I arrived at Nuthampstead, England, the location of Eighth Air Force Station 131 in the middle of January 1945. I was the co-pilot on the Jim Womeldurf crew. To be sure, I remember the infamous April, Friday the 13th mission the best. That was the one we now call the RDX disaster. That was the mission where I became a prisoner of war.
Now, onto what I recall about the Friday, April 13,1945 mission. It was a beautiful day and I think we had gotten two delays on the mission and we were hoping for a scrub. I was flat on my back looking up at a beautiful blue sky when word came down that the mission was on. It was about noon time.
Sam Palant was the pilot and I was to be his co-pilot for that mission. It's strange the way things sometimes work out. I went through first pilot school at Hendricks Field in Sebring, Florida. I went from there to Lincoln Nebraska. This is where the crews are formed and sent on to operational training. When the list came down I was named co-pilot on Womeldurf's crew. I sputtered and fumed to no avail. It wasn't until I had flown fifteen missions with Womelsdorf's crew that I received orders to report to the flight line for a check ride for first pilot. At that point I had decided I would rather stay with my crew that I had come over with. However, the powers that be had decided that finally I would have my own crew.
I was waiting for my own crew to be formed when I was told that I was to fly a mission as co-pilot with Sam Palant's crew. It was sort of a mixed crew. The navigator, the tail gunner were also making their first flight with Sam. I guess the rest of the crew were his original bunch. I remember the tail gunner pretty well. I believe his name was Hedges, who was a ground crew armorer who had to fly occasionally.
It was a short mission to the target, but Pinneborg was cloud covered. We were circling around waiting to find an alternate target. There was no flak and no bandits. When an alternate target was found it was a short run. Bomb bay doors were open. I heard bombs away, when someone in the back of the plane said the bombs were hung up. At this point I believe the bombardier salvoed the bombs and all hell broke loose. My leg flew up in the air and I could see my right boot was all torn up. The tail gunner called and said his flak jacket had flown up in the air but he didn't feel any thing. I could see blue flames coming out of right wing.
It was apparent that a fuel line was cut and fire was moving toward the wing fuel tank. I didn't think we had much time to get out. I called the navigator and asked him how far it was to the allied lines. He said a least a hundred miles. I told Sam that fact and he said for religious reasons he was going to try to get closer to the front lines. He slowed down the plane's air speed and hit the bailout button. Two crew men in the back put a chute on Hedges and threw him out. That saved his life I'm sure.
I put on my chest pack and got out from front hatch. I landed in a plowed field. I could see farmers coming from my left about 1/4 of a mile away and German troops coming from other side. I had heard horror stories about the German civilians' treatment of POW`s. I picked the military side, threw away my 45 pistol and headed for them.
The Germans soldiers did not seem to be angry. I guess it seemed to them that this happened every day. Maybe it did. They marched us to a small building. A German officer was there giving orders. We started on what would be a five mile march. They had taken Hedges away in a truck, to the hospital I hoped.
The Germans were on bicycles and carried machine guns. One guard was stationed in front and one guard in back. We were moving along at a pretty good clip. There was no way I could make this without help. We all knew that any one who fell out might be shot. Nick Marabeas, our bombardier, was on my right side taking all the weight off my bad ankle. Some of the other guys took turns helping me. Nick was a big strong guy and half carried me for the whole march. We were friends for the rest of our captivity.
Some of the crew were mad at Nick for salvoing the bombs (if he did). I think it was Paul Brown who kidded him and said he had put him in for the German Iron Cross because he had knocked down four or five US bombers.
It was dark by the time we got to an old barn with straw all over the floor. This is where we spent our first night in Germany. The next morning they got us up and marched us to a railroad station. I guess this was Pinneborg. Across the tracks was a large field where some Russian POW's were digging up potatoes. Later on two Russians came over and gave us a big pot of mashed potatoes. This was the first meal we had.
The train finally arrived and we were loaded on. The train was carrying civilians and the guards spent the time talking to them. We weren't being watched too closely, but we weren't going anywhere. Next stop was Haganau. There was a different and meaner atmosphere from the Germans. We were called terror fliegers and other sweet names. Again we were on the march. I was walking a little better but needed Nick's help once in a while. We were taken to a German airfield and put in cells, four to a cell. We were taken one at a time to see a German officer who interrogated us. He took all our rings and watches. He was especially interested in my nylon escape map and the magnetized pencil clip we had. He told me where we had flown from, how many planes we had on the base and number of pilots that could fly missions. He said they had people in the US that clipped articles from the newspapers. Anything pertaining to when we entered the service, when we graduated from flight school and approximately the date of the time when we were sent over seas. He said this information was sent to Spain and then into Germany. Talk about methodical Germans, I couldn't believe all the stuff he had. He even knew where I lived in the States.
Then we were on the train again going to Hamburg. No sooner had we gotten there then they had an air raid. It had to have been the 8th Air Force because it was daylight. They took us from the railroad station down into an air raid shelter. We were down there with a lot of German civilians. We backed up against the wall with the guards between us and the civilians. However, if bombs were dropped I don't think the guards would try very hard to protect us. Thank goodness the all clear sounded and we got out of there.
That night they loaded us on a freight car packed in tight. We made a couple more stops, picking up more freight cars, and arrived in Lubeck, which was a large city and seaport opposite Sweden. When we were unloaded at the station I looked back and there must have been ten cars that had been added to the train. All freight cars had their little windows covered with barbed wire. It was so quiet it was eerie. There were no guards around. I would guess they were moving political prisoners and trying to get them to Sweden. The end of the war was coming and they were running out of space. No one wanted to be caught with prisoners from a concentration camp.
We arrived at our permanent POW camp. There were Polish and French there who had been there for years . Some British POW's had arrived just ahead of us. The front of the camp had large permanent brick buildings and that was where we were put. We had many wounded. I believe Roger Campbell was walking around with a dislocated shoulder. They sent some of us to the "dispensary" which was one room in a barracks. The German doctor told us through the interpreter that he did not treat the enemy, and sent us back to our barracks. I hope Roger received some medical treatment because he was in big trouble.
The doctor was also the camp commander. He wore black boots and a black SS uniform with all the hardware on it. The British POW's had arrived just ahead of us and they ran our POW section. They had been POW's for some time and knew all the tricks. When they were being moved around each one carried a small part of their radio. As soon as they were settled in a new location, they put it together and someone would go from barracks to barracks with what they called "the gen." That was the information from BBC. It kept everyone up to date on how the war was going.
They also informed us that we were now KIEGIES. That's sort of an abbreviation of a long German word meaning POW. The Germans were called GOONS, good or bad, all Germans were GOONS. The Brits had been on that long walk across Germany in the winter of 1944. They worked in groups of four, two stayed home to cook, the other two foraged for food. Once in a while we would be given Red Cross parcels, which was always a happy day. The parcels contained a large can of KILM, that's milk spelled back wards. There were other goodies in the parcels but two kilm cans became a double boiler. Oh, I forgot to tell you, this was powdered milk. We made all kinds of goodies with it, like cake that tasted like thick white glue.
We were in Lubeck when the Germans were lined up out side our barracks to receive the bad news that Hitler was captured. The Germans cried and we cheered.
The sight I will never forget is the British 2nd Army coming down the autobahn. We were taking our walk around the wire. This Jeep came very slowly down the road. I saw the US equipment and thought it was our guys. The fact they were British didn't make any difference, we were real glad to see them. There was still a war going on in northwest Germany. We were told Himmler was up here with three hundred SS troops
When the British came down the autobahn they encountered a little resistance. We heard a couple of rifle shots. That Jeep made a fast 180 degree turn and disappeared. About two minutes later two tanks pulled up front with some heavy armored trucks. They started to fire on both sides of the autobahn and at everything else. The shelling went of for quite a while, then white flags, bedsheets and any thing else that was white began to show. All the German houses across the autobahn had white sheets hanging out their windows. The battle of Lubeck was over !!
The British came into the camp with a truck load of soldiers and a tank. They told us we were liberated, gave us ID's and told us we were in Oflag-10C. They also said to stay behind the wire because they were chasing Himmler. Of course the next day we took off to explore the city. Marabeas discovered a Mercedes in someone's garage. It had a cooker on back. It burned coke (I think). We got out onto the autobahn and it popped and sputtered along. We could only get her up to about 30 miles per hour.
Some one else made a big discovery. They found out the German bars and restaurants kept their liqueur under ground, and we could get to it by breaking the lock and going down into the cellar. Oh happy day! Kriegies with all that wine on an empty stomach!
British told us to get our coke burner off the road before we got killed. They also told us trucks would arrive to take us across the Elbe River. From there the French forces would take us to Camp Lucky Strike and our people would get us home from there. Camp Lucky Strike was outside Le Harve.
The only problem we had was that we first had to be deloused. So we took our clothes off and I mean everything. Then we went through a long low building with soap and water coming at us from every direction. After that we were hit with the louse killer and then more water. We were all glad that was over. Little did we know that the delousing process was going to happen every time we changed hands. The French did it then the US Army. By the time we got to Le Harve we were squeaky clean.
In Camp Lucky Strike we slept in tents with bed rolls. Twice a day we had to drink an egg nog and eat chicken breasts in a white sauce. That was every day until we had a physical and were pronounced OK. We were told that we had been POW's from the time we were captured till we were returned to US military control. That gave me a little over a month behind the wire. What I couldn't believe was how the men who had been prisoners for three or four years had survived under the harsh treatment of the Germans. Early in the war prisoners were beaten by the guards and taken through cities where they had been stoned by civilians. One prisoner told me he had been kept in the hold of a freighter for one month in the Bering Sea without lights and little food. By the time I got to be a POW things were a bit better. The German's knew that they had lost the war and there would be consequences.
We were in Le Harve for three weeks, then put on a US Navy transport. We landed somewhere in Virginia, but I don't remember the location. I do remember that we were served food by big healthy German POW's who had been working in the fields in Texas. I looked at them then looked at our miserable condition. I decided I wouldn't eat there as long as they were there. In fact we turned our backs to them and waited for the Army to move them out.
Then I was shipped to Ft. Dix in New Jersey where I was processed out of the service. They sent me home on with a three-week leave. My wife, mother and father came to Trenton, NJ to pick me up.
I spare you people my home coming, but it was great!