S./Sgt. Roy Kennett
Radio man, Ofenstein crew, down 29 April 44; Luft 6 & 4
Right at the end of the war (Feb. 2, 1945), they sent us down to Nuremberg. It was right outside of that stadium where they had the Olympic games. When we first got to Nuremberg, a Senior American Officer came into our enlisted men's compound. He said he wanted 25 orderlies to come over to the officers' side, to sweep out the officers' rooms. Well, nobody would go and he threatened us. People were yelling obscenities at him from the ranks and he said: " Who said that? I'm going to have you court marshaled! " and so forth. He finally left and never came back; but can you imagine that?
We were really cramped up there. I guess that does something to you. We used to play a lot of bridge to kill time. One day I was playing with Smitty and some other guys. Smitty was on my crew, and we'd been all through training and combat together; then prisoners for almost a year. Smitty's sitting there and he puts up the Ace of Clubs; the King is gone. I've got the Queen in my hand and I want to throw down the Deuce of Clubs. Instead, I play the Queen. I try to take the card back and Smitty says: "A card laid is a card played!"
I told him I just grabbed the wrong card, but he says: "A card laid is a card played!" I say: "Like hell!" and I pick up the Queen. About that time the table went flying and Smitty hit me, so I hit him; and we went round and round. We had a hell of a fight! There was a little pot bellied stove and that whole thing came crashing down. All 26 guys in the room were trying to grab us. The next day we apologized ... But isn't that terrible. I was closer to him than anyone in the compound.
They decided to move us to Munich, Germany (that was on April 4th). They were marching us ( as I understand it, there were about 9,000 prisoners) down this road, three abreast. Just before we left , Smitty and I talked it over. "Now, this will probably be a good time to escape. We don't know how soon the war's going to be over or anything." Smitty says: "Yeah, I think you're right." I said: "If we see a chance, let's go!" So he says: "OK, I'II stay behind you. If we see a chance and you think it's OK, then I'II be right behind you!" I said: "Okay!"
So, we're walking down the road and these P-47's come over us and do an Immelmann. They start strafing us from the back and are coming towards us. Well... everybody starts jumping into the ditch ... POWs are running up and down this road. There's no guards, so I say: "Now's my chance!" I take off through the woods like a scared ape and get way up on the side of a hill. I turn around and say: "We made it Smitty!" Well, by God, Smitty's no where around! He's lying down there in the ditch, and I'm all by myself. So, I get up there on the side of that hill and watch, while they reform the column. The planes are gone and they march away. I just set up there and watched them leave.
I was free for about seven or eight days, trying to work my way back to the front lines. At night, I followed the stars (keeping them in line) and when the sun came up, I knew which way was east. I could just keep it behind me and then I'd tried to hide during the day. At night I'd go out again.
I met one of those guys who flew the P-47's over us on that march. He told me, that their orders were to: "Fly over Germany and shoot anything that moves". They didn't know that we were prisoners of war; they just thought that we were German troops going towards the front. When I was sitting up there on the side of the hill, I could see guys hooking towels together...anything that was white! They went out into the field and made a big "POW" sign.
Smitty told me later, that he had the best time as a prisoner after that strafing business. The column moved on and farmers were coming out, trading for eggs and bread. The guards got pretty lax. When I came back on the ship I met some of the guys who had gone down to Moosburg, and they had been liberated too. They said that it was really a mis-take for me to have run off like that, because it was the easiest time they had ever had as prisoners. They were trading cigarettes to farmers. They were getting fresh eggs and cooking them, down along side the road. They were just having a picnic. The German guards knew the war was over and they didn't care.
I had a little something to eat. I carried with me the crackers and grape jam in those little cans that come in the Red Cross packages. The guards hadn't punched ours with a bayonet, the way they usually do. I also had a D-Bar and two boxes of Domino sugar. That sugar will keep you going for quite a while. I stopped one night and dug out some potatoes that were in a farmer's field. They buried them over there, under big mounds, and I could dig down and get some. That night I had an interesting experience. It scared the hell out of me.
Walking down this road, and I was hungry. I spied one of those mounds and I thought: " This must be full of potatoes". I went over to it and started digging down, when all of a sudden these dogs started barking. It seemed like there were dogs all over Germany. "Oh my God! They're after me!" I got up and started running to get away from them. Just then, sirens started going off. I thought: "They've seen me and they're blowing the sirens! Pretty soon they'll be after me with cars and motorcycles and trucks!" I saw these other big dirt mounds...maybe four or five of them alongside the road. I ran over to them, but they were pretty high, so I laid down right along the edge of one of them.
Soon, a bunch of Germans came running out of this building, maybe fifty yards away. They were coming right towards me! I'm thinking: "Oh shoot, they got me!" Well, they come up and start to climb those mounds and get down inside. I lay there as they went along this little path right by me. It was pitch black and I could see them against the sky as I looked up, but nobody saw me.
They were all up in the mounds, so I couldn't figure out what they were doing. I lay there for ten or fifteen minutes and listened as they talked to each other. I was afraid I would sneeze or breathe too loudly. Finally the siren went off again - it was the "all clear" signal. The Germans came down off those mounds and headed for their barracks. I crawled up there when they were gone to look: Do you know what I was in? I was right in the middle of a Flak Battery. They had those great big guns up there and I was lying right in the middle of all that crap. If they had caught me, they would have killed me for sure. They'd have figured I was trying to sabotage their guns! Boy, I sure cleared out of there fast.
I knew I'd have to find a place to hide, so I went off down that road a piece. I saw a barn and tried to get into it; but there were dogs all around and they started barking. I took off up the road again. Now it was getting daylight and people were starting to move about. A German guard from the Volksturm was standing on this bridge. He was a policeman with a long green coat and a hat with the spike on top. A milkman with a tricycle type of milk cart was selling stuff to the people walking by me. They were saying "morgen" and I'd say "morgen" under my breath.
Now I've got this knit hat on, that I'd made out of the sleeves of a Canadian blue sweater and it had "USA" written across the top. I had a U.S. Army overcoat with British shoes, okay. So there I was, sticking out all over and I say "morgen" and keep right on walking. I'm thinking: "The only chance I have, is to get across that river and into the woods over there. But there's a guard on the bridge!"
I kept on walking and I got pretty close to the bridge. I bent over, with my head down and my arms tucked in, and I let spit drip down onto my chin and started to breathe heavy. I went: "Hughh .... ahhh ... hughhh ... ahhh ... hughhh..." You know, I walked right by that guard, right across the bridge and straight into the woods. He never stopped me; he just stood there looking, shaking his head. Man, I was willing to do anything just then!
I was out in the middle of that woods with no place to hide. A big patch of brambles (like a blackberry bush or something) was all there was. So I tunneled into it and unrolled the British blanket I had on my back. The Germans had given us a spoon and a bowl, which I used to eat something. It was daylight when I finally pulled the blanket up over my head.
After some time, I awoke and heard people out in the woods, having a picnic. It was a bunch of frolicking boys and girls. I thought, "Oh damn it, couldn't they find someplace else to have their picnic?" A boy and a girl came walking down towards my bramble bush and saw me in there (my head was only a foot inside the bush). They crawled under, stuck their hands up and pulled back the blanket to see what was under it. I looked up, saw them, then pulled the blanket back over my head. "Nichts," I said real loud. The girl looked at me and said, "Ohh - Schlafen gutt." They left me alone and never turned me in. When it got night, I headed on my way; but I got out of that mess.
I went through a little village while they were evacuating it. I knew I was getting close to the frontlines. There was a wagon and people climbing on it. Meanwhile, I was doing my act, limping and so forth. This feldwebel (that's sergeant in German) says to me "Blah blah blah - blah." I said back to him, "jawohl" and kept on walking. He comes over to me, grabs me by the shoulder and spins me around. He points to the wagon and tells me again in German, "Blaggada blaggada blah blah!"... You know ... so I say to him "Yawohl" and just keep on walking: He shrugs his shoulders and says "Humphh" as if to say "Get on the wagon - we'll give you a ride away from here." And I'm walking forwards to the front lines. I guess he was saying "To hell with you. Go on ahead!" He let me go. Boy that was something!
Later that night, the Germans were marching troops up to the front lines. They were really old guys and I watched from the woods as they sat around smoking their pipes. Big fat guys, they were, with big old mustaches.
Now I thought, "What better way, then to just follow them!" So I'm following along and I think: "This is crazy, me fighting through the woods - when I could be out there on the road walking right along with them." These old guys were talking with each other as they marched and pretty soon someone said " Take five (or whatever they say in German) ". Well, they all sat down and lit their pipes up, so I sat down right close to them. When their sergeant hollered for them to get up again, I just fell in and marched right along with them all night! With U.S.A. on the front of my cap! It was dark and they weren't allowed to have any lights.
When it started to get daylight, I skidded off into the woods and found a place to hide. I knew I was real close now, because I could hear the small arms fire. Eventually I got into this little town with a river and I knew the front lines were right across there. I figured to get across and find some place to hide, because I thought the Germans would be defending the river. I thought: "If I can get across one more river, get in about half a mile and get low... I can wait for our troops to go by, stand up and surrender. I will have successfully escaped."
I go into the town, but I don't want to go into the river. It had rained on the 5th or 6th of April and I had just gotten dry. Walking all night in the rain gets you soaking wet and I'd had enough of that - no, I wasn't going to swim across that river. I found a doorway overlooking this little bridge and just watched and waited. First two people crossed over, and then someone went by on a bicycle. A couple of ladies were going out towards the woods to gather firewood and they came back with bundles under their arms. Those woods over there were always so darn clean because of this. Time passed on and I thought, "Well, there's nobody around."
It was quiet. I imagine the time was around 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, so I walked away from the doorway and out towards the bridge. Boldly, I walked across ... there was nobody about and I tried to act like I was a regular citizen just going about my business. Well ... I got half way over that bridge when EVERY GERMAN IN THE WORLD jumped out and said, "HALT - HALT" man, they had guns and everything. They wanted my "pistole". Of course, I didn't have anything.
My hands up, they marched me across and took me to a little room somewhere. I figure there was a home guard watching that bridge for anything suspicious. They saw me in the doorway and just waited for me to make my move. Then they grabbed me. I never will understand why all of a sudden they paid so much attention to me. I didn't hear or see anyone and I don't even know where they came from!
After I was recaptured, they put me in jail overnight in Nuremberg. It was the same jail where they would hold prisoners for the Nuremberg trials...they put me in a cell with three Aussies. The Aussies wanted some water, but the Germans wouldn't give us any. Well, they took their tin cups and banged on the bars, yelling "Vasser! Vasser!". The guards came running and pointed their guns at them and everything. They just kept it up! I thought any minute the Krauts were going to fire right into our cell and just do away with all of us. They didn't fire, but those Aussies were crazy ...they'd do anything.
Anyway, they caught me and took me right back to the camp that they had first moved us out of. A couple of weeks later, Patton's 7th Army came in there and liberated us. At our camp (when we were liberated) there was some Aussie prisoners in there, too. A couple of them took some German rifles and went right up to the front. Most of us were sitting around, waiting to see what was going to happen next. I guess it was about a day later that an American tank rolled into camp. They brought these Aussies back in camp and the tank driver told me:" These crazy bastards were up front fighting. They were holed up in a shed, defending against some German tanks. About that time, we rolled in and captured the Germans.
Those crazy bastards! If we hadn't got there, they'd have been dead in about four or five minutes!" Wait!... Now the Aussies said they were really pissed, because they had those tanks cornered... They had 'em zeroed in man! The Americans came up there and took all the credit! I guess it's all in your point of view!