Category Archives: POW

July 4, 1944 (WAR TIME)

Babe Ruth and Baseball an American Sport's Past time. Photo owned by your blogger.

Babe Ruth and Baseball an American Sport’s Past time. Photo owned by your blogger.

There is irony in knowing that half across the world July 4th, 1944 was celebrated by a number of American POW soldiers at Stalag 17B by playing baseball. In America on that very same day, those soldiers’ loved ones were not so celebratory. There were no fireworks going off in the small towns that many of these soldiers grew up in.
Roy and his wife Hilde McGinnis enjoying a summer day in 2014.  Quite different from his POW days 70 years ago.

Roy and his wife Hilde McGinnis enjoying a summer day in 2014. Quite different from his POW days 70 years ago.

As a matter of opinion, the understanding of individual experiences as related to collective memory of the past have always interested me. There is no other way to describe a day in the life of a POW soldier unless you have asked him. As a way of remembering what July 4th should mean to all of us, I spoke with my dad POW Roy McGinnis. Here is his take on what he was doing on July 4, 1944:
Roy was 22 years old and had just been woke up by the usual prison guards making their rounds and yelling at the soldiers. The treatment at Stalag 17B was never good and at times brutal. It was a beautiful summer day and besides being July 4th, it was a great day to play a competitive game of softball. The Wehrmacht (German soldiers) had much friction with the Americans, but they did let them play their games.
The GIs’ loved playing ball. It passed the time by and it was one of the only real morale boosters the soldiers did have. The International YMCA almost always fulfilled requisitions for sports equipment for the American soldiers in prison. It is also noteworthy that the Wehrmacht let the Americans have their things to play and enjoyed watching the fierce competition of the American GI with his brother in captivity!
“We formed our teams. You know the North Versus South. I was of course on the southern side since I grew up in Alabama.”
I laughed with Roy and said, “Yes. Alabama would certainly make you a southerner. No doubt.”
“Well, the game was very competitive. We bet our rations from the Red Cross. This was serious business and you better believe I wanted the south to win!” Roy stated as if he could still hear the crack of the ball being hit by the old wooden bat.
Chuckling I said, “Seriously, you did not take the other soldier’s food over a game.”
Roy said sternly,”You damn straight we did.”
I guess that answered that.
In fact, the rations were like betting your life’s savings. The normal ration included:
Bread, Potatoes, Cottage cheese, Sugar, Jelly, Coffee, and Raisins. The International American Red Cross would try their best to supply what the soldiers needed at that time.
There was a large recreation area in the camp that sports did take place. Pride was taken in teams formed and thus the first POW baseball league was born.
On the playing field that July 4, 1944, the south and north began their game.
“Who won?” I asked
“Well of course, we did. You know the south.” Roy stated.
“Did you really take the Northerners’ rations?” Half seriously I wondered.
“Yes we did. They lost.” Sternly Roy stated as if the war could still be going on.
In fact, as he and I talked of a time that was over 70 years ago, I could see in Roy’s eyes that he was taken back to that ball game and that ball field. It was still war-time to him at that very moment when we spoke. There was nothing else going on at all.
Happy July 4, 2014 to all my readers. May you know how free we are because of many who fought and gave their lives for us. America-what would you have been if not for the brave soldiers of times gone by? Would you have been at all?

The Letter

Roy in 1967 in another war- Vietnam.  He served our country for decades upon decades. He was a true American Hero.

Roy in 1967 in another war- Vietnam. He served our country for decades upon decades. He was a true American Hero.

Dear Mom and Dad,
How are you? We have been assigned for five combat flights with our B 17 Bomber plane and have completed three of them. I am very scared. I am writing this to tell you I love you, but I do not think I will come out alive. We are losing a lot of men after their planes are being shot down over Germany. I don’t think we will make it. When you are in the sky dropping bombs, the germans are right above us to see what we are up to and then below on the ground they are shooting anti-aircraft flak at us. We can’t see a damn thing from the black clouds the flak make. No one has our back. It is not a good thing. I hope one day to see you again, but if I do not I want you to know how much I love you.
Your son,
Roy

On Roy’s 4th combat flight as a gunner of a B-17 Bomber, he was shot down. Something in Roy told him that his days were numbered. Roy’s parents received the news he was missing in action by the Red Cross as was customary in those days. No one knew for sure what had happened except the 10 member crew on that fateful day in 1943. The Bomber was shot in several places, but with the handiwork of Coles, the pilot, the plane was able to be crashed landed in a field. The crew all survived and ran for their lives. All were captured alive.
Roy then spent the next 19 months in the notorious Stalag 17 camp. The Americans occupied five compounds. There were at least 4000 American GI men in the overcrowded barracks. Hollywood has made films about this camp and what our American soldiers had to endure. Roy recalls many times when they were forced to stand outside in extreme cold weather for long periods. He lost a huge amount of his body weight during this time, but did survive to come home and tell his story.
On April 8, 1945, Roy was among 4000 POW forced to march to where freedom was at hand. He with his fellow soldiers were finally liberated on May 9, 1945. General Patton’s Army had arrived on May 2nd to where they were closely located, but it took an additional week before Roy was finally free. Roy said he never prayed much before in his young life, but after being captured he prayed ALOT. Roy still prays alot. He can not believe he is still alive! Tomorrow is his 90th birthday. Why don’t you leave a comment on my blog and I will send it to him tomorrow with all your well wishes for his birthday. Roy has been married to my mother for 20 years when they both lost their respective spouses. If you ask Roy today what he thinks of Germans. He looks at my mother and smiles and says, “I love them. I married one.” My mother was born in 1939 in Berlin right in the middle of war. Roy knows his life was spared and he thanks God everyday as I do. When I call him and ask how he is doing, I always get the same answer which is, “I am better now that you have called.” It makes me smile every time.