Lt. William Kamenitsa down April 29, 1944
It took four weeks for my folks to find out I was a P.O.W!. The army told them I was missing in action about the second week in May; but two weeks later they got a personal message that I was alive and well and living in Germany.
The Germans would broadcast a list of captured airmen, every night. People on the east coast would listen and then mail cards to families all over the country. My mom and dad got about a dozen of them saying: "your son, William T. Kamenitsa, army serial # is being held by the Germans. He's alive and a POW". It took a while for the federal government to catch up with the hams.
George, my co-pilot, and I were sent to Stalag Luft 3. The three other guys (Heater, Krejci and Guillot) all went over to Stalag 17B.There was about 150 miles between us; we went north and they went south. At the time, we had no idea where they all went. It was as if we were all on different islands... and we might never see each other again!
At Sagan, it was an established camp: supposedly, Goering's showcase camp for airmen...but it was no picknic. Fifteen of us lived in a room about 10 feet by 12 feet. We had five triple deckers in that room. In one corner, there was a little wood or charcoal burning stove.
I think the most difficult thing about prison camp was the lack of enough food. One meal might be just two lousy potatoes all day; and no hot water at other times. Soup is what they wanted to call it, but it was just warm water by another name. There wasn't any coffee unless you had a Red Cross parcel. Then it was warm water again, for breakfast (the only thing it was good for was shaving)...unless you had scrounged something to dump into it.
Weeks and months would go by and we'd get no parcels. The Germans would tell us: "Nothing came through. Your planes just bombed the railway station and the train coming in. Sorry! You've bombed your own food!"
I'II tell you though...that black sawdust bread they gave us started tasting damn good after 6 months in captivity. If you toasted it up...boy, it was quite unique. There were, however, some things you never got used to: blood sausage and fish heads. Oh my God! They'd bring that stuff down and pass it around...well nobody would touch it. Open the kettle and there's those fish eyes staring up at you...the smell alone would put hair on your teeth.
Technically, we were in Herman Goering's special camp. He took pride in it and we were living high on the hog as far as prisoners of war were concerned. The Germans at our camp obeyed the Geneva Conventions; just to the letter and no more...but maybe a tad better than other places.
We used to have a hidden radio to listen to the BBC. They would get some guys together, who would memorize what they had heard, then bring it back to the rest of us. There was one fellow in our barracks, Pittman, who had been a language student. He would listen to the German broadcasts, write it down on a pad in Spanish, then read it to us in English.
More information about the outside would come in with newly arrived Kriegies. They'd bring us up to date, so we always knew what was going on... more so than the Germans. It was a funny thing with them. It seemed their armies were always making a " strategic withdrawal"... never a retreat!
In January of 1945, we evacuated Luft 3 and went out on the road. It was a cold and miserable time. When we got to our new camp at Nuremburg, things didn't get any better. We moved into barracks that had been inhabited by another race. It was lice infested and barren.
Our commander was insistent in cleanliness... so we spent a week cleaning it up with soap and water... anything we could get our hands on. There's not much good to say about our existence for those last few months of the war. We got moved out again, the first week in April and I can't say I was sorry to leave.
Towards the end of the war, our side had complete control of the sky. The orders were: " Shoot anything that moves" Our pursuit pilots went crazy... trains, carts, cars, horses... nothing was safe out on the road, even us. Our columns got hit a few times, until they figured out it was POW's on the move.
For me the march out of Nuremburg was mostly fun. It rained most of the time, because it was early spring... but we didn't mind! We traded our chocolate and cigarettes for food. I remember eggs...Oh God!...potatoes and bread! Boy that was so good, and it was so easy!
We went down through the Catholic belt in Bavaria. You'd go through these small villages and they'd have wash pans out. You could get a cool refreshing drink of water as you went by. Some of us were actually getting healthier as we went along. Everyone I know has a chicken story to tell.
Our superiors told us not to sneak off...Hell, I wasn't about to escape! I was going to stay with the gang at this point. The war was about over and there was no way I was going to take a chance on getting shot and buried in a shallow grave by the roadside. We made it safe to Mooseburg.
It was all over for us on the 29th of April; trails end...and time to go home. Our group had to be one of the lucky ones; our commanding officer drew cards with the other big shots to see who'd fly out first. Our C.O. drew the king of spades and we were out on the field at Landshut like a shot. After we took off, the field was socked in with bad weather for five days. Before we left Mooseburg, we were introduced to the decontamination squad. These guys had gigantic flit guns full of DDT powder. They'd say: "Drop your drawers" ...so you drop your pants and stood there unbuttoning your shirt...then boom...they'd hit you all over with a load of DDT...just cover you full of dust...all up and down your chest and back, then from head to foot. You were a flour bin when they a finished with you.
When we landed at Lucky Strike, what do you think they had ready for us? You walked into a long row of tents where they took off all your clothes and threw them down in a pile. Next, you went into a liquid bath and scrubbed with G.I. soap that would tear the skin off you! It was your great fortune to walk into the next tent where, you guessed it...they soaked you down with D.D.T. liquid. After you got dried off and handed a new set of clothes, they declared you deloused. I'II say you were deloused! Can you imagine!
We all found another tent as soon as we could, to take a shower and get rid of that good stuff they put on us. I remember the first meal we had was pork chops. To go with that, the Red Cross had set up tents that served egg nog. You had a canteen cup just hanging from your belt, ready to use at a moment's notice.
They told us to: " Eat as much as you can! Just don't leave any" You were also required to take a vitamin pill. There was a guy at the head of the chow line with pills as big as your thumb. He'd say:" Take it and swallow it", then he'd let you pass.