|A World War II Prisoner of War Remembers....|
In the late 1930's Hitler had attacked and captured France and most of the European countries. Then he turned his attention across the Channel to England using aerial attacks with buzz bombs and other raids. He also was seeking some type of unilateral agreement with Russia, which was not successful. In the meantime U.S. started rapidly to build up our Armed Forces with machinery, equipment and men. In 1940 Congress passed the law to draft personnel. Those of us within the draft age were given a number. Then the numbers were drawn from a fish bowl. My number was 58 - which was almost a sure winner - and soon. The draft started early in 1941. The first draft was National Guard, the second draft was National Guard, and the third draft was me - March 31, 1941. We were drafted for one year at a starting salary of $21.00 a month. Nine months later Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Then my enlistment was for the duration of the war.
PILOT, US ARMY AIRCORP, TEXAS, USA: After one year I transferred into the old Army Air Corps Aviation Cadets (pilot training). Upon graduation, in December 1942, with the coveted pilot's wings and my commission, I was assigned to an Air Depot group that was preparing to ship overseas. Six months later on June 10, 1943, we were sent to an unoccupied French Air Base at Oran, Algeria, on the Mediterranean Sea. I had a great job! I was a test pilot and got to fly many different kinds of military aircraft, including heavy bombers, medium bombers, fighters and cargo. I liked to fly and was in charge of the Flight Test section. However, I had one big problem. When I was half way through my cadet training, my sweetheart of several years came to Texas and we were married in the Chapel on Randolph Field on August 29, 1942. Nine months later I was shipped out. Now I had been in Africa for one year, and there were no signs of the end of the war. War or no war, my greatest desire was to return stateside to my bride. So I figured out a way: 1. Apply for combat 2. Fly my 50 bombing missions 3. Return to USA in 3 months
COMBAT, ITALY: My plan worked well for the first two months. I joined the 97th Bomb Group (B17 - Flying Fortress), flew 30 missions over Europe, some were easy but some were rough, And I was on a white cloud headed for home - only 20 more to go. Suddenly the cloud turned black. On July 19th, the target was a munitions storage facility in Munich, Germany. German 109's attacked us and the air was full of flak bursts from the ground. We returned to Italy in one piece, but there were over 100 holes in my plane and my bombardier was injured and my navigator was dead. Joe was a boy from my hometown who had a wife and baby he had never seen. I tried to help him in the air but he was killed instantly with flak fragments in his spine. I was always the eternal optimist but this really deflated my cloud.
MY LAST MISSION, GERMANY: Six days later, July 25th, 1944, my 35th mission, a day I shall never forget. The target was The Herman Goering Tank Works, a newly completed tank factory across the Danube River from Linz, Austria, which was Hitlers hometown. We were scheduled over the target at 12:00 noon on a south heading. When I was leading the squadron, my bombardier would call out the seconds before bombs away. I heard him count 10 - 9 - 8 - 7 and suddenly all hell broke loose. I heard a giant blast, the plane shuddered and I felt a tremendous concussion. An anti-aircraft shell had burst in the bomb bay. The plane shot straight upward 15 feet or more. The engines continued running and, for the moment, we continued forward in level flight. I grabbed for the controls but could not budge the wheel or the rudder, which were askew. The controls were completely locked out in an unusual position. I couldn't move the controls! I had no control of the aircraft! I called for the crew to bail out. I looked to my right and my co-pilot lay with his head against the fuselage with his leg and arms hanging forward and limp. I looked back over my shoulder and the top turret gunner was in his position but his head was down and his arms and legs were dangling out of the stirrups. The explosion killed both my crewmembers. Seconds later the right wing started to drop. Slowly it kept going down and around and the plane completely slow rolled. Then it completed the last maneuver and rolled all the way around the second time. This time the nose must have been down. The plane went into a tight spin. During my cadet training, we were taught to do aerobatics so that we would know how to recover if we got into an unexpected situation. I always liked to do the chandelles, spins, slow rolls and snap rolls, but it was a horrible feeling to be upside down in a 33-ton plane with no control. When we rolled the first time, I had my seat belt fastened and rolled right around with the plane. When I was upright I smelled electrical smoke and unhooked my seat belt. Next we were upside down again. I fell to the ceiling of the cockpit. When I fell out of my seat, my helmet and oxygen mask were ripped from my head. I felt fire coming across my face and eyes. I couldn't see! I was blind and did not see again until I was out in the open air. The momentum of the spin pinned me against the fuselage. Without my oxygen mask, I had no air to breathe. We were bombing from 22,000 feet, so I knew I wouldn't survive long 4 miles in space without oxygen. When the plane came upright I fell down through the hatchway to the navigator's compartment on the lower level. We were in a tight spin. I was forced to the side of the fuselage and could not pull myself over to an escape hatch, even though it was only 8 feet away. I knew I was spinning to a sure death when we hit the ground.
MY PRAYER: Now I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord when in my early teens, and I had talked to Him many times in prayer. Now I knew I was facing certain death. I never prayed any more sincerely, before or after. My prayer was short - "Jesus help me". It was no more than off my lips when I heard a sound like a giant sheet ripping. It was the rivets popping out of the wing. Suddenly I was sitting out in space. Now I had no feeling of being pushed or pulled in any direction. When I prayed I was asking the Lord to get me to the escape hatch, but He chose to tear the wing off the fuselage and pulled me out through the gaping hole.
I HIT THE SILK: In the twinkling of an eye, I went from a death trap with the sounds of engines running away and wind whistling, dust and smoke, from complete bedlam inside the plane to serene peace and quiet in the atmosphere. When I was ejected from the plane and everything was so quiet, I could miraculously see again. I put my hand on the ripcord and looked up. Flying debris both hard and soft surrounded me. I realized that it could foul the chute when opening, I hesitated but just for a moment. I pulled the ripcord and felt a sudden hard jerk upward. My right flying boot ripped off my foot from the force. Looking up again I saw the most beautiful sight of my life - a long white streamer of silk waving and unfolding like a flag, and then billowing out into that large white sheet of silk with silken shrouds that held my harness seat. It had turned into my life saving parachute. From bedlam to serene peace From hell to paradise Thank you - thank you - thank you, Jesus. One day I told a man about my prayer and the Lord tearing the wing off of my aircraft, he replied "that was just happenstance". I told him of something else that saved my life that day. The Air Force issued two different types of parachutes - seat packs or chest packs. The first you wore as a seat cushion, the other you wore the harness and snapped the pack on at the chest. We also had flak helmets and vests. Our pilots were given chest packs and you could not wear that chute and the flak vest at the same time. It was the custom to place the chute loosely under the seat and the flak vest draped on the seat back. When we saw shell blasts ahead we would put the vest on. All the pilots that I had noted used this procedure except one. When Captain Anstine, who was the previous Squadron Leader, saw the upcoming flak, he opted for the chest pack. At first thought, this seemed a little strange, but after thinking it over it struck me as an excellent idea. From then on I used my chest pack. That lesson saved my life. When the plane rolled and not being able to see, I could never have retrieved my chute. If Abe Anstine reads this I want to thank him for that silent lesson. More importantly, I want to thank my Lord for guiding my thinking. Again, thank you, Jesus. In flying school, they never taught us how to bail out, so in my many hours of flying after that, I was always curious what it would be like to bail out of an airplane. The first thing I recall was the tremendous jerk when the parachute opened, looking up and seeing that beautiful cloud of white which was going to carry me to the ground. It was like sitting on air, the parachute swaying side to side. No falling sensation. No earth noises. Just serene quiet. There is no wind because you are flowing with the wind mass. I had no idea how far I had fallen in the spinning aircraft. I looked down at the ground to see how close I was. I could see it was quite a way down. And so my next thought was to think about escape when I hit the ground. I knew that when we were flying on the target, we were flying right toward the Danube River because the target was on the other side of the Danube. I knew that I had to go south to get to the River. I started to look for identification and to see if I could see the River. Next I heard the bombs hitting the ground. We were carrying six 1,000-pound bombs. I imagine the bombs I heard were my bombs that had fallen from the aircraft. Then I heard a bullet whistle by my ear. Seconds later I heard the sound of the shot. I deduced that they were shooting at me from one of the anti aircraft batteries. I kept looking to see if I could see the batteries that fired the shot, but I never located it. I looked down again and could see the leaves, so I knew I was close to the ground. I was swaying in the wind, forward and back. I knew I should land forward, downwind, but I couldn't turn around in the parachute quick enough, so I landed on my heels and rolled onto my back. When I landed in a rye field, I twisted and hurt my back and knee, and my ankle slightly, but I could still walk. I dragged the parachute into the woods, dug a hole with my foot and buried the chute to keep the silk away from the enemy, just as we had been trained. I removed my left flying boot and buried it with the chute. I crawled on my hands and knees to reach the woods. When I got there, I discovered the Austrians kept their woods so clear of underbrush that you could stand on one end of the woods and see clear through to the other side. I found one game shelter to hide in, but, because the woods were so damp, the mosquitoes were unbearable. When I was in the woods, I looked across the field and spotted a parachute hanging in a tree, but I didn't see anyone around. I hoped it was the parachute of one of my fellow crewmembers.
THE CAPTURE: I decided to return to the rye field where I landed. It was July 25th. The rye was almost up to my hips. I crawled into the rye field and laid flat, figuring I would lie there until dark, then find my way to the river after dark and head east, toward my freedom. I lay in the rye field for about one and one-half hours, from approximately noon when I was shot down until about 1:30. As I lay perfectly still, just hearing the pounding of my heart, I heard voices at the far end of the field. They were coming closer! I hoped they were just walking by. My heart raced as I could hear excitement in their voices, even in their German language. I realized the voices were coming toward me from different directions. I realized my time was up. Their voices were all around me, but I couldn't understand what they were saying, until one man said "Last time, American, come out!" I rose and found five Austrians circling me, their rifles and shotguns pointing at me. My worst fear came true - the enemy captured me! As they led me away, the youngest, only a boy, walked in front of me, while one flanked each side and two followed close behind me. I looked at the young man, probably 17 or 18 years of age, and I saw a flying boot on his belt. All US airmen put leather initials on the side of their boots. Even though their guns were pointed at me, I took a step to the side of the trail so I could see the leather initials - 'JWM'. It was my flying boot on his belt!
NO DOG TAGS: The next twenty minutes, the Austrians escorted me to a truck on the road. A German agent at the truck was speaking to me in German. I couldn't understand him. They made motions and I knew they wanted to see my dog tags, but I pretended I couldn't understand them. About ten minutes later, a Gestapo agent came from down the road. He asked me for my dog tags. He didn't speak any English and when it was obvious I didn't understand him, he called one of the German soldiers over, had him open his shirt and show me his identification tags. I shook my head and said, "No, I am an officer". I knew what he wanted to see and I knew where my tags were - back on my bunk. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be shot down that day. I knew that according to the Geneva Convention, since I did not have my identification tags on I could be hung as a spy. Even though he was speaking German, I knew he was continuing to demand to see my identification tags. I said "No. Officer", pointing to the lieutenant bars on my shoulder. He didn't agree. He pointed to a limb of a tree, and drew his finger around his neck. I saw a rope hanging on the side of the truck. I didn't speak the same language, but I knew what that meant. Thank God he chose to put me in the back of the truck instead. The flatbed truck had side rails, so I couldn't see out and down. Then, off in the distance, I saw Germans carrying boxes with handles on either end. The boxes contained dead bodies. I realized they were the bodies of airmen that had been shot down. Incredible sadness and fear gripped my heart. They carried one box right beside the truck I was in. I rose up to try to see if it was one of my crew. The big redheaded German that was guarding me raised the steel butt of his rifle toward me. The hatred in his eyes told me he was ready to break my skull with the steel butt of that rifle. That was my last attempt to see if any of my fallen crew was in those boxes. They continued carrying body boxes containing dead airmen. I'm not sure how many, but there must have been many planes shot down that day. Six other live prisoners arrived! None were from my crew, but I was glad to see them. About 3 or 4 o'clock they took us, their prisoners, on the truck about an hours drive up a country road. On the way, I couldn't believe my eyes! I saw the wing of my aircraft, still in tact, standing upright stuck in the ground like a monument! I looked for signs of my crew. Nothing.
MAUTHAUSEN DEATH CAMP: We continued up the road to our destination, a set of stone buildings with large stacks on top of a bald mountain, obviously some type of a penitentiary. It was a concentration camp! The guards marched us inside the wall, to a building right outside the infirmary. At their command, we sat against the side of the building - not sure what would happen next. While we were waiting, nine Polish prisoners were brought in. It first appeared that they were involved in an accident, but then I realized they had been in an explosion. The screaming, crying and wailing was perhaps due to the death of a loved one, or perhaps due to pain from an injury. One man was dead. The guards laid his dead body, uncovered, along the wall across from us. They just left his body, nothing on his head, no shoes on, just lying there only 30 or 40 feet from us. Finally, someone did have the decency to come out from the building and throw a light blanket over the body. Every 10 minutes or so, someone would come out and check the dead man's tattoo identification and extent of damage to his body. If they would cover his head with the blanket, his feet would stick out. If they would cover his feet, his head would stick out. What a horrible sight! The whole experience was a nightmare! Finally, about an hour after dark, they took us inside the building. They couldnt take us inside any sooner because the Commandant wasnt there and we had to wait for the Commandant before we could enter. The Commandant did not arrive, but they did take us in and put us in a cell. This was a concentration camp. It is called Mauthausen, and it is right close to Hitlers hometown. This was in Austria and this was probably one of the first concentration camps, a political prison camp. The dead and the wounded that were brought in were Polish prisoners that had been in an explosion in the Quarry. Mauthausen Concentration Camp was nicknamed the "Quarry" because of the quarry at the rear of the property. Some of my fellow POWs returned to Mauthausen in recent years. It was a concentration camp that had been one of Hitler's death camps. It is now open to the public. They said that 20% of the people that went in to that camp came back out again. The other 80% were exterminated. When I was approaching that camp I noticed the smoke stacks. They were great big wide stacks. But they were encased in wood siding so they were deceiving. I understand now, from my friends that visited back there, they had the gas chambers in the basement of these buildings. They had several different buildings and that is where they did the extermination of the Jews and a lot of the Polish. They also had a big place that they called "The Mansion". That was somewhere back in the mountain away from there and sometimes used that for their extermination point. But in the whole of the 100% that were taken prisoners there were only 20% of us that survived. Again I have to thank the Lord for my survival in that prison camp. Way after dark they took us inside and put us in a cell. There were seven of us in a cell about 5' wide and 12' long which meant you could not stretch your legs completely out and you also couldn't sleep on your back, and so everyone had to sleep on their side with their legs bent and nestled together. The first morning there was a young Polish man came to our cell and got us up. He said there was a washroom across the way, and he explained what was going to happen. He said he would take us over to the washroom one at a time. I didn't have anything to drink since the morning before and I was really thirsty. It must have been about 3:00 AM when we got up for breakfast before our mission the day I was shot down. And then I didn't have anything to eat until we ate at 8 or 8:30 except a few of the grains of the rye, and then nothing to eat until the next morning. There was no cup or anything there, and so I cupped my hands and the water was nice and cold. This was in the mountain area, and I scooped handful after handful of this nice cold water to quench my thirst. After we got back over to the cell and we got all settled in there, this fellow that had taken us into the washroom said, "Be careful and don't drink this water for it is typhus infected". I had already drank the water! I'm thankful I didn't get typhus.
INTERROGATION IN FRANKFORT, GERMANY: We were at Mauthausen four days and then we were trucked from there into Frankfort, Germany, which is on the Rhine River and I would say, but I am guessing, it was a two-hour ride. When we got into the place there, it was an Army base, and we were put into individual rooms in solitary confinement. This was the interrogation center where they had brought all the Air Force prisoners. They kept us there for several days. Before we went to a room I saw several enlisted men there, but there were none from my plane. Before we separated, the enlisted men said: "don't forget, Lt. Murphy. We were with you". They were from a B24 group and I said "ok". They must have interrogated them first because when they called me in they asked me for information. I told them my name, my rank, my serial number and that was all. They kept asking questions and finally they said; 'Well you may as well tell us what group you were in for we already know that you were with this B24 group these boys were in'. So apparently they got some information from the boys and they had me as a B24 pilot. They interrogated me twice. The first time a German who spoke English did it. The second time they called me in there was a man who looked like an American. He spoke perfect English. He had a book and he opened that book. When I wouldn't give him the information, he said, "Well, we know all about you anyhow". So he told me where I was from, that I was from Pennsylvania and he gave me other information, but actually he gave the wrong information on me and the flying group that I was in. But they had a lot of information apparently they had gained over the years on people in high school in general and their intelligence kept this information so they had a lot of information on the prisoners. When we went into the gate into the interrogation center there was a group of young fellows, apparently gunners and radio operators. When two of them recognized me, their eyes got as big as saucers. They shouted, "Lt. Murphy, we were sure you were dead". I asked them how did that happen, and they said "When we saw your aircraft after it was hit, it was nothing but a ball of fire." When I was called back in the second time for the interrogation with the man that spoke the good English, he had set me down in an easy chair and then they brought in coffee or soup. You could have what you wanted, and they also had cookies and sweets and other things there in order to butter you up. This was to be a buddy-buddy thing. I still only gave him my name, rank and serial number, and that was the last time I was in for interrogation. After several days, when the Germans had finished their interrogation of us, the MPs marched about 50 of us into the railroad station in Frankfort, Germany. I looked up and saw the dead bodies of six American airmen hanging from the rafters of the station. The guards told us they were POWs in transit and German civilians overpowered the German guards and hung their prisoners. Our guards said, "Move rapidly and do not talk to the people." We saw a lot of bomb damage in the town of Frankfort, and we knew that the British were doing a lot of block bombing in the large towns of Germany, so they had no love for enemy military airmen. The British did not have the Norden bombsight, so they did most of their bombing at night. The guards loaded us into an empty railroad passenger car and advised us that they had an agreement for us to sign. The agreement was that we would not try to escape from the train. If we signed, we would be allowed to keep our shoes and belts. If not, we had to turn them in. At first I thought negatively and then I figured it would be difficult to run without belt and shoes. Furthermore, what value would an agreement be, given an opportunity? I would have escaped anyhow. There were guards on both ends of our car. We traveled northward overnight to another prison camp called Dulag.
OFF TO DULAG: The Dulag had a number of jobs to perform as follows: #1 The Germans had quite a problem with body lice in the military. They took everything away from us and put us through a delouser and shower. Our clothes were cleaned and de-loused. I remember undressing to the buff and carrying my wallet, money, and watch in my hand. One by one we went to the Sergeants desk and he instructed me to place my personal items on the counter and said "You will get them back at the other end of the line." He pointed to my wedding ring. I tugged at it and said I could not get if off. Momentarily he looked at my ring, and then motioned me on. I never saw my wallet, money or watch again. I never had my wedding ring off in Germany, but it was quite loose after I got on my German diet. #2 At Dulag, the Germans had additional interrogation and deviously tried to get additional information #3 The Germans separated the commissioned officers from the enlisted men #4 The Germans treated the wounded POWs After two days at Dulag we were moved to Barth, Germany, by train to Stalag Luft I
STALAG LUFT I, BARTH,GERMANY: Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany, was a Prison Camp for Air Force Officers. The camp was located in North Central Germany, a few miles from Barth, a small village close to the Baltic Ocean. There were many bodies of water. It was mid August when I arrived in Stalag Luft I. The weather was warm and comfortable; most of the daytime was spent outdoors in the compound sunbathing or playing ball. It reminded me of winter vacations in Florida - without the pool, delicious food and freedom. As the autumn and winter approached, it got very moist, foggy and chilly. I don't believe the temperature dropped much below zero, but due to the high humidity, it felt very cold. The barracks were built three or four feet above ground with no insulation. We didn't have warm clothing or sufficient bedding, so it was a very cold winter. Between the bitter cold and the lack of food, it was miserable. The Germans separated their prisoners. The German Army, called the Wehrmart, took care of the Allied Army prisoners of war, the German Air Force, called the Luftwaft took care of the Allied Air Force prisoners of war. The Germans also separated the officers from the enlisted personnel. They did this because they were permitted by Geneva Convention to work the enlisted men, but were not permitted to work the commissioned officers. And so, they had four different types of prison camps. We slept in wooden barracks with no insulation and we had no heat. For a mattress we were given one large burlap bag with a limited amount of straw. We were given one blanket. I was the Intelligence Officer for the barracks and the Germans gave us a weekly German newspaper. I kept a map on the wall tracking the progress of the war, according to the German newspapers. When I was finished with the newspaper, I lined the bottom of my bunk with it and sewed parts of it to my blanket so I could maintain a little higher body heat. It was a cold, foggy, wet, miserable winter. Food was always in short supply. The Germans did give us some brown bread, which was made partly with sawdust. We were able to get about five very thin slices daily when the bread was available. We also had some Irish potatoes and some German vegetables like rutabagas. To this day, I still hate rutabagas. On some rare occasions we were given some bony meat, sometimes horsemeat or very tough beef. We also were given barley soup in milk cans, complete with weevils. At first, when we got the soup, we tried to pick out the worms and throw them away. As time went on, and we got hungrier, the worms became a source of protein, and we ate them. When we were flying missions, one of our main targets was railroad yards and German transportation. I didn't realize I was also knocking out my future food supply. The German people also did not have enough food. If they knew there were food parcels on the railroad cars, they would steal the parcels for themselves, reducing our food supply even further. The American Red Cross sent the food parcels to us. We really appreciated them! However, the food parcels were designed to keep one man alive for one week. Unfortunately, we received the parcels very sporadically. Sometimes we would get enough food parcels for a few weeks, but then wouldn't receive any for a few months. They did help keep many of us alive and I am grateful to the Red Cross, and I'm sure many other prisoners of war are, too. We designated one of the rooms in the barracks as the storage room. When we got supplies in, for instance when bread came in, we put it in the storage room under lock and key and appointed men to distribute it to each one of the nine rooms each day. Once we had potatoes that came in on a wagon pulled by a tractor. They pulled the sideboards out of the wagon and the potatoes all rolled to the ground. Then the Germans pulled the wagon out, crushing many of our precious potatoes with the wide steel rimmed tires. That particular day, it was rainy and muddy, and after we carried the whole potatoes to the storage room, two of us went out and gathered the potatoes that had been run over, and were down in the mud and the grit, carried them in, brushed off as much dirt and grit as we could, grated them and put them in the sun by the window. When they dried we had about a small cheese box full of potato crumbs, still mixed with dirt. Many nights, when I couldnt fall asleep, I put a pinch of the dirty potato crumbs under my tongue and longed for home. In the ten months that I was there, I can only remember one time I didn't have hunger pangs. That was at Christmas time. We had a special Christmas box that came in that had a British plum pudding, a type of cake. It was really good - heavy icing. I ate that, probably more than I should have, not realizing what would happen. For 2 days I couldn't eat another thing because I was so sick! In the two days, I made numerous trips to the toilet with stomachache. I was really sorry for eating so much cake.
LIFE IN THE PRISONER OF WAR CAMP: Just as we were grateful to the Red Cross for the food parcels, we were grateful to the YMCA for the recreational equipment they sent us. We received balls, bats and volleyballs, boxing gloves, weights. Our Red Cross food parcels consisted of sugar, powdered milk, cocoa or chocolate bars, so when it got cold and snowed, I mixed the ingredients together and made snow ice cream. Other times, we would take the ingredients and put them in a pot and cook them over the briquettes we used for cooking and make candy. I remember once we boiled the candy too long and it turned back to sugar, so we heated it again and it turned back into candy! We got sugar cubes in small sugar boxes. We cut the tops and bottoms off and turned the sugar packages into playing cards. I became quite a good bridge player while I was in camp. We passed many hours together playing bridge. One fellow was even able to tell us what cards were left at the end of every hand. He sure was a sharp bridge player. The YMCA also sent us checkers. We carved chess men out of pieces of wood. My older brother taught me to play chess when I was a young boy. For most of my internment, there were about 4000 men in 4 compounds. Some men were good actors, so they put on a play that we were able to go from one compound to another to watch the play. One of the plays was "The Man Who Came To Dinner". Two of the actors were dressed like fine gentlemen, while the other two were dressed up like sexy gals. They really made a hit with their outfits. It was an enjoyable production. We didn't have much entertainment, but we all thought this was great.
Don Demmert, a man in our room, was an accomplished soloist. He sang in his church and many other places. Nighttime was always a sad time. As youre there, with no lights, we would ask Don to sing. The 2 adjoining rooms could hear him, and we all listened quietly. He sang hymns and other popular songs and we went to sleep after Don sang to us. At the end of the war, we had 25 men in our room. When we were finally released there were 8 or 10,000 prisoners at Stalag Luft I. We reunited for the first time after 45 years. What a joyous occasion to see all my old friends! One of the young pilots, Lyle Shaffer, arranged the first reunion. That was about 10 years ago and we now meet regularly every other year at different POWs hometowns. In the evening when it got dark, we closed the outside shutters on the barracks. The guards would come by and close the outside door, locking it from the outside. Later the guard would come in the stockade and patrol the compound with police dogs so we could not escape. Early one morning, about daybreak, we heard a rattling at the front door. One of the boys went to the door, and there was a guard with 2 dead ducks. Apparently the ducks flew into the end of the barracks in the fog. We traded him the cigarettes from our Red Cross food parcel for the ducks - a real delicacy. The guard unlocked the outside doors early in the morning, giving us access to go into the compound, lay in the sun, play ball or visit the other barracks. Some times, we heard American bombers going on missions. We would cheer the bombers on as they flew over. This irritated the Germans, so when the sirens sounded for bomb raids, the guards insisted we go into the barracks and closed the shutters and the doors. This was our punishment for our patriotism. Once, during an air raid, we were all inside, and there was a British lad that had washed some clothes and had them lying outside. He decided to jump out the window and quickly get the clothes. When he did the guard in the tower shot and killed him. There was barbed wire around the top of the fence that ran around the perimeter of the camp. 15' inside the barbed wire was a warning wire. A Canadian lad was playing ball when the ball went across the warning wire. He jumped across the wire to retrieve the ball and was shot and killed by the guard in the tower. Those are the only two deaths I was aware of in the compound. Some of the British prisoners had been imprisoned for four years. Some Americans were imprisoned for almost 2 years. Somehow, by using Yankee ingenuity, the early prisoners got parts for a radio. Sometimes they bartered with the guards for parts, and sometimes they made radio parts. One thing we had to warm us up was the war news from the British Broadcasting Company. When I would hear about the Allies pushing westward out of France and Patton leading his Third Army down through Germany, I would get pretty excited for part of that Third Army was my old outfit, "the Fourth Armored Division". Many times I think of the horrible battles the Army went through and I praise the Lord that I missed that. The airmen's war was a gentlemen's war. My fellow POWs started to bet on when the War would end and we started to look for the "light at the end of the tunnel". Occasionally, the Germans gave us German newspapers, although the Germans were never honest with their people, which enabled us to track the progress of the war. We relied more dependably on the BBC news. The intelligence officer for the compound with the radio printed the news and threw it over the fence to our compound, attached to a stone. I stood watch while someone went to each of the nine rooms and read the news to all our boys. After we all heard the news, we burned the paper so the Germans wouldn't find out we had the radio. In all the years we had the radio, I don't believe the Germans ever knew. War is never a pleasant thing. Edythe and I were married for nine months when I was sent overseas with an Air Depot group. They were my friends and I had my freedom. When I was taken prisoner, I was the only one from my plane. I was taken into a prison camp with no friends, without adequate heat, with very little food and no news from home. It was definitely the loneliest time of my life. As the spring approached, the weather warmed up, and the Americans and British approached from the west, and the Russians from the east, things were really looking up. Even Adolph Hitler must have seen the end coming for he issued an order to separate the Jewish POW'S from the rest of us. Certainly he planned on exterminating them before the end. My bombardier was a young Jewish man from New York City, and he was one of those that was separated. Fortunately for all, Hitler's plan was never carried through. Some time in April we began to hear the sounds of a battle from the Russian front, and then we knew the Russians were coming closer. One night in May we heard the sounds from the guards quarters and they were really tying one on. Apparently they were drinking up their alcoholic beverages. These noises continued late into the night.
LIBERATION: The next morning I got up early and looked out at the guards tower and it was empty. Yes, finally, the guards all pulled out the night before. WE WERE FREE AT LAST!!!!!!! It did not take long for some of the boys to tear down parts of the high barbed wire enclosure and some of us hike into the town of Barth. It was a small village and everything was closed with blinds drawn or shutters closed and no visible signs of any German occupants. We returned to the compound to wait for news. It wasn't long until the Russians came through; first there were six or eight tanks, than there were vehicles-trucks, jeeps, autos and motorcycles. Some of them were Russian, but most were captured German and American lend lease vehicles. On the tail end there were horses and wagons. What an Army! When a vehicle broke down, they pushed it off the road and went to the local German village and took their transportation.
HEADING EAST TO FREEDOM: The Russian Commanders came in to our camp and had a conference with our Brass. We waited impatiently for a couple of days. There was no word about transportation for us, so my good buddy Bill Haney and I decided to strike out on our own. Our first ride was on a wagon drawn by two horses. A few hours later we went into a German house and confiscated a German Volkswagen. Later we met two American Sergeants from another POW camp, but this was a bit crowded in this little vehicle, so we decided to get another car from the unwilling Germans. It was not long until we saw a Volkswagen dealer sign. We stopped and asked for a car. He said he didn't have any. Barney the Sergeant went into a barn in the back and rooted through the haymow. He found a brand new Volkswagen! Just what we ordered with no money down. That German dealer wasn't very happy, but we figured he owed us that much. Barney was an infantry Sergeant and he carried a big heavy knife in a sheath on his belt. The next morning we saw a small farm and we decided to stop in for breakfast. On the way into the house we saw several white chicken hens in the yard. A woman opened the door, and we asked for breakfast and walked into the kitchen, where an older man was sitting. Now I was always very fond of ham and eggs (in German eye-yi), so I asked him for ham and eye-yi. The German man said, "We don't have any eye-yi." Barney pulled his big knife out of the sheath and slammed it into their big wooden table and yelled "eye-yi". The farmer took off on a run to the barn and came back hurriedly with the eggs. Barney was a nice guy but I'm glad he was my friend and not my enemy. He had a very persuasive way about him - especially with that big knife. Late in the afternoon, we came to a town and a very pretty girl came running out to our car and invited us to dinner and to stay overnight. She told us that she was an American and had come to Germany and married a German and he was taken into the Army and she had not heard from him again. The Russians would come in every night and rape the women there. She told us to sleep in the first floor bedrooms. In the rear of the house, there was a big barn and they had a tank of German fuel there. Sure enough the Russians came at night and rapped at the side window of our bedroom. Now we did not know any Russian, nor did they know any English, however, we told them we were Americanski. They said "Ah, gud Americanski". The Russians wanted us to go out drinking with them. Bill and I did not want to go out, but Barney was anxious to tie one on and he went along. About three hours later, Barney came back. He was so sick, we thought he would die. He said "Those crazy Russians are spiking their drinks with German fuel". That is why they were going to the barn in the back. The Russians were very rough in their contact with the enemy and as a result, the German civilians were very afraid of them. In our travels through Germany, we saw very few Germans. The Russians had gone through just a day or two ahead of us and we had seen a number of dead German soldiers lying along the road as we drove by. Apparently, the civilians were too scared to even go out and pick up their dead. The second night on the road we came to a small town and the young Germans were out on the town, some with cars. We stopped in town and saw one young man acting the fool and carrying on and bragging to his buddies. He had what looked like a hole into his nostril and out the side of his cheek. There was no sign of any treatment or first aid. I would assume that he got smart with a Russian and he shot him, and he bragged about it.
SABRES AND A DAGGER: We drove a block or so and saw a doctor's shingle in front of a nice home with a place to park our cars. We entered the home and spent the night in luxury. There were portraits, paintings, and expensive silverware complete with teapots and trays. The doctor must have been interested in fencing for he also had swords and sabres on the wall. I decided that he was too old to fight with swords so I confiscated the swords and a sabre. When I brought them home and showed them to Edythe and told her about the silverware, she almost disowned me.
NASTY BRITS: The next day we were in the section of Germany that had been captured by the Allies. We made good time on a good highway. Sometime in the early 1940's the Germans had built a super highway something like our original turnpike. Both of our cars were in good condition and we had painted big POW'S on the sides. Every time we came to a guard roadblock, they saw the POW and would smile and wave us on. We had planned on driving the cars into Paris and then selling the one and use the money to have a good time in the big city. When we arrived at the Rhine River, Holland, the British MP's stopped us and advised that we could not take the cars into France. I asked to talk to their commanding officer, and they had him come to the blockade, but he would not concede, so both cars were taken from us. The Brits were put on the very bottom of our list. This had taken place at the German border, and was a great disappointment to the four of us. We were taken to a nearby Belgium Army building and they put us up for the night and fed us the evening meal and breakfast in the morning. The MPs advised us that we would be leaving shortly for Paris by train. Now my total earthly belongings were the clothes that I was wearing, a barrack bag and a box that bore my POW memories and goodies. After breakfast I hurriedly took my bag out to get into the transport, and suddenly remembered the box that was under my cot. I ran back in and it was gone. There was nothing valuable but lots of memories. When we arrived at the train station our guide advised us there were 200 enlisted men from another prison camp, and since I was the ranking officer I was in charge. He gave us a list of dos and don'ts for the 200 men. The only officer's insignia that I had was a silver bar on my overseas hat. About 50 miles down the road I went to check on the soldiers in the next car and between cars, the wind blew my hat away. So I was an officer without any signs of a commission, I told the boys "Be careful but have a good time". We went to France and were taken to Camp Lucky Strike and expected to get our plane or boat assignment back to USA. Lucky Strike was swamped with POWs that had arrived before us and there was no transportation in sight, and no one knew when there would be. I was stranded there until the 10th of June. In the meantime I located the AD Group I was in the previous year in Africa, and flew down to see my old friends. They got me a uniform and cars, etc., and took me to Paree and we did the town. My friend, George Baker, got me back to Lucky Strike a week before my boat arrived.
MY RETURN TO THE STATES: I left LeHavre, France, on June 10, 1945, and I had originally sailed out of New York on June 10, 1943. I arrived in US June 21, and my Sweetie picked me up that day. She met the MP at the gate and he volunteered to show her the way to my location. He was riding with her and he had to caution her for speeding on the Base. It could have been my luck to have to visit her in the brig. However she pleaded, "I have not seen my husband in over two years." He smiled and left her go. My prisoner of war experience was by far the longest and loneliest two years of my life. What a blessed privilege it was to be back in each other's arms again. We were married nine months then separated for two years. On August 29, 2002, we will celebrate our 60th wedding anniversary. The Lord has truly blessed me with a long life and a wonderful sweetheart and wife. B-17G My B-17G had a ten-man crew, flying 4 miles above the ground. In 88 millimeter anti-aircraft shell from the ground penetrated the bomb bay and exploded there. Six of my crew were killed, four of us lived. One baled out from the forward section, two from the tail section and I escaped from the central section. The six that died were from the central section. I oft wondered why I lived, maybe the Lord was not ready for me yet. The plane went rolling out of control and spinning toward the ground and carrying me to certain death. I was blinded and trapped inside. My prayer: JESUS, HELP ME! He tore off the right wing and pulled me out of the hole in the fuselage. Not only did he save my life that day, but He has given me another 60+ years of life. He is my Lord and my Savior and I have praised and thanked him many times. The most terrifying experience of my life was the last 15 or 20 minutes in that airplane for I knew I was going to die. Recently I was asked an unusual question. "In your combat and POW experience you have had some very adverse things happen to you. Is there one thing that happened that was good for you?" I replied: "Absolutely. When I was a youth I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, and I did the things that I felt were right. I went to church and Sunday School. I prayed and tithed, etc. But all of these things I did for myself. I did not think of doing things for the welfare of others. When I spent that fifteen minutes in that airplane that was rolling and spinning toward the ground and my death, I prayed and the Lord immediately spared me!" Today I know that every one of us must face that moment of death, and I urge you to make the decision and receive Jesus as your Savior today. Jesus is the Son of God and He gave His life to pay for our sins. To reserve your future with Him you must accept Him as your Savior. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life". John 14:6 "Jesus said: 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.'" II Corinthians 5:8 "Absent from the body, present with the Lord."
YOUR INVITATION: You can make that decision right now by this simple prayer: "Jesus, I know you are the Son of God and you died on the cross for me. I am a sinner and am sorry for my sin. Forgive me. I invite you into my heart and make me the person you want me to be". If you said this prayer today, please tell others of your decision. God loves you and may He richly bless you. The Lord has been especially good to me, and it has been a pleasure to tell you my story. I would like to hear from you. Do you have a question? Do you have something to share? When I die my spirit is going to Heaven with Jesus. What will happen to you when you die?
Jack W. Murphy, 8838 Bridge Road, Hummelstown, PA 17036
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