A Time to Kill
Edited by Denny Roy,
Grant P. Skabelund, and Ray C. Hillam

Chapter 6
Captivity

[p.179]Jay R. Jensen,1 Air Force navigator and electronic warfare officer, Vietnam

I got out of the seat, pushing as hard as I could against G-forces, and then the chute opened with a jerk. Then I started floating down. All of a sudden there was a gentle breeze blowing and it was very, very peaceful; except I could hear planes coming over, our buddies coming to try to look for us. I heard a lot of shooting at them. But except for the shooting, kind of off in the distance a little bit, it was very peaceful. Then I went into the clouds, and I thought, “Well, I better get ready, because I don’t know [p. 180]what’s under here. I hope we are over the ocean.” And so I let my dinghy go down. You pull one lever and it releases a dinghy and it goes down, and then inflates, and floats down with you.

So I did that, and I was just going to get my radio out to radio that I was okay, when I came through the clouds. As soon as I came through the clouds, I saw that I was right over a Vietnamese village and that I’d missed the coast by about fifty feet. I was coming down right in the middle of the village. There were about five hundred people down there, and they all spotted me just as quickly as I came through the clouds. It seemed like almost everyone from a one hundred-year-old woman to a ten-year-old kid had rifles. They looked like old World War I or World War II rifles. But they all had them, and they were all shooting at me. The bullets started whizzing by, and I thought, “Hey, I’m not even going to make it to the ground.” I decided I’d try to fake them out, so I just acted like they hit me and just hung in my seat, kind of cock-eyed, you know, so they’d think I was hit. Almost all of the shooting stopped as soon as I did that.

Just before I hit the ground, I went through the normal procedure where I put my hand through the riser and then released the lever so the chute would collapse. Then I touched the ground and did a perfect rollover, and just as I came over they had me by both arms. I didn’t even get a chance to get up, they had me that fast. It was mostly women and children, civilians. But they had rakes and hoes and rifle butts and they were all hitting me and beating me, and I didn’t think I was going to be alive for very long. There was this one old lady that got my attention. She was about a 105 years old, at least. She was standing about five or six feet away and she was dipping her hand in the rice paddy and throwing mud at me.

Several days later they blindfolded me and took me over to a hill, and as we were coming up, all the people started shouting and throwing things at me. I was blind-[p.181]folded with my hands tied behind me, but I could see just a little bit. I could see where I was going, so I didn’t fall down. As I was coming up to the top of the hill, I heard the movie camera, so I knew they were taking movies. Just as I came up to the top of the hill, I happened to catch a glimpse. They were leading me right to where they had an American flag on the ground. Of course, some of us carried flags with us. They were trying to get me to stand on the flag, so they could get a movie picture of it. Well, just as I got to the flag, I collapsed and leaned over and kissed the flag. They didn’t like that very well. All of a sudden the camera stopped, and they took me right back; they didn’t do anything more. I ruined the sequence, I guess, and they were really mad.

Walter H. Speidel, German Army Africa Corps, World War II

By May 1943 it was obvious that we wouldn’t win the war in North Africa and that we’d have to give up. Rommel had left Africa weeks before the end and a Prussian general, von Arnim, had been assigned the command over the German forces in North Africa. We, the Africa Corps headquarters company, were at that time closest to the French forces, mainly Indo-Chinese units. When we were taken prisoner, we were greeted by being whipped with leather whips by the Indo-Chinese. There were no fences around the prison camp, just an open field with guards patrolling it. Our signal corps unit was sort of camped together in that field. With five or six others I was able to get away during the night. We’d befriended the Sheik of Gafsa, and we asked the sheik to find out where the British were, and then at night we went and surrendered to the British Eighth Army. They turned us over to the American First Army, which transported us to Casablanca on the west coast of North Africa. From there we were shipped to a prisoner of war camp in the United States.

The camp was in Aliceville, a little place out in the country somewhere in Alabama. We were housed in make-[p.182]shift wooden barracks, about forty people to a building. For the first month or two, we built gardens around our barracks. We built a soccer field. We organized schools offering all kinds of lectures and courses, mathematics, English, and others.

Those who had artistic talents started art classes, like carving wood with razor blades. The musicians built themselves musical instruments from tin cans. I remember one soldier making a guitar from tin and wood and it didn’t sound too bad. We even started an orchestra. But pretty soon the Swiss and the German Red Cross sent musical instruments, sports equipment, books, even movie projection equipment. So we had a library, and there were German feature movies.

We also had newspapers. We were able to read American newspapers, as well as a German POW newspaper that came regularly from Texas. We also had our own camp newspaper.

Later on, we were asked if we wanted to work outside the camp. Quite a few volunteered because they got tired of sitting behind barbed wire. I went out and picked cotton. That went on for a while, but the farmers didn’t like it because they had to pay so much and we weren’t very efficient. We got paid three dollars a week. I believe the farmers had to pay five dollars a day for us. The main thing for us was just to get out and see something different.

There were some good, friendly soldiers as guards. But there were also a few fanatics who shot at us sometimes, just trigger-happy. There were two POWs who were killed because they supposedly were trying to flee, which wasn’t true. One of them went into the bushes and slept instead of working. At roll call at the end of the day, he was missing. The guards got very nervous and searched around and there was a lot of shouting and then the guy woke up and came running towards us to line up. That’s when he was shot and killed. I guess an army is an army wherever you go. People react the same way.

[p. 183]Calvin William Elton, Jr., Army Air Forces aircraft mechanic, World War II

We were disorganized for a few days, but then we became organized and were told to evacuate Manila. On 9 April 1942 we were captured. Actually what happened was that the islands fell; we weren’t actually captured, the island surrendered. At that time I was a corporal and I was in charge of a ten-man defense crew that was up on the shoreline overlooking some cliffs. The Japanese didn’t realize that we were going to surrender as soon as we did because they didn’t know what our situation was as far as food and ammunition were concerned. But we were very, very low on both. The night before, the eighth, we heard all kinds of explosions. The next morning we received word to come down and give up our arms. The island had surrendered. Wainwright was in charge at that time. General MacArthur had left the islands. It took about an hour from our position to go up over the mountain and then down to the central focal point. We assembled there just to put all of our guns into a large pile. The guards didn’t know what they were doing and we didn’t know what to do either, so we just sat down and waited. They gave us instructions to move out. We were on the Bataan “Death March” for about five days. We’d make around twelve miles a day, but it was a matter of shuffling back and forth from one location to another. We didn’t have any food per se except when we’d stop at a compound, which was merely a fenced-in area or a building in one of the small villages, to stay overnight. They’d have big caldrons of rice cooking. If you were lucky you might get some rice. You’d have to wait in line, of course, and when your turn came to get rice, if they were out, you just didn’t eat. Three of us decided to share all of the time. We shared both our water and our food, and so all three of us made it. It took us five days to march the ninety kilometers, which is about fifty-five miles. We were put into a prison [p. 184]camp. I had a pair of used shoes from the quartermaster. They were a little bit large for me. They were sliding and slipping on my feet, and walking over that length of time I got blisters on the bottoms of my feet. Just about the time that we arrived at the boxcars, the blisters burst. It was difficult walking for about the next five or six days because of the rawness of my feet.

It was extremely hard to survive during that time. We were burying seventy-five to one hundred Filipinos and as many as fifty Americans a day who died from diseases, malaria, or malnutrition. For several days before we surrendered, we were on half rations, mostly rice and canned salmon or canned beef. The staple was rice. A lot of times that was red rice, rice that hadn’t been polished. It still had the husks on it. We were all in bad shape nutritionally.

We put all of the bodies into one common grave and then just covered them over as best we could with the dirt. During the monsoon season, as far as you dig, it would just fill up with water. You’d put the bodies in there and they’d just float, so you’d have to weigh them down as much as you could with the dirt. We did that for several days. Dysentery was quite prevalent over there, too. A lot of the people would drink water out of the Pasig River, which was polluted and dirty, but in desperation they’d drink that water. Of course, it killed several of them through contracting dysentery.

Fortunately, I didn’t drink any. We had one canteen that we used sparingly. Whenever we got a chance we’d get water. If you broke out along the way to get water from a flowing well, they might shoot you or bayonet you or club you over the head with a rifle. You had to be careful of that.

Walter H. Speidel, German Army Africa Corps, World War II

The interrogation in the United States was done in a rather relaxed manner, like asking, “How do you like America?”

[p. 185]Of course, we all said, “We like it; it’s great. The war is over for us.” They also asked me, “How do you feel about the Russians?”

I said something like, “It’s clear to me that since the Russians are communists and the United States is a capitalist country, you two will never get along. Eventually, the United States will have to fight the Russians. There’s no question in my mind about that.”

My interrogators were upset that I’d say this. They threatened me and said, “You maligned our allies. We have to punish you for that because this is something we can’t accept.” But nothing was done about it. I don’t know what they asked the other German soldiers, but those were just two or three of the questions I was asked.

They also asked me how I like American girls. I remember telling them, “I’ve never met any. Let me talk to some and then I’ll tell you how I like them.”

C. Grant Ash, Army Air Forces bombardier, World War II

I came up over the top of the hill. I ran and jumped over a rock wall and found myself face to face with a German hoeing his grape arbor. I almost knocked him down. I jumped over another fence and hid behind a stone wall. The old guy kept hoeing away and I thought, “A partisan, somebody who is going to help me.” Pretty soon he realized that I was in a light blue uniform. It looked like I had pajamas on. It was a blue electric flying suit. Then he screamed and hollered. The long line of searchers came running back from all directions and surrounded me. Some of these civilians had clubs, some of them had pitchforks, a few of them had guns. There were two enlisted German soldiers directing them and they didn’t even have weapons. They came down to me with their hands above their heads. Talking as they came. I could tell they were telling me, “Don’t shoot.” Then I stood up.

They stripped me of everything in my pockets. They [p. 186]found all of the escape equipment. They even took my watch and white rayon scarf. Later I complained that this wasn’t a government issue watch or scarf. I said, “That’s my watch. You aren’t going to take my watch, are you?” I didn’t speak German, but I complained, “I’m an officer, he’s an enlisted man.” I was doing everything I could: “Officer—watch—I want my watch back!” He gave it back to me with the scarf, but not the maps and money in the escape kit.

The first thing the Germans did was put me in a small single room in solitary confinement. I was there for about two weeks. All they did was open the door and slide some food or water in on the floor. For the first two days I think I just slept, and then after that it became a little annoying. I didn’t know what was going to happen and wondered if this was going to be a permanent situation. It was part of their softening-up process.

After the second day, I was being interrogated once or twice a day. The man who interrogated me was a former school teacher. He’d actually taught school in America. He was an older man in his sixties. He came in and he wanted all kinds of information. I said I’d give him name, rank, and serial number, that’s all I was permitted to do.

One day he came in and he had a form all filled out for me to sign. He said, “Would you just correct any errors. We know all about it anyway, just correct any errors.” I looked and was dumbfounded. They knew the signals for the day. They knew what airfield I was from. They even knew the number of the bomber I was flying in. They knew right where I’d come from. They had a fantastic amount of information.

I said, “You guys didn’t do too well, but you aren’t going to get anything from me but name, rank, and serial number.”

He went through a little charade of, “You foolish boy, don’t you know if you don’t give me this information I’ll have to punish you?” Sort of idle threats, he never said what he was going to do or anything. This went on for about ten [p. 187]days. One day he came in and he was really upset with me that I wouldn’t at least sign the papers he had. Then he really threatened me with starvation.

I said, “I don’t know how long I could last, I’ve never been hungry, really starved. I don’t know how long I can take it. But until you test it out, you aren’t going to get anything but name, rank, and serial number.”

He went through another little charade suggesting bodily harm. I said to him, “I don’t know why you people do this. I always thought you Germans were real military people, that you honored the Geneva Convention. I’ve always had a lot of respect for you even though we’ve been enemies. I’ve always been taught that you were gentlemen and that you’d honor the Geneva Convention. I’m very disappointed to think that you are doing these things. You are nothing like I thought you’d be.” In three hours they let me out.

G. Easton Brown,2 Army Air Forces gunner, World War II

We had one passenger with us when we got shot down over Manchuria. He was a technical sergeant that had just come over from the United States, and he wanted to fly with us on a combat mission. He got his combat.

I don’t know what he did to irritate them, but they threw him into a cell with me. He was beaten so bad that he just cowered and lay over in the corner with his eyes swollen shut. He’d been hit with shrapnel from a thermite shell. He had some pieces in his buttocks and they wouldn’t treat him. My hands were filthy. We didn’t have an opportunity to bathe, shave, change clothes, or do anything. We just sat [p. 188]on the floor. The only toilet facility was a hole in the floor. We were there in that room for one hundred days.

We soon got lice that ate all the hair off our bodies. The places where that shrapnel had gone through his skin were really festering up. I pulled those scabs off, and just like you pop worms out of a cow’s back, I popped that shrapnel out of his butt. There were two fragments. Of course they had a lot of puss around them, but we didn’t have any bandages or anything. He had a little bit of nylon from a parachute, but that didn’t help much. He eventually healed up just fine. Boy, he was sure worked over at first. He must have just given that name, rank, and serial number routine in such a way that they made an example of him.

By the time all of this excitement died down, they took us to a school and put us in this room. We were lined up along the wall and we just sat there against it. We were all exhausted. I think about all of us fell asleep. This big, burly soldier went down the line slapping our faces with a glove to wake us up. Then they started to interrogate us. You may have heard some stories about this. The Japanese wear hob-nailed boots and take them off when they go into a building. They leave them out somewhere and wear little rubber shoes when they go inside. Those little rubber shoes were quite effective weapons.

You were supposed to give your name, rank, and serial number, which we did. They worked over the pilot, and chipped his teeth pretty bad. They’d take a perverse delight if somebody was a little bit fearful. They’d really work on them. All of this stuff about the bamboo splints under the fingernails or water torture, they didn’t do that. There may have been isolated cases of it, but even though they didn’t like us, they didn’t hardly dare torture or kill us. They only wanted to know what we knew. They’d put us in a room and they’d take a Chinese soldier or whoever, we didn’t know, and they’d beat him. They’d make this guy scream to wear you down and work on your nerves. We had this one boy on our crew whose name was Davidson. He’d just sob; he [p. 189]couldn’t take it. Most of us could take it, you just have to grit your teeth. They worked on us like that off and on for nearly thirty days.

They put us on a truck and took us around town. We were probably the first B-29 people they had up there. They’d captured others in Japan proper, but none up in Manchuria. They took us out to a school where there were some Japanese girls. They let them throw rocks and anything they could pick up at us. We solved that by just crowding over against the Japanese guards. They got hit and soon stopped the rock throwing. They took us and put us on display. We thought they were going to kill us. They had a lot of people out there, some were boys with swords.

They got us off the truck and we all stood there with a stiff upper lip. Someone said quietly, “This is it fellows, it’s been a good war, we’ll see ya.” They didn’t kill us, but they sure scared the hell out of us. When we realized we obviously weren’t going to die, we noticed our knees had become really weak. You mentally prepare yourself to die. It was quite an ordeal. Life is sweet, and even though you are being kicked around and starved, you want to hang around another day to see what’s going to happen.

One time during the one hundred days, they brought in some Red Cross stationery and said we could write home. Most of the guys bought it. I said, “They’ll never get out of this building.” The other guys said, “Well, we’re going to give it a try.” I was in a rather perverse mood, because I’d been worked over the day before. On one of the sheets they gave me, I just put in big bold letters, “Horse shit. Who are you monkeys trying to kid?” I sealed it up and put my folks’ address on it, and they took it. Ten minutes later this sergeant was in the room and I took another working over. Our men pretty well knew then that their letters hadn’t gone very far.

They’d bring us a little ball of rice about the size of a softball twice a day. Sometimes they wouldn’t bring any. The most exquisite torture I ever went through in that camp [p. 190]was lack of water. They did it deliberately. I’d been working for the Forest Service up in American Fork Canyon before I’d gone into the service, and I dreamt of riding up to that creek. I’d jump off my horse and run in the water. Then the water would fade away, and I’d wake up with a thick tongue and curse my captors. To a certain extent we lived on hate.

Calvin William Elton, Jr., Army Air Forces aircraft mechanic, World War II

It was Camp O’Donnell that the Japanese took us to first. They had one well and they’d work it about two hours a day. That was when you had to get your water. It was in bad shape, and lots of times they couldn’t even use it for those two hours a day. You’d stand in line with any containers you had. If you were lucky enough to be up there to where you could get the water within the two hours, you got water; if you were not, you didn’t get any. Later on we moved from there to Cabanatuan. Both of these camps, O’Donnell and Cabanatuan, were Philippine constabulary encampments. They were just bamboo buildings with open air areas around them. Inside were just slats of bamboo where you slept, on both sides of the barracks all the way along. One day I got sick. I was throwing up and vomiting and running off at the bowels. I was so weak after about an hour at the latrine I couldn’t even make my way back to the barracks. Arthur and two other fellows from my organization came out and got me and pooled all of the money they had and bought me a can of peaches. That was the only thing I could eat. I ate that whole can and it saved my life. I think we saved each other’s lives during the period that we were over there. We worked on the farm while we were at Cabanatuan, cultivating and planting sweet potatoes and various vegetables and also digging ditches so the monsoon rain water would run off. We did that all the time we were at Cabanatuan.

[p. 191]Then on 24 July 1943, they shipped me out with a group to Japan. We had to get on railroad boxcars going from Cabanatuan down to Manila. We were put so many to a boxcar—they weren’t the same size boxcars that we have here in the United State; they were smaller. They’d put about eighty to one hundred men in these boxcars; you couldn’t even sit down. You had to stand up as the train was going. If you had to defecate or urinate, if you were lucky enough to be close to the door, you’d do it out the door, but most people just had to go, that’s all. With all the dysentery, there was a terrible mess in there.

It took several hours to get from Cabanatuan down to Manila, where we got on a ship. The ship had been used to bring horses into the Philippines for the Japanese. They hadn’t cleaned it out before they put us in. Not only was the smell there, but there was no ventilation. They put us down in the hold of the ship. During the day they’d cover the holes so there was no ventilation or circulation of air in the holes. The boat was very crowded. We slept head to foot. Most POWs just wore a pair of shorts, and perspiration would roll off your body all night long.

It took about five days to get from the Philippines to Japan, where we went to the city of Ōmuta, on the island of Kyūshū. That’s where we were until the end of the war. We worked in a coal mine. Several men were injured. One man broke his back. We had two that lost legs and various other injuries. We worked in ten-day periods and then we’d have a day off. It would take about ten to twelve hours a day from the time we left the camp, marched to the mine, worked and came back.

Ray T. Matheny, Army Air Forces flight engineer and gunner, World War II

According to the Geneva Convention of 1929 concerning the treatment of prisoners, a neutral inspector was supposed to visit camps and report to all governments concerned about the conditions he found. During the spring a [p. 192]man came to camp representing the International Red Cross from Geneva, Switzerland. This man wore a boxy, blue serge, two-piece suit that was well worn. He had a heavy knit sweater under the ill-fitting coat and he wore a fedora with a short brim. He was a man in his forties with a face reminiscent of the movie actor Frederick March. He was formally introduced to our American camp commander by German authorities. The Red Cross representative asked us how we were being treated. The Germans had just shown us a German movie that had been made in 1938. The film was a love story and had been circulated in a few places in the United States prior to our entry into the war. The movie had little value to American prisoners who understood little German. The Germans issued extra margarine, catsup, and mustard and promised vegetable seeds for a camp garden. These were obvious ploys in preparation for an inspector from Geneva. It almost worked for the Germans, but the Americans found out the Red Cross man was a German spy.

The phony Red Cross man was supposed to inspect the camp for three days, but his visit was cut short. He was in our barracks asking questions and trying to act as if he was from Geneva. He parked his bicycle outside our barracks and on a signal from Sergeant Smith, the barracks chief, two men picked up the bicycle. They carried it from barracks to barracks when the guards weren’t looking toward the east end of camp. At the last barracks, under cover of several men, the bicycle was dumped into the cesspool that served several compounds.

The men in the barracks were particularly attentive to the phony Red Cross man and had drifted off into conversation that seemed to him to be valuable military information. He ate it up. But when the bicycle was safely deposited in its final resting place, signals were given and the conversation terminated. The phony Red Cross man was caught by surprise. He thought that he was doing well, and suddenly he was alone and no one would talk to him. He knew he’d been found out, but he didn’t know the price [p. 193]he’d pay. The German spy, as he now felt fully identified, picked up his black briefcase and ran out the door. He let out an oath. “Gott im Himmel, wo ist mein Fahrrad? (God in heaven, where is my bicycle?),” he gasped.

His screaming quickly brought two Wehrmacht [German army] guards who weren’t supposed to be on duty during the day and who obviously were stationed as a back-up force. The green-uniformed guards ran around the barracks looking for the bicycle while the spy retreated up the street toward the Kommandant’s office. When no bicycle was found, the guards also retreated from the area.

In about half an hour a Luftwaffe [German air force] lieutenant came down the street flanked by six Wehrmacht soldiers. The lieutenant demanded that the barracks chief come outside. The lieutenant questioned Sergeant Smith about the bicycle, and of course he professed complete ignorance about it. The lieutenant got mad and motioned two of the guards to flank Sergeant Smith in a threatening way. Smith shouted back that this was abuse of a prisoner and cited the Geneva Convention. This cooled the lieutenant and he motioned the guards back. The guards were in a bad mood because they’d been on night duty, and now being called out on a quest for a bicycle seemed aggravating. The lieutenant ordered a search of our barracks, and we prisoners put up a howl and stomped our feet. The guards were ordered to get the job done and they began waving their rifles around. The prisoners slowly moved out of the barracks, but not before I saw one man struck in the stomach with a rifle butt. Since the search didn’t reveal the bicycle, the lieutenant marched the six men back down the street in military cadence to the German quarters.

About an hour later another German contingent came down the street led by Oberst [Colonel] Kuntz. This time there were six Luftwaffe men with rifles marched by Struck, a German non-commissioned officer, and accompanied by the phony Red Cross man. Struck looked like a portly businessman, not a soldier, even when marching [p. 194]troops to cadence. Kuntz ordered Smith out of the barracks. Smith saluted sharply and stood at attention. Kuntz half-heartedly returned the salute, then burst out in German. Struck translated Kuntz’s demand for the return of the bicycle. Smith denied any knowledge of it, which made Kuntz mad. Kuntz made a face, then composed himself and spoke calmly. Struck translated: “How could you treat a representative of the International Red Cross in such a demeaning way? He came here to inspect the camp and to bring you favors. Your men have stolen his bicycle and it must be returned.”

Smith replied, “That man isn’t a Red Cross representative, but a god-damned spy.”

Kuntz gave an exaggerated, surprised look as though he’d practiced this expression in his office. “Why, this man had proper credentials,” he replied. He pulled a thick envelope from his tunic, waving it at the sergeant.

At this moment the impasse was broken by Sergeant Myers, the American camp commander, who came out of Barracks 19-A and shouted, pointing his finger at the phony Red Cross man, “This man is a German spy, sent by German Intelligence.” Kuntz gave a genuine look of surprise as Sergeant Myers continued, “His name is Cedric Hoffmann, from Berlin.”

This news completely broke Kuntz’s countenance, and he sputtered, “The bicycle must be returned. He can’t get a replacement until after the war.”

At that the prisoner spectators quietly snickered. Kuntz spun on his heel, motioning Struck to come, and they marched down the company street. We’d won. The spy was exposed, his bicycle gone forever, and Kuntz couldn’t punish us.

C. Grant Ash, Army Air Forces bombardier, World War II

The camp was such that the Germans allowed you a certain freedom inside restricted compounds. We were counted twice a day and fed three times a day, not much, [p. 195]but a little something. Sometimes they just forgot, at least they didn’t come some days.

There were more neglect and boredom than there was meanness. They weren’t mean or cruel to us in this camp. They were trying to abide by the Geneva Convention as best they could, at least at that stage of the war.

At this time they had probably four thousand to five thousand prisoners of war in the Sagan (now Żagań, Poland) area. They had us divided up in compounds so that they could handle us easier and we couldn’t riot and push out. In fact, if you read the book, The Great Escape, the real “great escape” took place in the camp that I was interned in. The escape took place two or three weeks before I arrived. I remember there were big signs that said, “Escaping is no longer a sport. Anybody caught escaping will be shot.” I’m sure the Germans meant exactly what the signs indicated.

Ray T. Matheny, Army Air Forces flight engineer and gunner, World War II

April 1944 was a cold month with very few sunny days. The most notable event in April began about the middle of the month with the addition to the camp of a single prisoner. The new kriegie [prisoner, from the German for “warrior”] was a staff sergeant named Johnson who had been captured by local police. Since a prison camp was nearby, the police took him to the gate. The Wehrmacht guards simply opened the gate, and Johnson walked in. In a few hours he disappeared, and that’s when the Germans got terribly upset.

Johnson went straight to the American camp commander, Sergeant Myers. Myers already knew Johnson through his network of communications. This was the third time that Johnson had been captured, and now there was a price on his head. The Gestapo [Nazi secret police] came that afternoon and demanded that Johnson be turned over to them. Myers said he hadn’t the faintest idea what they were talking about. The Gestapo men were large, well fed, [p. 196]and wore civilian clothes. Each had a felt hat typical of the Austrian area with short feathers stuck in the band. They wore long black overcoats, but one man had a gray tweed coat. The sight of these men brought fear into our hearts, knowing their terrible power over civil and often military matters. The Gestapo ordered all prisoners onto the compound for roll call. All prisoners were accounted for, so the man in the gray overcoat asked for a dog tag check. The guards had to read each dog tag, and prisoners had to say their numbers in German. All prisoners were still accounted for except Johnson. The Gestapo agent in gray then demanded a picture check, so we lined up again while their “mug” shots were compared to each prisoner. It was late afternoon when a tattoo check was demanded by the Gestapo agent. Johnson had a tattoo on his chest and upper left arm. Prisoners were made to strip to the waist to check for tattoos. We stood in long lines while guards and Gestapo looked for the tattoos.

After the prisoners had been checked against their photographs, dog tags, and tattoos and Johnson still hadn’t been found, the Gestapo announced that we’d remain outside until Johnson was turned over to them. The Gestapo went through each barracks, tearing up bunks, throwing everything onto the floor, stealing Red Cross-issued items, cigarettes, and anything they wanted. The search included the latrines, store houses, cook houses, and every building within the prisoner fences.

We prisoners remained in the cold all night while the Gestapo continued to tear things up. In the morning, three Gestapo men stood stoically dressed in long overcoats and their silly little hats. One spoke in English saying that if we didn’t reveal Johnson’s hiding place we’d remain outside for the remainder of the war. The prisoners didn’t snicker or laugh at the Gestapo’s remarks. These were men not bound by a military code of conduct. They were responsible only to Hitler and to themselves.

The kriegies withstood Gestapo harassment out on [p. 197]the compound for three days before being released to the barracks. I’ll never forget the final scene of five Gestapo men angrily striding across the compound to the west gate in total defeat. Not a sound could be heard from the kriegies until the Gestapo men had marched out of sight down the hill towards Krems. Then there was a huge cry of victory.

“What happened to Johnson?” was the question being asked. At first there was no news on what happened, but later when the kriegies were being evacuated from camp, the American camp commander gave out the story.

Johnson reported to the American camp commander within minutes after being thrust into the camp by the police. Myers had been alerted and knew that Johnson would be killed by the Gestapo. Johnson had been hidden under the east shelf of the latrine for Barracks Seventeen and Nineteen, which had been prepared at the time of cleaning.

The day after the Gestapo left, we heard on BBC that President Roosevelt had sent a message to the German High Command warning them that the American government wouldn’t tolerate mistreatment of prisoners and that they’d be held responsible for the events of the last three days at Stalag 17-B [German prison camp]. This news gave us great courage to know that our president took a personal interest in us. “How did the president know so soon about our plight?” we asked. “Myers must have a direct line out of here,” someone replied.

Colvin William Elton, Jr., Army Air Forces aircraft mechanic, World War II

I never gave up. I never thought I wouldn’t return. In fact, when we’d get in a group at night, we’d always talk about what we wanted first when we came back to the United States. Maybe it would be strawberry shortcake or pineapple up-side-down cake with cream topping or something like that. We were always thinking about a good meal that we wanted when we came back. The food under the Japanese was a very meager, [p. 198]basic rice diet. In the morning we’d have what we called “lugow.” It was rice cooked in a very mushy consistency. We’d have a little bowl of that. For lunch we had another bowl of steamed rice and perhaps a vegetable of some kind or a piece of fish. Sometimes two meals a day, sometimes three meals a day, but you never knew. If you were sick you received a smaller ration than if you were well. They felt that if you were healthy and producing for them, you were entitled to the rations. If you were sick, you weren’t entitled to them.

Ray T. Matheny, Army Air Forces flight engineer and gunner, World War II

The group that I belonged to bought a bread knife and sharpening stone from Smitty in Barracks 17-A. Knives of any kind were forbidden by the Germans, but we were issued a kilo loaf of dark bread two to three days a week to be divided among thirteen men. Such a loaf of bread had to be cut carefully if thirteen men were to get equal shares. Smitty from Barracks 17-A made knives out of our window latches, which the German carpenters had installed in 1919 when the barracks were built. The steel latch was about fourteen inches long and one and one-half inches wide with two slots cut through to receive locking bolts. Smitty worked the window latch down with a file he’d purchased from a German guard. A wooden handle was fitted with copper rivets, making an efficient and handsome bread knife. Since each group of partners required cutting of bread, there was at least one knife in each half end of a barracks. I was skilled in doing fine work, and I was noted for my ability to cut things evenly. I didn’t like the way the bread was being cut, and one day I grabbed the knife and began to cut slices. My cutting was careful, and I was given the job of cutting bread for our little group. When bread was issued, everyone was concerned because division of the loaf into equal parts was essential lest there be a serious argument. The new loaf was set on a table and thirteen men [p. 199]would gather around to inspect it, lift it, and smell it. I’d begin marking the top of the loaf with the knife into the thirteen parts, compensating in thickness where it tapered at the ends. When the marks were made, they were inspected and discussed by the men. Names were put on a piece of paper or cardboard and each assigned a number through thirteen. Each man had a number corresponding to a numbered slice of bread. These numbers were fixed, but the men shifted their names one number each time a loaf was issued so that a different slice of the loaf was received. As a fee for my skill in dividing and cutting the loaf, I had the right to scrape each side of a slice of bread. The heavy, moist bread would produce curled crumbs that would dry out in a few minutes and be lost. If the residue was scraped off immediately, it could be recovered. I had a milk can for collecting crumbs, and in two to three weeks the can could be filled. I was given the name of “Cutter,” and often my services were sought among the other groups in other barracks, particularly when an odd-shaped loaf of bread was issued.

C. Grant Ash, Army Air Forces bombardier, World War II

The Red Cross parcels that we obtained had four packs of cigarettes, a can of coffee, and a can of milk—”Klim milk”—which was the first kind of dry milk. I never had any difficulty trading a can of coffee for a can of milk, so I’d have two cans of milk. You can see by just that alone how much more nourishment I was getting than some other guys. We could always trade the cigarettes for somebody else’s food, someone who would rather smoke than eat.

Ray T. Matheny, Army Air Forces flight engineer and gunner, World War II

Cigarettes could buy anything but freedom at Stalag 17-B. Cigarettes were ranked according to the quality of tobacco blend. Lucky Strikes were first, with Camels second, Chesterfields third, Avalons and Old Golds shared fourth, [p. 200]and several other poorer brands ranked down to seventh place. The Red Cross parcels had Lucky Strikes, Camels, and Chesterfields, which provided a fair stock of money in camp. When these brands of cigarettes were plentiful, they were smoked, but during 1944 there was less smoking and more trading of these valuable items with the Germans.

Some Germans got conned by enterprising prisoners, who carefully unsealed a pack of Lucky Strikes and a pack of Avalons and exchanged them. The government tax seal wasn’t put on these cigarettes, and it wasn’t too difficult to open and reseal the packages without detection until the product was tried. It was common to see a German guard talking to a prisoner and the guard carefully smelling the cigarettes and sometimes looking each one over. Cigarettes became the most sought after items in camp, and they effectively were equal to money.

My first mail arrived 9 September 1944, nine months after I’d been shot down. My letters and cards home requested chocolate, gum, and cigarettes. I was greatly surprised to receive a parcel of ten cartons of Lucky Strike cigarettes. My parents had written the company about my request and they sent me the ten cartons. Somehow the package got by the Germans, and it was like passing a bag of gold coins to a prisoner. Suddenly I was rich. I immediately bought a can of Spam and a concentrated chocolate bar. I had plans to buy a radio, maybe a camera from the gambler in Barracks 17-A, and plenty of food.

It didn’t take long for second thoughts that told me I couldn’t keep all of those Lucky Strikes for myself. I gave away nine cartons, package by package to friends and kept one carton for myself. The carton of Lucky Strikes contained two hundred cigarettes, which I traded for about six hundred Chesterfield, Camel, Old Gold, and Avalon cigarettes. Then I hired two gamblers, bought two decks of cards, stocked them with cigarettes, and sent them out on a circuit, avoiding big games. The little syndicate that I formed was called “Deacon’s Sinners,” after my airplane. Within a [p. 201]month I expanded to four gamblers and had sufficient income to buy cans of meat when they were available. My goal was to buy a radio, which would take several hundred cigarettes of the top brands.

Calvin William Elton, Jr., Army Air Forces aircraft mechanic, World War II

I have no animosity toward the Japanese at all, individually or as a country. I had good experiences with one supervisor while I was working in the mine. His name was Kimoro. He was very kind. He was a middle-aged man probably in his early forties at the time. He’d give us breaks whenever he could. He liked the Americans. When we’d sit down to have our lunch, he’d get into a conversation about old-time American movies such as Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy and other comedies he’d seen. He was very considerate about giving us as much free time as he could, but he was limited, of course.

G. Easton Brown, Army Air Forces gunner, World War II

They had a small compound built around the old house where we stayed. They had an electric fence along the top, and they’d make us stand out there in the sun sometimes. They’d march us around and line us up.

There was one boy with us who had played football for the Buckeyes at Ohio State. He was a great big, husky guy. He broke his foot while bailing out of one of the other ships that was shot down. Of course, there was no medical treatment for it, and it healed in rather a grotesque fashion. They’d line us up and he could never put his feet right. That one foot would always go off to the side.

We named one of our guards “Eleanor” because he had buck teeth like Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor was a sadist! He loved to hurt people. He’d stomp on this foot, sometimes until the Ohio State kid passed out from pain. The rest of us had to stand there and take it. If we showed any [p. 202]sign of fight, they’d put a bayonet against our stomachs and dare us to move. We’d have to take it.

We’d spend hours after these ordeals plotting how we’d slowly kill Eleanor. We had some real cruel ideas of how we’d finish off Eleanor. We drew lots and I won. The day that they came over and said, “Our countries have made peace, you are going over to this main camp and then you can go home,” the guys looked at me and said, “What about Eleanor?” There was a short-handled hickory pump handle out in the yard, and I said, “This ought to do the trick.” I planned on finding and killing Eleanor just as sure as I’m talking to you here now. I wasn’t going to torture him as we planned; I was going to dispatch him rather fast. All the guys looked forward to it because of the punishment we’d taken through the months from him.

When we got over there, one of the first questions we asked the other prisoners was, “Where’s Eleanor?”

They laughed and said, “You are too late. The Chinese got him last night.” They took us and showed us Eleanor’s body. It was lying next to an upright post upon which his decapitated head had been impaled. You could tell it was Eleanor. He’d run afoul of too many people, and the Chinese prisoners got him. Now, I’m very relieved that I didn’t have to follow through with it.

Ray T. Matheny, Army Air Forces flight engineer and gunner, World War II

“Herman the German” was a character that could’ve fit in well with the Three Stooges. He was chunky and, at about five feet eight inches, he weighed in at nearly two hundred pounds. Herman sometimes tried to fit the Nazi role but made a terrible mess of it. He was sloppy and looked as if he would’ve been more at home in a blacksmith’s apron than a Wehrmacht uniform. Herman was terribly naive and easily led into a circumstance that he couldn’t salvage. Some of the men taught him “English” phrases, and he’d repeat these in a gleeful way. Herman would stomp up the bar-[p.203]racks steps making a noise like a bull. Someone would ask, “Was ist los (What’s the matter), Herman?”

Herman would reply, “Nichts ist los, alles ist verboten! (Nothing’s the matter, everything’s forbidden!)” in a joking way.

Then someone would engage him in a silly banter of words, often swearing and trying to get him to repeat them. Some “English” lessons would include, “Herman, sprich, ‘I’m a dumb son-of-a-bitch.”’ And, of course, Herman would try to repeat the phrase without asking what the German equivalent meant. After a few days, when Herman learned the phrases well, the Americans would give him some fanciful German translation. Herman would often repeat these phrases in his loud barracks-calling voice for everyone to enjoy. This game went on for over a year until there was a chance encounter between Herman and Struck, a German non-commissioned officer who spoke English, when Herman was demonstrating his newly acquired “English.”

“Big Stoop,” another German, didn’t spend much time in the barracks area because he feared for his life. Big Stoop was so named because he looked like that character depicted in the comic strip “Terry and the Pirates.” Big Stoop’s German name wasn’t well-known, but he fit the comic strip characterization. He was about six feet tall and probably weighed 250 pounds. He had an enormous face with a great drooping jaw and an incredibly stupid appearance. He was an exception in the Luftwaffe, which was selective about who wore the blue uniform.

Before I arrived at Stalag 17-B there was an escape attempt that ended in disaster. A tunnel had been cut through from a barracks next to the fence out to a small grove of trees that was used as a cemetery. The tunnel was dug by a small group of men joined in secrecy. The break was made by digging out the last few feet of vertical shaft at the end of the tunnel. The Germans had knowledge of the tunnel, where it was to break out, and the time of the es-[p.204]cape attempt. When the men broke out of the vertical shaft, they were greeted with searchlights and gunfire. One man lay wounded with a bullet in his leg; others were killed. Big Stoop went over to the wounded man and fired eight shots into his face despite cries for mercy heard by men in the barracks. This barbaric act labeled Big Stoop and the officers in charge that night, including the camp Kommandant. The tragic event devastated escape groups throughout the American compounds, and when I arrived every new prisoner was regarded with considerable suspicion. Hence, it took many months to establish a relationship with the escape groups. No informant was exposed while I was there, but presumably the informant continued to live in the barracks.

Another German Wehrmacht soldier who played a role in the escape episodes was “Abe the Mole.” I never knew Abe’s name, but he was so nicknamed by the Americans because of his facial and physical appearance. The name Abe was a great insult to him; he became furious when he heard it. He was portly, very short, and had a face that reminded Americans of a Jewish stereotype. Abe’s job was to find tunnels by crawling under the barracks and running a steel rod into the ground, hoping to find excavations. He was always accompanied by a large German shepherd that protected him and presumably could smell out a tunnel. Abe came as unobtrusively as possible, but when he was caught crawling under a barracks, everyone would stomp on the floor with their feet close to the place where Abe was. The noise was terrible, and it disturbed not only Abe but the dog. The prisoners made Abe’s life miserable with derisive names and remarks. Soon Abe could only probe for tunnels when the prisoners were kept out on the compound for an extended roll call.

Walter H. Speidel, German Army Africa Corps, World War II

We heard and read about how the war was going. The greatest fear for us was that the Russians would come [p. 205]into Germany because we knew what would happen if the Russians came. We were hoping that the German generals would just open up the Western front so that the Americans and the allied forces could occupy Germany before the Russians would, but of course that didn’t happen. Even after the Americans had occupied most of what is now known as East Germany, they retreated and turned the area over to the Russians, a fact which to this day is incomprehensible to the people who lived through it because it was clear to everybody that eventually there would arise some controversy between the United States and the communists.

In June 1945 there were teams of American information officers coming around with some Germans showing us films from Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and the other extermination camps. We couldn’t believe it. I remember one time when they tried to force us to work in the cotton fields and we said, “No, we won’t work, because according to the Geneva Convention you can’t force us. It has to be voluntary.” We’d volunteered before to work in the fields, but as soon as they tried to force us, we all refused.

Then we were told, “If you don’t go to work as we order, we’ll put you in a camp like Buchenwald.” We just laughed, because at the time we hadn’t seen that film. We said, “So what’s wrong with Buchenwald?” We’d never heard what “Buchenwald” was. When we were shown the film we said, “We’ll never believe that any German could do anything like that.” However, the film seemed to be accurate; it seemed to be too horrible to be just made up like that. We eventually believed it and had to swallow the pride that no German would be able to do anything as horrible as that.

C. Grant Ash, Army Air Forces bombardier, World War II

We had our own secret radio. The Germans would find only a piece of a radio, never a whole radio. We had enough parts so that at a certain time of day at a given barracks a group of six or eight guys would assemble. They’d put a radio together with the parts they carried. They’d then [p. 206]receive the news broadcast from England, which was our voice in Europe and was propagandized, just like the Germans’ news; not always right up to snuff. But we could then compare the English version against the German news. We knew that somewhere in between there must be something that was right.

Ray T. Matheny, Army Air Forces flight engineer and gunner, World War II

Christmas Eve 1944 was anything but a cheerful time for the kriegies of Stalag 17-B. There were loudspeakers that the Germans rarely used posted in many areas of the camp. This night, however, they blared Christmas music that made us feel homesick all the more. The worst was when the Germans played one of Bing Crosby’s latest records, with Bing crooning, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Many kriegies cried openly as they heard Bing’s voice. To top off the problem of Christmas Eve, the temperature had slipped to minus thirteen degrees Fahrenheit. Christmas day I had a cheese and liver paste sandwich made from cans saved from days when such food was available.

The effects of confinement were showing on some of the kriegies, including myself. I clearly remember a kriegie who went out of his head, jumped over the west compound warning wire, and climbed about halfway up the fence when a guard in the gate tower shot him with a rifle. Two men had tried to stop the distraught man, but he had too much of a head start. The guard was cursed, shouted at, and clearly told that he and his commanding officers would pay for this deed. The guard, in a display of irrationality, waved his rifle back and forth at the men standing below, threatening them. It was nearly an hour before the man’s body was removed.

After the shooting I questioned my survivability. There was a rumor that five men each week were losing their minds. These men were allegedly taken to Vienna for psychological treatment but were never heard from again. It [p. 207]was true that many kriegies were affected by the shooting and by the disappearance of these men. I’d wake up in the night feeling that maybe I was going crazy and fearing that I might also try to climb the fence some day. During these lonely hours I’d listen to the noise of the barracks; men snoring, someone having a nightmare, the rats that came out after everyone had retired. I often felt as though I was losing control of my mind. I’d bite my hands to try to break a trance-like condition that I felt was coming over me. There was genuine fear that if I didn’t fight off this strange sensation of losing control of my mind, I’d be carried away to a Vienna mental hospital or worse. One night I nearly went over the edge of the fearful state when a rat ran over my hand as I lay in my bunk.

C. Grant Ash, Army Air Forces bombardier, World War II

We were at Luft Stalag 3 near Sagan. We were there through Christmas. On 27 January the Russians came down toward the old Polish border on their race to Berlin. We heard them. We could hear their big guns, the artillery, for weeks.

We finally left the camp and were forced to march westward. We’d been alerted two weeks earlier that such a march may occur. They weren’t going to surrender us to the Russians. They were going to keep us as barter. In the middle of the night, they marched us out. After about three days of marching, we’d just about had it. The fifteen of us had dwindled to twelve, and we were pulling a sleigh that we’d made out of a bed. It had bedding, pots and pans, and the like on the sleigh. We were trudging uphill, a long stretch of a hill. I remember we were low on food. I was eating a can of margarine that had come in the Red Cross parcels. I remember thinking, “I can spoon the margarine out with my hand and eat this straight fat without getting sick.” I hadn’t slept for over forty-eight hours, maybe nearer to seventy-two. We were forced to march at night and rest in the cold for four or five hours in the middle of the day. We [p.208] were moving rapidly because they thought the Russians were trying to capture us.

I remember at one point going up this hill. I remember saying, “I take a mouth full of margarine and it’s just like putting fuel on the fire, I can feel it immediately go to my muscles to keep me moving.” Then I suddenly realized that I was no longer in my body. I was floating, and there I was down there. I was floating above the whole column. I went down the column and saw all that was going on there. All of these guys that were falling out were being taken by the Germans to farm houses. They’d knock on doors and just push them in and say, “We’ll be back for them. If they escape it’s your neck.” Then I went up the line and looked over the hill, it seemed to be all down hill from there. I then came back and went back into my body.

When I got out of the war and returned home, I talked with Mother and we compared dates and notes. As near as we could tell, within a few hours of the event related above, my mother had awakened in the middle of the night very concerned for my welfare. She was so concerned that she’d gone into the bedroom and prayed for my safety, to know my whereabouts, and to ask the Lord if he’d at least tell her whether I was whole, or if I’d lost any of my arms, legs, or eyes. What was my condition? “He’s alive, I know, but what condition is he in?” she pleaded with the Lord. Eventually, she fell asleep and said she had a dream. She said she was sitting at the sewing machine and I came in one door and went out another. I came in and she said, “Oh, Grant!” But I wouldn’t talk to her. I stood before her and held up my hands and showed her all of my fingers and showed her that I was walking and went out the door. “Oh, Grant, come back.” I did it three times. The last time I said to her, “Mother, you will just have to be content,” and walked out.

She described me. I was wearing an overcoat that she’d never seen any military men wear. She described a French officer’s coat that the Germans had given me as we [p. 209]left Luft Stalag 3. When we left it was twenty-seven to thirty degrees below zero. They’d given me this old French officer’s coat that flared downward from under the arm pits because I was obviously not sufficiently dressed for the weather conditions. It was tight in the shoulders and then flared, just like a big skirt. It was all wool and went clear to my feet. It was actually a little too big for me. I had the white rayon scarf I had with me on the airplane. I’d obtained from the Red Cross an olive drab scarf. I’d sewn shredded paper between the two scarfs to make them warmer. I liked that rayon against my face. Mother described this white scarf with the olive drab side. There was no way for her to know this. I didn’t have gloves, no, but I did have my good shoes on, she remembered. And, I did! She was given the privilege of knowing that I was all right.

Calvin William Elton, Jr., Army Air Forces aircraft mechanic, World War II

We awoke one morning and the Japanese camp commander told us that we didn’t have to go to work. We were going to honor the dead that had died there in our camp. We marched out on the parade ground in formation, and he gave us a big spiel about being friends; he wanted to be friends with the Americans, and he hoped the Americans would be friends with the Japanese. He wanted to honor those that had died in the camp, and he wanted us to honor them. Then, he dismissed us. He said, “The rest of the day is free.” We knew something was wrong. We hadn’t heard definitely about the war being over or the Japanese surrendering, but we knew something was wrong. By the middle of the day, we determined that the war had ended. We broke down the walls of the camp and took control. We went out and got food wherever we could, whether it was live on the hoof or whether it was rice or whatever, and we brought it back to camp and cooked it up and ate it on an individual basis for the first day or two. Then the Japanese started bringing in food.

[p. 210]After the Japanese surrendered, we stayed in camp perhaps four or five days, and then on an individual basis we just took off and boarded trains. We’d heard rumors that the Americans had established an air base on the southern part of the island, so we just got on a train and went down there and were repatriated. From there we went to Okinawa and then to the Philippines and back to the United States.

Walter H. Speidel, German Army Africa Corps, World War II

I think it was in the middle of April 1946, almost a year after the end of the war, when we were put on an old freighter and shipped to France. We weren’t told at first, but we found out later that the American government had agreed to turn over approximately 380,000 prisoners of war to France to be used in the coal mines, to rebuild bridges and roads, and to help repair the destruction of the war.

Soon after we arrived in Camp Bolbec, Le Havre, we learned that we would be given a physical examination that would determine who was fit to work in the coal mines, or on roads, or in removing mines and bombs—the duds that hadn’t exploded. I went through the physical examination on the second day. I wasn’t quite sure if I should go first or last into the long line for the examination, but then I figured, “The longer it takes, the more tired they get, and maybe later they’ll be less attentive and might be more inclined to let people slip through. Maybe they had a certain quota to fill.” So I decided to line up close to the end.

Around midnight my turn came. There was a German doctor first, then an American doctor, and finally a French doctor. The French doctor had to make the final decision. When I came to the German doctor, he read my name and said, “Speidel, do you have a brother George?”

I said, “No, George is my cousin.” Which was true. He said, “George and I were in France together. We were the best of friends.” He asked me, ”What’s wrong with you?”

I said, “I always had trouble with my heart.”

He said, “Forget it. That’s too easy to detect.”

[p. 211]Then I remembered when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, while I was on the track and field team in school, I had a knee injury. It was called Schlatter disease. I think it’s called Osgood-Slatter disease in the United States.

I was treated at that time and didn’t have any problems at all later. I sort of grew out of it and had all but forgotten about it. I told him about that injury, and he was quite excited and said, “That’s great! With bad knees they can’t use you in the coal mines, and you can’t work on the roads either.” He wrote “Schlatter-Osgood disease,” and the American doctor just smiled at me, looked at what his German colleague had written, and okayed it. Then I came to the French doctor. It was after midnight, and he’d had too much wine and by then was just a very happy person. He just looked at the piece of paper and said, “Oh, Schlatter, oh yes, good old Professor Schlatter in Heidelberg. I studied under Professor Schlatter,” and he marked my sheet “unfit for work.” The next day some of us lucky ones were on our way back to Germany.

Timothy Hoyt Bowers-Irons, chaplain, World War II and Korea

There was one thing that impressed me very much. I guess it convinced me I hadn’t really been prepared for the war. It had always seemed to me to be kind of fair and square. They were trying to kill you and you were trying to kill them. We had a difference of opinion. I tended to discount, to some extent, the horror stories. I knew from my reading that during World War I there had been a lot of propaganda about horrible things that happened, and so on, so I sort of tended to minimize all the horror stories I’d heard.

Then we overran Nordhausen. There was a concentration camp there, and there were three thousand bodies piled up. They had this huge barn-like structure, almost as big as an aircraft hanger. They’d painted black stripes on the cement floor, just about six feet long and about three feet square and there were bodies laying on the stripes. [p. 212]Some of them were empty. They were to keep track of the bodies. The Germans were very methodical, apparently. Some of the bodies had their wrists and their ankles wired together. They were still alive. Some of them were so weak that they could hardly wiggle their eyes. You didn’t know they weren’t dead. We lost 150 that night from malnutrition and mistreatment. These were the slave laborers. I was mad enough to kill everybody. I would’ve wiped out the whole German nation. You don’t treat people like that, but they did. There they were. So we unwired them, but they died like flies, they were so weak. They wired them like that not just to be mean but to keep them from moving. Sometimes in death throes they’d kick around and roll out of the proper place and then you would lose track of them. How do you talk about that? You can’t believe it. I can remember how I felt, and I can’t believe it to this day, but it was there. I saw it. I have pictures of that pile of bodies. We used bulldozers to dig big graves, and then we carried the bodies down and laid them in there and kept track of them and covered them up with a bulldozer. What the hell are you going to do with that many bodies? It isn’t like having a little funeral service.

Suddenly the war got very serious. Up until then it had been adventurous and kind of romantic. It was uncomfortable, but you were a hero and there was this great crusade in Europe. It suddenly got very grim for me.

Freeman J. Byington,3 Army Field artillery, World War II

Our outfit overran a Nazi concentration camp called [p. 213]Ohrdruf near Mahlhausen, Germany. One of our squads was assigned to go into this camp and bury the dead. One of the prisoners who had escaped told us through an interpreter that the prisoners had been mostly Russians and Jews. He said that when the Nazis realized we were approaching the camp, they decided to move out and take the prisoners, mostly political, with them. Any prisoners who were too sick or crippled to travel, they just gunned down. The Nazis had lined them up and shot them, and the bodies were still lying there. As we went into the camp we opened the big warehouse and inside were dead bodies just stacked up in there by the hundreds. The Nazis had been putting them into ovens or taking them into the woods to get rid of the bodies. Most of these prisoners were nothing but skin and bones, they were so badly starved. You could understand soldiers being killed as part of the war, but this torture of prisoners was senseless. I can’t imagine how one human being could do that to another. It was one of the worst things I saw in the war; I’d seen some of the destroyed cities, but these concentration camps got under my skin worse than anything else.

Eugene E. Campbell, chaplain, World War II

I found our people were very bitter toward the Germans as they moved across Germany and began liberating the concentration camps and American prisoners of war. We ran into one unit where the prisoners—fliers who had been shot down and so on—were starving skeletons. They hadn’t been cared for. I guess communications had broken down as far as the German Army was concerned, so these men looked terrible. It just infuriated us. As we liberated concentration camp areas, you just felt like going out and shooting every German you saw. Some men actually lost their perspective; we had people in our division ride along in the truck and see farmers out in a field and begin taking pot shots at them. You lose a lot of sensitivity when you get [p. 214]into a uniform and a gun is in your hand, especially when you’ve seen atrocities.

Lincoln R. Whitaker, Army infantryman, World War II

We came upon Gardelegen and were digging in for the night when a man approached us and told us that he’d just escaped from a prison camp. He also said that the prison camp wasn’t too far away. So we decided to go with him, and we found a prison camp that the SS troops had held. The camp was for Poles, Jews, and refugee people who hadn’t been sent off to Auschwitz or some of the other murder camps.

The Germans knew we were going to overtake them. They wanted to leave, but they didn’t want to leave any prisoners behind. So they went into the camp and put fresh straw on the ground throughout the barracks and told them that they’d now have nice places to sleep. Then the Germans went in there and poured kerosene all over the straw and they set it on fire. They had a machine gun set up at the gate. Many of the prisoners had forced the gate to the point where it was almost opened, but not quite. There was a pile of dead people at the gate. I’d say it was head high, at least five or six feet high.

The man that had come to us had been pushed down by his comrades trying to get out, and he’d been trampled underfoot. The machine gun overshot him, and he wasn’t wounded. After the fracas, the German SS troops came back into the camp and said, “Those of you who are still alive, if you will stand up, we’ll take you to the aid station or the hospital and get medical help for you.” This individual could hear the shots fired, and he watched these German officers shoot the people that would indicate that they were still alive.

When we got back there with him, we found two more individuals alive who had been buried under the piles of dead bodies. The smell was so horribly bad; I just don’t know how any of us stood it. We combed the camp [p. 215]and tried to find out if there was anyone else still alive. We unpiled those bodies that night. That was a terrible experience. We saw firsthand what the Germans were capable of doing.

We reported this man’s story to the higher authorities. As a result of this experience, our company commander went and got the Burgermeister [mayor] of the town and asked him if he knew what was going on out at that camp. He said he didn’t know. Our company commander took him out and showed him what the 55 troops had done. The German people couldn’t believe it themselves; at least they said so.

Our company commanders and our battalion commander charged the Burgermeister with the responsibility of erecting a cemetery there and keeping that cemetery forever green in memory of everyone that had suffered there. It had a sign, both in German and in English, telling the story of what happened there.

Hyde L. Taylor, Army Airborne, Vietnam

We walked into a prisoner of war camp one night quite by mistake. We just parted the grass and walked right into it; it was that well camouflaged. It must have had about forty Vietnamese prisoners of war being held by the North Vietnamese. It was way up in the mountains, made out of bamboo and thatch.

They discovered us there. The security people that were there were all North Vietnamese. They put up quite a fight. It took us all that night and the next day to get in there. One of the things they did to discourage us was to push the prisoners at us and try to get us to kill the prisoners as they pushed them ahead of them. They tried every dirty trick there was in war. We finally got some help from another unit.

We went in and rescued about thirty-five of them. I think five of the prisoners were killed. The conditions there were like you see in Nazi Germany. They had them lying in leg stocks almost starved to death. I had an interpreter with [p. 216]me, and he could talk to them. They had them on work parties. They’d take them out and they’d do menial labor, such as work on ambush pits or things like that. They were in just horrible condition.

They had a large latrine dug. I’d say it was about twelve feet wide and maybe twelve feet deep. They’d covered it with logs and left openings where they could use it for a latrine. As these workers would become too weak to work, their guards would just go push them in there, dead or alive. If they died, they threw them in there. If they were just too weak to work, they threw them in there. That’s the kind of conditions those people were under.

We had to carry them out because there wasn’t a place to land a helicopter in the area. I remember I had one over my back and his legs around me, piggy-back style. We got down to where a helicopter could land and he got off. I remember he got off and I laid him on the grass. He left a layer of skin on me. That’s how emaciated the people were. Somebody told me later that about thirty-two of them lived; three of them didn’t make it. None of them would’ve lived very much longer if we hadn’t gone in there.

Maybe bringing those people out is a redeeming value. Maybe that’s why we were there. Maybe those thirty-five lives wouldn’t have amounted to anything, but it made you feel like you did accomplish something.

Neil Workman, Marine radio operator, World War II

We’d taken a Japanese prisoner. He looked like a fifteen-year-old kid. Our soldiers questioned him and tried to get some information out of him. He didn’t even know what they were talking about. It became obvious that they couldn’t get any information out of him. The captain who was in charge said, “Well, we can’t be bothered with him.” He just took out his pistol, put it to the prisoner’s head, and shot him.

[p. 217]Howard A. Christy, Marine infantryman, Vietnam

On one occasion, I regret to say, I pulled my .45, cocked it, and, with my finger on the trigger, placed it to the head of a Viet Cong suspect that was brought to me during a company sweeping operation. I did so to scare him into telling anything he might know of the whereabouts of any nearby enemy.

The man just stood there and shook from head to foot in fear. But he repeatedly stated that he knew nothing. I dropped my arm, uncocked the weapon, replaced it in my holster, then instructed the interpreter to tell him that he was the bravest man I’d ever met. I am, and will always be, ashamed for having so cruelly treated him.

Eugene E. Campbell, chaplain, World War II

I’ve met a lot of men, men who were in combat a long time, who said, “We just learned not to bother taking prisoners in certain situations. They were just a handicap to us, and we just took them out and shot them.” Those things happened. Toward the end of the war, I saw our men capture literally hundreds of German prisoners. They’d have to haul the prisoners in big trucks from the prison camps, which were sort of big barbed-wire entanglements where they took them temporarily. I saw our men rob them of their wristwatches, whatever they had on, and then force them into a truck and tell them to crowd up. The driver would start the truck and stop it in a hurry and they’d all fall forward. Then they’d stick another ten prisoners in so they were packed tightly. They’d roll down those mountain roads so fast that a prisoner couldn’t hope to escape. Going around in those narrow towns or narrow forests, the guys on the outside often got killed, hitting their heads against trees. Human life became pretty cheap. War is a gruesome, bloody, miserable, insensitive business.