"OUR TURN NEXT" is the account of the service record of James M. Ross, Staff Sergeant, US Army Air Corp. It starts upon his induction on October 15, 1942 and continues through training, active duty as a waist gunner in a B-24 Bomber, being shot down, captured and held as a German Prisoner of War. It concludes with his liberation and finally his discharge. It is filled with interesting side stories and anecdotes that GI's experience.
It also describes life as a POW in several German prisoner of war camps. However, abuse, inflected human suffering and death that was carried out in German prison camps is not discussed in any detail in this writing. Although he saw and experienced his share, he chose not to expound on it, due to the exposure that has been given the subject over the years. Anyone reading this will not have to be concerned about coming to the "gory" parts. There are none.
The title "OUR TURN NEXT" was a direct quote from his tail gunner who was observing other members of their squadron being shot down by the Luftwaffe. They were being hit one by one in order from the rear and the tail gunner relayed the message to the crew when it was - our turn next!
What it was like at home is also discussed. The not knowing, the uncertainties, the camaraderie among the crew member's wives and news that was always three months late. I found the story very compelling and extremely interesting. I am thankful my father shared the story with me and permitted me to write it and share it with future generations of the family.
I was born in Scotland in the coal mining town of Bowhill. I was.an only child born to Elizabeth and Thomas Ross. McKinnon, my middle name, was my mother's maiden name.
Bowhill was a sprawling town in the district of Auchterderran, County of Fife. Bowhill had a movie theater, stores and a community house. There was a river that ran near the town that I can remember carrying water from as a small boy. Half of the houses in Bowhill were owned by the mining company. The town was dependent on the coal mines which meant the economy of the town was controlled by the coal mines.
My father died when I was a year old. He was a member of Scotland's famed Black Watch, the oldest of the Highland Regiments, and was killed in World War I. At this time I went to live with my grandmother in Bowhill. My grandmother lived in a two room apartment with my Aunt Bess and Uncle Will. Aunt Bess and Uncle Will had one room and my grandmother and I had the other room. The rooms were divided by an alcove that accommodated the beds.
I started school in Bowhill when I was five years old. We left Bowhill when I was six years old and moved to St. Vigeans, near Arbroath, County of Forfar. St. Vigeans was a very old town and all its buildings were old including the cottage that we lived in next to the church. I lived there for about two years then my mother brought me Leven to live with Aunt Jessie and Uncle Jack. At this same time, my mother moved to Kirkcaldy. I was with Aunt Jessie and Uncle Jack for about a year and then was taken in by Mrs. Steel, as a Foster Child. I was doing well in school and did not want to leave to live with my mother in Kirkcaldy. Mrs. Steel was a wonderful old lady that was very good to me. I lived with Mrs. Steel for about four years, at which time she died. I was twelve years old and devastated when she died. She did so much for me.
I then moved to Kirkcaldy and lived with my mother. During this time Kirkcaldy produced one half of the worlds supply of linoleum with Nairns Congoleum originating there. My mother ran a small cafe in Kirkcaldy as her only income. I left home and went to Canada, at the age of fourteen, on an Agricultural Settlement Program. Canada needed agricultural help and, under the program, paid for my trip. I came over on the SS Regina, which was a passenger ship. Under the program my wages were divided into thirds.. .one third went back to my mother, one third went to the Canadian Hostel and put in a savings for me and the other third I could keep. My wages were ten dollars a month which included room and board. In Canada I was fortunate enough to wind up in the care of the Gorsline family. They owned a farm and I was their hired hand. Mary and Flauius Gorsline were wonderful people and they had a son, Flavey, who was the same age as me. They treated me just like their own son and Flavey and I were soon like brothers. Mr. and Mrs. Gorsline are dead now, but Flavey and I still remain as close as brothers and see each other annually. Flavey still lives in Canada.
In 1935 I came to the United States at about age twenty and settled in Ease Swanzey, New Hampshire. I was married to Marion Smith and divorced after five years. We had two sons, James and Douglas, and by this time I was in my late twenties. I was a registered alien and volunteered for the service to serve my (adopted) country. The United States had been good to me and I felt I wanted to do my part in the war. I was very proud to be part of the armed forces of the United States of America, and after the war I became a naturalized citizen.
It's Thursday, October 15, 1942. Franklin D. Roosevelt is President of the United States. Milk is 60 cents a gallon, gasoline is 20 cents a gallon and a new Ford cost $815. The average income is $2,500 a year and a house cost $3,775. People are singing "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree", "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition", "Serenade in Blue" and Glenn Millers "Chattanooga Choo Choo" becomes the first Golden Record. . . and I'm waiting for a train in Keene, New Hampshire, along with others from this area, including an old friend Murray Tolman, to take us to Fort Devens for our induction into the army.
We spent three days in Devens getting our issues, taking physicals and weeding out the ones that wouldn't be making it. When I took my physical before going for my induction, a civilian doctor picked up a heart murmur and did not want to pass me. When the military doctor heard it he said, "Oh yeah, he can make it alright," and passed me. The heart murmur followed me throughout the army. From Devens we boarded a train for Miami, Florida. Murray and I were still together. It was on the train that we learned we were going into the Army Air Corp.
Once in Miami, Murray and I were separated and he went into engineering school. I had some basic training and from there I was able to choose the type of training school I would like. I reported to an administrative building and there I was to select the area of training to go into. As I entered the building I met Clarence (CK) Royal who was there for the same reason I was. We engaged in a conversation and he was telling me that he had been in Miami for a while as a mail clerk and was waiting for an assignment. So together we went into this enormous hall and went from one area to another looking for different schools we could go to, how long it took to get through and what you wound up with for a rank when you completed the course. I wanted to fly but I knew I was too old to be a pilot. My first interest was photography, but that had a twelve to fourteen week wait before the next class. I didn't want to wait that long. I was eager to get started and wanted to get into something right away. Royal didn't know what he wanted but he felt the same way. Royal noticed the booth for Gunnery School. You could make sergeant in five weeks. We thought that sounded pretty good so we talked to the person in charge and learned we could get in right away. It looked like nobody wanted to go to gunnery school. Anyway, we took some literature along to read about air gunnery and went back to the hotel. We were staying in a hotel instead of barracks when we first got to Miami. When I got back to my hotel, there was a note in my room to report to another hotel in Miami.
When I reported to the sergeant there, I was notified that I was eligible for Officer Candidate School (OCS). However, there was a wait before the next class started and he couldn't tell me exactly when the next class would begin. I told him I was interested in gunnery school and he told me that I could go to gunnery school after I finished OCS. I asked if I could go to gunnery school first and he said no, that would be telling the army how to run their business. I told him that I wanted to fly and get into action. I didn't think the war was going to last that long, and I wanted to get over there, get it over with and get home. He said, "So you're turning down OCS" and I said, "Yes." He asked if I wanted to think it over a few days and I said, "No." "Alright," he said, "I hope you won't be sorry, Ross." As it turned out I was happy with my decision.
We started our training in gunnery school in November, 1942. We went to Tyndall Field in Florida for five weeks. Tyndall Field was a brand new field that was built on a swamp. We also got more basic training along with gunnery school. The classes were set up alphabetically, so Royal and I were still together. Also in the same group, but not in the same class, was a guy from Gilsum, New Hampshire, whose name I don't remember.
The final phase of gunnery school was air to air firing. For this phase of training they split the class in half. The half I was in went to Apalachicola, on the coast of Florida. We were there over Christmas and had Christmas.. home style.
We got back to Tyndall Field and received our gunner wings and stripes at our graduation on December 29, 1942. We were now aerial gunners. We were told that now we were somebody. I was mechanically inclined, but I was never that good around guns. In five weeks I learned the 50 caliber machine gun inside out. I could take it apart and put it together blind folded. I could do just about anything with a 50 caliber machine gun. I learned this along with learning Morse Code, technical terms and taking exams. We learned all of this in just five weeks. We were well trained.
From here we went to Lowry Field in Denver, Colorado for armament school. Armament is knowing how to repair guns, turrets, bomb racks or anything to do with the protection of the air craft. Once we got to armament, we knew why we had to have it. Armament and gunnery went together. At this time we knew we were in heavy bombardment - bombers. We didn't know if it would be B-24's or B-17's. At this time all you heard was B-17's, but we didn't know what we would be assigned to.
Royal and I were still together. Royal needed help on drawings in school and I was able to give it to him. He knew the material but had trouble with drawing diagrams. We had to learn hot wiring around a blown portion of a system, how to get something working if a portion of it had been destroyed and things of this nature. It was like an engineering school and it took eleven weeks to complete. The last week of armament school was on 25 millimeter cannons. That was altogether different from anything we had had, but we learned it as we had the others. It was an excellent school and we graduated March 6, 1943.
This was followed with machine gun training with skeet and trap shooting. Skeet shooting was to train us to lead and follow a target. Following this we began training in air to air firing and air to ground firing as a crew. They had a clever setup for training. They had a Jeep with flanged wheels set up on a track and this Jeep would pull a silhouette of an airplane. The driver would start the Jeep in motion and then jump off and let the Jeep go by itself. There was a hill on the course, and as the Jeep went behind the hill, we'd fire at the silhouette. When the Jeep came from behind the hill we were done firing, so there was no danger. The rounds we fired were colored and they kept score- of how we did by looking at the different colored hits on the target. The sergeant in charge came up with the idea of the Jeep and the tracks. It was here that we learned that the average life span of a gunner in action was counted in "minutes"! We graduated from air to air gunnery on March 23, 1943.
We were now ready for assignment but a crew hadn't been formed as yet. To form a crew, a number was assigned and as a pilot graduated he would be assigned to this crew number, and when a copilot graduated he would be assigned, and so on down the line until the crew was completed.
We were sent to Salt Lake City, Utah, to wait, just to be out of the way. After a short time we were sent to Davis Monthan Field in Tucson, Arizona. There we stayed in an old boot camp for a short time, but soon moved to an army barracks. The barracks chief was an old army man, tougher than nails, but fair. He had just come back from a tour in the Philippines. He assigned us to one end of the barracks that was set aside for our tail gunner, myself, radio operator, assistant radio operator, flight engineer, assistant flight engineer, in other words, our crew, but Royal and I were the only ones there. We were the only crewmembers.
While we were in Tucson waiting for our crew, we were playing cards one afternoon when a guy came by and put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Hi Ross, what are you doing here?" It was Murray Tolman. I said, "The last time I saw you was in Miami, Florida." He said, "Yeah, I wish I was there now!" We talked about what each of us had done since we were separated in Miami. Murray had gone to engineering school (not flight engineer) and was on an airplane for some kind of testing and wound up in Tucson. He was in Tucson for just a short time and he had to leave, but it did me a lot of good to see him for a little while anyway.
Royal and I were ordered to go down to the flight line for duty - cleaning machine guns and the like. The ground crew didn't really want us there because we were in their way. They were on a schedule and didn't really want to be bothered with us. We asked how we could get out of coming down and were told just don't show up, so we didn't. We got a 24 hour pass to go into Tucson. We went into Tucson a couple of times to look around, have a few drinks and then we'd return to the barracks. One of these times when. we got back to the barracks there was a radio operator and an assistant radio operator waiting for us. The crew 0 was starting to build. In a short time the crew was assigned, and soon after that we were assigned to B-24's.
We were sent to Biggs Field in El Paso, Texas. The radio operator was having problems and was putting in for reassignment. He was afraid to fly. We were doing blind takeoffs and landings by instruments and he'd go crazy. He got his discharge and Galler, the assistant radio operator became the radio operator. Bell joined us about a week later as our assistant radio operator.
The first part of July, I received my first (and only) furlough. Nine days with no travel time. I was upset because of the short time. I couldn't fly home, so the best I could do was three days travel time each way which would only leave three days, at the most, at home. I had to come up with a way to solve this problem. Another Air Corp soldier offered to send me a telegram (signed by a phony sergeant) granting me a ten day extension. This would get me past the MP's on the train on the way back, but wouldn't help me once I returned to base. That was alright, I just wanted to have a few more days at home. I would deal with the other problem when I got back. Sure enough, after I was home a couple of days, I received the telegram.
Annie and I decided to get married! We were staying at Annie's sister, Elna's, house in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Elna made most of the wedding arrangements. I didn't have my divorce papers because they were with my ex-wife, Marion. I called her and she mailed them right out to me. They waived the results of the blood test because of the time it would take before the results would get back. The next day we had the divorce papers and headed off to the court room to get a marriage license from the Judge. We were married by a Minister, on July 21, 1943, at Elna's house out on the lawn.
While I was home, Pete, Annie's youngest of two sons, (Raymond, "Chuck", was her oldest) fell in the river. I pulled him out, gave him artificial respiration that saved his life. This was written up in the newspaper and I took the clipping back with me to hopefully help get me out of trouble for being AWOL. After another few days I left to return to El Paso.
About half way back to El Paso, I. was stopped on the train by an MP. He looked at my papers and I showed him my telegram. He looked at it and said, "You'll just about make it won't you sergeant." Of course I agreed. I got in El Paso at night and went to the base the next morning and was ordered before the Major.
On my way to the Major, I met Clover and Berger, our pilot and copilot. They asked where I was going and I told them that I had just got back and had to report to the Major. They told me no matter what the Major said, they wanted me on the crew, which made me feel-good. I faced the Major and was chewed out. I told him about the incident with Pete. The Red Cross also got involved by writing an article about the near drowning. I also told him that I got married. When I told him that, the Captain (the Majors aid) began to laugh along with the Major, which made me a little angry. I asked the Major if this was between him and me or was all three of us involved. The Major told the Captain that he thought that would be enough. I told the Major my only interest was rejoining my crew. He told me the question was, "Do they want you back?" I reminded him that the crew was just put together, and again he said the question was would they want me back, and at what rank he, the Major, would leave me with. "Major", I said, "we've been training our butts off ever since I came into this mans army. It's been nothing but go, go, go. All I've heard since I got these stripes is if you don't do this, I'll take your stripes, if you don't do that, I'll take your stripes, going to take them, going to take them. If you want to take them, then take them, but it would be a waste of America's money because I couldn't fly without them." The conversation ended and I kept my stripes. The same thing happened to Royal and be lost a stripe.
I got back to business and we resumed our training. I checked out in both the ball (bottom) turret and the top turret. Everyone in the crew has to man a gun. I knew I wasn't going to have the top turret because the flight engineer had that, as he was up on the flight deck. So that left me with the ball turret.
On August 22, 1943, we went to Topeka, Kansas, to be assigned our own airplane and final training before going overseas. While in Topeka, Bell approached me and asked if I liked the ball turret. I told him I didn't mind it and he asked if I wasn't a little too tall for the turret. I said, "Bell, would you like the ball turret?" He said, "Yes." I said, "It's all yours." That left me with the waist gun. I discussed with Clover what I had done with Bell, to be sure it was alright, and his reaction was that what ever we did in the back of the airplane was up to us. I don't know if other crews did this or not. We were assigned our airplane, a B-24H Liberator. All the B-24's had a letter following, and the "H" was one of the more popular models and the first model with the new nose turret. There were nearly eighteen and a half thousand Liberators built between 1939 and 1945. The B-24 Liberator was flown in combat by the Army Air Forces in all theaters of the war. There was an ongoing comparison between the Liberator and the more popular B-l7 Flying Fortress, but during the course of years of research into both types concludes that if you flew the B-l7 she was the best. If you flew the B-24, she was the best. Each type was ideal or less then ideal for the many kinds of missions they flew.
The B-24H Liberator Specifications:
Length 66' 4"
Height 17' 11"
Wing Area 1048 sq ft
Empty Weight 32,605 lbs
Gross Weight 60.000 lbs
Power Plant 4 Pratt and Whitney engines
Armament 10 x .50 cal.
Bomb/Cargo Load 8800 lbs
Maximum Speed 303 mph
Cruising Speed 200 mph
Service Ceiling 32,000 ft
Range 2,850 miles
For more information on the B-24 Liberator, there are several books available on the Liberator. Among them "Log of the Liberators" by Steve Birdsall, a Doubleday publication and "The B-24 Liberator 1939 - 1945" by Martin Bowman, a Rand McNally publication, to name two.
Our crew was the best working crew you could have, in my estimation. In talking with Clover and Berger, I expressed those feelings and they agreed. The following are the men I would live with, fly with and fight along side.
Don Clover, Pilot and Skipper, from Roseville, California.
I always maintained that Clover was a natural born bomber pilot. We could go up on the flight deck from time to time and watch what went on in the cockpit and just watching him he looked like a natural. He gave us all stick time on the B-24. Our flight engineer, Jim Losey, probably had more stick time than any of us because he was up on the flight deck all the time. I always felt that if anything happened to either Clover or Berger, Losey could bring us back. Clover was the fairest man I had ever met and he had a good sense of humor. His idea of a good time was to take in a couple of movies and enjoy a good meal. He didn't drink much but he did love movies.
Robert Berger, Copilot, from Perry, Oklahoma.
He was the hell raiser. Berger was taken out of fighter pilot school and transferred into heavy bomber pilot school. I always felt that he preferred fighters and didn't really like being taken out of fighter pilot school, but there just wasn't enough bomber pilots. You could always tell when Berger was flying because he would make the plane do tricks. He called it "jazzing it around." He was a first rate guy and really knew his job.
William McMillan, Navigator, from Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Simply the best in the business. He was a loner and very quiet. It was well known on base in England that anyone having navigator problems would see McMillan. He knew his stuff. McMillan manned the nose turret when in combat.
Paul McDonald, Bombardier, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
McDonald was a bombardier instructor on post. As a bombardier they didn't come any better. He was newly married and was kind of like Berger. He knew his job and was a great guy. As it would later turn out, McDonald's first baby was born the Lay his wife received news that he was "missing in action".
James Losey, Chief Flight Engineer, from Unionville, Missouri.
We called him Unionsuit. A good guy, a take hold kind of guy. He was a loner who preferred being alone, and said so. He had a good knowledge f his job. Flight engineer is a very complex job responsible for the operation of the airplane while in flight. He has to monitor fuel consumption and use fuel evenly from the various fuel tanks. Losey would not hesitate to call on he assistant flight engineer, Heavy, for a second pinion. They worked well together. I never knew Jim to make a mistake as flight engineer. Losey manned the top turret while in combat.
Earl "Heavy" Crawford, Assistant Flight Engineer, from Polk, Pennsylvania.
He was tops as a flight engineer but would not go up on the flight deck. He worked well with Losey, but didn't want the responsibility of flight engineer. No one called "Heavy" a friend and that's the way he wanted it. He was a high school drop out from a coal mining district, but he knew his job and did it well. "Heavy" manned he left waist gun during combat.
Isador Galler, Radio Operator, from Washington, D.C.
One of the best. Without realizing it I guess I was probably closer to Caller than any of he other crew members. Maybe because we were loser in age. He and I seem to be together more, did things together, although you tried not to form too close a bond. He was also a radio adviser on base in England.
Roger Bell, Assistant Radio Operator, from New Kensington, Pennsylvania.
At nineteen years old, Bell was the youngest ember of the crew, and full of hell. He had more guts than he had a right to have. He spent a lot of time reading newspapers from home. Bell manned the ball turret during combat.
Clarence Royal, Tail Gunner, from Talladaga, Alabama.
I met Royal in Miami Beach and we were together throughout. He and his brother owned a cafe and taxi service back home. Royal was a small man, 5' 4" tall, 105 pounds and gutsy. He did not really like flying and felt every trip would be his last. Royal carried a Bible at all times but he was not what you'd call a religious man. He always read the Bible before taking off. He was a boozer and a gambler, and he came from a good family. He was close to his sister and he corresponded with her regularly. Although he never admitted to being scared, I had to promise that I would not leave the airplane, in an emergency, without being sure that he was out of the tail turret. He had my word on that. I also felt the same way about Bell in the ball turret.
Myself, James M. Ross, Right Waist Gunner and Armorer, from Hinsdale, New Hampshire.
At twenty nine years old, I was the oldest member of the crew. I was Pappy to the younger crew members. They felt they could come to me with their personal problems and concerns, and I was happy to help when ever I could. They were a great bunch of guys, the best B-24 crew ever assembled!
When we picked up our airplane there were representatives at the base from the companies that built the airplanes and equipment. They would talk to the men flying the airplanes, looking for ways to improve anything on the airplane that the crew members would suggest. When the Sperry people, the builders of the turrets, came to me as the armorer, I did have some suggestions for them. The oxygen hose to the ball turret came in under the seat between your legs and was far too long. We were wrapping it around our legs to take up the slack and keep it out of the way. I suggested they make the hose about three feet shorter, and they did. I also had a few other suggestions on some minor details. They wanted to do anything they could, within reason, to make things as easy and comfortable for us as possible.
There were guys going around painting pictures on the airplanes, so when Clover came around and wanted to know if we wanted a name for our airplane along with a picture, we said go ahead. It cost twenty five dollars so we chipped in three or four dollars apiece and had it done. We were to go to the South Pacific so we named our plane the "Jungle Princess". In addition to the name we also had a nudie painted on her. She was covered, but just barely. It was done with taste.. .but not much!
We flew a lot of test flights testing our equipment and airplane. We had our own plane now so we wanted to become as familiar as possible with her. We wanted to know everything there was to know about her.. . how she reacted to every possible situation. We knew that it would only be a matter of time when we would be going overseas and we wanted to be well prepared for whatever was in store for us. When it came time for us to ship out, we were a well-coordinated crew.
In September of 1943, we got word that we would be a replacement crew going to England. We had already been issued gear for the South Pacific; jungle gear, insect netting, summer cloths, and things of this nature. However, the crew was just as satisfied to be going to England. They were not to keen on going to the hot weather, and besides we got word that in the South Pacific they were flying three and four missions a day. It was just a short hop to fly a mission and drop a load of bombs, return for another load and fly another mission. Personally, I was glad to go to England. My mother was still in Scotland and I hoped to have a chance to see her. As it turned out I would have that chance to see her while I was in England.
Before leaving, our bomb bays were stripped and we were loaded witho spare airplane parts to bring to Prestwick, Scotland. In Prestwick was the Scottish Aviation Works where they rebuilt, repaired and did maintenance on airplanes. We were bringing them airplane parts to stock their inventory. We were really loaded heavy which would cause us an inconvenience later on.
From Topeka we flew to Newburg, New York. When we landed in Newburg we learned we couldn't take off because the runway was too short for us with our heavy load. We had to stay in Newburg, in the YMCA, while they decided what to do about our load. There were four other crews staying there at the same time, for the same reason. One crew had a real hot shot pilot, Lieutenant Scarlotta, from the Bronx, New York. Around five o'clock in the morning he was up getting everybody out of bed hollering, "Come on guys up, don't you know there's a war on? Lets go, up up up." He was a real pain in the neck who most of us grew to dislike very much, very quick. (We'll hear more about him later.)
We went out to the airport and they were unloading our airplane onto trucks that would take our cargo to Presque Isle, Maine, and we'd fly to Presque and pick it up. We flew to Presque Isle and were loaded once again. The runways at Presque Isle were long enough for us to take off with our heavy load. After leaving Presque Isle, although we were still loaded very heavy, we had no further problems.
We took off for England, the last group to fly over using the Northern route. The Northern route took us through Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Scotland and on to England. We got iced in, in Greenland and snowed in, in Iceland. From Iceland we went to Ireland, and landed in a small town called Nutts Corner. It was a little bit of a town, hardly big enough to turn the airplane around. I really don't know why we sat down there because it was only a thirty minute flight to Prestwick. We left Nutts Corner after a short time and took off for Prestwick. On the flight to Prestwick, we test fired our guns leaving empty shells in the plane. We landed in Prestwick and the ground crew cleaned out our airplane. The ground personnel were anxious to get the empty 50 caliber shells because they made cigarette lighters out of them. Clever people, those Scotsman!
We left Prestwick and flew down the coast of England, over the Wash, (the Wash is a shallow bay of the North Sea on the east coast of England. It is approximately twenty two miles long and fifteen miles wide) near Kings Lynn, and landed in Wendling, England, where we would be based. We were introduced around to the ground personnel and to the camp commander, Colonel Rendell, who was a regular guy. We were assigned to the 392nd Bombardment Group, and were ready to fly!
We immediately went into action. All that we had trained and prepared for was happening and then some. From our first mission to our last, they were filled with anxious moments at one time or another.. .some more anxious than others! It's hard to recall each mission as it occurred, but I'll try to give an accurate account of some of the more memorable outings. I flew a total of twenty seven missions. A mission is any flight over enemy territory. I had one more mission than the rest of the crew which was not uncommon for flight crews. It is common practice to occasionally fly with other crews. A crew may be flying and one of their crew members may be sick or for some reason not able to fly that day. So they look for a replacement which would be a member of another crew that wasn't flying that day. It was usually not hard to find a replacement, at least not for us, because we had a good reputation as a flight crew - nor was it hard for any of our crew to get a "ride" with another crew for the same reason. Anyway, that's how I had one more mission than the rest of my crew.
We were the first B-24's over there with the new nose turret and of course news of this got out and the enemy got word of it. On about our third mission we picked up the Lord Ha Ha (he was Germany's equivalent to Tokyo Rose) radio broadcast from Germany and he was telling us that he knew we had just landed with B-24's, and that we had the new nose turrets. He said, "Just come over fella's, and we'll blow your nose for you." We got a chuckle out of that, but in missions to come they did in fact try to "blow our nose".
At this time the air war was nip and tuck. Goerings special fighter planes were based around Abbeyville, France, about twenty one miles from England. We'd be hit by them as soon as we crossed the channel. They'd come up and meet us, raise havoc, return, refuel and come back at us again. Our targets were deep in enemy territory including Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and those areas. These were four hour flights minimum, and our fighters did not have the range to take us all the way in. They would have to leave us, go back and refuel, and pick us up on our way back, so we were getting knocked around in pretty good shape. Later on, our fighters were equipped with auxiliary tanks to give them greater range. These tanks could be jettisoned when they were empty to cut down wind resistance and improve speed. Our life was a little easier after getting more fighter protection.
England was like a floating air field. Just about every conceivable space was converted into an air field. The 392nd was a group of four squadrons. Each mission put up six squadrons (approximately fifty planes) and formed over England. We converged over England and the mission would be carried out. At the beginning we were sending fifty planes on each mission. At the end, we were sending a hundred planes on each mission. They'd return and we'd send another hundred planes over on the same day. We were bombing in the daytime and the British were bombing at night. Near the end the bombing was intense.
Our first six or eight missions were very rough. This was before we had the full fighter escorts. They got us up at three AM and we'd go for breakfast. After breakfast we went back for our equipment and then go down for our briefing. While we were being briefed, the ground crew was getting our plane ready. We took off at daylight, or a little after. We liked to take off and get above the clouds so we could get some sunshine. The weather was usually lousy and this was about the only way to see the sun.
We crashed landed twice. On our thirteenth mission the "Jungle Princes" had been shot up and our hydraulics were out of commission. When we approached the field to land, the nose gear would not lower. We knew we would be making a belly landing so we prepared for the emergency landing. The crew went to the rear of the airplane and formed a circle, locking our arms with our backs t~ the inside of the circle. Upon impact, we tightened the circle to form a solid unit to prevent bouncing around. Clover tried to set us down in mud, but we soon slid out of that and the nose went down and of course the tail, where we were, went up in the air, but nobody got hurt. We saved all four engines, but the rest of the plane was totally destroyed. A few days later, Berger took some pieces off the plane, including the control wheel, and sent them home. We didn't know it at the time.
After crashing the "Jungle Princes", one of the spare planes that we flew was the "Black Widow." The "Black Widow" was an old airplane and had more hours on it than any other plane in the group. When the "Black Widow" sat on the ground, a seam behind the bomb bay would open up an inch and a half. You could put your hand through it, however, when it was in the air, it would tighten up and fly nicely.
We flew a mission to Norway in the "Black Widow" loaded with 50 caliber ammunition and gasoline. Not many bombs. We had to sacrifice bombs for fuel because of the distance of the flight. We were loaded so heavy we were "mushing" when we took off. Norway was neutral, but Germany had fighter plants and training facilities there and we had to knock them out before they got into the air. We bombed the living devil out of them with what bombs we had, on the one and only mission we flew to Norway. When we got back we had about a pint of gasoline left. I wasn't sorry that we didn't make anymore of those flights. I never knew for sure why we never went back but it could have been because of the distance.
In one stretch we flew ten missions in ten days. That's a mission a day and that's a killer. We got up at three AM, and were not able to hit the sack again until around six PM, because we had to be debriefed when we got back. At times it was longer because we got shot up and had to fly a diversionary route back. By the time some of the crew received medical attention for wounds they received, it was a very long day to say the least. We looked forward to bad flying weather because we got a break. That was the only time that we had that kind of a flight schedule.
B-24's cannot fly in a tight formation as can the B-17. The B-17 trims up nicely - better than the B-24, so we had to spread out a little in our formation. As a result, while we're flying our mission, the Gerries would send up a "circus ship" that is full of all kinds of tracking equipment. They flew just outside our range and were sending back information on our air speed, altitude, heading, number of planes and anything else they wanted to know. We wanted to hit one of those planes so bad that we would "hose" our guns (the way you try to throw water from a hose. to get a little more distance) in hopes of hitting them just so they knew we could. Even if we had hit one, it would not have damaged them and we knew that, but we just wanted to hit one. We never did.
On one particular mission the enemy new we were coming and sure enough the flack came up so thick and heavy that you would swear you could walk on it. Flack was set to detonate at a certain height, usually above 10,000 feet. Few planes get shot down by flack, fighters do that, but it can damage an airplane or hit and wound crew members. We went in, dropped our bombs and was heading home when we got hit. Heavy took a 30 caliber bullet in the thigh. I cut his shirt open and gave him a shot of morphine. The next thing I knew I heard a "Phsssst." A phosphorous shell had come through the plane at an angle and hit me behind the knee. It had gone through my flight suit, hit my knee and exited the plane just under a box of 50 caliber ammunition. The fuselage was riddled with holes and I didn't realize that I had really been hit, or if I had, it was only a scratch. By this time we were letting down and approaching the English Channel. Clover called back to see if we were alright and I answered we were and told him about Heavy. I had checked on Royal and he was alright. Heavy was stretched out on the floor doing fine and I hollered to Bell to bring up the ball turret. He couldn't because the hydraulic system had been shot up. I got the crank and cranked him up by hand. While I was doing this I thought, how are we going to land with no hydraulics. . We can't put down the landing gear. At about the same instant I realized the landing gear has a separate hydraulic system and that system was not damaged. I stood up to get Bell up and I started sliding all over the place. There was hydraulic fluid all over everywhere. Hydraulic fluid is pink and I was covered with it and everybody thought I was bleeding. Actually, my wound was nothing more than a bruise, but it was phosphorous and was eating away at the back of ray leg. Anyway, I got Bell up and out of the ball turret. He came up grinning. I asked him if he was alright and he said, "Yes, kind of messy up here isn't it. I can't even find a place to sit down."
While we were coming in, Clover alerted the ground crew that we had wounded aboard and needed an ambulance. We landed and just as we taxied up to stop, the nose gear collapsed and the back of the plane went up in the air. They got Heavy out through the bomb bay and asked, "Where's the other Dne?" I didn't know they had told them about me because I didn't think I needed help. Clover said, "It's Ross." They called me and I answered, "I'm in the tail." They all went walking up in the tail and the tail came down. I started walking to the ambulance and they told me I couldn't walk. I asked, "Why not?" They said, "Because you've been hit by a phosphorous shot." I answered, "Alright, lets go get it taken care of."
I was in the hospital for three days getting the phosphorous steamed out. It ached like a toothache. The only way to get the phosphorous out was by applying piping hot towels. It was like applying heat to sunburn! I missed a few missions but made them up. As I said before, it was not hard getting a ride.
The raids were beginning to ease up a little by this time (this was before the raids to Berlin). The Germans were up into France and they were starting the V-i and V-2 rocket programs. By this time Clover had a real good record, as did the crew, and we were made group leader. As group leader we could have special duty such as flying two missions and have three days that we were not required to fly. This is when we learned about the "no ball" raids (no ball meant that you didn't need the ball turret). These were milk runs that were usually given to the new replacements. They counted as a mission but were just what we called them - milk runs. When we learned about this we put in for some of the easier runs. We only got one or two. Of all of our missions, these so called, milk runs, were the only uneventful missions we had.
Royal was always afraid of being caught in the' tail turret and not able to get out. All but about twenty percent of the tail turret is outside of the airplane. The twenty percent that curves into the airplane is for entering and exiting the turret and when the turret rotates, the doors on the turret close. This bothered Royal thinking that if anything happened to the airplane, he would not be able to get back into the airplane and would be trapped in the turret. He was really troubled by this so he asked me if I could do anything about it. I was the armorer, so I was the logical one for him to come to. I told him we could take off the doors but it would be cold in there, and he said, "I'd rather be cold but know that I can get out," so I told him I'd take the doors off on the next flight.
The doors were vertical and held by a long piano type hinge. As I pulled the pin from the hinge, it was so long that it hit against the floor, so I had to bend it as I pulled it out. It turned out to be a heck of a job. Anyway, I completed the task and laid the doors on the floor of the airplane. Royal felt a lot better. The next morning when we went out to fly the next mission, the doors were back on. The ground crew had done their job and put the doors back on. They didn't know why they were off. So I took them off again and Royal said, "Let's hide 'em," and that's what I did. Sure enough, the next time up the doors were back on. This time I took them off and threw them in the English Channel. I knew the ground crew couldn't get two turret doors. Problem solved!
While returning from one of our missions we were looking down at the barrage balloons over England. Barrage balloons give limited protection against enemy fighter attacks, should any occur. Barrage balloons are a lighter than air balloon shaped something like a blimp. They float, in great numbers, several hundred feet in the air on the end of lines anchored on the ground. The theory being that the enemy attack planes would become entangled in the lines. You can imagine what these balloons must look like from the air. Royal was looking down at these balloons, along with the rest of us, and said, "I don't know why they just don't cut the lines and let it sink!" Of course he was referring to England!
During the days that we didn't have to fly, we'd check out new bombardiers. McDonald was a bombardier instructor on post in Wentling, so we had many trips up and down England with Clover, McMillian, McDonald and Losey, all on the flight deck, and myself in the back with the camera mounted in the rear hatch. I did get to do some photography, which as I mentioned earlier, I had an interest in. I photographed the accuracy of the new bombardier for hitting the "target." Usually when we did this, we brought along a member of our ground crew who wanted a ride in an airplane. They treated us pretty good when we did this for them, so we'd take them up whenever we could. They rode in back with me. I liked the company because it gave me somebody to. talk to. They usually only went up once because it was pretty boring.
I also did some photography while flying missions. I took my hand held K-9 camera on our missions and on the return trip, besides eating fudge and candy bars that I had stuffed in my heated suit, I took pictures out of the waist window over enemy territory. I photographed anything that looked interesting. We had heated suits for cold weather and the only time the cold really bothered me was when I held the camera out of the waist window. I had to twist my body, and when I did my goggles separated from my oxygen mask and I froze my cheek bones and ears. My skin peeled from this and turned a brown color. This was the only time I was uncomfortable except for my phosphate bullet wound.
When we returned from these missions that I had taken pictures, I would take the film to the shack and they developed it. After the film was developed, they would post the pictures on the bulletin board and I could see how I was doing as far as photo quality and subject matter was concerned. They always posted the pictures. After returning from one of these missions, I turned in my film as usual, but for some reason, this time my pictures were not posted. I got to wondering why, so I asked my commanding officer why my pictures weren't posted as they usually where. He told me that I had taken some pictures of some launch sights for the new German V-i and V-2 rockets and the pictures were being studied by our intelligence. I felt pretty good about that.
Just about every mission had something out of the ordinary happen. While coming back from one of our missions, we saw a crew member, without a chute, fall out of his airplane. It bothered me to see it but there's nothing I could do about it. During war time it's an unnerving thing to see a man die an accidental death. It's tough enough surviving the combat without being killed in such a freak accident. When we landed I asked a medic how this guy would die and he told me that he would be dead before he hit the ground. Well, I wondered, but it did make me feel better to hear it.
We did a few search and rescue missions over the English Channel (not countable missions because they were not over enemy territory) for downed airplanes and crews. We flew up and down the channel, usually on a bright and sunny day, looking for rubber dinghies containing crew members. Each airplane had three dinghies for emergency survival. We all had our eyes glued to the water looking for any sign of survivors, but our crew never spotted any. As a result of these search and rescue missions, I realized just how poor the chance of rescue was. We lost a lot of planes and crews in the English Channel. Probably my greatest fear was the thought of being force to ditch in the water. I knew the chance of survival was very poor. Fortunately, we never had to face that ordeal.
No matter how well things were planned out, there was always miscues. While on one of our missions, we were lined up over the target only to look out and find a group under us making their drop. We had to make a 360 and come back in to drop our bombs. I can remember, when we lined up to drop our bombs, of looking up to see if there was anyone above us that might be dropping bombs on us. All of a sudden I was very aware of such mishaps. By this time we were twenty minutes late joining up with our group, plus we had fuel consumption to be concerned about. On any of our missions we only had fuel enough to fly the mission with very little fuel to spare. This allowed us the maximum bomb load. However, fuel was never a problem to us all the while we were flying, except that one mission to Norway.
On every mission we were shot up and brought back a damaged plane. We also had our share of downed enemy airplanes. Clover once said if we got credit for every plane we shot down, we'd all be aces. It was hard to verify every hit. The top turret could usually verify their hits, but it was hard for the rest of us to verify ours. Royal got a couple out of the tail gun that was verified. Usually our wingmen could help verify hits, and we had two good wing men. Lieutenant Ford was always one of our wingmen and we had several other wingmen with Ford throughout our tour. We could always count on Ford to be there. The wingmen wanted to be good, because Clover was good. We worked together as a great team.
On several missions we received orders over the radio to return, abort the mission. These were false radio transmissions sent out by the Germans in hopes that we would think that the mission was being aborted. Many of our planes would turn back and not complete the mission, but our crew never turned back. Caller knew the orders were false and we continued on to complete each mission. This happened three times to us and we completed every mission. We asked Caller how he knew the orders were false, and he said for one thing, we were too far into the mission to be called back plus he didn't recognize the person issuing the orders. On one of these occasions we were one of only three crews that completed the mission. This was one of the reasons that we were considered as one of the better crews.
The radio men of the crews that turned back were forced to go to radio school to keep from making the mistake again. Also during briefing of other crews, Caller would be called upon to talk to the crews and explain to them the reasons he thought the messages were false and why he continued on with the mission. They introduced Caller as the guy who "flew with the crew that did fly in". Caller felt that sooner or later he'd probably be wrong, but so far he was three for three, and to fool him, they would have to be smarter than they are now. As it turned out, Galler was never fooled and his record of three for three remained in tact.
All the close calls didn't necessarily come from actual combat. During pre-f light check out, my responsibility as armorer was from the flight deck back; check the bomb load, the charging wires (for the bombs) and anything to do with armor. While making one of these checks I spotted what could have been a runaway bomb. There is an arming wire that goes through the wheel of the bomb to keep the wheel from rotating while in the bomb racks. When the bombs are released, the wire is held in place in the airplane and the action of the bomb dropping from the wire starts the wheels rotating. There is a wheel on each end of the bomb. This is what charges the bomb and causes it to explode. In my check I spotted a bomb wheel turning very slowly. The wire was not tight and the bomb was slowly being charged. I wired it tight to stop the rotation and rendered the bomb helpless. If I had not spotted this, probably the bomb would not have been charged enough to cause us any problem as long as we went in and dropped our load on schedule, but if for some reason we were delayed in getting to our target or had to return without dropping, the wheel would have made enough revolutions to charge the bomb and the bomb probably would have exploded in the airplane.
I talked earlier of Lieutenant Scarlotta, from the Bronx, a real gung ho pilot. He was also based in England, although he evidently left all of his enthusiasm and courage in the States, because he never completed a mission. He aborted every one. He was finally washed out and his crew was spiit up to fill other crews. Most of his crew were shot down before we were. The last of his crewmembers was billeted in the same room with me. Wolfer was his name and he was a real quiet and nice guy. He was married about a week before leaving for England and he wrote his wife every night. We use to kid him about it and he'd laugh. Wolfer seldom left the base, so he always had a considerable amount of money in his bunk.
We got word that Wolfer's plane was shot down and Wolfer and his crew were killed. When members of a crew are killed, they send an officer and some helpers to pick up all of the belongings of the deceased to get ready to send home. Who do they send around to gather the belongings of Wolfer's crew but Scarlotta. We were not flying that day so we were in the barracks when he came in. We had a lot of comments for his benefit. "Well, look who's here to pick up the stuff. Well, he can't fly, so he might as well do this".. .was but a mild sampling. He should have been ashamed but whether he was, I don't know. When they came to Wolfer's area, I told them about the letters to his wife and about the money. We watched them very closely as they gathered all of Wolfer's belongings. I'm sure Scarlotta was glad to get out of there, as we were to have him leave. I never saw Scarlotta again. As for Wolfer, I'll never forget him. He was such a nice kid.
Flyers were not hampered by the day to day army discipline. We didn't have inspections or anything like that to worry about. The days we didn't fly we would go to the mess hail, eat and go back to the sack. Losey used to go to the mess hall and grab six or eight steaks and bring them back to the hut. We'd put them on top of the stove and fry them up. We used the stove as a griddle. Enlisted men, Noncoms, like myself, the tail gunner, the left waist gunner, the ball turret gunner, the flight engineer and the radio operator, were billeted separately from the commissioned officers. The commissioned officers being the pilot, the copilot, the navigator and the bombardier. There was two Noncoms crews per Nissen Hut (maybe better known as Quonset Huts). (Nissen Huts, or Quonset Huts, were a prefabricated shelter of corrugated metal shaped like a cylinder cut vertically in two and rests on the flat surface. They were commonly used instead of barracks.) Sleep was always a scarce commodity. Whenever we had a chance to get a little extra sleep we took it, and believe me, when we slept, we slept well.
Once in a while we would get a two day pass to go to London. London was fairly close to us so we'd go in and have a big feed and take in a show. We went to what was then the famous Windmill Theater. It was open 24 hours a day and they had good entertainment including a couple of good Scottish comedians. Of course I liked that. They also put on vaudeville. At that time they could have nudes on the stage as long as they didn't move. They had nudes on stage but we didn't realize it at first, we thought we were looking at statues!
We also stayed at the Strand Palace Hotel. Whenever we went out we went as a crew. We pretty much stayed together. We ate as a crew and would enjoy a big dinner and the entertainment. They always had a big band playing and Losey would always say to the waiter, "See if the band will play such and such a song." He'd give the waiter ten shilli4igs and tell him to give it to the bandleader. The next thing you knew the bandleader was over at our table asking if we remembered the name of that song and of course he had his hand out for money. They grabbed your money left and right. We also went to Piccadilly Circus while we were there.
When we went to London, the crew usually hung around me because of the money. They didn't understand the value. There was this one instance when Heavy went into a store and came out with change in his hand. I asked him what he bought and he said a pack of Buckingham Cigarettes. I asked him what he gave the store keeper and he said a five pound note. I asked if this was all the money he got back and he said yes, so Heavy and I went back into the store. A woman had waited on him so I had him point her out to me. I had Heavy call the manager and I called the lady over. She asked what the matter was, and I said, "He gave you a five pound note." She answered, "I don't know." I said, "I do, because that's all he had and you gave him this much back." By this time the manager came out and I asked him to come over. He wondered what the trouble was and I told him that my friend came in here and bought a pack of Buckingham Cigarettes for two and six pence. He gave her a five pound note and she gave him change for one. I want the other four. He argued a little so I told him the reason I was mad. "I'm British subject. I was born in Great Britain. If my crew comes in here don't cheat them." We got the money and left. This sort of thing happened fairly often, but we enjoyed our trips to London. When it became time we'd return to Kings Inn. A train would take us to Wendling and then a truck would take us to the base. I never knew how far it was to the base, or saw any of the sights on the way, because I never saw it in the daylight.
I learned from letters from home that Russell O'Brien, a friend of mine from my home town was also stationed here. We corresponded and made arrangements to meet in London at the Rainbow Loom. We hadn't seen each other since going into the army so it was a good chance to talk over old times. We set a time and date and I was there. For some reason, however, Russell was unable to Lake it. I'll talk about this a little later.
I had a chance to go home and visit with my mother in Scotland. We had to bring a B-24 to Prestwick and bring another back. Instead of going back with the crew, I had a leave and took a few days to go home. I took a train to Edinburgh then crossed the Forth bridge to Kirkcaldy. The Forth is the name of a bay (firth) in Scotland. Kirkcaldy was across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
I was very disappointed when I got home. I was glad to see mother of course, but it had been fifteen years since I had left home (I left in 1928) and the living conditions had not improved at all in that time. Our living quarters were very inadequate. We came in from a side street and went through an alley. We entered into a court yard and there was an outside stairway leading up to two apartments. The toilets were all down stairs outside. Across from the toilets was another door leading into another building, and that was your coal shed. Every time you had to go to the bathroom, you had to go down stairs and every time you needed coal, you had to go down stairs and lug it up. All these doors had locks on them, so when you went down you had to be sure you had your key with you. Believe me, you made our trips count! This was the way it was when I left and it was the same when I returned. No improvements what so ever.
While I was home I saw an aunt and some cousins who stopped by. I wanted to see another cousin, Mary Gordon. Mother and I took a bus to Auchterderran to see Mary, but she wasn't home. I remembered Mary from years ago and was disappointed when I was unable to see her. We also went to Dunfermline and spent part of a day with Uncle Will and Aunt Bess. Outside of my Uncle Rod, they were my favorites of all my aunts and uncles. Uncle Rod was the one who encouraged me, at a young age, to go to America. He told me that I would have a better future there. Aunt Bess was my favorite aunt. I spent one summer with them when I was home and still in school in Scotland. Mother was working and Aunt Bess and Uncle Will came down one weekend and Aunt Bess said, "James (they all called me James at home), it must be pretty lonesome with the summer holidays and all. Why don't we take you home with us for a couple of weeks?" I went back with them and I enjoyed it. Their son Willie (my cousin) was a pain in the neck, but I still enjoyed it. I was very glad to see them on my visit. I still remember the nice meal we had that day.
Cousin Willie, his wife and two kids stopped by to say hello. Willie had changed a lot. I guess he had grown up. All the relatives couldn't get over the fact that I had silver wings. They thought that was pretty special. I also had an Air Medal and Three Oak Clusters and mother wanted to show it to all our relatives. This was a big thing for them, so I left it with mother to show the relatives. When she was through showing it around, she could mail it back home to Annie, and she did.
One evening about dark, there was a rap on the door. My mother answered the door and it was Willie Rogers. "I heard James was home so I stopped by to see him." Willie was an old friend I had when I was in school. He was six or seven years older than I was and had a learning disability. Willie couldn't read. I spend a lot of time with him when we were younger, and because I did he felt befriended. He was a real nice guy and a hard worker. He was the best natured person you could ask for. "How did you know I was home," I asked, and he said a woman had seen me on the street and she told his sister. He was very glad to see me. Willie was driving a horse and two wheel cart for a contractor, and after working all day he walked over to see me. I don't remember just how far it was from his house, but at the time I remembered it was a fair distance. I gave Willie a couple packs of cigarettes and he was so tickled you'd have thought I had given him a couple of hundred pounds. I was so pleased to see Willie and happy he took the time to look me up.
I enjoyed being home again and seeing all my friends and relatives but the time had come for me to leave. I had to return to the base. I said my good byes and left home about three o'clock in the afternoon. This was the last time I was ever in Scotland. I did see my mother after the war when she came to the United States to live with us and later got an apartment of her own. She got a job while she was here, but she didn't really like being away from home, so she returned to Scotland after a couple of years. She died in Scotland in the middle sixties.
It wasn't that far to the base, but I didn't get back until ten o'clock that night. I had to change trains three times and the connections were not that good. I got back to base two days before I had to fly. My mail was piled up on my bunk so I curled up and started reading it. Royal was in the bunk next to me and he woke up and said, "Ross, you made it back. You better get some shut eye. We're flying in the morning." This was about 2:30 in the morning. I said, "I got a couple of days yet," and Royal said, "oh no, we got this one this afternoon." I asked, "What time is alert," and he said, "3:3O." "I guess I better get some sleep." He said, "That's what I've been trying to tell you."
At 3:30, Royal and I were getting dressed and Royal was saying that he really dreaded this one (mission). I asked, "Why, do you know where it is?" He said, "No, Heavy's coming with us." This was Heavy's first mission since he was hit in the leg. It seemed that when Heavy was flying with us we got banged around pretty good, but while he was laid up with his leg we didn't have it quite so rough. Of course we had replacements for him and I'm sure that had nothing to do with it, but superstition does enter into it for some. I said, "Well, he's been hit, so maybe that will take the jinx off." Royal laughed and said, "I hope so."
On the way down to briefing, Royal told me about an air collision involving one of our Pathfinders that happened while I was in Scotland. On many of our missions we would be following a Pathfinder, especially in bad weather. A Pathfinder is a B-24, usually flown by a Major, and carries "Mickey" (a black box) that is used to see through the clouds. By following the Pathfinder, we would know when we were over our target area and we'd drop our bombs on the signal from the Pathfinder. During one of the missions while I was in Scotland, as our planes were circling over England to gain altitude before crossing the channel (as we always did), our Pathfinder was involved in a midair collision and crashed. The pilot, Major Gray, was killed. This happened just before I got back from Scotland. They went to the scene of the crash and picked up what belongings they could find and brought them back to the base. Things like his parachute, heated suit and any personal belongings he may have had with him. Major Gray was one of the better pilots and we hated to lose him.
We got down to briefing and found out it's Friedrickshafen, a city on the north shore of Lake Constance. It was marshaling yards (a railroad center) and we were after ammunition trains. A marshaling yard is where the railroads come together as a central location for switching or dispatching.
After breakfast, while on the way to our airplane, I learned that we're carrying an extra man because we're the group leader. Normally, if you're not the group leader, the bombardier will man the nose turret until he's ready to bomb and then the navigator mans the nose turret. But when you're the group leader, both the bombardier and navigator are busy all the time, so they give you the eleventh man. As we're checking out the airplane, the skipper brought over the new man and said to me, "Ross, I want you to check out this guy." I was introduced to him but I can't recall his name. He told me he knew all about turrets. I said, "You can't Lieutenant, they're brand new. These are the Consolidated turrets and they're brand new." He insisted that he knew all about them and I told him that he damn well didn't know about them, but regardless, my skipper told me to check him out and that's what I was going to do.
He agreed and it's a good thing because he didn't even know how to charge the gun (load it). I got him so he knew pretty much what he was doing - or should have.
Our take off time had been set back an hour. We learned this by a signal flare that was sent up. In the meantime, I was checking my equipment and I found that my heated suit wasn't working. So I said to Clover, "If our take off time has been set back an hour, I've got time to go back to the shack and get another heated suit." He told me that I'd better, that this will be quite a run. I got a ride and went back to get another heated suit. When I got back to the shack, they fitted me with another heated suit and the only one that came close to my size was Major Grays. It still had his name on it. They asked if I minded and I said, "No, I don't mind." Here I had just learned that he got killed and I was putting on his heated suit. I put it on and headed back to the plane.
On the way back to the plane, there were some Irishman working in a ditch and as we drove by they hollered, "You don't have to hurry chum, you won't be flying for another thirty minutes." I asked, "How do you know?" He said, "The flares." Ireland was neutral and it was a hot bed for spies. They knew all about the flares, the order of the day and everything else. I told Clover about it and he joked, "Yeah, if you want to know anything about your mission, ask one of the guys digging a ditch!"
We finally took off, March 18, 1944, the day after Saint Patrick's Day. While we're crossing the channel, Clover asks if we should test fire the guns. "Oh yes," I said, "I want to hear something out of the nose turret." It took him a few tries, he had a hell of a time, but he finally got a couple of rounds out of the guns. I was satisfied, but I told Clover to have somebody check on the new man to see if he's going to be alright. I didn't have a good feeling about this guy.
Due to the late take off, we were an hour late over the target. What that does to others nobody knows but it does affect the timing and increases the chances of accidents or other problems. We had the same thing happen on this mission that happened once before. Once we got over the target, we were ready to drop only to find there was a group directly over us. This time we were looking for it so it didn't catch us off guard. We had to make a 360 and come in behind the group that was just over us. On our way in we looked all around and above us to be sure that nobody was up above ready to drop on us. It was all clear and we made our bomb run with no problems. There was plenty of flack, but nobody got hurt. On our way back we were late tying on to our group, but were doing fine with no apparent problems. We were flying at about 18,000 feet to avoid any possible flack if it should come up. Flack is set to go off higher than that. We were also below their sensory devices. Our navigator was weaving us through areas that were known for heavy ground fire. We're getting along fine; in fact, we're in the middle of France. We had seventeen ships in our group. There was another group far off to our right whose captain ordered us to tie on to his group. He wasn't on the right course and we knew it, but he had a large group and he ordered us to tie on with him and we had no alternative but to do so even though it was against our better judgment. We were counting on safety in numbers. We were doing fine with this group but we were flying a little higher now and we were not real comfortable with that.
Than all of a sudden there's bandits. Royal spotted them coming in from the rear and they hit us hard - one after the other. They all came from the same direction, attacking us from the rear. They were attacking our tail were Royal saw it all and he kept us informed. They were picking us off one by one from the rear. Royal watched as planes in our group were being hit knowing that it was inevitable that before it was over, we would also get it. Royal had used all of his ammunition as did Heavy and I. The top turret and ball turret were chattering relentlessly. The whole ship was shaking but the nose turret never got a single round off. When the German fighters peeled off over us there is no reason why the nose turret shouldn't have fired on them. Of course when the Germans see this they're able to come at us from a different angle. They were still hitting us from the rear and Royal was helplessly watching it all. The plane next to us was hit which left us next in line. At this point Royal alerted us that it was "OUR TURN NEXT".
They hit us and set our engines afire. Before we had the order to bail out, Heavy climbed on top of an empty ammunition box and dove through the waist window. The waist window was relatively small, and to this day I can't figure out how he fit through it. We were burning and the fire had spread into the wing roots and into the bomb bay. The fire retardant had been exhausted and the fire continued to spread. I checked to make sure Bell was coming around in the ball turret so he could come up. The ball turret had to be in a certain position before it could come up into the ship. He was doing fine and was able to come up. I knew it was time that we should be getting out of there. Clover gave the order, "All right you guys, get out of here. Let's get out," and he sounded the horn. I knew that Heavy was gone. Bell was coming up and getting out of the ball turret and finally standing up when I heard the horn. I checked back on Royal and he was just stepping out over the rim of his turret to get into the ship. He had a cut over his eye, but was alright. He was not hit by a shell. We're now down below 10,000 feet. Royal is walking towards me as I'm opening the camera hatch, which is a large hatch, that we will bail out from. I'm hollering to Royal to go but there's so much noise that nobody can hear anything plus Royal's intercom is no longer connected. He's signaling me to go ahead. Royal wants me to go first. There's no time to argue, so I go. Everybody is leaving.
I pulled my ripcord and when I did, it came all the way out. I thought to myself, "I broke the damn thing." I didn't know it was supposed to come out. By this time my chute opened. While this was happening, my GI shoes were tied to my parachute harness and in the commotion, one of my shoes got under the strap and when my chute opened, the shoe hit against my chest with such force that it broke a rib. It hurt so much it just about made me sick.
It's all quiet now and I'm wondering if they all made it. I knew they were all right when I left. I was wondering about Heavy. He did a foolish thing jumping out of the waist window. Not knowing the angle of the plane, he could have been hit by one of the vertical stabilizers which would surely spell disaster. I looked around and there was a railroad track and a high tension line forming a "V" about where I'm going to drop. I started pulling my shroud lines because there was a train on the track and I didn't know anything about wind drift. All I wanted to do was get away from this area. To add to the situation, there were Messerschntitts buzzing around us. Their purpose was to get the chutes swaying. If the chute swayed more than 180 degrees, it would collapse and sent you plummeting to the ground. It was against the rules of war to shoot at a man in a parachute so they used this maneuver. As I was starting to sway, there was a P-38 (American fighter plane) that took off after one of the Messerschmitts and got him! Meanwhile, I got down. I managed to miss the railroad track and high tension wires, and I landed in a field, but I broke my leg in two places when I landed. By this time I was in pretty rough shape.
There was a free Frenchman on the ground waiting for me. He came up and unbuckled my chute and hid it in the brush on the edge of the field that I landed in. He came up to me and motioned me to stand up, and I did. He motioned me to come to him but I couldn't. My leg was worse than I thought and my rib was really hurting. Both injuries were on the same side of my body. He kissed me on both cheeks and showed me his badge. The badge was to tell me that he was a free Frenchman and an ally. Had I been able to walk he would have helped me escape, but I needed medical attention and with all the doctors under German orders to report such things, it was impossible. I could have gotten by with just my broken rib, but because of my leg injuries, he couldn't save me and he had to turn me over to the Germans. I gave him my escape kit, French Francs and the, candy bars that I had in my heated suit. He was a rich man when I got through with him. As he stood with me, there were a couple of German soldiers walking across the field. He waved his arms and the Germans came over. He and the Germans carried me over to a road. I was in occupied France. In one day I had gone from visiting my mother at home in Scotland, to being shot down over enemy territory.
It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when they sat me down on the side of the road with my feet hanging over the shoulder, kind of dangling in the ditch. The road was higher than the ditch and my leg felt better just hanging. It gave the same effect as traction on my leg, so the pain wasn't too bad in this position. The next thing I knew, a German brought Galler over and sat him down next to me. Galler had broken his ankle.
A little German corporal came along in an old Mercedes Benz touring car to pick us up. The car ran on charcoal gas. (They burned charcoal in a boiler type unit on the car. The burning charcoal created a gas that fueled the car engine. They had to preheat the spark plug before starting the engine, but after the engine was warmed up it ran pretty good. They used a special, very large, spark plug in the engine.) The Germans helped get us into the car and we were taken to Colmar, France. It looked like a village, at least more like a village than a town. There was a hospital there, but they took us to what appeared to be the village jail. I didn't see any jail cells, but it looked like a town hail that was also used as the jail. When they got Galler and I in there, the rest of my crew, except for Heavy and the eleventh man, was already there. They were in good physical condition. They had gotten down fine without any injuries. It must have longer than I thought, getting down and all, because they had picked up the crew and already had them in there.
They put me in a small room that was about ten feet square. The rest of the crew was setting in a larger, adjoining room. I was really hurting by this time. While I'm setting there, the door burst open and a German kid about ninteen years old came marching in. He's a Messerschmitt pilot. He came over to me and said, "Krank," which meant sick or ill, although I didn''t know it at the time, and he pointed to, and was looking at, my leg. "A," he said, and he wnet over and picked up a chair that had no back and brought the chair over to me. He very carefully picked up my leg and put it on the chair. Again he said, "Ah," and left the room. He came back with a bottle of Schnapps, potato whiskey or gin and poured me a good big slug. I downed that and about choked! He let that settle and he poured another half and I drank that. That was beginning to warm me up! He pulled up a chair and put it in front of me, sat down and said, "du flieger America?" (you fly for America?) I said, "yeah." He said "Du Liber-a-tor?", in broken English. He grinned and said, "Ich, Messeerschmitts." I said, "Oh?" He said, "Liberator Mmmmmm" (he gestures with his hand to show the Liberator in level flight) and he continues, "Heeeee Messerschmitt, rat-tat-tat (gesturing with his other hand shooting down the Liberator). He said, "Liberator roarrrrr" (going down) and I answered "Yep." He said, "Du flieger America, Ich flieger Father Land (you fly for America and I fly for Germany). He held out his hand and we shook hands. We had a friendly conversation, as best we could with the language barrier. He pulled out some pictures and showed me his girl friend and his family.
He touched his flight jacket and said in a stuttering voice searching for the correct English words, "No.. .non. . .non fear".. .1 interrupted, "Nonflammable." He said, "Yah." His jacket was nonflammable. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a comb made of Plexiglas and the handle was a naked girl. He grinned at the handle and I asked, "Plexiglas?" He said, "Yah, Plexiglas Germany, Plexiglas America?" I said, "Yeah." He took out a cigarette case and there was a cigarette and a half of another in the case. The half cigarette was one that he had smoked and butted earlier. He gave me the whole cigarette and he took the butted one, and he then lit both of our cigarettes. He asked if I had any cigarettes and I indicated that I didn't.
He went into the other room, where the rest of our crew was, and got what cigarettes they had and brought them in the room where I was. He counted out the cigarettes and divided them evenly among us. There were two cigarettes left and he asked if he could have them. I said, "Sure." He then gave out the cigarettes to the rest of the crew.
He started looking around and asking the other two Germans in the other room wh~ something wasn't being done to help me (this was my interpretation). They began .to hustle around and got on the phone. He had the two Germans carry me out to the Mercedes, the same car that brought me, and helped me into the car. He got in the back with me and had them drive us to what looked to be a rehabilitation hospital for the German Army. He took me in and put me on a table. Two interns took a wire splint and bent it to fit my leg from my hip to my ankle. Then they got some paper bandages (that's all they had) and bandaged the splint to my leg. They did this ever so carefully. Then my young friend got the same two Germans to carry me back to the car and helped me into the back seat. Again he got in the back seat with me and we left to go back to the same building from where we came. About half way back he had the driver stop the car and he got out. He looked at me and said, "Du flieger America, Ich flieger Father Land. Goooood. . .good luck." I said, "For this, thank you." He said, "Danke schone." I said, "Oh, danke schone" and he said, "Yeah, danke schone." He stepped back, shut the door and saluted me. I saluted him back. We drove off.
He was a typical nice German kid. He was blond and thinking back, he reminds me of Jay (my grandson, Jay Ross, the son of this author) tall and slim and weighed about 140 pounds. He flew for Germany, I flew for America.
By now it was getting dark and we heard a commotion outside. There was a German truck that had backed up to the door. Two Germans got out of the truck and walked around to the back of the truck and pulled the canvas back. The same two Germans came for me first, picked me up and literally threw me into the truck. I went sliding all the way to the front and slammed against the cab. I heard Galler say, "Son of a bitch" and Clover said, "I hope he passes out." Evidently I did because that's the last I remember until they were carrying me in the corridor of a hospital. I remembered it being about ten o'clock at night. They took me to an operating room. The nurses in the hospital were French Sisters (nuns). One of the nurses came over to me and spoke some English to me, "To see how good you can count, you start to count one, two, three, four".. .and on and on. So I started counting and got to about eight. I remember a big spiral thing that started spinning faster and faster and… I was gone.
I was hazy for quite some time, blacking out from time to time. When I came to, I was in a two bed ward in a hospital and Galler was in the bed next to mine. I couldn't believe it. It was nighttime and I was feeling woozy and I went back to sleep. I can remember being very, very tired. 1 woke up in the middle of the night and a nurse, not a Sister, had propped me up In bed and she was feeding me soup. She was talking to me, but I didn't know what she was saying. She left the room and I went back to sleep. The next time I woke up it was daylight. Galler asked how I felt and I said, "Pretty good." "You kind of went out of your head during the night," he said. I said, "I did" and he said, "Yeah, you were talking in your sleep. You weren't very coherent, so I called in a nurse and she gave you some soup. After that, you went back to sleep." I could remember vaguely someone talking to me and Galler said that I was talking to her. I said, "I was" and he said, "I though you were going to get her into bed with you. It was Cheri this and Cheri that. She was really taking care of you." According to Galler this was about three o,clock in the morning when all this happened.
While Galler and I were talking, two nuns came in carrying a English/French dictionary. They began asking us questions about how long we though the war would last. We both agreed that probably right after Christmas, or maybe even before Christmas, it would be over. We asked them how they were treated and they motioned that their hands were tied. Another nun came into the room and the two that were in there got kind of flustered, and said, "Well, good luck and God bless you," and they left. Just as they left the room, a German officer came in. He looked at Galler and asked, "Wat ist lose?" (What is this?). The nun evidently told him what Galler's problem was and he answered, "Aus, aus." He came over to me and asked the same question and got the same answer from the nun. Again he said, "Aus, aus, aus." He was telling us to leave although we didn't know it at the time. He was a tall, big man, strictly Nazi. The nun came over to us and said, "Very sorry, soon they will come to take you away," and they did. They came and took a hold of Galler and took him out first. When they came for me, there was one German and one nun. My leg had a full leg cast and the cast had been split open and wound together with a bandage. A diagram was drawn on the cast to show what had been done. The German took a look at me and my cast and said, "Ah." He got me up and I hobbled out of the room. There was an iron railing on the wall outside of the room and he propped me up against that. He spread my legs apart, backed up to me and picked me up piggy back and carried me about a half mile to a street car. You should have seen the look of the people on the streetcar. "Luft gangster," they called me and they made him take me to the back of the car. We rode about forty-five minutes until the streetcar stopped. He helped me onto the platform and did the same thing again, carried me piggy back. He carried me very carefully because I had a leg sticking out to one side. He got me out onto the sidewalk and a German army truck came "along. He waved it down. The truck stopped and the Germans talked among themselves. They finally put me in the back of the truck and about a half-hour later, we were in a prisoner of war distribution camp in Frankfurt. Here I would be processed and sent to a prison camp.
I was put into a barn. There was chicken wire on the door and straw on the floor, a typical animal pen in a barn. It was like a stock yard and I had to lay on straw on the floor. That night the English bombed some marshalling yards in the area. It didn't come close to us but we could sure hear it and it shook everything around us. They must have blown the yard all to hell!
The next morning when I woke up the whole crew, except for McMillan, was there, including Heavy. This was the first time I had seen Heavy since he bailed out. I was glad to see that he didn't get hurt when he bailed out. He so easily could have been killed. He had said many times while we were flying, "If this plane catches fire, I'm gone," and he was! We heard that McMillan had escaped from a train and was free for three or~ f our days. He had jumped from a train through a toilet window. He was a gutsy son of a gun. I learned years later from Berger that McMillan was going to take on the whole German army by himself and Berger was afraid he was going to get them all killed. I didn't know until later when I heard from home that they had caught McMillan and that our whole crew was in prison camps, except the eleventh man.
Galler and I were taken to another cell over night. I had to be carried, so two Germans picked me up in a sitting position (as if I was sitting in a chair) and carried me to the cell in that position. This was much easier for them and me. One of the Germans asked me if I was an "Offizier" and I said, "Yes," but I didn't tell him I was a noncommissioned "Offizier." The cell was about ten feet square and that also had straw on the floor. The two Germans left and then another God damn animal came in. He was the most misshapen, ugliest human being I had ever seen. He had two cans of coffee and he gave one to Galler and the other one to me. I looked in mine and there was a cigarette butt floating in it. I asked Galler if he had tried his coffee yet and he said, "No, there's a cigarette butt in it." I asked him if his cigarette butt was bigger than mine. Galler asked what we could do and I said, "Maybe we could push the butt to one side and gently take it out of the can and get a few swallows that way." It was hot and we hoped it would taste alright. It was a mistake, it tasted terrible, but nevertheless we drank some.
From here I was once again carried, this time into a German interrogation building. Although I didn't know it at the time, it would be a long time before I would see any of my crew again. This was three days after I was shot down. I sat down in front of a German Lieutenant who was quite friendly. I was alone in the room with him. The door was open and people were going by outside, but he and I were alone in the room. The first thing he did was give me a cigarette. He asked me if they were treating me well and I said, "Yes, except they used my coffee cup as an ash tray." He said, "Oh no." I said, "Oh yes." He spoke very good English. "Well," he said, "what can you expect, you've been bombing their country and they don't like it." He asked if I wanted a good cup of coffee now? I asked, "Is there such a thing?" He said, "Oh yes," and he went to the door and someone came in with two paper cups of coffee. . .real coffee. He told me sugar was hard to get but it didn't taste too bad without it, and it was hot.
We talked about things in general and he asked, "How many were in your plane sergeant?" At about the same time he spotted Major Gray on my heated suit. He said, "We were so sorry to hear about Major Gray. That was sad, he was a gentleman. . . a flyer and a gentleman. We felt bad." He asked, "What did they do, give you".. .and I interrupted and explained that my heated suit wasn't working, I had a few minutes to change, and this was the only one that fit me. (Evidently, when they carried me into the cell, the Germans thought I was an officer and that's why they carried me so gently.) He asked me a few questions and I answered, "Sergeant James Ross, 31175759"...name, rank and serial number. He asked me six or seven more questions about what was doing and again I answered, "Sergeant James Ross, 31175759." He grinned, opened a drawer in his desk and took out a large folder. Inside of that folder there were four other folders. He opened them up and picked out the one for our squadron. I could see 392 written on the folder.
"Alright Staff Sergeant James Ross. You went to gunnery school at Tyndall Field in Florida. You went to Denver Colorado, and he went on to tell me all about the training I had,...and you landed in England in a B-24 that was equipped with a brand new Consolidated nose turret. Here's James C. Losey. He's your engineer. He went to engineering school in Texas and graduated on such and such a day (he had the exact date). I see you had to show your pilot and copilot how to shoot 45." I laughed and said, "I didn't have to show them how to shoot, I showed them how to hold it they could shoot well enough to qualify so they wouldn't have to go back there any more." How he laughed. He knew more about me than I did. I said, "You've got some organization." He said, "No doubt you've got the same on our people." I said, "I hope so." He grinned, and he was still friendly. "The only thing, sergeant, why do you come over bombing our hospitals and churches?" answered, "If we do that, it's not intentional." He said, "I was hoping that it wasn't." "But," said, "I'm telling you something. I was in London when there was a couple of raids and you blew the living hell out of a hospital for the blind, a children's hospital and a rehabilitation hospital. There was a gas station in the same area and you hit that and leveled the whole area." "Yes," he said, "it happens on both sides, doesn't it?" I said, "Yes." "Well," he said, "it's night time and the search lights are on, what are we going to do with those bombs?" I said, "You're going to let them go, just like I would." "War isn't funny, is it?" I said, "No, not a bit." He commented, "You're old to be flying, sergeant." said, "Yeah." He never questioned my nationality and I offered nothing. He asked, "Why, did you have to"... I interrupted and said, "No," and he asked, "Why?" I said, "America has been very, very good to me. I want to do what I can." He said, "A lot of people here feel the same way about Germany." I said. "Of course" "Well there's no use horsing around anymore. You've seen the folder. I can even give you your score on skeet shooting. You're not too good at that.
Trap shooting you're a little better at." (We had trap shooting and skeet shooting in training.) "You got good marks in armorment school." When he made that statement he got me to thinking a little bit. When I went to armorment school in Denver, there were two Russians in our class. They were friendly, spoke broken English, but you could understand them. While we were there, they took us to a rodeo and paid all expenses. They wanted to belong, to be friendly. They came to class every day. I often wondered. . . that was an ideal situation. We were friendly with Russia at the time, but I don't know.. .could this have been the source of some of his information? Of course I'll never know.
The interrogation ended and I was carried back to the cell. A short time later, I was put on a train headed for the Baltic, in East Prussia. It was the most desolate piece of Europe that there was. It took eight days for the train to reach its destination.. .Stalag Luft VI.
As Jim mentioned earlier, he left his Air Medal in Scotland for his mother to show to her friends and relatives, and asked her to mail it home to me when she had shown it to everyone she wanted to. She mailed it to me and I received it April 5, 1944. Ironically, I received the telegram notifying me that Jim was missing in action on the same day. The telegram was delivered to me by a local lady who ran and cried all the way to my house. She knew what was in the telegram and by the time she got to the house, just about everybody in town knew what was in it. My immediate reaction was anger, and I threw the medal across the room. Chuck found the medal a few weeks later. This was followed by letters from Styles Bridges, our Senator, and Robert Blood, the Governor of New Hampshire, expressing their condolences and regret of Jim being missing in action.
On April 27, 1944, I received two post cards from two different people in Florida, telling me that they had picked up a German short wave broadcast ". . .and it was reported that James Ross had been downed over enemy territory but is alive and well. If a message of "missing" has been received from our government, perhaps this information will give some consolation to whom it may concern. Best of luck to James Ross and may Germany's fall come rapidly!" Both people must have heard the same broadcast, because each post card carried about the same message. . .down to the same date and time of day it was broadcast, 11:30 PM.
The Germans actually did put out these broadcasts, but we were warned by our government not to put too much faith in these messages, because often times the Germans intentionally put out incorrect names to break down our moral. However, it was a ray of hope.
On May 5, 1944, I received a telegram from Washington, D.C., confirming that Jim was being held as a prisoner of war by the German government, and there would be more information to follow. After it was confirmed that Jim was a prisoner of war, the government sent a list containing the next of kin of the crew members, to all the crew members next of kin. We immediately started corresponding with each other. As we learned anything at all about any of the crew, we immediately wrote to the others. That's how I found out that Jim had broken his leg. Clover's mother was affiliated with the Red Cross on the West Coast and it was through her that I learned of Jim's broken leg. It was also through her that we received a great deal of information from the Red Cross.
In the meantime, I received a list and instructions from our government pertaining to sending food packages to prisoners of war. These rules were set by the Germans and we had to follow them very carefully, to have any hope at all of the packages getting through. The size of the box was even specified. It was an odd size, larger than a shoe box but smaller than a boot box. The Germans made nothing easy. The packages could not weigh over eleven pounds and the contents of the package had to be listed on the outside of the package. The government also issued special address labels that had to be used on these packages. I had to apply for these labels and they were issued one at a time in duplicate. One label was to be placed directly on the contents inside the box and the other label was to be placed on the outside of the package. We were sent one set of labels every'sixty days and we couldn't send packages without these labels. The packages could not be sealed and had to be wrapped.. . "in a manner which would facilitate opening for postal inspection."
As soon as I sent out one food package, I started getting items ready for the next package. Some of the things I. wanted to send were hard to get due to rationing, and it took me two months, sometimes, to get everything together. One of the things we could send was dried fruit, but we needed plastic bags to put it in and plastic bags were relatively new and hard to get. I was working in a grocery store at the time, and some of the salesmen helped me in getting some of the things I needed. I can remember one salesman who got a stack of plastic bags from somewhere and gave them to me. Another salesman was able to get me a few large Hershey bars. Jim loved them but they were hard to get. Things like that made life just a little easier for me.
The local Red Cross had regular monthly meetings for prisoner of war next of kin and I attended these meetings. During one of the meetings I asked for the correct box size for the food packages and how I could get them. The next day, a woman from the Red Cross drove to my house and brought a stack of corrugated boxes, folded flat, and gave them to me. The Red Cross was very helpful throughout, andoI have nothing but praise for them.
We were also permitted to have cigarettes (Tobacco Packages) sent to them. A tobacco package consists of three cartons of cigarettes, or one hundred cigars, or twenty-four ounces of chewing or smoking tobacco. This was done through the tobacco companies. We were issued Tobacco Labels and order forms every sixty days. We had to fill out the order forms and send ttthem along with the tobacco labels to the tobacco company and the tobacco company sent the cigarettes to the prisoners. We paid for the cigarettes when we ordered them and the tobacco companies sent the tobacco packages, postage free. I sent food packages and tobacco packages every two months, but Jim only got part of one food package, and one tobacco package during the entire time he was in prison camp. We got word through the Red Cross that warehouses in Germany were full of these packages, but the Germans were not distributing them. I knew the tobacco company was sending the cigarettes, even though Jim did not receive them. The company sent me a refund on the last order, as he had been liberated and the package was returned to them. This of course was later on.
I also received mailing instructions from our government in regards to mailing letters to Jim. The postal service had special letter sheets for our letters to the prisoners of war, and these are what had to be used. Again, these rules were set by the Germans.
Jim mentioned earlier that his friend Russell O'Brien and Jim had set a date to meet in London, and Russell wasn't able to be there. Russell wrote to me explaining that his leave was canceled at the last minute. He wrote Jim a letter explaining and the letter was returned to him stamped "Missing in Action". Russell was by nature a very mild, calm person, but when he received the letter back, he walked into his C.O.'s office and threw the letter on his desk. He was angry because he said there was no reason for him having to stay on duty that weekend. The work he was doing that weekend wasn't that important. Russell expected to be dressed down by his C.O., but apparently the officer was understanding and took no action against him. As a result, Russell was the first one from home to know that Jim had been shot down.
Upon arriving at Hydekrug, they put us in a barracks right away. I was in with a guy by the name of Faulk, who was banged up a little but no real problem. The barracks we were in was used as a waiting room for the hospital. They kept us in this barracks only a couple of days and then they moved us. They carried me from the first lager, through another lager and into the hospital. They introduced me to the doctor, who was a very interesting man. He was Irish, from Ireland, an Irishman in the British Army, and he voluntarily parachuted into the prison camp with all of his instruments and allowed himself to be captured. He did this so he could administer care to the prisoners in the prison camp. For years I carried his name and address written on an old cigarette package. I later sent him some nylon stockings for his wife after the war.
He took me in and talked about my situation. He didn't like the looks of my leg. He looked at the drawing on the cast and then took the cast off. He didn't have an X-Ray machine but he could see and feel a lot of things that were wrong with my leg. Of course by now my leg had started to set. "I'm going to have to crack it open again," he told me. I said, "Whatever you say, Doc." "If I don't, you'll be crippled for life. The foot will be twisted to one side, you'll have to have special shoes, and things like that, but I can fix it...here and now." He went on and explained, "I have no anesthesia, but I'll do what I can."
I was laying on my back on his table and was looking up over head and there's one electric light that had about a sixty or seventy watt bulb. There was a fantastic arrangement of reflectors in a geometric pattern around that bulb that greatly increased the light from that one bulb. "How do you like that," he asked? I answered, "I think that's something fabulous." He said, "Well, our Australian friends made that. It's made out of "Klim" powdered milk cans." Klim was-a brand name of powdered milk. Klim is milk spelled backwards. The cans had a high sheen on the inside and made a good reflector. They saved all their empty cans and also used them for dishes to eat from.
While I was thinking about the light and talking about it, he broke the leg. How I sweat.
After he broke it, he manipulated it and that was hell until he got it set and some kind of a cover on it. He was able to make a cast and when he did, he but some kind of a block on the end of it so when the cast hardened, I could put my weight on it. By this time I'm a pretty sick son of a gun. 1 can still remember the sweat. What I liked about him, he did his job. He didn't apologize for hurting me, I couldn't have taken that. "There, I think we've got you about as good as. . .oh, it will be a lot like new when you get out of here." "Do you think we're going to get out, Doc," I asked? He said, "Sure, this can't go on forever." He went out and called for somebody to come and get me. They came in and carried me back to the same place that they had earlier brought me from.
The following day I was taken out and photographed. They held a number up in front of me, 3212, and was given a POW dog tags. From there I was moved into the big barracks. In the big lager there were about six barracks and each barracks held about fifty people. They were very big and were all built so they could be taken apart and reassembled again. They could easily take off a side, add on to the wall and put the side back on. They were bolted together, like a prefabricated type building.
When I got in there it was unbelievable. I started running into people that I went to gunnery school with. In gunnery school there was myself, Dominic Ross and Charles Ross, all in the same class. Of course we were assigned in alphabetical order. I ran into Dominic Ross here in Hydekrug. One of his crew members was a guy named Troy, from just north of Boston. He was shot down with Dominic Ross. He knew Swanzey and the area because he had a tar truck and he used to come up here tarring the roads in the towns in this area. He was a big help to me, he was really something. I didn't see Charles Ross, but they told me that he had lost an arm. During conversations with some of the prisoners, I would be with guys that knew someone that knew somebody that knew about places in the area where I came from. One guy knew of Mt. Monadnock. These kind of conversations were very helpful as far as keeping my moral up.
We had a softball team. Imagine that, barracks six had a softball team. They had players that knew the game but couldn't win.
Barracks five had a good pitcher that nobody could hit. Our barracks had a guy named Peters who maintained, "With chances enough, I could hit it, I could belt it out of here." That's the way it was. We were all here so we made the best of it. Finally a guy came to me and asked me if I knew anything about softball. I said, "A little, I love to watch it." He said, "Damn it, we need somebody to tell us what to do." We had a guy who was the manager, but he also played. He felt he couldn't do both, so he came to me and told me that the guys had picked me to be their manager. He didn't think the manager should also be playing. He said to me, "I want to play and you can be the manager." I felt, "Gee, that's a good way to get it, have them come to me." So I agreed to manage. The players on our team had to be from our barracks, so I said, "Let's find out who can do what." We had a little guy, Tommy Cannon, from Alabama. Gosh he was small. Two of him could fit in a ball turret! I asked him if he played softball and he said that he did. I said, "Alright, I'll have you lead of f. I'll but you somewhere in the field later." They couldn't pitch to Tommy because he was so small. We had Peters as our clean-up hitter. We started winning games!
The umpire we had, had professional baseball umpiring experience. Years later I saw him umpiring in the major leagues. As manager, there were times when I wasn't quite sure of myself. There was this one guy in barracks five that could throw a ball something awful (fast) and of course he was their pitcher. During one of our games with barracks five, he was pitching and I didn't think his delivery was legal. So I went up to the umpire and said, "I have to question that pitch." He said, "Tell me what's wrong." I asked, "Doesn't it have to be six inches from his leg?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Look at it, he's throwing side arm." "That's right," he said, "but I can't say anything until somebody complains about it. He's been doing it right along." The next pitch he threw the umpire called a ball. The pitcher wondered why and the umpire told him. He knew it anyway. After he started pitching the way he should, we started getting hits. We were able to score a lot of runs in the first inning. This meant the other team had to play catch up. We won our share of games, of course we lost some too. It was somewhat loose at Hydekrug. When the ball went beyond the barbed wire, we'd get one of the 'goons to go get it for us and they would. They'd get it and throw it back to us and we'd continue our game. This provided a great way to pass the time away and maintain moral.
I was still in my full leg cast. I could, however, walk on the block at the heel of the cast with the help of a crutch. I graduated to a cane and finally it was time to get rid of the cast. The doctor called for me to come in and of course the Germans had to make a big deal to get me in and out. They have to count you out of one lager and into another. I finally got in and the doctor took the cast off. This was the same Irish doctor that treated me when I got here. He told me to do what I normally would do and when I got tired I was to stop and take it easy.
The Aussies did a lot to help the doctor. They were making artificial arms and legs, and they were pretty good at it. The Aussies had been there for two to three years and had the camp set up and organized very well. The Aussies had radios and receiving sets. They had one set operating, another set about ready to operate and another set being built. When the Germans came around to raid the barracks, we'd let them find one and that would satisfy them. The British broadcasting was reaching us and the British knew it. They were putting on anything they wanted to, to build up our moral. Of course they told us how we were winning the war, although there were times that we weren't so sure.
By now my leg was feeling better and I was getting around meeting people and finding out what they did with their time. Dominic Ross, who I mentioned earlier, took fine galvanized wire and made link chains for the guys dog tags. Each link was about 1/8 of an inch long. Some were making lens for watches by melting a clear toothbrush handle, spreading it out and shaping it to fit some bodies watch. They would finish it by polishing it and then give it to someone who had a broken crystal, or who had lost their crystal. It would take a long time to make, but they worked. We had one guy that cut stencils. He used the lining from the main box that the food, packages came in. The lining was a black, heavy paper that held up good. I still have a stencil be made for me of the U.S.A.F. logo with the wings. There was another prisoner, who's name was Kavannaugh, who was an architect, and he "remodel" our houses on paper. We'd sketch our floor plans on a piece of paper, or anything we could find to write on, and he'd remodel them. He had some great ideas.
Another way of killing time was to play games. We invented a game a lot like the game of "Battleship". This was before the game of "Battleship" was out. We came up with this game because you could sit across the room from each other and play. You didn't have to sit around a table, which we didn't have anyway. We drew squares on a piece of cardboard and used burnt matches for markers. After I got home and the game of "Battleship" came out, I often wondered if it was invented by a Prisoner of War. It was a lot like what we played.
We had barbers that would cut your hair. The means of exchange was cigarettes and food from food packages. They'd cut your hair for a -cigarette and if you didn't have any cigarettes, they'd cut your hair just the same. If you had cigarettes, you would give him some.
The first food packages we got were from Argentina because the United States hadn't made any arrangements, as yet, to get packages into German prison camps. However, the Argentines and British were getting them in through the British Red Cross and The Order of St. John. Most of the material in the packages was coming from Argentina. The packages came in large wood cases about three feet by two feet by three feet. These were the boxes that had the black lining that the guy cut the stencils from that I mentioned earlier. There is still another story about these boxes that I'll talk about later.
The cases would come in the vor lager (front lager) and the British would divide up these packages. As an example, cheese would come in what we call a wheel. They would cut the cheese up in sections and make each package a serving for two people to last a certain length of time. These packages would then be distributed. This was a full time operation for these people with each shipment providing about a two week cycle. When they finished with one shipment, another would come in. It was well organized and the British had it down pat.
We began to get instant coffee which the British had no use for. They would rather have tea. We were sometimes getting tea and when we did, we would swap the tea or sometimes a bar of soap for a can of coffee, or we'd swap a can of Spam for coffee. The way we did this was quite unique because we were in different lagers. We had a big inner tube set up on one of the buildings that was used as a sling shot, or catapult. To give an idea of the distance we had to "propel" our goods, even though the lagers were right next to each other; inside each lager was a warning wire that was about ten to twelve feet from the actual wire fence. We couldn't go beyond the warning wire. Beyond the fence there's another wire fence about fifteen to twenty feet away. Between these two fences was a massive coil of barbed wire ten feet high. Of course the other lager, next to us, had the same arrangement making it a distance of anywhere from thirty to fifty feet that these "parcels" had to travel. So we used this large catapult and we'd put whatever we were trading on this catapult and shoot it over to the next lager. We had a rough idea where it would land and they would catch it on the other side with blankets. The same setup was used by them to send things over to us. A lot of cigarettes, tobacco, tea and coffee changed hands!
When rations got short, you could buy a slice of bread for two cigarettes. When the rations were real short, we were on German rations, which we were on anyway. The food packages were supplemental. The German rations were hardly enough. The bread tasted flat, a lot like sawdust. For meals, I know I've eaten dog. We were up in the cook house when the carcasses were brought in to be cooked. It was supposed to be sheep, but we knew better. The soup was awful. We got purple cabbage soup. We called it "Purple Death." We wouldn't eat until after the lights were out. That's a fact, it was that bad. The only good thing was that it was hot when it went into your stomach. It was hot and greasy as hell.
We also had potatoes. The guys at first suggested that we stop peeling the potatoes, that way we could get more of the potato. We said, "Wait a minute. They fertilize their potato fields with our toilets. So we better be sure that we peel the potatoes and get everything off from them." So needless to say we peeled our potatoes. The doctor heard of our idea and he made sure that we were peeling our potatoes.
We learned how to manipulate the Germans and they learned how to manipulate us. Hydekrug wasn't too bad because the Germans were beginning to lose the war a little in some areas and it was nip and tuck in other areas. So at this point they were treating us pretty good at Hydekrug. In fact we had one guard, Snyder, who was a school teacher and we liked him. He seemed different than most guards and we respected him. After breakfast there were always people walking the compound for exercise. We would check the bulletin boards for showers (we had them once a week and wouldn't miss one). The first guys in got the hot water! It wasn't until the Russians started moving in that the Germans started getting mean.
We were beginning to make friends with the German guards. The German officers caught one or two of their guards that were friendly with us and sent them away, punished them, and bring them back.' They looked like zombies when they returned. We learned not to get close to anybody you liked. There were German contacts that our men knew how to get in contact with and we left it that way. It was well organized. They even got a prisoner a set of false teeth on the outside. The hussies had the Germans all lined up to accomplish that.
As I got moving around, I met a guy who gave physical therapy. He was a prisoner and he could do a take off on Adolf Hitler that would make you scream! He had a small building about ten feet by twenty feet and after my cast was removed, I went to him three times a week. He had a table in the middle of the room and he'd put me on it. He worked on my leg to bring the muscles back because they hadn't been used for quite a while. When he was done rubbing my leg, he had a big metal tub that had several light bulbs inside. He'd put my Leg in the tub and turn on the lights for heat. When my leg got good and warm, he'd rub olive oil on it which felt real good. When he was done he told me to go out and walk on it. "I don't want you to limp on it, I want you to walk on it," and t did. It came along quite good. Years later I had to have Novocain shot into a nerve to reduce the pain.
One of the times while I was on his table and having my leg worked on, I felt a funny sensation. le looked at me kind of funny and said., "You'll have to get off the table for a minute." When I lid, he moved the table. The boards in the floor that were under the table came out and three or tour prisoners came up out of a hole under the Eloor. They sat on the edae of the floor, had a drink of water and talked a few minutes. When they left his building, they left one at a time over a period of fifteen to twenty minutes and walked around the compound for a while. They returned and went back into the tunnel. After they all went back into the tunnel he put the floor boards back and moved the table back in place. While this was going on, I never said a word, I just watched. He put me back on the table and said, "You'll probably find out anyway, this is tunnel number three. This camp is getting ready for a break out just about any time." These guys that were just here were getting rid of the sand that was being dug out of the tunnel. They tied their pant legs at the ankles and filled their pants with sand. Then they walked around the compound and slowly loosened the string on their pant legs and got rid of the sand as they walked. There were prisoners walking around the compound all the time just for exercise, so it was not hard to blend in and get rid of the sand. This was tunnel number three. They got caught in tunnel number two! All the Commandant did was make them fill it up, which was pretty lenient. Hydekrug sat on sand, so digging escape tunnels was a popular activity and favorite pastime. I don't remember an actual escape. As I said earlier, things weren't going too bad.
We had a guy named Edwards that was in show business and he organized a theatrical group here at Hydekrug. He was given a building and they built a stage in one end. The rest of the floor was taken out and they built a long ramp going from the end of the building to the stage. For seats, they used the square boxes, from Argentina, that the food packages came in. They took half of the front and cut it off and tilted it back on an angle and that was the seat. They had rows of them down front. They didn't have enough for the whole building, so they used planks for the rest, or standing room. The Germans gave Edwards lights and equipment so when they had a show, they'd invite the Germans and they'd come. A lot of the prisoners were picking up German and they'd make jokes at some of the Germans that they knew and the Germans would laugh and clap. Edwards was good at makeup. He made up men to look like women and if you didn't know that it was only men in the show, you couldn't tell. Some of the shows were pretty raunchy but it didn't really matter, because we were all men. They also had some pretty good shows. The shows made for good communications between the prisoners and the Germans.
One of the clever things I saw while in prison camp was the way the Germans cleaned the toilets. They had an ingenious method for doing this. The toilet was a long concrete tank about sixty feet long by eight to ten feet deep and six feet wide. Holes were set over this and we sat over the tank and everything went into the tank. They had a big tank on wheels with a combustion chamber connected to the toilet with a big suction hose. They had it set up so they could form an explosion in the tank that would create a vacuum that would suck the tank full of the waste from the toilet with one blast. That's the way they got rid of the toilet waste. It was the smartest thing I saw all the time I was over there.
When we first got there the tank was pulled by two horses. The next thing we knew, the tank was pulled by one horse and two Russian prisoners. This is when we found out about the Russian prison camp way in the back. We didn't know the Russians were there until now. The toilet cleanup duties wound up with three Russians pulling the tank, two Russians pushing it and a German riding on top of It. The Russians were in bad shape. We got word from out were they were kept, that if one of them died they wouldn't say anything, because they'd get the same ration of food. They would get found out and be punished, but in the meantime they got the benefit of the extra rations. The Germans even used the Russian women to sweep the snow off the railroad tracks.
We had a guy who went through gunnery school with me, Glenn Shiver was his name. He stands out in my mind because he couldn't march in step no matter how he tried because he had no sense of rhythm. He was here in Hydekrug with us. It got cold in Hydekrug and he had this big red woolen sweater that he wore all the time. He never took it off. Pretty soon we started noticing white areas under the arms, followed by the odor. He wouldn't take a shower. The guys in the barracks got after him to take a shower and he'd say, "I don't have to take a shower. Nobody can make me take a shower." The barracks leader said, "He's right. We can't make him take a shower." It finally got so bad that when he came to our bunk to talk to us, we'd walk away. We'd look at this guy and he was hurt. Finally when it was our turn for the showers, we grabbed him and told him he had a choice. He could leave his clothes on and go in and take a shower, or he could take his clothes off and go in and take a shower. Either way, he was going to take a shower! Come to find out, he didn't want to undress. When we got him in the shower he left his shorts on. After that he took showers, but never naked.
When the Russians started moving in the Germans started talking about moving us out. We got this information from the guards. There were two types of guards. There's the German guard that comes in with a rifle and he will walk around inside. He's a guard and he can go into any place he wants. Then there's the goons. They're not armed and they don't say anything. They just walk and look. They walk with their hands behind their back and look into every nook and cranny that they can find. They were responsible for the raids that came on us. They would find something that wasn't just right and they'd take it to the brains and they'd land on us. We knew we were going to get caught on some of these things, so you let it happen and get it over with. Than you start in again.
Snyder, who I mentioned earlier, and a couple of other guards got to be quite friendly. Snyder asked about life In America every chance he got. He wanted to know if there were many Catholics in America and of course I told him there were. It was during one of these conversations that I asked him what he did in civilian life. He said, "I was a teacher at the high school level." I asked him, "Are you a Nazi?" He smiled and said, "Oh no, no." He didn't like what he was doing but he had no choice. Evidently word of our conversations got back to the German officers and the next thing we knew Snyder was gone. Two or three months later, Snyder returned. When he left he had dark hair, almost black, but when he returned, his hair was snow white. When we saw him in the compound, as we did before, we'd speak to him by name and he looked right through us as if he was in a trance. Our barracks leader found out that the Gestapo got him and did a job on him. To make matters worse, they but him back with the same men he had before. They really knew how to hurt and demoralize. We felt terrible about Snyder.
We got a bridge tournament going and little Tommy Cannon and I won the tournament. The prize was five hundred ciaarettes. That meant we each had two hundred and fifty cigarettes. Now imagine, cigarettes were the means of exchange. Those that didn't smoke saved their cigarettes to trade for this, that and the other thing. This was before filter tips, so you can imagine how often the cigarettes had been handled and how much tobacco was left in them. So the rule was established that if the cigarette had three quarters of an inch to one inch of tobacco in it, it was a cigarette. Also, if you picked it up end wise, and the tobacco was so loose that it fell out, it was not a cigarette. When this happened, the guys would twist the ends of the cigarettes to hold in the tobacco. These cigarettes had gone from one to the other for three or four months, so there wasn't much left of them. Tommy and I got about fifty cigarettes that you could actually smoke. It was a real gasser and we got a big kick out of it.
When we got our rations, we had to empty the cans and have the empty cans outside the barracks door the same day the packages come. This was so nobody was storing food. The Germans actually counted the cans when they picked them up. What we learned to do was to eat the perishables. There was graham crackers, dried fruit (that we would save) and salmon. We learned to make flour out of the graham crackers and mix it with salmon. While we were in the wash room heating the water, we'd make that mix into a cake and bake it. The cooking was done in the corner of the barracks that had a big tub with a fire under it to heat the water. This was done once a week for us to bathe. There was always one of our men watching for Germans so we wouldn't get caught. We'd then put it into a fire in a tin can and finish cooking it. We stretched that out with the use of German bread. The Germans gave us enough bread for a week but by cooking it we could keep it longer. We tried to work out something for Spam, but you could only fry it. We sliced it and fried it on a piece of tin. That would hold it back a day or two.
When we went up to get the packages, they would call off our names by ration partners, and the American prisoners handed out the packages. Faulk was my ration partner and it was a good deal for me because Faulk didn't smoke. He gave me his share of cigarettes and I reciprocated with him whenever I made deals for food using his cigarettes. After all this, I can only remember getting two packages.
While this was going on, the families could send one food package and one cigarette package every sixty days, as Annie explained earlier. The food package was put up by the families and sent in accordance with the rules set by the Germans. At the same time we could sent one letter per month to our family. They didn't always get through, or when they did get through, there was so much censored out that it lost its meaning. However, enough got through so Annie would know what to.send. The shame of the food package program was, even after following the rules that the Germans had set, the food packages from home seldom got through. I only received one food package and only one cigarette package even though Annie sent many more than that.
One of the American prisoners that handed out the food packages, I later met after I got home. I had joined the Legion in Hinsdale, and later moved to Swanzey. When I transferred to the Swanzey post, we were having election of officers. We were also taking in new members. This fellow came up to me and we looked at each other and I thought, where have I seen him before. We talked for a few minutes and the subject got around to the war and it turned out that he was one of the prisoners that was handing out the food packages at Hydekrug.
On Sunday the guards would let us meet between two barracks and have a church service. We had fifty or sixty prisoners at each service. We held the services outside because the rooms in the barracks were too small. While we were having our service, the guards stood far back and just watched. As we started singing, the guards would begin to inch up and listen. They liked the singing. When we stopped singing or ended a prayer (Amen was a signal they recognized) they'd return to their original positions. The church services kept a lot of us going.
Our time at Hydekrug was about over. When the Russians moved in, the British were moving out and I never did know what happened to the Aussies. We were a separate group of people as far as the Germans were concerned. Our time came and we were moved out of Hydekrug. What we didn't know was that we were about to embark on a long and agonizing march.
From Hydekrug we were taken by box cars up to the Baltic. We were all chained together, like criminals, with one long chain. At the dock, the person that was waiting for us was madder than hell that we were in chains. "What do they think, we got a bunch of animals?" He cut us free of the chains and we were put on a small boat the size of a trawler.
We went around the Baltic and down into the North Sea. When we were put back on land we were in the Netherlands, just north of Peenemunde. This was the start of the "Black Hunger March." This was the name that was later given to it by the Americans, but of course we didn't know it at the time. Before it would end, we would walk 800 kilometers (500 miles) under the most adverse conditions. The Irish doctor, along with some Aussies and British prisoners, was also on the march with, us.
We spent nights in ditches beside the road or in barns when we found them. Sometimes we were lucky and found a barn that had hay. Faulk remained my ration partner during the march. Faulk was Jewish but he could speak and understand German. While on the road we made it a point that Faulk would be on the outside of the formation. We marched four abreast. With the guards walking along side of us, sometimes we could pick up useful information. At the end of the day, Faulk would tell us what he heard, or if it was important, he'd tell me right away, or as soon as he could, and I'd help spread the word. We did everything we could to keep ourselves informed of what was going on around us. Of course the Germans told us nothing voluntarily.
We were coming down around Stettin, and were approaching some sort of an installation. We were told by the German guards that under no circumstances were we to look towards the installation. In fact we were told to walk with eyes straight ahead. We took that order pretty seriously. As we approached the area, we could see a fence made of railroad ties about twelve feet high, tight together making a solid fence. We took a glance at it once ô.r twice, but we were pretty much looking straight ahead. We couldn't see anything anyway, but we felt whatever it was it must be of significance. I learned much later, after I was home, that we had walked by Peenemunde, where the Germans were developing the V-2 rocket. We had no way of knowing it at the time.
Further down the same road we came to a large clearing that was filled with German airplanes under camouflage netting. There were dive bombers and fighters all lined up, row after row, brand new airplanes with no fuel to fly them. After Ploesti, the Germans were starving for fuel. Earlier in the war the oil fields of Polesti were destroyed by massive raids flown by B-24's. The destruction of these oil fields proved to be crippling to the Germans. There's a book on these oil field raids titled "Ploesti" that's interesting reading.
While we were on the march we didn't make many miles a day. We had two German guards that hung together pretty well but we learned that they didn't like what they were doing. We didn't know their names, so we called them Hans and Fritz. One carried, an automatic rifle and the other carried a regular rifle. They walked along beside the formation but varied their position so they wouldn't be opposite the same prisoner all the time. We noticed that every other day they swapped off carrying the automatic rifle, which is a very heavy piece of equipment. Neither one of them wanted to carry it. After a few days out we noticed that the automatic rifle was gone. They said nothing about it, but we were curious about what happened to the automatic rifle. We leaned later that they threw it in a ditch. They weren't going to carry that heavy thing so they rid themselves of it. As far as we were concerned they didn't need it and they knew it.
It was early in the march and we were in pretty good physical condition at this point. One of the first nights out we spent in a barn and one of the guards arranged for food. They brought in a wagon that was half loaded with boiled potatoes that we were thankful to get. They were good and they were hot, and that sustained us for that night. We had practically no rations, so food was a major concern from day to day throughout the march. One day, while out on the road, they brought a wagon load of potatoes alongside of us while we were marching and we grabbed potatoes from the wagon as it went by. These were potatoes that were on their way to a farm and were going to be fed to the pigs, but we got them instead.
When the wagon reached the end of the column, they took the potatoes that were left on the load and threw them in the road. Some of the prisoners rushed to pick them up and keep them to eat the next morning. We grabbed at any form of food that was offered.
As the march continued, we were able to talk to Hans and Fritz and during one of these conversations, we learned that Hans had a sister living in San Francisco. She had written him telling him how the Americans were handling the German prisoners, and he commented, "Look what we're doing. These poor people, they don't know where they're going, they don't know whether they're going to eat or not, sleep or not." Neither Hans or Fritz liked the situation they were in and we were glad to know this. Both guards were mad as hell at Hitler. Hans said, "Hitler, scheisse," which means, "Shit." In his broken English he said, "Hitler, damn him, he promised we would be better off. There would be jobs, two cars in every garage. Hitler, scheisse I didn't even have a wheelbarrow," and Fritz side in with, "Yeah, look what we're doing now."
After about a month on the road (as near as can figure), we spent a night in a field. It was cold and damp, so we put all we could underneath us to keep out the dampness. When I got up the next morning I was cold, and of course, hungry, and as usual we had little or nothing to eat or anything hot to drink. We hit the road as we had the previous mornings but as I started walking this morning, I couldn't feel any sensation in my feet. I kept walking and the sensation started going up my leg. I walked until I couldn't go on: further and I went down on my knees. Luckily, on the other side of the formation was the Irish doctor who had treated my leg at Hydekrug. The doctor had a group of Aussies and British marching with him and they took orders from him. By now I was on my hands and knees. The doctor shouted something and two prisoners, Aussies or British, who I didn't know, came up to me and got me under each arm and carried me. I was fortunate to have the doctor that close to me when this happened. This put me at the tail end of the group. When we started, I was about three-quarters back but now was at the very end. I wasn't the only one in this condition. Some of the prisoners got it in their hands. The doctor was surprised that there wasn't more of it because it was strictly from malnutrition. We were all susceptible to getting it, and eventually we all did, in one form or another, including the doctor.
A wagon came up and stopped. They picked up those of us that were sick and put us in the wagon. We wound up with twelve or fourteen of us in the wagon. The wagon was pulled by other prisoners that had not yet fallen victim to the disease. While we were in the wagon there was one occasion that we got completely separated from the group. By separated, I mean a half mile or so behind. That's an example of the slow pace that we were now traveling.
We acquired a new guard about this time of the march. He was a sergeant and seemed like an alright guy. That night, we came upon a farm where we would spend the night. We stopped at the farm house, and the sergeant went up to get permission for us to spend the night in the barn. When he came down from the house, he told us (between his broken English and Faulk's ability to understand German) that the owner of the house was a German colonel. He had told the colonel that he had some prisoners that were "lam" (hurt) and needed a place to sleep for the night. The colonel wanted to know what outfit the prisoners were from. The sergeant was sharp enough to recognize that the colonel was a panser (tank) commander, so he said that we were a group of pansers. The colonel told him to go ahead and bed down and that there was hay in the barn that we could use.
While the sergeant was telling us about this, he said, "Now be sure, he's going to come down to look you over and to talk. It will be better if no one understands German. But if he does say anything about panser and points to someone, just nod your head and say, "Yeah, I'm panser tank corporal." "I told him that you were panser tank corporals."
Sure enough that's exactly what happened. He came down and talked and looked around. He was a typical Nazi. "You prisoners of war, yeah, you can sleep in the barn." While he was there the sergeant disappeared and we didn't know where he went. When he returned, he and the colonel talked for a few minutes, then they saluted and the colonel went back to the house. The sergeant asked if any of us had any soap. (When we were taken prisoner we all kept our GI overcoats. The overcoat was double breasted. The way the buttons were sewn in and the over flap constructed, there's a space about three inches wide. If you open up the stitching down through, it makes a pocket from the lapel to the bottom of the coat about three inches wide. You can stuff all kinds of things down there. Soap, cigarettes and clean handkerchiefs, that we used for bandages, were things that we hoarded and kept in this long pocket of our overcoat.) We said, "Yes, we had some soap, but why do you ask?" He said that while he was gone, he was up in the kitchen and the ladies in the kitchen asked what we were eating and I told them that we had very little. They told me if they could get from us one or two bars of soap, they would send down a hot stew. W immediately looked from one to another and each o us had at least one bar or half of a bar of Palmolive soap. The important thing was that we did have soap and we gave some to the sergeant an he brightened up. (We really liked this sergeant. We later saw him after we were released.) The sergeant grinned and brought the soap up to the kitchen and sure enough, he and one of the kitchen help, carried down this big iron kettle of stew. We didn't know what it was, but was it good… WAS IT GOOD! The kettle held more than we could eat. We had to be sure that we didn't over eat, because we had been starved for a long time and if we ate too fast, we would regurgitate. So we could only eat slow and a little at a time. The sergeant asked if he could keep the kettle down with us if we brought it back later that night or in the morning. They said it was alright and that's what we did. We nibbled at it all night without any problems (vomiting). We were tickled to death to have it. This is one incident that remains fresh in my mind even today.
While on the march we went through towns and villages which was to be expected. We went through this particular town, I didn't know the name of it, but for some reason I remembered it. And then a frightening thing happened. Several days later, maybe a week or so, we went through the same town again. Faulk also noticed it. I thought, oh oh, what's going on? This raised all kinds of questions. Up until now, we didn't know what our destination was, now we didn't know if w~ even HAD a destination. We knew if there was a destination, we weren't taking the most direct route. Why? Were we lost? I doubted that. Now our imaginations began to run wild. What are they doing? Is the march being used to kill us? Are they going to keep us out here until we all starve to death? Were they trying to reduce us to weak, sick human beings for whatever lay ahead? The more we thought about it the more questions arose in our minds. There was nothing we could do except move on.
This was about the time in the march that the German guards received guard dogs to keep the columns of prisoners in tact. If anyone of us broke rank for any reason, the dogs were right on us, so we did everything possible to keep up and maintain the columns.
The march took us through Marienburg, Germany. We saw practically a whole factory on wheels being moved out, including the steam boilers. It looked like a munition factory that was going to be set up at another location. It was all on trucks and the trucks were fueled by charcoal. For some reason they were bogged down and weren't moving. There were heavy machines on each truck and the whole procession must have been close to a mile long. It was a large operation and absolutely amazing. In reality, this was probably the only way of moving this type of equipment because we were bombing their railroads daily. It only left roads as a safe way to travel.
There was this nice sunny day, by now it was getting into spring, and we were sitting in a barn yard resting. We had been walking for some time and the sun felt good on my legs. There was a water pipe, or hydrants type valve, sticking up out of the ground about five hundred feet away from where we were. There was a faucet on it so you could get water from it if you could get to it. We were sitting in a fenced in area and were unable to get to it. About a dozen of young teenager's came by, who were members of the Hitler Youth Program, and they started making fun of us. They were about twelve to fourteen years old. A couple of the prisoners gave the kids their empty milk cans to fill up with water from the hydrant. The kids took the cans and filled them with water and brought them back. Just as they got to the fence where they would be handing the water to the prisoners, they dumped the water on the ground and threw the cans away. Luckily, I didn't trust them to begin with, so I didn't give them my can, but it was a demoralizing thing to be treaded in this manner, especially by kids.
It was nearing the end of the march and I was beginning to get back on my feet. We were staying in a barn and about midnight I had to go to the toilet. We had to go to the door and rap on it and call for the "posten" (the guard). You'd tell him you needed to go to. the toilet and he'd tell us to wait for two or three more so we could go together and not keep opening the door. We knew this so I waited and pretty soon Faulk had to go, so I rapped on the door and said, "Two." The guard opened the door and we went out and did our business and came back. When we came back, the guard asked if we had a cigarette. I said, "Yeah", and I gave him a cigarette. We stood in an alcove, of sort, and we each smoked a cigarette. The guard was probably fifty years old and he was talking, through Faulk, about America. He asked about Canada. Faulk said, "Ross knows about Canada, he used to live there." He asked about Catholics in Canada and about work in Canada. I said, "Yes, there's a lot of work in Canada." He had thought about moving to Canada at one time but never did. I asked what he did and as near as I could understand, he was a weaver. He worked in textile, "fabric machen," making fabric. He asked "America good too?" I said, "Oh yes, I lived about six years in Canada and then moved to America." He said, "Oh, you can do that?" I said, "Yeah." "A lot of people do that," he asked? I said, "Yes." "You move around.. .go from Canada to America." I said, "Yes." "America to Canada," he asked? I said, "Yes." He was amazed at that. In Germany you had to have permission to leave a town. After a little while he said, "Better go" (go back into the barn). There were several incidents like that where we talked to the guards and answered there questions about America.
We were nearing the end of the march and we had learned that we were headed for Stalag Luft IV. About five miles from our destination we were taken over by a red headed German captain. The way he acted we thought he was mad (insane). Faulk was listening to this captain and said, "Oh my God." I asked, "What's the matter?" "I think he's stark raving mad. There's something awfully wrong here. He hates all American prisoners.". I asked, "What's he doing?" "FEe's telling his men to put their knives under our packs and cut them." He's saying what right do we have to have anything. He told his men, "They're Luft gangsters and don't deserve to live, let alone own anything." Some of them did cut our straps and let the packs drop to the ground. Some just cut one strap and let the pack dangle. The ones doing the cutting looked at this captain and you could tell that they were actually scared to death of him. This is how we entered Stalag Luft IV. It was April 21, 1944, and we had just completed a march of five hundred miles.
On June 14, 1944, I received a letter from Washington telling me that Jim had been moved to another prison camp. I was given his new address along with food package labels and tobacco labels. I did not have to apply for these labels. The new prison camp was Stalag Luft IV, Grosstychow.
I received my first letter from Jim in September, 1944. The letter was written in July of '44, on a half sheet of paper. I received a second letter from him in February, 1945. That letter was written in September of '44. I wrote letters to Jim regularly and went to the post office every day with hopes of finding something from him. This one particular day, I went into the post office and my box was full of mail. I could see they were air mail envelopes and I was excited. I thought that all the letters that Jim had written home had gotten lost and they had all arrived together. I rushed to the box and pulled them out and at the same time the postmaster cautioned me on getting my hopes up. The letters were all letters that I had sent to Jim over the past weeks, but were not delivered.
The townspeople all knew Jim was an American POW in Germany and most of them offered me a great deal of support. Some didn't quite know how to act or what to say, but I knew how they felt. One of my jobs at the store was making home deliveries one day a week. I delivered peoples grocery's that they had ordered during the week. Just about every house I went to was a waiting bag of potatoes, or vegetables, or fruit, or food in general to help me with my family. It was given from the heart and helped me through some difficult times.
It had been a long time since I heard from Jim or anything about him or the crew. On January 17, 1945, I received a letter from Washington, D.C., requesting me to accept Jim's second Air Medal and three Oak-Leaf Clusters in a ceremony in Washington. I didn't care about his medals and declined to accept them under these circumstances. I received several phone calls from our government and military officers, requesting me to accept his medals and I still refused. They wanted me to accept his medals with full military honors and a big celebration; bands, speeches and dignitaries. I didn't want any part of it. Finally, an officer called me and asked why I kept refusing to accept the medals and I told him that I didn't know if Jim was dead or alive. If I accept his medals, it's as if I'm giving up any hope of his survival. It would be admitting that he was dead. That's why I'm not going to go through any ceremonies in accepting his medals. He understood my position and supported me. He asked how I would like it handled, and I asked him to mail the medals to me. He agreed to mail them to me and thanked me for my candidness. On February 8, 1945, I received a letter from Manchester, New Hampshire, telling me that the medals were being mailed to me and to expect them within a short time. They arrived as expected.
I learned later that Galler's wife accepted her husband's medals with full ceremonies, and as a result, she had a nervous break down. It was too much and I understood why. I'm glad I handled it the way I did.
Grosstychow was a brand new prison camp located about two and a half miles south of Kiefheide, Germany.
The following is the Red Cross report on Grosstychow:
Stalag Luft IV was situated approximately two and a half miles south of Kiefheide in Pomerania sector of Germany. It was activated in April of 1944, but was never actually completed, despite German effort, due to the pressure of the war. The first group of prisoners were transfers from Stalag Luft VI at Hydekrug in East Prussia. The majority of them were American but also included were 800. R.A.F. non-commissioned officers. From that day in April, the flow of Kriegies was heavy until, upon evacuation, they numbered almost 10,000, a number far in excess of that for which the camp was designed. There was continuous construction in the camp, both indoors and out. Indoors, the prisoners were trying their utmost to make their meager quarters more habitable and outdoors, the Germans were feverishly working to complete additional barracks. The camp was set in a forest clearing about one and a half miles square. That particular forest was chosen because the dense foliage and underbrush served as an added barrier to escape. There were two barbed wire fences ten feet high completely surrounding the camp. Rumor had it that the outer fence was electrically charged, but we can't vouch for that, and had no desire to test it.
Between the two fences was another fence of rolled barbed wire four feet high. An area 200 feet deep, from the fence to the edge of the forest was left clear, making it necessary for anyone attempting escape to traverse this area in full view of the guards. Fifty feet inside the wire fences was a warning. A prisoner could expect to be shot first and then questioned if he stepped over this wire. Posted at close intervals around the camp were towers which were equipped with several powerful spot lights and bristled machine guns. The railroad station was named Grosstychow, and the camp was south of the Baltic Sea were the meridians cross on the globe of 54' and 16'.
We got there about noon and it was a nice day. We stayed in a field until they could get the lager ready (the section of camp they would keep us in). They had us sit down and stay in that position. We sat for a long time and then felt like we had to stand up and straighten our legs. The minute we did, the guards fired a few rounds over our heads, so we damn well sat back down. A German officer shouted at us, but we didn't understand what he was saying so we didn't know what to do. Finally, a couple of German soldiers came around and told us if we wanted to change positions, to roll over, but do not stand up. We were kept in this position for several hours. We finally got into our camp at dusk that same day.
There was a large group of us and we were divided up and put into different areas. It looked like they put my group in a part of the camp that wasn't full and put the rest of the group into another section of the camp. The first thing we did was look for a place to start digging, but all the buildings sat on concrete slabs. That ended all tunnel thoughts. That was our introduction to Grosstychow. We were soon to learn that Grosstychow was going to be a lot different than Hydekrug, and not for the better.
Grosstychow, like Hydekrug, had what we called the goon squad. They would come around at about twelve o'clock at night and decide to raid the barracks. They would flash the lights and we knew what it meant. We had to get up .and go outside and we only had ten minutes to do it. We slept with our boots and clothes handy because if we didn't make it outside, they'd come and search the barracks and physically beat us until we got outside. So we leaned to get outside in a hurry.
While we were outside we had to stand at attention regardless of weather conditions. While we're standing outside, they went into our barracks and did whatever they wanted to. They'd come out in a little while and let is go back in. When we got back in we would find that what belongings we had, had been dumped in the middle of the floor and water dumped on them. We kept two pails of water in the barracks at night for fire protection because we were locked in. That's the water that they dumped over our things. They then gave us twenty minutes to get the mess picked up and get back into bed. We hardly ever made it. We'd leave it for the first thing in the morning but they would sometimes come around early in the morning, and give us hell for having such a messy barracks.
We began to see the meanness that the Germans could dream up. Most of the guards were respectable. A lot of them had been to the Russian front and those that hadn't were older men who had been drafted for guard duty. They were humane. The goons were the bottom of the barrel and they were terrible. Every little thing was an infraction to them. The goons just walked around the compound saying nothing. They just looked, pried and snooped. The guards were the ones, for example, that if a group of prisoners had to go to the prison hospital, the guards would come in with a list of names and take the prisoners through the different gates and to the hospital. They were a better breed of people.
We always kept two pails of water in the barracks at night for fire protection, as I mentioned earlier. There was no. danger of the Germans setting fire to the barracks, but we were locked in and we wanted water in case of an accidental fire. We sometimes didn't think to check the pails for water until early evening and we'd notice that the pails needed to be filled. We'd wait until after dark when we knew the goons and prowlers were gone and we'd knock on the door to get a guard. He would come in after twenty minutes to a half hour and ask what we wanted and we'd tell him that we wanted to fill the water pails. He'd tell us that we should have checked earlier, but then he'd let us out. He went with us to the hand pump while we filled the pails and stayed with us when we returned to the barracks and then he'd lock us up for the night. We wouldn't dare do this with the goons.
One of the German officers was named O'Brien. He was a typical German soldier and was constantly on us for having a messy barracks. we had a little tiny stove that burned briquettes. We got a ration of briquettes each day and if there was any dust on the floor from these briquets, he would give us hell. O'Brien was an interesting man and I'll be speaking of him a little later.
In Grosstychow, as in Hydekrug, we had receiving sets. Of course we weren't supposed to have receivers so we had to be careful. Whenever a new prisoner was brought in, we'd try to get his heated suit because of the fine wire that was in it. We used the wire in our receiving sets. Most prisoners would give up their heated suit or take the wire out of it and keep the suit. Getting the wire was n~t a problem. We received the news by these sets and then we'd deliver the news to the other prisoners in our lager. Of course this had to be done without the Germans knowing about it. We'd write the news high lights on a small card and three or four of us would go around the odifferent barracks and deliver the news. I had to write the news down so I could get the German names right. After I learned the names, I folded the paper and hid it in the RAF field hat that I wore. I still have that field hat. We referred to the news as the "gin." We made it a point not to have a routine, so we'd go to different barracks at different times. I was one of the ones delivering the news and I never knew which barracks I would be going to until I received the card. I preferred it this way. We had the freedom in the compound to walk around, so delivering the news wasn't that conspicuous. When we weren't in the barracks we were always outside unless the weather was bad. We just couldn't stand being inside in the cramped quarters.
In Grosstychow the Germans picked the American camp leader. They would walk up to a prisoner and say, "You, you will be the camp leader." The guy wouldn't know from nothing what to do. At Hydekrug we picked our own camp leader. Of course Hydekrug was well organized by the Aussies.
We went around to see if we could get a different camp leader. The one we had~ was doing absolutely nothing and that was what the Germans wanted. At Hydekrug the camp leader would meet with the German officers and they'd negotiate. For example, if we put our lights out when we were supposed to, we'd get an extra dipper of SOUP. WE wanted the same thing here in Grosstychow. Grosstychow didn't have an athletic program and WE were disappointed in that also. Here in Grosstychow we had none of these things.
We had this guy named Weese, who was in our group, and he wanted something to be done. We thought he would be a good camp leader because, he was well educated and would be good for the job. So we decided to talk to the rest of our guys and see what they thought. They asked me to ask around and see what I could find out. "Alright," I said, "I'll do it when I take the news around."
The prisoners in our group from Hydekrug outnumbered the prisoners that were already there by about five to one. Some of the other prisoner~ sided with us on the new camp leader issue, but not all of them. As I delivered the news I asked them if they thought we ought of have a new camp leader, and I compiled the responses. Weese asked me to write up a program of what we would like, using Hydekrug as an example; athletic programs, sport activities, right to negotiate, and things of this nature. Grosstychow had none of this and this is what we were confronting the prisoners with.
The barracks leader, who was in charge of barracks one, (they were here when we got here) was against it. His name was Rhodes. He wanted to know who we thought we were, coming up here an~ taking over. "We were here before you were," he said, and I said, "Yeah, but we've been prisoners longer than you have." He said, "That maybe trues but we're going to do as we please." I asked him what be was going to do, sit in the sack all day? He answered, "If that's what they want to do, it's alright with me." I asked, "You let them stay in the sack, when do you clean the place out?" He said, "When we feel like it." This is the type oi a person we were to deal with.
We had a meeting and Rhodes was in favor of the camp leader we had, whose name was Godfrey. Godfrey was a good enough guy, but he didn't ask for anything, didn't ask for any of the Geneva Convention Rules and Regulations, or anything else. He just did as the Germans told him. Godfrey had people besides Rhodes who wanted him and one of them was a prisoner from Hydekrug, named Mucci. He was an Italian and was a little pusher. He was nobody in Hydekrug, but he wanted to he a big shot here at Grosstvchow. He had a copy of his speech and he also had a copy of the speech I wrote for Weese. He was misquoting our speech and belittling it every chance he got. I got word of it and told Weese that we better do something about it. Weese said, "We've got to cut this little bastard down. He's just tearing this thing all to hell." Weese ask me where Mucci was, and I told him what barracks I thought he was in. Weese and I went over to the barracks and there he was, right in the middle of his speech.
We walked up to Mucci and asked him, "Where did you get our speech?" "I can't tell you," he said. "You probably won't," said Weese, "but you better give it to me." Mucci handed it over with a "Yes sir, oh yes sir." When he was confronted, he backed down with no trouble at all. We shut him up but as it turned out it didn't matter because in spite of all our efforts our campaign failed and the Germans wouldn't let us hold the election. They wanted Godfrey, the guy they put in, and that ended that.
For some reason I was slated to be investigated by the Germans. I don't know how or why, and I never heard it from a German, but I heard it from our people. Prisoners would come up to me and ask me what I've been doing. I'd say "Nothing that I know of, why?" They told me that they heard from up above that I was going to be investigated. I ask for what and nobody knew. A few days later I was standing in line for chow and a guy came up behind me and told me to watch myself. I ask why, the investigation and he said no, it's beyond that. He said, "I was working in the vor lager and a couple of Germans were saying there was one or two prisoners who were going to find out what it was like to work in the salt mines. We all got busy to find out if anybody had been fingered, but couldn't find out a name." My name was the only one that had been mentioned. I made up my mind that they were interested in me for something and I was probably going to be investigated.
It wasn't long when I was called up to the administrative office. I reported to the administrative office and was ordered to strip. I knew that when you were called into the administrative office you were always stripped, but usually they stripped you. They ordered me to strip myself which was a different twist. As I mentioned earlier, I had my RAF hat and in this hat was the news that I was to deliver that day.
I couldn't let them find that. I thought to myself, what's the first thing I should take off. If you have gloves on, you take them off first. The next thing would be the hat followed by the jacket. I had to do it so not to draw attention to my hat. I didn't have any gloves, so I couldn't start with them so when they said strip I took off my boots first, and when I did a couple of guards grabbed them and looked them all over. Next I took off my socks, than my pants. I didn't have much for underwear, but they came off and then my jacket, and finally my shirt. They grabbed my clothes and threw them on the floor in a pile. Then as if I had just remembered that I was wearing a hat, I reached up and took it off and threw it on top of the pile that they had just looked through. They said, "Get dressed." Well, I didn't want to appear too anxious, but I grabbed my clothes and I got dressed pretty quick. They asked me -if I knew where the news was coming from. I told them that I had no idea, and in fact, I didn't, because that was the way it was meant to be. That's all they were interested in. I did have news in the hat, but they didn't find it. You hear about spies chewing up the evidence and swallowing it, well, I probably would not have thought of that. The unnerving thing about this investigation, or questioning, was it was not routine, so I was concerned. However, nothing ever did come of it and I didn't go to the salt mines!
One of our guys was a real thorn in the side to the Germans. He was from Wisconsin, and Mabie was his name. That was actually his name. If he saw a guard that wasn't acting according to the Geneva Convention, or anything else he could think of, he'd raise hell. He'd go to the German Camp Commander and pound on the table and just raise havoc. He spent a considerable amount of time in solitary which was no picnic. It was an eight by eight by eight foot cell with two pails, one for water and the other for waste. The cell was also without light, daylight or electric light. He'd get five to ten days at a time in solitary. It got to be a joke for everyone involved including him. We asked him why he did it and he said we sit around here taking this crap, and I get to where I can't take any more so I blow my stack. At Least I get to move around a little bit. Besides, it keeps those SOB's on their toes. I guess this was his way of getting away from the everyday routine.
Our quarters were nearly as cramped as solitary. We were extremely over crowded. We had two tables that we pushed together and men were sleeping on the tables and under the tables. The bunks were also stacked up higher than they were supposed to be. We had~no room to move around at all. This was the main reason we spent as much time outside as possible.
We had some prisoners that were just disagreeable. We had one man that I turned in to our camp leader because of his attitude and behavior. He was one of the last prisoners to come in. He was well educated which made him hard to figure out. He came to us with his heated suit and we asked him for it, for the wire in it, and he flatly refused to give it up. It was his, it was issued to him and he wasn't going to give it up. All he would talk about was what America was doing wrong. The way we were conducting the war and how merciless we were to our prisoners. We began to get fed up with his attitude. Than he began to tell us how good the Japanese were, how far ahead of America they were. He was going overboard and I finally asked the camp leader what he thought of this guy. "He's got to be quieted down," he said, "it's bad for moral to have him going around like this. The only thing I can do is turn him in to the American camp leader when I deliver the news." We all agreed that was a good idea and about a week later he was moved out.
While in Grosstychow we would see and hear German fighter planes fly over quite often. They were testing synthetic fuel that the Germans were experimenting with because of their low fuel supplies. These planes would spit and sputter because the synthetic fuels were not working well. This particular day one of these German planes was flying over and began to spit and sputter and it finally quit, causing the plane to crash. We all heard it and could see the smoke rising from the wreckage. We could see the smoke, but we couldn't see the wrecked plane. We cheered. . .and that was a stupid mistake and we shouldn't have done that. When we started cheering, the German guards in the towers started shooting machine guns over our heads. In one end of the compound was, a hill about ten feet high. This was where they stored the potatoes. It was like an underground cellar only about half of it was above ground covered with earth. We all dove behind this hill for cover and stayed low. I don't think they were trying to hit us, but they could have, accidentally, and we weren't taking any chances. This went on for about fifteen minutes and all of a sudden it stopped. They evidently got word from the German officers to stop and they did. I guess we asked for that one.
One morning we were out for appeihalten (roll call), we called it appel, and O'Brien, who I spoke of earlier, was standing next to the German Camp Commander and the American camp leader. O'Brien took the count and checked it against the master sheet. He would then tell the commander that it was alright, or it wasn't alright. This is when they would find out if any of the prisoners were missing (escaped). Evidently this particular day something was wrong. O'Brien was looking over the list and spending more time than usual. One of his men who took the count and handed O'Brien the sheet, was standing over O'Brien's shoulder. O'Brien took offense to this and he slowly, and methodically, turned around and hit this guy an awful wallop right on the chin and knocked him on his rump. O'Brien, as unconcerned as could be, turned around and continued what he was doing. The German Camp Commander stood looking straight down the line as if nothing had happened. The American camp leader looked from O'Brien to the German Camp Commander and then he looked straight ahead as if nothing happened. The guy got up, dusted himself off and went over and stood where he was supposed to be. He was equal to our PFC or corporal and O'Brien was a sergeant and no damn PFC looks over a sergeant's shoulder. They were very rank conscious and from corporal to sergeant was a big difference.
O'Brien still came in on us fairly regular. We got to know him pretty well and we could tell when his superiors were getting on him, because he would come into our barracks and complain if the stove was dirty, or the floor needed sweeping, or the beds weren't made. Other times, he would be in a laughing and joking mood even when the place looked like a dump. We'd clean the place up and make him happy.
We also had two guards that would get together and come to our barracks. A~che was the name of one of the guards and he was a teacher, as was Snyder, who I mentioned earlier. One of our guys was interested in birds and he had a nature book. These two guards were interested in looking at these books so they would come in to chat with us and look at our books. The next thing we knew an hour had gone by without realizing it and they'd look at their watch and leave in a hurry. Time had gotten away from them and they didn't want to get into trouble themselves. They had four other areas to cover so they weren't our guards all the time, but whenever they were together, they'd spend time looking at our books. By them coming and talking to us it also gave US a chance to learn about them.
As I stated earlier, our room was very crowded, and if Asche came in and there were more than three or four in the room, he was strictly business. However, if there were only two or three of us in there, he would sit down and tell us about his family. He had two sisters and his folks were meat cutters (butchers). He told us where he went to grade school and high school, and on to Heidelberg University. His family had a car and was considered middle class. He'd tell us about Germany and how things were before Hitler. It was the middle class that was hurt the most in Germany. Listening to Asche and some of the other decent guards is why when people ask me if I hated the Germans I always said, "No, I hated the Nazis."
The Russians were beginning to move in, so the Germans were getting ready to move us out. While we were getting ready to leave Grosstychow, Asche was helping us get ready to go. He was tall and blond, in fact his hair was so blond it was almost white. He was a good looking man and he had one eye. He had been on the Russian front, so he knew what war was like. We were leaving Grosstychowo and- we wanted him to come with us. We liked him and offered to get him clothes to look like us, but he said, "No, I've run from the Russians once, I can do it again." He had lost his whole family. He showed us how to pack by making a roll and tying it on to fit over our shoulders and it worked well. He also cautioned us in taking good care of our feet while we were walking. We anticipated we were in for another long march as we left Grosstychow.
I, along with the other wives and next of kin, received a letter from the Red Cross telling me that the Red Cross had visited Grosstychow and found it to be abandoned. The prisoners had been moved, but no one knew where. The Red Cross notified all of the next of kin, and prepared us for the worst. It didn't look good.
We had no idea where we were headed, which was to be expected, I guess. We were in better condition now than when we ended our "Black Hunger March", but we didn't know if it would last. We never knew about food. We were always conservative because we never knew when there would be none. We knew that was always a strong possibility.
We hadn't been out very long when the German in charge of our group told us that we were in luck. They had just located a warehouse that had prisoner of war packages inside. We were glad to hear this because our food was already gone. The Germans went into the warehouse and counted the packages and found there were more packages than there were prisoners in our group. The Germans felt there was no reason to leave any packages behind, so they gave each prisoner two packages. The Germans took all they could carry for themselves before we got ours. Most of the time the Germans open the packages. They had to "check" the packages for contraband by opening candy bar packages or punching holes in tubes of toothpaste, subtle little ways of ruining good food packages. However, they gave each of us two food packages and we were rich, really well off.
We opened one food package and was very miserly with it because we didn't know how long it had to last. The very next day we met another prisoner of war group from Grosstychow that were on a different route, to their unknown destination. They were stopped beside the road. The two German group leaders spoke and we learned that the other group had no food. We were in that same position the day before, before we found the warehouse. Each of us gave them one of our food packages which left us with one each. They would have done the same for us had the situation been reversed, and we knew that. We now' had one package apiece, which was still better than one package for two people. I never ran into another prisoner that was not willing to share whatever he had. If there was something that was needed, and one man had a little more than the rest, he shared with someone who needed it. You never had to ask, it was just done.
O'Brien came out and found us on the road. We had stopped at a farm and for some reason we were there for two or three days and O'Brien found us there. At the farm was a big tank that was used to cook pigs food. There was a fire under the tank and we were told that if we could get water enough, we could heat the water in the tank and take a bath. We jumped at the chance, because up to this point we were hardly able to keep our hands and face clean. It was while we were taking our bath that O'Brien came in. When we left Grosstychow we hadn't seen him for a while. He came out to tell us that he was being transferred and wanted to say good bye, and wish us luck. He told us that Germany had lost the war. We asked him to change his clothes and come with us. He smiled and said he would like to, but he had a wife and two daughters, and he would sweat it out in Germany. We wished him well and understood his position. He was German, but certainly not a Nazi. Of all our guards, O'Brien stands out above all others. O'Brien was a German guard we first met in Grosstychow that was very much up on discipline but was usually fair. I respected his position and the way he treated us. This was the last time we would see him.
We left the farm and continued our march. We walked by a group of people that had a settlement out in a field. They were French prisoners of war, and they had their own settlement of tents and buildings. There were men, women and entire families. On the other side of the road was the same situation only Italian. At night they had their fires and music, and it was really something to see. Not far from here we came to the prison camp that we were evidently headed for, Stalag XI, in the town of Fallingbostel.
The outside of the prison camp looked like a regular prison camp with the barbed wire and big high gates, but when we went inside the gates, we were right in the prison itself. This was different than any other prison camp that we were in. There was usually a space, than rolled barbed wire, another space and barbed wire, but not this one. The buildings were spread out haphazardly. It was a very crude prison with dirt floors, no cots, and we had to get our own water wherever we could find it. At the prison camp was a house, like a farmhouse only without a farm, and there was a hand pump at the house. We got water by walking through the fence to this pump. Whenever we went there, anybody that was at the house would leave. There was one elderly man at the house, and he would go in the house and shut the door when we came. We'd go to the pump, fill our cans and pails with water and return to the camp. After we left the house, the old man would come out and go about his business.
In camp, I met a fellow named Kangus, from Fitchburg, Massachusetts. We were sleeping beside each other on the floor. Somehow, I wound up with the equivalent of three slices of German bread which was actually one hunk and we were hanging onto that. Kangus also had some bread that we were eating from. We got up the next morning, of course hungry, and Kangus cut a piece of bread and that's what we ate. There was a strange feeling in the air this particular morning, things felt funny, something was different. The silence was deafening. We walked outside and there wasn't a German in sight. We looked in the towers and they were empty. There were no Germans around.
We all walked toward the main gate which was close to the building we were in. We heard a rumbling down the road oto our right. This is where we had marched up from, where we passed the French and Italian camps. We heard cheering from down there and in a few minutes the British 10th Army came through with their tanks. By now we knew that the Germans had left in a hurry during the night. They knew that the British were in the area. It didn't take long for us to get hold of the gate, and we flattened it. It was a large, barbed wire gate, and we flattened it. The men in the tanks were cheering and throwing us cigarettes, candy bars and anything they had. As the tanks rolled by the British were hollering, "You're free to go boys." Of course this was a great day for us… . WE WERE LIBERATED! They were cheering us and we felt great. They shouted, "It's alright, there's no damn Krauts around here, they left last night." One of the tanks stopped and one of the men said, "There's a village down the road," and he pointed back down the road in the direction that we had come from. We knew about the village because we came through it just a few days ago. He continue on to say, "There's nobody here to bother you." "Over there," he said, "there's a magazine (warehouse)." Each village that had any size at all, had it's own magazine that stored everything that the community would need. When the 10th went through, we went looking for this magazine and found it right away. We went into the magazine and we saw so much that we didn't know what we wanted. Some were taking fancy German backpacks, some were taking -silverware and all kinds of stuff.
Most of us went for the canned goods. The canned goods were large cans but were not labeled. They were coded on the ends, in German, so we didn't know what was in the cans. We took what we could of the cans and went back to the camp. Don't ask me why we went back to the camp, but we did. We wound up with macaroni and what have you, and I wound up with gravy. Of all the cans that were in there, I wound up with all gravy. I traded for something better and we all ate. Our stomachs weren't in condition for any amount of food and we wound up going outside and regurgitating. We waited until our stomachs settled down and we'd eat some more, and regurgitate that. It's really awful. It's a pitiful situation.
The next day one of our men from Grosstychow, a good-looking man with scars on his face as evidence of German abuse, had come back from the warehouse. He had a complete set of Sterling silverware. He gave me two of the forks which I still have today. I asked him if he thought he could get it home and he told me he was going to try. The forks are just as good today as the day he gave them to me and we use them every day. I still have the original German issued fork that I got when I was taken prisoner. It was made of aluminum and we were told by the Germans that they were made out of B-24's that the Germans had shot down. I used this fork every day while in prison camp.
The following day I took a walk by myself down to the village. I was still walking with the aid of a staff. My leg still bothered me at times. I came to the Italian and French settlements and they were celebrating and when they saw me they waved and cheered. I got to the outskirts of the village and there was an old lady shaking out her doormat and I said to her, "Guten Morgen," (Good morning) and she answered, "Guten Morgen." She turned and went into her house and I continued walking. I came to a tank repair outfit parked in a barn yard. I went into the area and a big English sergeant came up to me and said, "Hi Mate" and I answered, wHi, you fellows just released us. I'm from the prison camp up the road." "I thought so," he said, "you don't have much of a uniform, do ya?" I said, "No." He asked, "You hungry?" I said "God Almighty, yes." He said, "Prisoner of war, you've got to be hungry." He hollered to somebody in his group, "Hey, we got a POW here. Get him something hot to eat." Someone in the barn answered, "Right-O," and he came out with the biggest frying pan I have ever seen in my life. The pan was about three feet in diameter, used for cooking for their group. He walked across the barnyard and into a chicken house. When he did this, an old lady came out shouting at him in German. He came out of the chicken house with a half dozen eggs and he said to the lady, "Now quiet, Mandy, they'll lay more tomorrow." He waved to her and she was still yapping at him in German. I just stood there laughing at the whole situation.
The sergeant asked me into his tent, and I went in. He asked, "How about a cup of coffee?" I said, "Yeah." He asked, "Don't you think that should be enriched a little?" I said, "Do you have a little...", he said, "I sure have." He poured me a good slug of brandy in the hot coffee and boy did that taste good. While I was sipping the coffee, the guy brought in four fried eggs. They baked their own bread and he brought me some hot, fresh bread. Did I ever lay into that. It was delicious, but I couldn't finish it. The sergeant said, "That's all right, Mate, that's all right." We sat and talked and during this time three of four tanks came up and stopped at the barnyard. One of the officers from the tanks asked if there was any trouble up here, anything that they had to clean up? The sergeant said, "Yeah, further down the road there is a "V' in the road and there's a building there. We keep hearing shots from that area, I think there may be snipers in that building." The officer said, "We'll take care of that." He brought a couple of tanks up and shelled the building and nearly leveled it. They waited until the dust settled, which was about twenty minutes, and asked, "You think that's taken care of, sergeant?" The sergeant said, "Sure, if there's anybody there, they won't do much harm," and the tanks went along.
After the tanks left, I had another cup of coffee fortified with brandy. It was getting late in the day so the sergeant said, "Mate, I don't want to hurry you, but soon it's going to be dusk and we're not sure what's left here. These houses can hold anybody. Some could be diehards and have to be flushed out, while some will just stay there, not hurt anybody, and wait for us to go through. I think you better go back before it gets dark." It was good advice and I headed back to the prison camp.
Soon after I got back to the prison camp, a truck with a loud speaker came through saying that the Army of Occupation was now taking over and to stay in the area. "In the morning there will be people here with a roster to check you against, and you'll be processed to be moved out of there." That was good news.
During the night the Army of Occupation came in with little houses about four feet square. They had a door and a roof and looked like old country out houses. These were used for delousing. The following day the Army of Occupation came in and the first thing they did was put us through the delousing process. We stripped and left our clothes outside, on the ground. We put on a facemask and went inside one of the little houses and were deloused. It was rugged stuff and it killed everything. When we came out of the little house there was a pile of clean clothes waiting for us. We picked through the pile and took what we needed and put it on. There was pants, shoes, shirts, but no underwear. From there we were met by another group of people that were preparing us to be loaded into army trucks. As soon as there was enough men to fill a truck, we were loaded in and taken away. We were being shipped out about as fast as we were being deloused.
We were taken to an encampment of tents about ten or fifteen miles from the prison camp. We had our first big meal there and of course we had trouble keeping it down. This whole operation was done by the British. From this encampment we were flown to Belgium the same day. When we landed in Belgium, we went immediately into a building for processing. As we went through we stated our name, rank and serial number and were given an ex-POW identification card to keep with us. In this building was a long row of tables, full of clothes, that was manned by the British Red Cross and The Order of St. John. The first thing I remember seeing was woolen socks. As we went up the line we received a tooth brush, comb and shaving supplies. All of this issue was handed to us as we moved along. We received underwear, I finally got some underwear! The sizes were posted and most of them were too big, but we didn't care. We had probably lost more weight than they had anticipated. We received all the clothes to complete a full uniform. When we got to the other end of the building, there was an area like a large gymnasium that was filled with cots and as we walked in, there was someone there to take us to a cot.
After most of us were settled in, an American officer of the Army of Occupation came in and told us that we would be staying there for the night and we would be flying out the next day to Camp Lucky Strike, in Le Havre, France, just across the channel from England. They gave us an opportunity to send telegrams, or we could have the officer who had the name of our next of kin, take a message and see that it was sent. The latter was the better and faster way to get a message out and that's what I did.
On May 3, 1945, I received the telegram I had been waiting for! It was from Washington D.C., telling me that Jim had been returned to military control on April 21, 1945, and he was not hospitalized. He was liberated! The wait was over. I received letters from Senator Styles Bridges and Representative Sherman Adams, expressing their pleasure with the liberation of Jim, which as very gratifying. It would only be a short time, now, before Jim would be home! I received a telegram from Jim telling me he would see me soon, and by coincidence, it was that same night that he arrived home.
That night they told us that if any of us felt good enough or rambunctious enough, and wanted to go out and visit the town (it was in Belgium, but I didn't know the name of the town) they would advance us Belgium Francs. They advanced us some Francs anyway, but I wasn't interested in going out so I didn't us mine. I kept mine and brought them home. We were told that no doubt whatever they gave us would be deducted from our pay. I made note of how much they gave me and wrote it on the back of my ex-POW identification card. We didn't care if they deducted it or not and I don't think they did. Most everybody decided to stay in and get some sleep. There was a few that did go out. They got loaded and celebrated. We heard them come in and it seemed good to hear our men having a good time.
By this time we had a couple of good meals and they were staying down pretty well, so we felt pretty good. We did, however, have to eat very moderately to keep the food down.
The following day we were given a medical examination and then we waited to be air lifted out. We were flown out by British officers flying C47's that took us to Camp Lucky Strike, in Le Havre, France. Camp Lucky Strike was a gigantic tent city. It was huge and just fantastic. There were two men to a tent and we received blankets, a camp clock and anything we needed. The mess hail was open 24 hours a day. We could go in any time we wanted, order anything we wanted, eat it and even if we went out and regurgitated, if we wanted more, we could go right back and get more. The big item was steak, but most of us couldn't eat half of what we took. Then after a half hour or so, we'd decide that we wanted desert. That was ice cream, so we'd have that knowing it would probably come up before we went to bed that night. This went on for three or four days because they wanted to put some weight back on us.
Our neighbor in Swanzey, Nate Ellis, was in charge of a section of Camp Lucky Strike, but I didn't know it until after the war and, we were talking about it one day.
We were debriefed in Lucky Strike, which was a timely process. We went in for debriefing several different times, plus there were several times they came to our tents for debriefing sessions. They had their clip boards and they knew how, and what questions to ask. There were different people interviewing us at different time, bu always one on one. There were eight or ten of us in a room, but there were also eight or ten people doing the debriefing. They wanted names, places and reports of any abuse and things of this nature. Of course there were many instances of abuse, especially in Grosstychow. We told them what they wanted to know.
In Camp Lucky Strike, there were other prisoners of war from other branches of the service and I ran into a guy from Ackworth, New Hampshire. Most of the men had souvenirs; guns, cameras and things like this. After liberation you could walk into a store and take what you wanted.. I got two blankets in Belgium and two blankets in Le Havre and I brought all four of them home. I still have two in the car, although they are pretty well worn out now, but they were good blankets. That's all I brought home. I had no contraband. They were only spot checking for contraband and some guys got through with German Lugers (the German Luger was a hand gun which was considered a prize souvenir). I didn't care about that, I just wanted to get home.
We were taken by truck to the Port of Le Havre and there was the SS George Washington. The $S George Washington was a German ship that was captured by the U.S. during the first World War. She was set up as a troop ship and we were taken aboard. It was very crowded. They put bunks and hammocks in every place imaginable to get us all on board. We left Port of Le Havre and headed for home. This was before Germany capitulated, so on the way home there were submarine alerts. We stood on deck and could see where we were zig zagging to throw off possible enemy tracking systems. It was just before we reached New York when Germany capitulated. Of course they sounded it all over the ship. I was speechless. Oh God, were we happy! It was May 7, 1945. The war was over! By this time, we were about a day out of New York.
After landing in New York we went to Fort Dix in New Jersey. We stayed there until we were processed. When we got to Fort Dix we were treated very good. We had to wait to be processed and in the meantime, we had plenty to eat. The only orders we had was not to leave the base. We were kept separate as a group (POW's). We had to be where we could be reached anytime, so we were either at the mess hall, day room or the barracks. We were not integrated with anyone else. We had another medical examination here at Fort Dix and three or four days later, we were sent to our nearest place of demobilization, which for me was Fort Devens. I was moved to Fort Devens by truck, along with other POW's from my area.
When we got into Fort Devens and were settled in, we were issued new uniforms. We received our patches and ribbons and took them to a designated area where the patches would be sewn on for us. The people sewing our patches were none other than Germans, our Prisoners of War. When we gave them our patches, we were given a ticket with a number to identify our belongings Mine was number 27. There were three or four Germans sewing, so I knew about when my number would be called. In German, a one is like an American seven. They called out number 21. I knew it was mine but I let them call number 21 three of four times and then I stepped up and said, "It's mine." He asked, "You 21?" I said, "No, siebenwndzwanzig (27 in German)." He looked at me and said, "Yeah, yeah, 27," and he looked at the rest of us and I said, "Yeah, all POW's from Germany. You're now in America, numbers are American." Everybody stopped what they were doing and all was quiet. I was number 27, and I said it in German so everyone could hear.
We left the building where all this had just happened and I was walking with two or three other ex-POW's. It had been raining and we met a bunch of German POW's marching back to their barracks. They were equipped with foul weather gear, but it was raining and it was too wet to work. That really angered us. They were our POW's and they were being treated better than our own troops. In Fort Devens there were taxicabs on base and one of the guys in our group wanted to get one of the cabs. "I'll run it right through the middle of the whole damn group. Too wet to work, I don't believe it." I believe he would have, had he been given a chance. He was regular army and had been in prison camps other than the ones I was in. I guess he had been through plenty.
We got a little perturbed because while we were there the German POW's went on strike because they wanted a 10 PM lunch. When we heard about this we were really wild. We didn't get many 10 PM "lunches" where we were. I later heard that another major complaint they had was that they didn't receive enough cigarettes while in our prison camps. I found it very difficult to feel sorry for them after what their people put our boys through.
When I got home, I learned that the American women were baking cakes for the German POW's and handing them through the fence to the prisoners. They felt sorry for them. That kind of got to me, but I suppose they didn't understand what was going on overseas.
In the mean time, Annie received a telegram saying I had been released from prison camp and I'd be home in the very near future. About a week later I was home as Annie explained earlier. I was home on what was called a "delay enroute". I was home for a couple of months and then went to Atlantic City for two weeks of more debriefing and demobilization. I received all of my metals and back pay to date. I was formally discharged and came home.
While I was home, Japan surrendered and the war "that would end all wars" was officially over. It would never be entirely over for some of us. We still have our memories, some good, some bad, some we can live with and some we can't without the love and understanding of friends, doctors and particularly family.
As it turned out, I was the second man in Cheshire County to be taken prisoner. The first was Al Ricci of Keene, New Hampshire. We greet each other with "Kriegie", a name that ex-POW's call each other. "Kriegie" is short for Kriegsgefangenen which means war prisoner. The Germans would come up with a name of something, usually involving more than one word, and make one word out of it. For example, war prison camp is Kriegsgefangenenlager.
I have stayed in touch with all of the crew with the exception of Losey, our engineer and Heavy, our assistant engineer. The rest of us exchange Christmas cards every year and of course we include a note. I have talked with Berger on the phone several times. He sometimes calls on the anniversary of our last flight. As far as the eleventh man is concerned, none of the crewmembers have ever seen, or heard from him since we were shot down.
When our son, Pete, was living in Maryland, he was able to locate Galler. We were visiting Pete and his family in the early seventies and Pete called Caller while we were there and got Caller's wife on the phone. Galler wasn't home at the time, but I talked to his wife and she was very excited. She asked where we were, and I told her and she wondered if we were going to come over to see them. I told her that Pete had a rough idea where they lived and he would bring us over. "Oh," she said, "wait until Izzy hears this, wait until Izzy hears this, he's going to go crazy." never called him Izzy, it was always Caller. We never called each other by the first name. She was so excited! Galler's wife and Annie corresponded while we were in prison camp. Galler's wife bad a nervous breakdown during that time.
Pete took me over to see Galler and we had a great reunion. We were only able to spend a half a day together, but we had a great time. We haven't seen each other since that time. Galler and I were probably closer than the rest. We were nearer the same age and we just seemed to be together more.
I learned that Heavy had died. To this date (1988), Heavy is the only member of the crew that is no longer with us.
The last time I heard from Royal his hand writing was barely legible. His health is failing and he isn't doing wery well. I have not seen Royal since the service, but we have always corresponded.
In 1972, Pete and his family moved to San Francisco, California. During one of our first trips out to visit them, Pete had his secretary try to locate Berger and was unable to do so. As it turned out, she was looking under "Burger" and not "Berger". So that time out we were not able to make contact. However, in 1983 we made another trip out and Pete was able to locate Berger. Pete had business in Sacramento, which was just outside of where Berger lived, so he took Annie and I to see Berger for the day. Clover was there and it was great to see them both. We met Berger's wife and one of his daughters.
Berger was a regular army man and he transferred to the air force during the war. After the war he transferred back to the regular army and became a career man. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He had an office in his house and it was full of memorabilia from his service. He had actual pieces of the fuselage of the Jungle Princes. He even had the pilots wheel from the Jungle Princes. He told me he went back down to the plane after we crashed landed and took the wheel out of it and sent it home. Berger painted a picture of the Jungle Princes from a photograph.1 and he did a good job.
I had often wondered why we flew that last mission, because we weren't scheduled to fly for another couple of days. While visiting Berger he told me the story. He started by saying, "You probably have wondered why we flew that last mission. I don't know how to begin this, Ross, but I'll tell you what happened. The night before, I got kind of lit up in the officers club and I was dared to perform a tap dance on one of the pool tables. When I was in the middle of my tap dance, our company commander came over, looked over the situation and said if you fella's have this kind of energy at this time of night, there's no reason why you can't fly tomorrow. That's how we come to be put on the flight list. . Up until now, I've been scared to death to even mention it." I just sat there and roared. After nearly forty years, I finally learned why we flew that mission. He was glad that I took it the way I did and he was relieved after telling me the story.
When Berger knew we were coming over, he called Clover to come over and join us. Clover only lives about eight miles from Berger. Berger and Clover filled me in on the rest of the crew. McMillan moved from Ohio to Sacramento, California, for a year or so and he saw Berger and Clover while he lived out there. McDonald also visited Berger and Clover before I saw them, so I was updated on him also.
While we were there, Annie took the photograph of Berger, Clover and myself. Notice the photograph I'm holding, along with the pilot wheel. From left to right is Berger, myself and Clover. Berger and his wife were great hosts and hostess. The women had a great time together and of course the three of us had a great day also. Pete came for us about 5 o'clock and when we left, Berger gave me a small piece of the fuselage of the Jungle Princes.
I have never seen Royal, McMillan, McDonald, Losey or Bell since our discharge. We have, however, written letters over the years with the exception of Losey and Heavy. It would be nice to see them all, but at the time of this writing I'm 75 years of age and I don't know if that will happen. Whether I see them or not, I will never forget them. They were the best, each and every one of them.