could converse, but not very well. It was like an Irishman speaking pig Latin
to them I’m sure. It was certainly very embarrassing because my buddies
expected me to “Parle Vous France” excellent, but I just didn’t have it.
When we got to the front it was very stable. There was a “No Man’s Land”
and each of the participants were sending patrols through, normally at night. But
no large-scale attacks were planned. It was like we were settling in for the winter
right on the German-Belgian border.
We had gone through the towns of Liege, Namur and Verviers in Belgium
and a small town with a camp called Elsenborn.
The winter had set in and it was cold and snowy. Although I was not
suffering from the weather since I was the Artillery, with a 105 Howitzer outfit and
not with the Infantry, we had a warm bed. In fact, I picked up a fold away cot out
of an old Belgian farmhouse, threw it onto the 6×6 and took it with me wherever I
went. I had a bed to sleep on in the abandoned houses that we took over as we
moved on day by day.
My first sight of a buddy killed in action was really a fluke. He was with his
group in their 6 by 6 and they were strafed by a German fighter plane. They had
baled out of their truck and into a ditch but apparently it was his time and that
was it. A very small piece of shrapnel struck him right square in the middle of the
head. There was no other mark on him whatsoever, he was killed instantly. I’m
trying to remember his name, he was very tall, 6ft. 3ins. or so, young Polish boy
from Cicero. I want to say his name, I believe it was Milt Pappel. That was when
the reality of the war struck home for the first time, seeing my first dead buddy.
It was in the early days of December 1944, probably the 1 st , 2 nd or 3 rd day
of December. It was snowing, making it difficult for us to drive and get our
supplies to the 105 gun batteries. We were bringing up their food and
ammunition daily. One of the big items we supplied was gasoline, brought in
what were called, “gerry cans”, on our six by six. We also brought water…very
Periodically I was asked to go out with a forward observer party. I along
with a Forward Observer Officer, Artillery Officer and a Radioman with a pack
radio, a jeep driver and a squad of infantry would go through the lines, which
were fixed and booby-trapped. We’d go through at night, stay until the next day
and radio back German positions to our Artillery units for their fire missions.
Then we would come back in through the lines. I only did this a couple of times
and it really scared the hell out of me.
Many times you were all by yourself and didn’t know which way was
home. But, I did get back safe and sound, it seemed like our little group never
did get ambushed and had no serious problem.
All and all my duties were not very awe inspiring, I had a warm bed just
about every night and I had good hot food every day, so it wasn’t bad at all,
never suspected what was about to happen.
I can look back now and say it should never have happened. We should
have been prepared, we knew the Germans had changed troops in front of us
and that something was up and something was going to happen shortly.
It’s now the middle of December sometime around the 14 th to 16 th and the
odyssey continues. I’m recording this now on a snowy day, November 20 th , 1986
it has been snowing here in Ellwood Greens for the past several hours with an
accumulation of about 2 inches, reminding me of those days in December of
1944 right on the Belgian-German border.
I was on guard duty that night, the 16 th , we had billeted in a farmhouse on
the outskirts of a town by the name of Bulligen in Belgium. The house was a
combination home and barn. The barn was connected to the house at the rear.
We were all comfortably setup in the house. My guard duty tour was for
four hours, I believe it was from midnight until 4 AM. Sometime during the night
a group of M8 scout cars from a cavalry reconnaissance unit pulled down the
road to the farm. They were all excited and told us that the Germans had broken
through somewhere east of us and that they themselves were trying to get out of
there. I notified the Captain Cobb of this news and he in turn alerted the troops.
He called Division Headquarters and was told that we should dig in on either side
of this small farm road that cut through the hilly countryside.
Nearby there was a number of planes parked on a grassy area, just off the
side of this road on a landing field for the Piper Cub Field Artillery Observation
Seems kind of funny when I look back at it now, but my guard duty was
over at 4A.M. and I went back to the farmhouse, climbed back in to my sack to
get some rest. I was awakened at approximately 7o’clock and told that we were
digging in. We were supposed to take the machine guns off our 6×6, move them
up a small hill and set up some type of resistance to the German advance.
We were not advised exactly what type of German troops were coming
our way or that there were tanks. Much of the preparation, that is digging the
holes for the mounts of the machine guns, had taken place while I was sleeping
during the night.
A Corporal grabbed me and another guy and told us we were to take a
case of grenades up the hill to one of the machine gun positions which was on
the north side of the road near the top of the hill. The three of us, another PFC,
the Corporal and myself, started along the road and up the hill. I was on the left
hand side holding one handle of the case of grenades and the other PFC was
holding the right handle of the grenade case with the Corporal next to him.
We had not reached a point where we could see over the hill, when down
upon us came a German Tiger tank. As I said previously this was a small farm
road and on the left side, the side that I was on, was lined with a row of hedges,
to the right was level ground, the Air Field where the Piper Cubs were. Needless
to say I didn’t have stage fright, I jumped over, through and around the
hedgerow. While doing so, I lost my M1 Carbine, my helmet and tore my field
jacket, but apparently made it safely to the other side. The German tankers must
have been as surprised as we were, since they didn’t immediately shoot at us.
Whne they did the only shots that were fired at me were machine gun bursts over
my head, through the hedgerow.
I lay there flat on the ground right at the base of the bushes and the next
tank went by completely missing me. The next vehicle that came by was a half-
track with infantry loaded in the back. There must have been ten or twelve
German infantrymen. There was a slight pause in the firing and that was my time
to break away from the road, through the snow, out to the farm field, the snow
was fairly heavy out in the field.
In order to get away from the activity of the road, I kept on a perpendicular
course until I was several hundred yards from the road and the Germans. Then I
turned and went back toward the village of Bulligen, and the farmhouse where I
had stayed the night before and where I had last seen the other troops from my
There is no feeling like being alone, unarmed and having the hell scared
out of you and not know exactly what the hell to do. This was my position and
my thinking as I turned the corner of the barn connected to the farmhouse.
When I rounded the corner, a blast, which at the time I thought was from
machine gun or rifle bullets or some other type of weapon that had hit me full
blast. I hit the ground, then crept and crawled into the barn which was full of hay.
As I lay on the ground feeling my arms, legs, nose, ears, my whole body, to see
where I was hit. I just knew I had to have been shot, but there was no blood and
As I chanced a quick glance out of the barn, in came running one of my
buddies, a PFC like myself by the name of Al Goldstein, a Jewish boy from
Detroit, Michigan. It seems he had just fired a bazooka and he was coming in
with a bazooka to re-load it with another rocket that he was carrying. I then
realized what had hit me; it had been the backlash of the bazooka rather than a
machine gun or another weapon. But it sure felt like I had a hole in me the size
of that bazooka, yet I hadn’t been touched.
I helped Al load the thing and crawled back out with him. His first rocket
had gone over the top of the tank which had stopped on the road just out in front
of the farm house where we were hiding. The shell had hit the wall of another
farm the other side of the road. This time when he fired the rocket it again went
right over the top of the tank, Al was obviously firing too high. At this point the
tank crew must have gotten a little excited, as they gunned up the motor and
started swinging the turret towards our position. Al and I got inside the
farmhouse as fast as we could.
In the farmhouse there were some other GI’s including the cooks of our
service battery. A couple of us found some carbines in the farm house and went
up to the upper story of the farm house and looked out through the back window
which was the direction the Germans were coming from. This would be towards
the East and we could see the Germans had fanned out on the field that I had
just crossed. Although I couldn’t see it at the time I crossed, the Germans had
taken the machine gun nest that we had dug in on the hill, the one we had
planned on supplying with grenades.
We broke the windows and started to fire at these troops. They were just
sitting out there in front of us…it was really easy shooting. But before very long
we could hear the rumble of a tank. The farmhouse began to shake and we all
decided that the “Better Side of Valor” was to hide. We got out of the second
story and down into the basement of the farmhouse. We busted up the carbines
so that nobody else could use them. The rest of the troops were already in the
basement, five or six total of the battery personnel, no officers, no non-coms, just
ordinary privates and PFC’s. The Corporal and other PFC that were carrying the
grenades with me had gone to the other side of the road, I never saw them
Our plan, of course, was to try to hide out in the basement hoping that the
Germans would go by. Unfortunately, the bazooka had gotten their attention and
they knew we were there. Pretty soon the tank was at the basement windows
and within seconds the door to the basement was thrown open and a voice
yelled “Raush”, meaning “Get Out”. We came upstairs and were met by the
troops of the First SS Panzer Corps. These were young, but hardened tankers.
One strange thing I noted was, they didn’t have their helmets on, but
instead the helmets were attached to their belts. I noticed one German wearing
a bandage around his head, another with bandages on his arm, but they were
As we came up from the basement and walked along the wall of the
farmhouse, the young German soldiers stopped us and took our watches,
wallets, and anything of value they felt was the booty, the plunder of War. That is
where I lost my brother Bill’s Elgin watch that my mother had given to me before I
had gone into the service.
We were taken out to the road where the Tiger tanks and half-tracks were
parked. Shells from artillery were dropping around the area, apparently some
American artillery were dropping shells in this area knowing that the German
spearhead was passing through. Within a few short minutes they had a few of
my buddies up on the tanks. This was done as insurance that no American
troops would fire on these tanks as long as there were American soldiers sitting
on them. Then off they went to the heart of the village of Bulligen. I was left
there with just a few of my buddies alongside the road.
After just a short time the German soldiers started to march us back east
toward the town, which I now know, was Honsfeld in Belgium. If I recall correctly
there was only six or seven of us when we were taken prisoners.
As we got to Honsfeld we could see a battle had taken place and it
appeared it had been at night. As I looked at a cemetery on the left hand side of
the road there were frozen corpses behind the headstones. You could see that
they had fought, one guy at a headstone, another behind a headstone and there
they were frozen in the position they had been in just as they had been shot. It
was quite a grotesque picture. About the same time we could see several bodies
laying in the road, it was hard to even visualize these were bodies because so
many tanks and trucks had run over them…German tanks of course. The
corpses were like pancakes and the Germans made us march right over them.
We tried to detour around them but they said, “No, walk over them”.
Shortly thereafter we got into a group of prisoners from other units and we
were taken to a building, it reminded me of a big dance hall of some kind. As I
understood it, our troops had been using it as a respite from their foxhole duties.
They would bring them here for hot food and get them warm, their feet would be
There were infantrymen; I would say that there were approximately 200
American GI’s as prisoners, in this room sitting on chairs in this theatre-like room
with a stage in front. In a short time a German Officer, I believed to be a Major,
got up on the stage and talked to us in perfect English. He told us that they were
going to interrogate some of us and that the Germans would only interrogate by
rank. That is, a German Major would interrogate an American Major, if there was
an American Major, Captain against Captain and so forth. As they called out our
rank we should identify ourselves by holding up our hands. Well, we did this and
as the German soldiers came down the aisle picking out the person they wanted
to interrogate, they took them out of the room, out through the wings of the stage.
They never brought these people back in again and by the time they got down to
my rank, PFC, we were a little bit concerned about what had happened to the
men that went out before us.
Nevertheless, I raised my hand and a young German soldier walked
down the aisle to me. He gave me “the glare” and I gave him the finger. Then,
because he had a Lugar pointed at me, I joined him as he led me into the wings
of the room opposite the stage. This young German soldier could speak very
good English. The first thing he did was shove the Lugar into my stomach and
with his other hand he pulled the dog tags off my neck. Of course, I didn’t have
any idea what he was about, although I did note as I looked at him, he did have
on some American clothing, parts of our uniforms. This really didn’t arouse any
suspicion and his questions were not of a military nature.
He looked at my dog tag; he could see what my name was. He could see
my serial number, which I was permitted to give him by the rules of war. On the
dog tag he was very concerned because I had put down on my dog tag my
nearest of kin was Mrs. William F. Foehringer and he just could not get the
grammatical connection between a Mrs. And William, he felt that that should
have been Mr. Or it should have been Mrs. Madeline Foehringer instead of Mrs.
Wm. Foehringer. That really seemed to bother him. He went on to ask
questions about my home life, what I did before the Army. He was interested in
my education, really and that was about all he asked about. It was not a very
In this room, I could see all the Corporals, Sergeants and Officers that had
been taken out, they were just holding them there interrogating them. Note: I
learned after the war or when I returned home that they had used our dog tags
and clothing, etc. and impersonated American soldiers to infiltrate our lines and
cause confusion and havoc. Many of our soldiers were killed by these infiltrators.
When they were finished with our whole group, which must have been
twenty soldiers, they did return us to the room.
We were in this room all together when it became apparent that the
Americans were strafing and bombing the area by air. The Germans permitted
us to go down into the cellar of the building.
As I recall, it was a very cramped, very small room and we did not have
enough room for all of us to get down there and have room to lie out or even sit
By now it was early evening and we had had nothing to eat or drink, but I
don’t think there was one of us that had any appetite. We were all concerned,
worried and scared of what was next. We didn’t know if our own planes were
going to bomb and kill us while we were prisoners.
The night passed and the next day they started marching us out. That
would have been the 18 th of December 1944.
They marched us for several days. The first day, the 18 th , we were
marching past rows and rows of German troops, tanks, half-tracks and horse-
drawn artillery, plus every imaginable type of German military equipment. The
Germans were very envious of our boots, our leather boots, there was a definite
leather shortage in Germany. They would knock down the prisoners, including
myself and try to steal or take our boots away from us…they succeeded. Thank
the good Lord, I had a small shoe size, 6 ½, which no German foot could fit into
so I kept my boots. My buddies weren’t so lucky; many of them had to walk in
stocking feet from then on. That was a harsh winter, it was very cold and there
was snow. Many of those men suffered frost bite and lost many of their toes. I
would imagine ‘til this day they are suffering from when they had to walk so many
days in their stocking feet.
I can recall the Germans feeding us very little on this trip. We were now
very hungry, it was really catching up with us. I remember running out into a
sugar beet field that had been turned over and you could see the beets. I didn’t
even know what the heck they were, they looked like rhubarb or turnips and I had
never seen a sugar beet in my life. I did know they were something we could eat
because other fellows had done this so I ran out into the field, grabbed some of
the sugar beets and ran back to the line…the Germans didn’t shoot me. I broke
up the sugar beets and handed the peices around to the rest of the guys as best
we could and lo and behold it was something that gave us energy, it gave us
sugar, gave us heat and gave me the strength to go on.
I don’t remember how many days we marched, but they finally got us into
boxcars and I say finally but I don’t know if that was good or bad. They packed
us so tightly into those box cars even after I organized the whole box car, guys
were fighting one another. There is nothing worse than being a prisoner of war,
not knowing whether you are going to have enough food to exist. We were
starving, rattled and locked in a box car, it wasn’t any fun at all. Having
everybody organized, we tried to see if we could sit down at the same time…it
was impossible, there just wasn’t enough room for all of us to sit down. This was
to be our home for several days.
I can recall one of the first nights after getting on, we were in a railroad
yard in a big city, it turned out the city was Bonn in Germany on the Rhine River.
The Allies, the British, were bombing the city of Bonn at night. You can imagine
us, like animals locked in these box cars waiting for the bombs to hit and they did
hit in back of us. Down the way, I don’t know how many cars behind us, the
carnage of dead and wounded were many. But again, thank the Good Lord, I
When the Germans finally got us to where they wanted to take us which
happened to be Stammlager 13C in Hammelburg, Germany, it was somewhere
around the 27 th of December. I know it was after Christmas for sure but the
confusion, the suffering didn’t give us much time to think about what day it was.
We were just damn glad to be alive but I do recall how emaciated we were and I
remember then walking up the hill to the camp. It was something else, we were
exhausted, no food, very little water and it was quite a hill. Some guys didn’t
have shoes if you recall, the Germans had taken their shoes away from them and
they were walking in stocking feet. But at least we were out of the boxcars; we
weren’t locked up any more.
We were going to a prisoner of war camp and our minds were picturing
food, heat, a roof over our heads, clean clothes, all those things that went with
being back to the world of the living again.
As we got there I remember the gates were opened and in we walked.
Many of the guys had to be carried as they couldn’t make it on their own. We
were split up into small groups and led into a compound with a small one-story
frame hut much like the picture that you have seen in the movie of Stalag 13. It
was very primitive, no inside wash rooms, no running water, no central heat, just
bare essentials. Inside there were double-decked wood bunks, straw
mattresses, no blankets, very minimum living conditions.
The German guards were all eager to barter or trade anything that we
might have that they needed. The thing that seemed, as I recall, most
predominant was leather goods, wallets were one big bargaining item. We
wanted food and cigarettes from the Germans. I remember the wallet, because I
had kept my wallet. I didn’t have anything in it and the Germans weren’t
interested in what was in it, just in the leather itself. A guy in my outfit who was in
the next compound, with barbed wire separating us, a guy by the name of Ross,
he was from Kentucky or West Virginia. Ross was one of the guys that could
neither read or write, but could live by his wits and that’s what he did. He conned
me into giving him my wallet so that he could get a carton of cigarettes from the
German guard. Well, I gave him the wallet and never saw Ross again. This is
an example of life as a prisoner of war, it was dog eat dog. He knew I couldn’t
get to him thru that barbed wire to his separate compound, so he got away with
The heating in the huts was from pot bellied coal stoves. Our food
consisted of black bread, which we had to divide one loaf for eight American
prisoners. It had to be minutely cut as one man couldn’t get more than another.
For a little change we would take our slice of bread and hold it against the pot
bellied stove, it was our method of toasting it instead of eating it plain.
I think I mentioned it earlier that I had torn my jacket going through the
hedgerow during the escape from the Tiger Tank coming down from that small
Belgian village. Well, one day they came into our compound and said we were
allowed to go through the clothing warehouse to get or replace clothes needed,
emergency clothes, if we could prove we needed them. All I had was a field
jacket and it was torn so they allowed me to go into the Red Cross warehouse
and pick out an overcoat. The overcoat was from the Belgian Army, it was quite
large. I don’t know whether I picked it out on purpose or not but it just about
reached the ground. Maybe there was a method in my madness, it was my
shelter, my warmth, whatever, anyway that was the way it turned out to be. This
and all other clothing was marked on the back with a large white PW, so we were
identified as Prisoners of War.
Another interesting thing that happened in this Stalag 13C, Hammelburg,
Germany was, when the Germans came into our compound and lined us up, they
asked for all the Jewish boys to step forward, assuring them that nothing would
happen to them if they volunteered to step forward. We all yelled at them not do
it, not to step forward, but I believe some did without thinking and needless to
say, we never saw them again. I had a friend of mine in my outfit, I think I’ve
mentioned him, Al Goldstein from Detroit, he did not volunteer and he later went
out to work in Germany in the same “arbeit command” (work group) that I was in.
There was another interesting thing that went on regard the Jewish
soldiers, it happened later.
I had diarrhea through the whole trip since becoming a prisoner, mainly
because of no food or improper food like those sugar beets. My underwear was
terrible, so one of the things I did was to go over to the water supply and wash it
best I could as there was no soap and I hung it out to dry, but this was in
January, it froze. I finally took them in and hung them by the stove. I felt
fortunate that I washed them when I did, as I never had a chance to do it again.
I guess, I mentioned that everyone in the compound was either a Private
or a PFC. The Germans were very strict on the mixing of the military ranks. All
privates and PFCs were kept together, all corporals and sergeants were together
and the Officers were all separate. So we were all Privates and PFCs in this
One day, after we had only been in camp a short time, I would say around
25 days, when the Germans came in and again lined us up and said that as
Privates and PFCs we could by Geneva Convention volunteer to go out to work
at non-military occupations. A number of us volunteered. I felt that any place
where I could keep moving was better than the monotony of doing nothing. Just
existing in a Prisoner of War Camp was not for me. A chance to get out and do
any type of work to keep my mind occupied would make the experience pass
quicker. All in all there were about 100 soldiers who volunteered to go out of the
One afternoon we marched down to the railway station in Hammelburg.
I’ll never forget this, there were several other people, civilians that were going to
take this train, passenger trains could only run at night, so we were waiting
around until twilight for the train to come in. When it did arrive, we were
surprised to see every other car was a flat car with an anti-aircraft gun mounted
on it, manned of course by German soldiers. The guns were an attempt to
protect the train from strafing and bombing by American or British planes.
We were quickly herded into the trains and were off though the German
countryside. We thought possibly we might be going to farms, but lo and behold
we stopped at what we took to be a pretty good-sized railroad station. They got
us off and we marched three or four miles out to what appeared to be a large
gym. This gym was in the midst of a bunch of high-rise warehouses in an
industrial district. Inside the building there was what looked like a big fountain. It
turned out to be a place where we were able to wash our face and hands as we
came and went. There were toilets too and there were double-decked wooden
bunks with the straw mattresses and I mean loose straw, not packed. This was
to be our home, for how long we didn’t know.
I took the upper bunk all the way at the far end of the building. I don’t
know why, but I remember not letting anyone take the bunk below me.
There was a doorway about twenty feet from my bunk, which I always
thought about. Several times the guard would catch me looking at the door, he
never said anything, he would just make sure I knew he was keeping a close eye
on me and that doorway. He was the only guard at night and the Germans knew
that was all that was needed. We were both physically and mentally rung out.
Any plan of escape or where to go if we did seemed out of the question at the
I managed to sleep fairly well, but remember always being conscious of
the guard walking around the building all night, probably trying to keep himself
Another Jewish fellow, Howie Wolf spoke Yiddish, close to German, and
became our interpreter. The Germans lined us up and used Howie to break us
down into individual work groups. I got to know him fairly well and I told him
when he heard of a good occupation give me the nod and I’d volunteer for it. So
several occupations were named off and guys were picked out, 10 here, 20
there. Finally they came to “a five men bakery”, he nodded to me, so I stepped
forward and volunteered and I’m glad I did.
This was a small detail with one guard, a Phillip Kraft, who picked us up
every morning and we were on the road to a small German military bakery.
Actually we worked in the warehouse of the bakery, which was on the second
floor. The only thing that we had to do with baking was to move sacks of flour
form one end of the warehouse to the other and my understanding of this was to
prevent infestation. Then periodically the bakers would bake huge amounts of
bread downstairs and they would back up a truck…a flat bed. The sides were
rolled-up canvas, you could either roll the canvas down and be enclosed in there
or leave them open and it would be an open sided truck. An interesting part of
this vehicle, in the back it had a hot water tank with a little furnace at the bottom.
In the furnace they would burn wood chips. They had burlap sacks filled with
chips, maybe three or four on each truck. The German didn’t have oil or gas like
we had so they ran the truck by steam. Every once in a while the driver would
get out and throw more chips into the little stove or furnace below the water tank,
it was quite interesting.
Getting back to the bread…we’d make a human chain and throw the
loaves of bread onto the truck and pack them on the bed and then off to the
railroad yard we’d go, the driver, a guard and five of us prisoners. Howie Gilb
from Kentucky, Ray Wenzel from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Don Thompson from
Melrose, Massachusetts, Howie Wolf and myself were the five guys in this work
We pulled up to the box car that was assigned to us and filled the bottom
of the box car with straw and again we’d make another human chain and throw
the bread from one to the other then place it on the floor of the box car and
empty the truck out.
This one day the guard said to me and another guy, “Hey, you stay behind
and watch the bread because we have to go back and fill up the truck and we
don’t want anyone to steal the bread while we are gone.” Well, my buddy and I
There was a tavern across the street from the rail yard and the Germans
used to pay us every month in Marks and Pfennings, so we had some money in
our pockets. We understood from the Germans that everything was being
rationed in Germany except for two things, matches and beer. We were also told
that though the beer was not rationed, the taverns used to run out of beer quite
often. We saw the Germans walking in and out of the tavern or beer hall, as I’m
sure they called it, so we figured that there must be beer there. So across the
street we go and right up to the bar. It was an old-fashioned bar with the huge
handle for pouring the beer from the tap. We ordered up two beers and the guy
takes our money and starts to draw the beer. We are very apprehensive since
there was a big PW written on our backs and we were really concerned about
them finding us there, but nevertheless here we were ordering our beers.
All of a sudden we heard a loud whap and thought, they got us, they are
shooting at us, we turned to the side and here is an old German standing there
holding his beer stein. What he had done was to take a big blow to take the
foam off the top of his stein and when it hit the floor it had made a “whap”
sound…instead of a shot it was just the foam hitting the floor. We were so
The bartender continued to draw our beers. Just as we got the beer up to
our mouths, we heard “Raus”. We turned around and there at the door was a
German guard with a rifle pointing right at us. Well, here we were caught and we
didn’t even get our beer. We might have had a little taste, but that’s all we had.
We had to put the steins down on the bar and get marched out.
Now that I think back on it there was no punishment, they didn’t do
anything to us for trying to have a beer. They probably figured it was a national
pastime and as long as we were in Germany we might as well try to join in the
national pastime, even though the guard didn’t let us drink it.
Another time I can recall being down in the railroad yard and we were
loading up the boxcars with the bread. Of course, this bread was going up to the
German soldiers, (I think I told you earlier that we were allowed to go out to work
in non-military occupations) we damn well knew this bread was going up to the
front. We looked down the line of railroad cars that were lined up with ours and
we saw these strange people loading other boxcars. The German guard told us
that they were “Ruskies” or Russians. We found that really interesting.
One day we had a little pause during the loading of the boxcar and the
guys delegated me to go down to the Russians, who were loading sides of beef.
There were women and men working together as prisoners. My buddies wanted
me to bum some cigarettes off these Russians. We understood that the
Russians didn’t belong to the Geneva Convention but through the Red Cross the
Germans used to give the Russians a ration of tobacco every month and if we hit
them right we could probably bum some cigarettes off them. So I walked down
and there was a big Russian guy and I told him, “cigarettes”. He said, “Yah” and
took a bag of loose tobacco out of his pocket and picked up some newspaper
that was lying there. He tore a piece of newspaper off the size of a cigarette
wrapper and handed it to me and told me to hold it or rather showed me how to
hold it, then he sprinkled the tobacco in the newspaper. We looked at each other
and he could tell that I never rolled a cigarette in my life, so he looked at me as if
to say, “You poor simple jerk, you never had to roll a cigarette” so he grabbed it
away, rolled it and handed it to me. I then asked him for matches and he lit the
thing up for me and as I puffed on it, walked back to my buddies. We passed
that homemade cigarette around and of course puffing as fast as we could
because we knew that newspaper burnt pretty fast. I can imagine somewhere in
Russia today there is an old Russian soldier saying, “Boy, you should have seen
the stupid American I met, he didn’t even know how to roll a cigarette, he didn’t
know what he was doing.”
So that’s pretty much what I did as a prisoner of war in the Arbeit
Commando in Wurzburg, that beautiful Bavarian city, on the Mainz River.
It was interesting to see how the Germans operated in this time when they
really didn’t have anything. Everyone was fighting and struggling to exist. We
were getting some of this information from our guard, Phillip Kraft and various
other Germans that we would meet here and there.
They didn’t have a heck of a lot of flour in this little bakery at any one time.
That warehouse was never anywhere near halfway filled. I can remember one
time when they ran low on flour, we drove in this little truck out to the countryside
to a mill. We met a group of Germans, four or five guys that were running this
flourmill. They saw that we were Americans and asked each of us where we
were from. I said Chicago and they made a noise like a machine gun, Al Capone
and gangsters. They also put their hands up to their faces, holding their noses,
because of the smell. What they were getting at were the stockyards. So they
were pretty well versed in what Chicago was all about. It was interesting to see
that they knew Chicago.
Day after day, seven days a week we did this. We were fortunate to have
a roof over our head so there wasn’t anything spectacular in what we did, our
little five man bakery work group.
There was an interesting thing that happened to Al Goldstein. He was
working in a larger group of twenty men in a warehouse and had been working
there a couple of months when apparently some American soldier tipped off the
Germans that Al was a Jew. Well, the Germans, even late in the war were not
friendly to the Jews. Al’s punishment for being a Jew was he still went to work
with the group but when he got to the warehouse they would put him down in the
bottom of the elevator shaft and he couldn’t get out of that shaft until nightfall.
His punishment was that he could not associate with anybody and had to stay in
the elevator shaft. This was in late March 1945. They really had a hate for the
Al did get back safely to the States and lived in Detroit for a number of
years. Another good friend of his and mine by the name of Frank Garrett used to
get together with Al. Frank was a prisoner of war too and we were in the same
outfit, the 99 th Division. Goldstein didn’t suffer much more that we did, but I think
if he had been found out back in Hammelburg he would have been put to work in
the salt mines.
Wurzburg is a beautiful city, with the vineyards sitting up high on a
terraced hillside, it was quite a sight. There was also a very famous bridge,
although at the time that we were there we didn’t see it, but the bridge has all of
the Apostles, large statues at various positions on each side of the bridge going
across the river Mainz.
There were several hospitals in the town and at different times we did see
German Soldiers, amputees, walking around the area. A railroad center really,
that had never been touched by the war. The American or British had never
bombed it, so we saw it when it was untouched…But the day was coming.
Off and on, oh maybe every other day, we’d get air-raid sirens. There
would be an air-raid alert but the American planes were going over to Swinefurt
to bomb the ball-bearing factories, so in the early days we were not bombed. But
later we started to have air raids and they were bombing Wurzburg.
One day our guard, Phillip Kraft, picked us up at work and we talked him
in to cutting through the railroad yards home rather than the street. He was
reluctant to do it, nevertheless, the six of us, five prisoners and our guard with his
bicycle started to walk. A strange sound made us turn around and just above us
were P-38 U.S. fighters, three of them, making a strafing run. Again none of us
panicked, we dove under the box cars which were right next to us as the
machine gun bullets ricocheted off the tracks, but missed us and we weren’t
injured. So once again, God was on our side. It really taught us to never again
take a short cut through the railroad yards, beside our guard was not about to let
us try it again.
Phillip Kraft was a nice old guy who smoked cigars. We didn’t have any
tobacco, since we never saw any of the Red Cross packages all prisoners of war
were supposed to get. I take that back, every once in a while we’d see one on
the back of a civilian’s bike. Who knows they might have gotten them from
bombed out railroad cars, anyway we never got a Red Cross package. But
Phillip used to smoke cigars as I said and one day he came to work to picked us
up and take us to work. When we got the bakery he took us to the boiler room of
the bakery and he had wrapped up inside a newspaper, cigar butts that he had
saved, tiny butts, an inch long at the most. We were all smokers and tobacco
starved, so what we did was brake all the butts up and make it into shreds and
then rolled cigarettes from newspapers. We got quite a number of cigarettes out
of that. The cigarettes were quite strong, but anything was better than nothing.
So I think his heart was in the right place and I’m sure he felt sorry for us.
By the way, Wurzburg, the area that we were in was Bavaria, southern
Germany and the majority of the people were Catholic. There were many big
Catholic churches in Wurzburg that we walked by as we were going to work we
passed a company or two of Hungarian soldiers, Umguards, who were marching
to church on a Sunday morning. We were never allowed to go to church. We
worked seven days a week, we passed by them but never went in them.
As you can probably guess there was never a dull moment, that’s why I
wanted out of that Camp back at Hammelburg. This way, working, there was
some excitement and change. On our way back and forth from work, unusual
things would happen. We’d pass a group of Italians and we’d yell, “Yeah Pisons”
and they would yell “Yeah Comrade”. And, of course, we were always bumming
and begging and we’d say “Cigarettens” and they never seemed to have any and
we couldn’t bum anything off them.
One time we saw at the loading dock of the bakery, these two young boys,
I think they were bringing sacks of flour to the place. They would dump their flour
off on the loading dock and never tell us about it. We’d have to go down there
and check and this one time we got talking to these young boys and discovered
that they were Dutch prisoners that were in a work group. The Germans had
captured them in Holland and brought them back to make them work for them.
Of course, that is what Hitler did, he had hundreds of thousands of non-Germans
working for him at all kinds of jobs, including soldiering.
Then there was the time we met a group of Polish boys that were forced
laborers somewhere around our age, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, it was so
difficult to communicate with one another but we had a heck of a time trying with
no real time to learn. But they knew that we were Americans and we knew that
they were Dutch or Polish. It made an interesting passing of the days.
As we were getting around, walking back and forth through town, I’m sure
the German people knew that there were the Americans in town.
We’d meet little first and second graders coming from school and they
were practicing their English, as they were taking English in these lower grades.
They’d say “Good Morning, Sir” and we’d say “Good Morning” back and they
thought that was a lot of fun. We enjoyed it too, it broke up the monotony.
It was pleasant in Wurzburg and I say pleasant because we were not
particularly happy, but we knew that the war was going our way and knew it
would be ending. But this beautiful city of 100,000 people was soon to be
blitzkreiged by bombings.
One night, I’d say it had to be about the 20 th of March we were all in our
barracks sound asleep. Many times, by the way, when we did have air raids at
night and we were in the barracks, the Germans would get us up and we’d go
down into the sub-basement of this old warehouse, a six or eight story building,
which would be our air raid shelter. But this particular night, late in March 1945,
the British came over and night bombed. (By the way we always knew who
bombed us at night, it was always the British. The Americans bombed in the
daytime.) So we were “raused” out of our barracks and you know a lot of the
times the guys wouldn’t pay attention, they’d stay behind and wouldn’t go down
to the shelter because the raids would turn out to be false or the planes were
going by us or minor raids and they wouldn’t affect us.
Most of us went down this time and we weren’t down there too long when
pretty soon the Germans wanted to get us out of there. As we came out we
could smell the smoke. Well, when we got upstairs to the street level in this
industrial district, there was the most tremendous wind you have ever felt in your
life. The whole sky, the whole city of Wurzburg appeared to be in flames. The
wind had been created by the fire.
Lying on the street all around us were these phosphorus incendiary
bombs, they were octagon shaped bombs about a foot to maybe 18 inches long
and an inch or two thick. The bombs had hit the roofs of the buildings throughout
Wurzburg and set them on fire and that as we looked out was what we were
seeing, an inferno that the phosphorus bombs had caused. We were just
flabbergasted, but the Germans ran us out to the main road and further out of
town. In fact, they took us out to a farmyard. In the center of the farmyard, a
farm field, I should say, was a huge haystack and that proved to be our barracks
the rest of the time we were under the control of the Germans.
Back to Wurzburg and the inferno, I had never been through a fire like that
and I’m sure very few people have. It was just terrible. Well, they got us to this
farm yard and the next day they marched us down to downtown Wurzburg. I
couldn’t believe the devastation. What had happened was that these
phosphorous bombs had landed on the roofs and burnt down through the roof,
down the floors of the buildings leaving the walls standing. You’d have just a
shell of a building. And just like us, many people had used the basements and
sub-basements as air–raid shelters. Well, they were dead and by the time we
got there our job was to remove the debris and get the dead out of there. We’d
lift the bodies out and carry them to the curb and horse drawn carts would come
along and we’d pile the dead bodies on them. They must have created a mass
grave for these people, I don’t know where.
That was our duty for two or three days, after the air raid, we did nothing
but go downtown to Wurzburg and help clean up the debris and carry away the
dead bodies. Of course, all the services, like sewer, water, gas and electricity
were all wiped out.
We were working right down town Wurzburg, right off the city square,
when one day in roared three big semi’s. They let the sides of the trailers go
down and they were kitchens, they were called, “Herman Goring” kitchens. They
had stoves for cooking and they made soup and bread and whatever they were
going to feed the people in the city, and the people working down there. We saw
these folks getting in line to get fed, so we got in line also, anytime we saw food
we were ready and willing, but as we stood in line, all of a sudden things came to
a roaring stop. They wouldn’t feed anyone, we looked around and here were a
half a dozen or so SS Black uniform soldiers, Storm Troopers, they were called.
They gathered the whole crowd around us and made us the center of attention,
ranting and raving then pointing. These people were getting irritated and upset
and it was a foregone conclusion as to what they were trying to do. They were
trying to pin these air raids on us, but the Germans knew that the English
bombed at night, not the Americans. We yelled out, “Nix Americaners, English”
and we kept yelling that out and you know they stopped and disbanded the
crowd then kicked us in the ass and told us to go on back to work. That was the
end of it, we thought for sure that was going to be the end of us.
As was mentioned before, Wurzburg was now being bombed on a regular
basis. Typically it was at night by the British.
One day the guards sent a group of prisoners to help clean up the rail yard
where boxcars had been hit. A couple of the guys found a case of socks and
smuggled them back into the compound. That night they handed them out to all
the rest of the guys. The socks we were wearing were in terrible shape after four
months of continuous use. This was like a piece of Heaven.
The next morning when the guards lined us up for the headcount, all of us
mange POWs fall out wearing brand new royal blue Luftwaffe socks. The
Germans had a fit, they ranted and screamed as only the Germans could. We
thought for awhile they were going to shoot us all, but it ended as fast as it
started. They just pushed us around a little and marched us off to our jobs.
They even let us keep the socks.
Over the next night or two you could see the sky lit up and we began to
hear rumbles and we knew the front was coming.
We were still cleaning up after the air raids in Wurzburg, when the
Germans decided on Easter Sunday, April 1 st , 1945, that they were going to
evacuate us and move us further back into Germany before the American troops
over ran us. By the way, I might mention we did suffer casualties through these
raids. We had several guys killed and wounded. So that from the original 100
that started in this “arbeit commando” I’d say there were about 80 left.
Of course, when they said, “Let’s go” we didn’t have to pack, everything
we owned we had in our pockets or on our backs. So off we went, they didn’t
take us on the main road out of town they took us on the side road parallel to the
main road, as that was being used by German troops and trucks and they didn’t
need us clogging it up.
They would give us breaks every so often and at one of these breaks, the
five of us guys that worked at the bakery decided that we were going to escape.
The next time they gave us a break we were each going to go up to a different
guard and tell them that we were going over to the woods to take a “shizen”.
So at the next stop or rest period, we did just that. We told them we were
going into the woods to go to the bathroom. We did this and just stayed there.
The rest of our group got up and walked away, leaving us behind and I don’t
know if they even knew we were gone, but they didn’t seem to care. Now all we
had to do was to hold out, as we knew that the Americans would over-run us
Now the “Odyssey” begins…now what do we do? The first thing was try
to get closer to the front so we’d meet the Americans troops sooner. We couldn’t
do this during the day it could only be done at night. So we decided to stay right
where we were the rest of that day and night and let things calm down a little.
We heard troops moving on the road, we saw what we thought were SS men
moving about, opening sedans and getting out of their big Mercedes.
The next night we did move back towards Wurzburg, and not knowing the
territory, we moved down into a low area that was surrounded by what we
thought were willow trees along side a creek. We needed water so we stayed
there overnight. At least we were able to get the water out of the creek.
When we woke up in the morning, lo and behold, right above us looking
down upon us, were a group of German civilians, women and children. The
German woman had taken their children out of the city and out of the ‘dorfs’ of
Wurzburg so that they would not be in the air-raids. They would sit on the
hillsides and get out of the way of the war that was going on around them. They
could sure see us down below them and it looked like they were getting irritated
when we noticed them. I again volunteered to go up and try to calm them. I took
a little prayer book out of my pocket. I showed them the “Rosary” on the back of
the prayer book and I started to recite some of the Mass prayers in Latin. These
were words from the Confiteor, “Adeum quitifica”. Not knowing who we were or
what we were, but did know the big thing, that we were prisoners of war, as we
had PW stamped all over the backs of our clothing. My Latin words seemed to
calm them down. I left them and walked back down the hill to my four buddies
and reassured them that I felt that these women and children would not turn us
It was just a short time later, maybe a half hour or so, while we were laying
on the ground, there along side the stream, that rifle shots were winging over our
heads and hitting the embankment behind us on the hillside. We just didn’t know
what to do. The women must have turned us in. It appeared, without taking a
vote that this would be a good time to turn ourselves in. Why get killed now, the
war was almost over. We knew the skies were lit up with explosions and we
could hear the advancing American Army. It was just a matter of hours really
and this thing was going to be over. So why take the chance of being killed. So
up we got and best we could we ran across to the main road there and started to
run into the small village ahead of us. I found out later, the village was a dorf by
the name of Versbach.
Now this was hilly country and as I looked up on the side of the hill, I could
see two elderly gentlemen waving with their arms at us, signaling for us to come
their way. We did a detour off the road and ran up the side of the hill, it was quite
a ways up to these two gentlemen. They had a hole in the side of the hill where
they had apparently had dug a cave. It was covered with a burlap sack. We
were pushed in or told to get into the back of the cave fast, which we did.
Someway or another we felt that the two elderly gentlemen were trying to save
us, not hurt us. We did, quite readily get into the cave.
We stayed in that cave until after it got dark before peering out. We were
well above the highway and could see cars and German equipment taking off
and moving away from the front. The fight was still going on but some of the
German troops were pulling out. In particularly it appeared to us the SS in their
open Mercedes-Benz cars went by us. They were going east so maybe they
weren’t in Wurzburg or in this small village, perhaps they had left, all of them,
which relieved us and we knew that they were the tough ones and knew that they
would cause us the most harm.
It was probably about eight or nine o’clock at night or maybe even later, I
forget when the sun set, it was quite late at this time of year, the Spring. Around
April 3 rd to the 5th, up came two young boys into the cave and brought with them
for us to eat and drink, black bread, lard and ersatz coffee (artificial coffee) and it
was hot. As you can imagine since we hadn’t had solid food in over three days,
we were very hungry. The boys fed us, then took the empty cups back with
them. We were unable to communicate with them verbally, they couldn’t speak
English and we couldn’t speak German, but we got from them through hand
signals that we should stay there and they would be back.
So the next day during the daylight we stayed right in cave. This was a
good place for us to hide out, wait for the Americans to come through and over
run us. And that’s what we were hoping and praying for.
We felt much better now, we felt somebody was helping us and we did get
some food. Somebody did care here. So again, the next night here comes the
two boys back again, with the swartz bread, black bread, the lard and the ersatz
coffee. And boy how we put that away. And they again told us to stay still, don’t
get out of there, they said stay in the cave and hide. That they would let us know
when to come out. So we stayed that night and all the next day and late in the
afternoon of the following day, here come the two boys and they were running up
to the cave yelling, “Amerikaners kome, Amerikaners kome,” yelling to us.
They were yelling this before they got to the cave and of course we heard
them and I recall Howie Gilb anxious and very eager as we all were, but he
wanted to rush out and we tried to caution him to watch out that it might be a
trap, there may be something wrong but Howie wouldn’t listen and out he went.
There wasn’t a trap; it was just the two boys there. They were very happy,
enthusiastic, jumping up and down anxious to tell us “Amerikaners kome,
Amerikaners kome”, and that they would take us down to the “Amerikaner”. So
we, all five of us, with the two boys in the lead raced down the hill towards the
little town square in Versbach.
The everyone from the little village (dorf) was surrounding a jeep which
was in the center of the square and on top of the hood of the jeep was an
American Sergeant waving a 45 around in the air. The crowd, the German
people made a path for us so that we could get to the jeep. The Sergeant came
down off the hood still waving his 45 around and began to talk to us. He told us
that the people had told him that they had hidden out some American soldiers
and that they would go and get them. They also said that they were so happy
that they did this, to show the Americans that they were not their enemy.
We told him, we were so glad that he came through and as we talked
further with him we asked him where his buddies were. We finally found out that
as happy as we were to see the Sergeant, the man was drunk. He told us that
he had been drinking and that he was a mechanic with a tank destroyer outfit in
the rear echelon. It seemed he got to drinking and decided he was going to go
up to the front to find out where his buddies were, the guys that drove the tank
destroyers. He had gotten lost, and apparently had just come through the lines
with the jeep. Nobody had bothered him, he had just gone right down the road
toward Wurzburg but he wanted to know which was the way out and how he
could get back.
Every jeep in the world had a foot locker and in the foot locker were all
kinds of paraphernalia, the main things that they kept in them were rations, candy
bars, “D” rations, “C” rations, “K” rations, plus all kinds of bandages and medical
equipment. Well, this jeep and this Sergeant was no different than any other and
we opened up the foot locker to get at some of his goodies, and then we realized
we should be giving some of these goodies to the German people who had
helped us, so that’s what we did. We took out cans and “K” bars and everything
that could be found in the foot locker and threw them to the people and let them
know how much we did appreciate what they had done, although we never did
get the names of the two German boys that came every night, we never did see
the two old grandfathers that put us into the cave again. Now isn’t that
something, here were people that really saved us by hiding us out and feeding us
and yet we didn’t even know their names.
We were just elated, you can imagine after spending many, many months
not knowing whether you were going to be alive from one day to the next, not
having food and here was an American soldier and he was going to take us back.
Yet this American soldier had been drinking pretty well and he didn’t know his
way back. So really, we had a decision to make, because the Germans were
very friendly to us we felt possibly we should stay with them and wait for the
troops to come. The Sergeant was really lost and had come thru the lines by
himself, but after a short debate, we decided that we’d all cram on this jeep,
imagine now there are six of us and we were hanging on the sides trying to go
thru the lines.
There wasn’t much to us, we had all lost so much weight. I was down to
100 lbs and I’m sure that the other guys had lost 50, 60 lbs or more, so that we
were about six hundred lbs between us. But anyway, we did climb on the jeep
and we turned around and got him on the highway.
We knew the way back to Wurzburg and as we started back we saw
burning German half-tracks, dead soldiers lying along side the road, but no sign
of our troops at all. There were no tanks or artillery, no firing going on but there
were plenty of signs that a battle had been going on here, but it all had stopped.
As we went on toward Wurzburg, along came a line of infantry on either
side of the road and of course it was an American infantry and on their helmets
was their insignias, this was the “Rainbow Division”, the old “42 nd Division”. Boy,
were we happy to see them. They were happy to see us and surprised,
expecting Germans before they saw Americans, a jeep with a bunch of
Americans hanging on the sides. After they saw us and saw how emaciated we
were they threw a million questions at us.
The Officer communicated by radio to his superior Officer and was told
that we were to be taken right down to the Commanding General. He had taken
over the city square of Wurzburg, so we were driven to the Commanding General
and he welcomed us back. The main thing he was interested in was, where had
we come from, had we seen any Germans, had we seen any build-up of anti-tank
guns or tanks in that area. In fact, we told them that we had seen the SS pull out
the day before. He was most thankful for this information and he was going to
send us back to the rear and he did.
First he wanted to have us examined to see we were all right. That was a
good thing because two of the guys were not feeling well. Howie Gilb and Don
Thompson, they had a fever and the medics thought that they had typhoid fever
from drinking the water out of the ditches. The other three of us showed no signs
of it so they took us about ten miles back into the area that they had already
taken, the other side of the Maintz River, to a small town where they had set up a
military government, with an officer and a squad of Infantry.
So here in this small town, we took over a house that still had running
water and electricity so we heated water and took baths. We washed and
scrubbed, there was just unbelievably filth and grime on us, as we hadn’t had a
shower or bath in six months. I had lice bites around the middle of my body that I
had scratched causing scabs on scabs, even in our hair, just everywhere on our
whole body. So we just soaked, the hotter the water, the better. I know I killed
the lice on me with soap and soaking.
The guys scrambled around and got us an issue of clothing. We were just
emaciated, we ate at their mess and after we were there a few hours we asked
the Officer what they were going to do with us. They said they hadn’t had any
orders and that they didn’t know what to do. We were the first guys that they had
run into. The Officer said, “This is something new for us and we’ll find out, you
just stay still, stay with us, get fat, rest and we’ll get orders for you and get you
out of here.”
A couple of days went by and we still didn’t have orders but we did notice
that there was an airfield nearby. (I might stop here and make mention that we
knew that there was an air-field near Wurzburg, because early on, I’d say in
January and in February we were startled where we were working, we heard
something that we had never heard before, and we looked up to see what it was
and it was gone. Finally, we got a glimpse of it and here by God was the first
German Jet and they were flying out of this field near this small town where this
military government now was. So, lo and behold, I can report to you that in the
early part of 1945, the Germans did have airborne Jets. Military jet planes and
they were flying out of this small airfield near Wurzburg).
We had noticed more activity; being in a small town here we saw C-47’s
flying in and out of this airfield. The three of us went up to the officer and asked
him what it was all about. He said the Americans had an Air-Evac Hospital down
there and we asked, “Would you mind if we walked over there and talked to the
people and maybe they could take us back and get us out of here, as it seemed
that no one was getting anything done. They said it was okay. So the three of
us went down to the airfield and I say down because the airfield was on a plateau
and maybe it was two or three hundred feet higher than this big hospital tent city
that they had set up for their Air-Evac Hospital.
They took us right in and apparently some of the medics had never seen
anything like us before. They walked us right in to the Commanding Officer and
lo and behold, the Officer was a Doctor by the name of Harding and he was from
Chicago. I mentioned that I was from Chicago and that I knew Doctor Karl
Meyer, Doctor Harding said he knew him real well because he was also from
Cook County Hospital.
He also said, “Because your not wounded I can’t give you a tag and put
you on the plane”, but he said, “these planes come in three at a time and are
flown by pilots and co-pilots just about your age, in their early twenties. The crew
would land their planes and park them and then we load them up with the
wounded. In the meantime, the pilots and co-pilots get off the runway and lay
down on the grass and rest and shoot the bull until their planes are loaded and
off they go again. Now I’m sure that if you guys went up and lay on the side of
the air-field and waited for these planes to come in and when these guys got off
the planes and you went over and talked with them and told them who you were,
they would take you back with them”.
Boy, that sounded like the best idea that we had heard in a long time, so
we walked up to the air-field and in less than an hour, along came these three C-
47’s Air-Evac Hospital planes and just as Doctor Harding had said the pilots and
crew got off the plane and went over on the grass and laid down and were
waiting for their planes to be loaded up with the wounded and we were right there
to talk to them.
They said, “Sure, we’ll take you back with us. We’ll take one of you in
each of the three planes. But if you don’t mind, we have to stop at a couple of
spots on the way back and drop off some of these wounded before we go to our
We said, “What’s your home field?” and they said “Le Bourget, Paris.” So
that was another real lucky thing. Paris, by gosh, that was the ambition of every
American soldier to get to PARIS. That was the big swinging city in every
“shakers” mind, but getting home, that was the most important thing and these
guys were headed in the right direction.
So here we are at the airfield with these young C-47 crews, elated to be a
part of our escape. They were going to take us back and they had to ask,
“Where are you going, where is you home base”, was that something. Each one
of us got on a separate plane and we sat up behind the cockpit, behind the pilot
and co-pilot in the radioman’s area. One thing I recall about the trip, other than
the fact that we were so thankful that finally we were headed home and headed
home in a hurry in an airplane, we were flying, very, very low almost at treetop
level. That really stood out in my mind.
The pilots were going to stop to leave off some of the wounded in Nancy
and also in Rheims, France, then continue on to Le Bourget.
When we landed at Nancy and Rheims we didn’t let anyone see us, the
pilots said no reason to ask for trouble and to not say anything. We really didn’t
have any papers at all; in fact, I myself didn’t have dog tags. The German soldier
back there in that little Belgian town took it right after I was captured. They took
my dog tags away from me, but I did have a German identification tag, M-
Stammlager XIII C 19453, my prisoner number. So there was some
But again there was no sense asking for trouble, we stayed aboard and
finally just about dusk we landed in Le Bourget.
We didn’t get much of a chance to see the airport but they did take us up
to their cafeteria, in a command car. They wanted to feed us immediately as we
were skeletons, there was absolutely no flesh on us whatsoever. And feed us
they did, there was so much food and our stomachs had shrunk so we were
being very careful about what we ate. We knew over eating could cause
After we finished eating with the guys in the mess hall, a Sergeant came
back, the one that picked us up in the command car and told us the Commanding
Officer, an Air Force General, wanted to see us at his office at a Chateau.
The three of us piled into the command car and were driven over to the
woods and down a road to a beautiful French Chateau. The General greeted
and welcomed us, we were enlisted men, PFCs and Privates, no rank
whatsoever but he welcomed us and made us feel at home. He told us that if we
waited a little while he had invited many of his officers to hear us and have us
talk to them about our experiences.
Maybe a half hour later, quite a group of Officers, perhaps 25 or 30
gathered. We told the story of what had happened to us and how we had
escaped and how we got where we were now. They were elated hearing about
us and they seemed happy they were small part of our escape and that they
could take care of us dog-faced Infantrymen and Artillery men further.
It was quite late by now and the Commanding Officer instructed the
Sergeant to make all the necessary calls and plans to take us to their hotel in
downtown Paris as their guests and to wait for further orders as to what was to
be done with us.
As far as we knew nobody knew we existed, that we escaped, that we
were loose. We wanted to get in touch with our parents in the fastest possible
way. Before we left for the hotel they let us send telegrams, they called them
radiograms in those days, we hoped they got through.
I recall riding through the night, blacked out, into Paris, right downtown
Paris and I say to this day it was the Hotel Le Francis, it was a triangular shaped
building, it came to a point. We were taken upstairs and given more new clothes,
given toilet articles, toothpaste, shaving cream, razors and blades and all those
types of things that we didn’t have. Then we were given these beautiful rooms.
The beds had feather mattresses on them, this was the first time in my life I had
ever slept on a feather mattress. You remember our last beds were out in a
haystack or in the barracks at the prison of war camp. Those mattresses were
made of burlap sacks stuffed with hay. We were elated of course, we had no
money and we weren’t in the best of physical shape but we were on our way
home and couldn’t wait to get out.
As long as we were in Paris, we wanted to do some sightseeing. We
hadn’t been issued any money and the few German marks we had certainly
didn’t work in Paris, France, so one of the first things we needed to do was get
some money. I don’t know where we got the idea but we decided to go to the
Red Cross in downtown Paris. I think they called it Rainbow Corners and we
went up and waited to see one of the counselors. In the Red Cross it was like a
Chaplin, you could ask them to do things for you, if you had troubles at home and
things like that they would be sort of a go-between for you. They had the
volunteer people, men and women who acted as counselors. So we went
upstairs into these offices and talked to a secretary who told us to wait. We
wanted to tell the counselor our problems, the main one being money, we
needed some so that we could get around. It wasn’t a question of getting money
to eat because at the hotel we were given a pass to go into the restaurant. The
Air corps ran a restaurant on the main floor of the Hotel Le Francis and we could
eat all our meals there with no money. Maybe we wanted to buy a beer or a
cognac, maybe we just wanted to have some money. Anyway, the secretary
said to sit down as there were a load of guys going in to see this woman.
It finally came up to be our turn. The woman said, “Oh, I can see it is
going to be a long session, I want to hear your story; can you sit and wait until I
get finished with the rest of these men and then we’ll have time for me to hear
your story in its entirety?” So that’s what we did, we waited. Finally the last of
the soldiers waiting to see the woman left.
She called us in and I remember her name was Miss Kelly. She was a
very lovely person and she listened carefully about our being prisoners, how we
got captured and all of that. She said there was no way or no rules in the Red
Cross that would allow her to give or loan us money to go out and sight-see
around Paris while we were there. But, she said, “I’ll loan you fifty dollars of my
own money and if and when you get paid you can reimburse me”. We thought
that was great, she gave us the money which we split up between us and off we
We were billeted at the Hotel Le Francis for about three days and then
finally some orders came through. We were to move to a regular Army Barracks
right in Paris and get ready for our orders for our trip home.
I recall moving from the Hotel. We each had a little knapsack that held all
our things. I also had with me a beautiful leather helmet that I had found in
Wurzburg when we were helping to clean up. It had a spike on the top of it, an
authentic Prussian Dress helmet. I had it strapped on my knapsack and the
French people seeing it would yell, “Boch, Boch”, pointing at the helmet. They
just hated the Germans and anything German. Of course I didn’t think it would
cause any problems, but I made sure the next time I went out with that helmet I
had covered it so that it didn’t upset the “Frogs”.
It was shortly thereafter, I think we only stayed in that billet maybe a day
or two and then we were given orders to report to the railroad depot, to pick up a
train to Le Have. We were to proceed to a camp called Camp Lucky Strike.
What a name!!! You can imagine the connotation it meant to us at this time, to
strike it lucky meant to us that we were going home. It was a POE all right, a
Port of Embarkation for the States.
They had set up a kind of a tent city there at this Camp Lucky Strike, no
buildings or anything like that. We were there maybe a day or two at the most
when they loaded us on a ship. The ship had apparently been a passenger liner
and it was named the S.S. Exchequer. I can recall vividly not only the name, but
also there were staterooms inplace of the big bulkheads where we had five, six,
seven bunks, one on top of the other that we had coming over. A Liberty ship
with everybody sick over the sides, this was different, we didn’t have individual
staterooms but two or three guys to a room. We had good meals, we were
treated almost like it was a cruise. It was not the military type of treatment that
we got on the way over, it was more personal treatment on the way back.
It seemed like that ship just flew across the Atlantic to New York. After
landing in New York, we were taken to Camp Joyce Kilmer in New Jersey. It was
a stopover really, just to eat. It was early evening, an right after dinner we were
immediately put on trains and boy was it a trainload. We are probably talking
about two or three hundred troops and it was a non-stop trip to the Mid-west, to
Fort Sheridan, Illinois right up north of Chicago. As I recall it was early morning
when we got into the south suburban area of Chicago, and as we looked out the
window, lo and behold, people were lining the railroad tracks and waving and
shouting to us all happy and rejoicing and we couldn’t understand what it was all
about. We later uncovered the fact that the newspapers had publicized that we
were the first trainload of ex-prisoners of war of the Germans coming home. So
the people were very happy and enthused to see us back.
We were sent through a clothing warehouse at Ft. Sheridan and given a
complete issue of all G.I. equipment top to bottom. We were also then given a
sixty day furlough and were to report to Miami Beach, Florida after the sixty days
for further recuperation of our prisoners of war experiences.
After we got all the reissue of clothing and were given barrack bags and
packed them away, we had our leave papers, I jumped aboard the North Shore
train. I got off the train at Howard Street right at the North Shore theater and the
lights were on at Howard Street again, they had been out because of brown outs.
But now the war was over, it was VE day and it was all over. I got home VE Day.
It was quite a wonderful feeling being home and very close to that Howard
I jumped in a cab and gave him the address. I would say it was probably
about seven o’clock in the evening when I pulled up in front of the house. With
barracks bag and all, I walked up the three flights of stairs and was welcomed
home by my Mother, Dad, brother, Jack and sister, Rita. They were surprised
that I was home so soon.
That pretty much wound up my trip abroad, paid for by the United States
Army…and some of it paid for by the German Army.
Glad to be home.
After being discharged from the U.S. Army, I came home and went back to
school. I told my war stories to anyone who would listen. I believe this was the
best way to get rid of the bad memories. If you’ll note in my previous writings, I
dwelled on the funny things that happened to me, actually they are humorous
now, but at the time were life threatening.
My mind kept going back to the escape, to the cave, to the German
people who made our escape successful. Who were they? Where are they
now? Could I find them? Boy I sure owed them.
Well, in the throws of the winter of 1972 to be exact, January 10 th , 1972 I
wrote to the Mayor of the City of Wurzburg. Nothing was heard months on end
and I thought I’ll have to go about finding my benefactors in another manner.
A letter dated September 18 th , 1972 arrived from an Ernst Naumann. It
was accurate in what it said, but it did not say too much in particular. There were
other letters from other German people trying to help me find the missing boys. I
read and reread the Naumann letter and decided these were the boys I was
looking for. We wrote each other and it was firmly established that I found my
friends. Their description of the American Sergeant and jeep cinched the
identification after twenty-seven years. I was really excited now that I had found
them. I knew I had to do more than just write them and thank them in writing. I
had to go to them and get face to face to embrace them and thank them for what
they had done.
I don’t know if I stressed the point that the SS was still in charge of the
area around Wurzburg. I later learned that this family lived in Versbach, a dorf of
Wurzburg. These people would have been shot on the spot for hiding and
helping us. It was a great risk on their part, they really put their necks out. But
looking beyond the boys…how about their mother…their grandfathers (these
were the two older men who directed us originally into the cave)…their
grandmother. They risked their sons and grandsons to protect and help five
mangy American Soldiers. Think about it…would we do the same?
There was no doubt in my mind, I had to get over there and thank them in
So in the Spring of 1973, I made arrangements through a Travel Agency
to fly over to Frankfurt on Condor Air, rent a Volkswagen microbus and drive to
Wurzburg, really to Versbach to surprise and visit the Ernst Naumanns.
This turned out to be quite an undertaking as Ruth and I took Roger,
Janet, Beth and Margie with us. Bill could not take the time off school, he was a
Junior at Southern Illinois University and taking Spring tests; so the six of us took
off for Germany.
We left O’Hare very early one morning and arrived in Frankfort about
10:00 P.M., just in time to get to our hotel at the Airport (Steigenberger) and get
some sleep, because the next few days were going to be very busy.
They delivered our Microbus to the hotel and away we went down the
Autobahn to Wurzburg. It was a rather short ride, probably two hours.
We went right to the Wurzburger Hoft Hotel and checked in. It was
probably about noon. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I was very excited.
Should I call? No, we’re going to drive right out to the suburb Versbach and find
the address on the return envelopes from our correspondence. The Naumanns
did not know we were coming. They did not even know we were anywhere near
It was rather easy to find their address as it was a single-family home. Of
course, they had a brick wall around it (normal in Germany). I made a split
decision to get out of the Volkswagen and ring their doorbell right now. I did and
the response was “Kome”. I opened the front door and there in the long hall was
a young woman. When she spotted me she yelled, “My Gott”, “It’s the
She yelled for her husband, Ernst, who was working in his office. He was
a paper salesman for a large German firm. He came rushing into the hall not
knowing what was going on. When he saw me he instantly knew who I was. We
shook hands, embraced, wept and were very happy.
They did not speak English and I did not speak German but we made our
thoughts known to each other. After things settled down a little he brought in his
mother. She was a lovely woman who was just thrilled at this reunion. They
asked about my family. I said, “In Volks”. They told me to get them in here fast,
so I went out to the Volks and rounded up our family. We all went into their very
nice home and (specifically into their drawing (living) room. This was a special
room, as we noted their children didn’t come in.
Yes, Ernst was married, after all twenty-eight years had passed since I
last saw him. He and his wife had three children, two sons and one daughter.
They were very well behaved. They just put their heads in the door to listen but
would not venture in as their parents had not asked them to come in.
We were really struggling with the language until a lovely young German
neighbor girl of about eighteen came. She could speak excellent English. So
now we had an interpreter. Ernst had sent for her. Her name was Monika.
I would ask a question, she would ask them and then come back to us in
English. They were a very wonderful close family and were as genuinely
interested in what happened to me after I left them in the Village Square as I was
I kept asking about their father, but they acted as if they didn’t hear me.
We had a joyous time, our children went with their children out to their family
room and were watching “Bonanza” in German on T.V. as well as listening to
American music in German on their record player. Our kids really had a ball! I
am sure this experience has made a mark on their lives. To realize friendship
that is bigger than one could ever imagine and that God is in all of us; to help one
another as He showed us.
I asked about his brother, Eberhardt and they told me that he lived in
Wurzburg and was married and had two girls. He worked as an engineer for the
City of Wurzburg.
I told our interpreter the young girl, Monika, that I was very interested in
having a banquet for all. She passed this on to Ernst and we made definite
arrangements to have a big dinner the next evening. They would make the
reservations at a very nice restaurant.
The next evening all their children, both Ernst and Eberhardt, their wives,
our interpreter, their mother and the six members of my family met near our hotel
to have dinner together.
They took us to the Wurzburg Brewery. It was a beautiful walnut paneled
restaurant. We all ordered what ever we wished and had several toasts and
beers. Everyone had a great time with we, the Americans, as Hosts. We loved
The next day we had to leave as we had reservations along the way that
we had to keep. That morning the Naumanns were at our hotel door with little
gifts for each of the children and a beautiful plaque of Wurzburg for Ruth and I.
We hated to leave our good friends and promised we would be back if at all
We did get back to Wurzburg after our trip to Munich, Innsbrook, Lucerne,
Rhine Falls, Zurich, Karlsrhue, Heidelburg, etc.
Ernst took me to the area where the cave had been and also downtown
Wurzburg where the bakery was located. The bakery was being used by our
Army of Occupation.
It was time to leave as we had to be back in Frankfurt for the Condor air
flight to O’Hare. Everything went smoothly on our trip through those other
countries and young Roger did a masterful job of driving the majority of the trip.
We would picnic lunch most days and be bedded down in a comfortable hotel in
the evening. It was Spring and Germany was beautiful that time of year. No
rain, the only rain we did have was the day we left Frankfurt.
I was very surprised to see the name Foehringer used so prominently in
Munich and Innsbrook. The one large street going through the center of the
Olympic Village was named Fohringer. Needless to say this crazy American
Souvenir hunter had to have one of these signs. We found one off the beaten
track that read “Ober Fohringer Stras.”
It’s a story in itself how I got the sign but let it be known I stole it off a brick
wall. The sign is made of steel with glazed porcelain letters about three feet long
and eight inches wide and blue with white letters. Quite a sign! How was I to get
this past the metal detectors? Where there is a will, there is a way. So when we
got back to Frankfort I wrapped the sign in brown wrapping paper and string and
would carry same onto the plane. What about the metal detectors…Well, luck
was with us, the detector was broken and they were going to just frisk us. So I
held the sign out and they felt me down my sides and legs, never asking what it
was that I was holding. So I got the sign past the German security people and
onto the plane. Now I wondered what would happen at O’Hare…would they
confiscate my treasure? It definitely added some excitement to the trip!
That sign hung over our garage in Prospect Heights for years and Ruth
had many a friendly German visitor startled by that Munich sign.
I have to go back to a point I brought up earlier about the father of Ernst
and Eberhardt. Every time I asked about him I was ignored, but finally our
interpreter got me off to the side and explained. It seems he was captured by the
Russians and brought back into Russia for prison labor work. He decided to stay
in Russia and he married a Russian women. This was the great shame of the
Village or Dorf as they call it and of course, to the Naumann Family. It was
hardly a wonder that they did not want publicity about our visit. We, of course,
honored their request and did not let the Mayor or the media know anything of
It was a wonderful, wonderful trip. The odyssey ends for the time being.
Will there be more? Wait and see. You never can tell!!!!
Several unrelated events in the normal everyday life of a P.O.W.:
I believe I had mentioned going through the Red Cross clothing building
and picking out a full length Belgian Army overcoat. Well this coat served
several purposes; naturally a coat, a blanket, it was marked with a large P.O.W.
on the rear and also a hiding place. Yes, a hiding place!
When I had the opportunity to steal the swartz brot (black bread) I had to
hide it from our captors. My Belgian overcoat provided the vehicle for this magic.
I cut the half-liner at the top of the neckline making a nice pocket for three or four
loaves. So many times I brought back to the gym barracks several extra loaves
which I gave to my fellow prisoners.
I carried the coat over my shoulder when I had bread in the liner pocket
and the Germans never caught me, but the group did get caught one time and
they lined us up like they were going to shoot us, but they really just gave us a
kick in the butt and told not to steal anymore or they would shoot us.
I might say at this time that we were slowly but surely starving. I lost at
least thirty-five pounds. So this extra bread helped plenty. When it came time
every evening to cut these loaves so that each of us received exactly the same
amount there were many arguments. But we six who shared a loaf took turns
and did away with the arguments.
Another event deserves mentioning…that was the day we found a large
can but no label on it. What was in it? Our imagination went wild, we thought a
chicken, beef, pork and beans, etc. We couldn’t wait until we got back to our
gym. Boy, were we excited! Well, we got it open and guess what was inside?
Sauerkraut juice!!! Need I say more. Oh well, it brought our hopes up for a little
Another incident occurred that I believe you would enjoy is while walking
back and forth to work we would pass many different groups of “forced laborers”
such as the Italians, who we would try to bum cigarettes from, but never
successfully, we would pass Polish soldiers, young and friendly, we would see
Hungarians marching to Mass on Sunday mornings. We also passed the
University of warzburg every day. There was a large statue of Roetgen in front of
the main building (He discovered the X-ray).
Earlier at Stamlauger XIII at Hammelburg I served Mass for a French
priest. Of course, Latin was the language of the Mass universally; although I
recall the priest did not appreciate my Latin pronunciations. That was the only
time I saw a priest while a prisoner.
I might also mention that the good sister at St. Alphonsus in Prospect
Heights, Il. where all our children attended grade school, she did all my
translating from English to German and the Naumann’s letters from German to
English. Her name was Sister Brigida. She retired many years ago to the
Mother House in Evanston. She had been born and raised in Bavaria, southern