Pearl Harbor is not like any other museum experience. One must prepare for this excursion. I get up at 0530 in the morning in anticipation of getting free tickets. Driving to Pearl from Waikiki is a half hour and I want to be sure to be there in time to stand in line to get tickets especially for my girlfriend who has never been. Yes. FREE. Tour guides ask for top dollar to take you to this site. Tourism is high up as a way of making a living on the islands. I think the price they ask is a bit high. I was quoted $115/person. I rented a car..
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.
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 a lot. Roy still prays a lot. He can not believe he is still alive!
During the next several decades after WWII, daughter and mother discussed those letters at different intervals. He never returned home and his body was never found. The author of those letters loved her husband more than life itself and never remarried. She cried insufferably at times to her daughter. When it seemed so unbearable for her to go on, The daughter finally said, “burn them.”
As time went on, the mother did get rid of the letters that were written by her husband. She did not destroy the ones she had written to him. As you travel along with these excerpts, remember that by the end of the war the German women outnumbered their counterparts by over 7 million. The atrocities of Hitler’s regime impacted everyone.
The letters not burned were preserved by that daughter.
Letters of a German bride-excerpt one:
February 20th, 1944 ( historical fact we know is that American and Russian forces were advancing on Germany.)
“My beloved Willy – our sweet, dear Vati! The days are passing here in anxious anticipation of what the future will bring. Whatever it is, my love, we must accept it. We cannot change the course of this mighty occurrence in this troubled time. We feel that something big will happen, feel that all this will come to an end soon. In my heart I hope that it will end well. It would be hard to understand that our great Germany will fall. This great nation, so strong – no I can’t and won’t believe that. I wish, and this is egotistical of me, that we will survive this war, that it will have a good ending for us, Willy, that I can again wrap my arms around you, be happy with you and my children, and be safe. Do you think this is too much to ask for? My heart is so homesick for you and I long to let you be strong for me again, protect me and spoil me. I need you so much – you are missed everywhere!”
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?
Roy and his crew of 10 service men were on a raid during WWII to destroy ball bearing factories. Instead they ended the day’s mission captured as war prisoners at Stalag 17 near Krems an der Donau, Austria, 43 miles from Vienna. In fact, Roy recalls thinking all of the military planes must have been shot down because of the amount of soldiers he saw captured.
Roy remembers vividly the RED CROSS packages he got that kept him somewhat sane for a short while. It was something to look forward to. It contained coffee, salmon, sardines,cheese, crackers, chocolate and cigarettes. This was a big deal to a soldier. But as the war lingered on, the red cross packages diminished and mostly were stolen by the guards. The packages also had a lot less in them. Roy remembers the bread contained 20% sawdust and 10% straw!
As the war came closer to the end, Roy and his fellow soldiers who had survived were made to march 280 miles. This march led to his freedom. General Eisenhower had at the time set up processing camps in France. This liberation took place on May 5th, 1945 after a painful walk to freedom. In fact many had no clothes and had to use bark from trees to cover themselves.
This story is told in remembrance of many men who did not come back as Roy did. He considers himself one of the lucky ones. If not for his story, we would not really understand what our soldiers went through. Roy volunteered for his service. This was an honor to him to be doing what he believed was the right thing to do and that was to fight for the cause of freedom.
Today Roy at the age of 91 and his wife and my mother, Hilde, live in Montgomery, Alabama. They attend church regularly and live full lives. Roy is asked to speak on regular occasions to the active and retired military throughout the country.
I am lucky to be able to share tidbits with my readers at times so you understand a bit of American History through the eyes of one that lived it.
Thank you for dropping by my blog. It is a versatile blog and I try to share on many topics that typically are about my family. This is one of those stories.