A letter of old…

This was a letter my Aunt Regina wrote to her friend in Scotland in 1945. It’s about my father ordeal as a POW

Isabel,

I’ve written the following as best as I could about what my brother has told us. I’ve written it and put it in my scrapbook as a lasting memory.

The names are those of his crew and “Sak” is my brother.

On July 30, 1944 the crew of “Our Belle II” was returning from his mission. About 11 o’clock the plane was hit by anti-aircraft guns, causing the wing to come off and the engines to catch on fire. No orders were given as to what to do. Each man was for himself. The turret gunner (caught in the wind force unable to move) did not mail out. The rear gunner was hit by flak and also couldn’t bail out. Sak (my brother) was hit in the hip but bailed out with the other seven. He let himself drop for hundred feet before he opened his parachute because the plane was falling and he might have caught his chute on fire.

Sak and the pilot landed on a small island off Hungary, where a group of Hungarian people were having a picnic. The pilot injured his leg and Sak his leg. Both were taken by the people. The navigator (landed nearby) was hit in the head by a pitch fork and clubbed by the people. (He lived though) The radioman (my brothers best buddy) was shot through the stomach as he landed and died. Sak and the pilot were man-handled. Richardson, it is believed was hung by the frantic crowd. (My brother said they saw bodies hanging that day and believe he was among them.)

From this point the German soldiers came and the boys were sent to Budapest. Here they were questioned. The Germans, through their spy service, had already had their names, rank etc. Yet they questioned them for such minor details but the boys always answered, “You know better to ask that” or “we hit our target so you know where we went.”

Sak was placed in solitary confinement, while some were put in dark rooms or in rooms where they couldn’t stand up. Others were fed on one day and not the next. Levi Caldwell was chained and pulled by his hair to get information. The boys were slapped when they wouldn’t answer. Sak’s American cigarettes were taken from him and he was given three German ones in exchange.

After staying here three weeks, they were put on a train and sent to Germany. On the train, they were given a piece of hard salami, which was full of maggots, and a loaf of moldy bread. Both were thrown out.

In Germany they were sent to Stalag Luft 4 (near Baltic Sea). The first few months they stayed in tents, but when it got colder they were put in barracks. Their daily menu was: Breakfast – barley coffee; Lunch – soup made from weeds, grass, worms – served in a pail for 24 men – smelled and tasted lie soap and could not be eaten. Supper – potatoes, rutabagas, turnips or sugar beets (usually fed to cattle) occasionally, the boys would steal some bread or bribe the guards.

For recreation the boys would play cards (they made them from cardboard), ball and clean their barracks to keep them free of lice. Once in a while Red Cross packages came and the boys would be kept alive for a while. Some took up knitting and took old stockings, pulled the threads from them and embroidered. Still others took up studying German or French. Sak took a hair brush, pulled the bristles out and carved a cigarette case from it. He did it with a razor blade and Isabel, it’s really beautiful.

None of the boys had to work, because the Air Force was considered a high military branch, due to Goerhing having been a pilot in World War I. Their mattresses consisted of sawdust put into covers the boys had made from bags.

The first 5 days, due to the diet, Sak’s stomach swelled up and most of the boys got dysentery. Later on, their bodies broke out with boils – (my brother still has scars) due to malnutrition. Sometimes a Red Cross package contained raisins and jam, so the boys would take bread (made with sawdust) and mix the raisins and jam together, add soda bicarbonate pills and make cakes. Once in a while they got a chicken from a women in exchange for soap, and they would pack the chicken in mud, roast it; peel off the mud and feathers and eat it!

In February the Russians started their advance and the prisoners were forced to move. From February to March 30 they marched 830 kilometers planning an escape. They had planned their route etc. and three boys did leave. However, they stayed in a forest for four days and got so sick that they had to give themselves up and heaven knows what happened to them.

Also, while on the march, Sak said some towns were almost completely demolished, and only the foundations were left.

On May 3, 1945 the camp was liberated. Sak said all were happy but had expected the surprise. They had heard and seen Berlin burning 90 miles away as if it were a mile away. After being liberated, the men were stripped of their cloths, given new ones and sent to France, England and then home. The first few weeks they were given two meals a day (just a very little) to accustom them to eating. Then they were given 3 meals and finally 3 heavy consisting of creamy, rich foods and vitamins to build them up. Sak gained 20 pounds on the ship.

On May 31 he telephoned us from Fort Shedidan, Ill and said he’s be home on Saturday. So we met him at the station Saturday. (the train was an hour late) Sak was very quiet at first but now is as he used to be.

He has received the purple heart, president citation, air medal, three oak leaf clusters and four stars for battle campaigns.

– He did not receive any of our mail or packages for ten months.

So you see, Isabel, why I say only miracles brought him back. He said “Saint Anne brought him back” (He wore a metal of this saint during all his trips etc.) but I told him the whole of heaven did and I guess that’s true.

He also said he couldn’t tell us everything, because there’s still a war going on but I can’t imagine anything else that he could add!

Bye now and love,

Regina

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