As recalled by
November 22, 2008
Dear J. Kurt Spence,
I received your letter yesterday and was shocked to see my POW picture. I was a co-pilot on a B-17 of the 413th Bomb Squadron – 96th Bomb Group based at Snetterton Heath, England.
Our target for March 9th, 1945 was the marshalling yards in Frankfort, Germany. We were flying low section lead which when flying formation in just under the lead ship and back about 75 feet. This position gives the 12 ships in a squadron excellent fir power against attacking planes. However during the bomb run we pull out to the left from under the lead ship so that the squadron resembles a diamond and provides a solid bombing pattern. The low section lead is a dangerous position to fly because the anti-aircraft gunners sight in on the lead ship and are generally hitting low and behind which is right where the low section leader is flying. We had just dropped out bombs and were assuming our position under the lead ship when we were hit knocking number 2 and 3 engines and we had a hole in the left wing and smoke coming into the cabin. Since the gas tanks are all in the wings any kind of fire is cause for alarm. We now noticed the number one engine was losing oil out of the cowl flaps. The pilot gave the order to bail out. We opened the bomb bay doors to give ups easy access out of the plane. I bailed out a bout 18,000 feet. I pulled the ripcord and nothing happened. Since I had a front pack I was able to snap open the pilot chute which popped open the main chute. We were briefed that the clouds would be at about 7,000 ft. When my chute finally opened I jus hit the top of the clouds. So I had a free fall of about 10,000 ft. However there is no sensation of falling because you have no reference to measure the distance. Four members of our crew had problems with the chutes not opening. The chutes are supposed to be kept in dehumidified rooms because at 27,000 ft the temperature is minus 65° F. My navigator had a back pack on. There is no way he could have opened his chute. I landed going backwards into a big bomb crater about 200 yards from a flak battery so as I was getting out of my chute, three soldiers were standing there with rifles pointing at me. My radio operator went into the side of a two story building breaking both of his knee caps and three vertebrate in his back. We spent the first night in the Manheim city jail. We were transferred to the interrogation center just out of Frankfort where the two pictures of me were taken. The enclosed paper is a copy of the registration taken at the time. I at first was surprised how much they knew about me but realized they had given me a post card to send to my parents to tell them that I was still alive. The irony of that was that I was home in July when it arrived with 80% blacked out.
The radio operator finally got medical attention and he remained there. We were transferred to Stalag Luft III just outside of Nuremberg. The prison camp was converted from the Hitler youth camps in that area. I weighed 165 lbs when I was shot down and I weighed 145 lbs when I was liberated. I forgot to tell you how we were transferred from Frankfort to Nurnberg. They put us in 40 and 8 boxcars which had no POW markings. Trains were prime targets. The first night out they parked in a marshalling yard, locked the door and went to their bomb shelters. That night the British who did all night bombing selected this town to hit. They did what is called saturation bombing. They had four mickey ships drop marker bombs in a square pattern and the rest of the ships were to drop their bombs in the marked out square. Luckily the mickey bombers were a little off target and while quite a few bombs came close we were saved.
About the first week in April we were told the camp was to going to move east. We could hear artillery in the distance which meant the line was getting closer. We started out early one morning with our bed rolls, hats and jackets. We were on the road about three hours when we got hit by a flight of P-47’s. Several of our men were killed. As soon as they checked their gun cameras they knew we were POWs and they had small flying over us to keep any planes away from us. Germany did not abide by the Geneva rules of war. They put us in unmarked box cars, left us in marshalling yards and failed to notify of our march to Moosburg. The march was about 100 km and the guards were all old men in their 60s and 70s. We could have easily escaped but our commandant said stay here. SS troops would shoot any uniformed strays that were found wandering.
Moosburg was crowded with British, Russian, French, Serbs and Americans. On April 28th we heard artillery again getting closer and on the morning of April 29th the guard towers were vacant. Everyone was told to stay in the barracks and keep a low profile. Small arms fire was getting closer and soon the tanks arrived. Then George’s Jeep came in and he had apparently just gotten his fourth star. Four stars on his helmet, four stars on eplets, two four star flags on his Jeep. He also had his two pearl handle pistols. He said, “Good job. We will get you out of here.” We didn’t leave there till May 7th because they didn’t have enough planes to fly back to LaHarve which was the POW center in France to process POWs. Hitler had decided to use POWs bargaining chips when suing for peace. He brought them from all over Germany to Stalag VII-A Moosburg.
As I mentioned before we did not get out of Moosburg until May 7th and I did not witness any burning of the barracks. We roamed around the town and office buildings looking for items and I found a bayonet which I brought home. Camp LaHarve was a large facility and it was bulging at the seams. When you arrived they took you a real long narrow building and at the entrance to the building were containers where you took off all your clothes and deposited then in these bins. You entered the building wearing nothing but your dog tags. In the first room you were told to hold your arms above your head and you were sprayed with white powder. The next area was showering area where the powder was washed off and you were handed soap and shampoo. It was a wonderful feeling to get a clean feeling again. The area was a drying heated fans and you received towel at the end. To finish drying and to cover yourself. The next area you received underwear, socks, shirts and pants and last shoes.
Tragedy wasn’t done yet. Several men died of acute indigestion because their stomachs had shrunk and they would go through the chow line more than once. They finally restricted serving with special tickets and this solved the problem. I mentioned that the camp was over crowded sot hey gave us passes to Paris for a week until they were able to process us.
I came down with pneumonia and was in the hospital for a week and missed going home with my crew. I arrived home June 16, 1945, one day before my mothers 49th birthday, her 29th wedding anniversary and my mother’s grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. Needless to say, it was a joyous time for all.
I didn’t know if you have visited the Eight Air Force Museum in Savannah, GA but it’s a worthwhile trip. Our bomb group supplied a duplicate copy of a stained glass window in the chapel in Savannah as the one we donated to a church by our base in England. I made two tapes fro my children of my WW II adventures and these tapes along with other memorabilia are in the museum. They have a number walls in the gardens where you can record name rank and bomber group, etc.
I still email and talk to the remaining crew members. I am 84 and I was the youngest member of the crew. My radio operator is 87, my bombardier is 86, my tail gunner is 88.
I enlisted when I was 18 in the cadets and got my wings when I was 19 and became a POW when I was 20. You grow up fast.
I hope this information is helpful.