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7/365 – Honoring – F. Eugene Liggett

January 29, 2012

Frances Eugene Liggett


Military Memories of F. Eugene Liggett Vancouver, Wash.


The following is the remarkable story of a young man responding to the call to duty, serving for seven months as an artillery forward observer with and France, being captured by the Germans and surviving eight months as a prisoner of the Germans followed by an amazing escape from the Russians to return to civilian life in Nebraska.




The Gene Liggett Story


Military Memoirs


by F. Eugene Liggett


In September 1938, I went to Lincoln, Nebraska where I enrolled at the University of Ne-braskabin the College of Agriculture. ROTC was one of the required subjects in all the Land Grant Colleges in the U.S. for the first two years of college. At the end of this period we had the option of signing up for the next two years of advanced training. This would lead to a Reserve Commission as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army.


At the College of Agriculture campus in Lincoln, we had a Field Artillery unit, so that is what I was trained for. On the city campus there were Infantry and Engineering units. In June of 1941 we were required to attend six weeks of Artillery training at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri. Here we got our first experience of being in the Army with living in a barracks with others and all the various rules and regulations other soldiers in the Army live by.


After our senior year of college and four years of ROTC, we were given a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Reserves in June 1942. My Army serial number was O-465104. Because I had had to work my entire way through college with out any financial help, I still lacked a few hours of graduating, so they gave me a deferment for one more semester to complete the requirements to graduate.


Immediately upon graduation in January 1943, I was called to active duty and went to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. There I was assigned to a training battery to help train new enlisted recruits until I got into an officer’s class at the Artillery school. This was about a four months Battery Officer’s Course (BOC) which included about the same technical training as the OCS (Officers Candidate School) for the enlisted personnel to become officers. The big difference was that we did not have all the BS that the OCS candidates were subjected to.


After graduating from BOC, we all got orders to military assignments all over the US. Most of us got two-weeks leave so we could go home, or wherever, before reporting to our new duty station. Of course I headed back to Nebraska where I had left the girl I had hoped and planned to be my future wife – Enid (Skeets) Mundhenke in Lincoln. She was in nurses training.


My parents, Jim and Estella Liggett, my sister, Freda, who was still in school, and my brother, Harold and his wife, Leona, with their small daughter, Janice, all lived in Shelton, Nebraska. My other brother, Bob, was in the USMC. It was hard to tell all of them goodbye when I had to leave to go to Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg, Mississippi.


The 65th Infantry Division was being formed and there was a lot of competition among the officers for various positions and jobs. A good friend of mine, Merritt Plantz was also from Nebraska and had been with me in many classes at the Agriculture College since 1938. We were commissioned at the same time in 1942, and were both deferred to finish college.


We were called to active duty at Ft. Sill at the same time. We were not in the same class but, upon graduation, both of us were sent to Camp Shelby to be in the 65th Division. He was assigned to a different Battery, however. I didn’t particularly like the outfit and as a means of getting out, I applied for Liaison Pilot Training where I could learn to fly the small Piper Cub planes used by the Artillery to observe and adjust the artillery fire on the targets.


I had passed the physical exam and was waiting to be called to go to school, when the Battalion got orders to send a certain number of officers to be used as replacements in North Africa and Italy. I was one of those with orders to report to Ft. Meade, MD to ship out.


I didn’t have time to go home for another visit, but I did stop in Birmingham, Alabama to see my cousin, Esther (O’Neill) and Red Roberts and their small son. From there I went to Atlanta to visit Elsie (Van Winkle) Moye, another cousin. At Ft. Meade we had nothing to do but wait, so I went to NYC a couple times to visit Dwight Cherry, my former college roommate at NU. He was a medical student at Columbia University and later became a doctor and surgeon. Also I got to go to Washington, DC and Baltimore several times.


In November, we all got on a train at night and went to Newport News, Virginia where we boarded the ship, the HMS Empress of Scotland. It was formerly an English passenger ship and now was now used as a troop transport ship. There were about 6,000 of us on it, with the officers having staterooms, and the enlisted men down in the holds. Because this ship could travel at 35 knots, we went across the Atlantic as a lone ship instead of in a convoy, as most other ships did, because of the German U-boats.


We went south to near the coast of Brazil, and then eastward along the Equator, and up the coast of Africa to Casablanca. However, out in the middle of the Atlantic we ran into nine German sub-marines.


Our ship dropped a lot of depth charges to try to get some of the U-boats. When these exploded, it sounded like someone on the outside of the ship’s hull, hitting us with a big sledgehammer. At the same time our ship changed to a zigzag course, changing direction every seven minutes. As a result, the big ship rolled to one side and then to the other, causing a lot of people, including myself, to get seasick.


This was my first ship ride. I felt pretty lucky to have been an officer as we had a Butler to wait on us in our staterooms-even to “draw my bath” as I had a big bathtub.


On the ship we had a big early Thanksgiving turkey dinner in the officers dining room. I have never seen so much silverware spread out on each side of our plates, or all the fancy dishes and glasses too. Naturally, the food matched the surroundings, so it was one dinner I will always re-member – quite a contrast to the next Thanksgiving dinner I was to have in prison camp.


I felt sorry for the enlisted men for the way they were fed and being so crowded into the holds below deck with such poor ventilation provided. Nobody could go out on deck at night as everything was “blacked out”.


Finally, we pulled into the harbor at Casablanca. This too, was a new experience for me to see them unloading coal on a ship next to us. The stevedores were like a steady stream of ants, carrying fiber baskets full of coal on their heads from the ship to wherever they dumped it.


The Arabs and kids were continually trying to beg, or steal whatever they could. It appeared that their most sought after clothing consisted of a blue GI barracks bag with two holes cut in the bottom for their legs and the drawstring or rope around their waist. Usually there was a GI’s name and serial number across his rear end.  Another favorite, especially for the women, was a navy mattress cover with a hole cut in for their head and holes for each arm, with the mattress cover being worn as a dress.


We were taken outside of Casablanca to a “tent camp” surrounded with barbed wire fences. Guards continually patrolled to keep the Arabs from stealing stuff from us. They often shot several each night.


One night I went into town to the Automobile Club, which was the Officers Club. Navy and Army personnel from all over the world were there drinking and gambling. MP’s were stationed at about every gambling table, as the stakes were often quite high. I had learned my lesson and had not gambled any since first going to Ft. Sill. This lesson has lasted me a lifetime too. However that night I got friendly with a Navy officer from Scotland. He was singing a song for what seemed like hours, with the last line of each verse ending with “there will always be an England for the Scotland to defend”.


From our camp outside of Casablanca we could watch the camel caravans coming in from the desert to the East of us. Here we had another Thanksgiving dinner with the cooks and help being Italian POW’s. We all got a good case of dysentery as a “bonus”. Finally we were put on a train where we headed toward Oran. There were numerous delays as some parts of rail line used electric trains and parts used old steam engines. At each stop, either day or night, the native Arabs came with all kinds of knives and swords etc. to try to sell or trade us. It was sort of scary the way they flashed them around at us to get our attention.


Oran was an-other interesting place with all the underground tunnels etc. Most of these were “off limits”, but down along the water (the Mediterranean) were the centuries old places where slaves had been tied to iron rings fastened into walls of open caves in the rocks. Several of us went into a Muslim Mosque one day. We had to take off our shoes before going in. The women were on one side of the room and the men on the other side – all facing East and kneeling down praising Allah.


Now, since the war and fighting had advanced out of North Africa, and across Sicily to Italy, it was decided that we should be in better physical condition, so about 50 – 75 of us officers were sent out in the desert somewhere near Sidi Bel Abbès which was the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion.


Here I learned a lot of the tactics used by the Infantry. We used live ammunition, which caused an occasional “unsafe” condition for the Arabs and their sheep or goats when we encountered them in our maneuvers. At night we slept in tents that we had erected.


Also out there somewhere was a real obstacle course, tougher than I had seen anywhere else. We crawled under barbed wire entanglements with live machine gun fire only inches above us; over walls etc. with full pack and rifle; crossed a river on a rope with full pack and a rifle, with dynamite charges being set off in the water just below us. It was good experience though, and I am sure we were in much better physical condition when we finished this two-week course.


Back in Oran I had my picture taken at some little studio by a French lady. One pose – one shot, and that was all. I paid her and gave the address to send one to Liberty ship the folks and one to Skeets. Later I was surprised to find out that she did, indeed send the pictures home instead of just pocketing the money. I now have the original picture she sent my parents.


On New Years eve, 1943-44, several of us who had been together since we were at Ft. Meade, got some Pink Champagne, and I think that was the last time I ever got drunk.


Shortly after that we got on a Liberty ship bound for Naples. Because so many ships were being sunk by German submarines, we were in a big convoy and went east along the African coast to Bizerte, and then past Malta and over to Sicily where we stopped shortly before going on to Naples. Going through the Straits of Messina (between Sicily and Italy) the water was the roughest I ever saw.


Our old Liberty ship rolled from side to side and end to end. The screw (propeller) came up out of the water and it shook the whole ship. At the same time the bow went under water – then the reverse, with the bow up out of the water and the stern under. All the time it was rolling side to side. For some reason I did not get seasick though. Nobody could stand up of even walk around, We crawled if need be to get some C-rations to eat. All of us were glad to get off the ship.


It had taken us 21 days to cross the Mediterranean from Oran to Naples. At about this same time, Mt. Etna in Sicily, was erupting and sending up a lot of black smoke and ash.


In Italy we went to a Replacement Depot out north of Naples. From here we got to watch the bombing of the Monastery and watched some of the B-17’s or B-24’s being shot down – along with several good dogfights between US and German fighter planes.


About this time we got orders to go up to An-zio as replacement officers for those who had been killed or wounded. Of the four of us who had been close friends, Lt. Olsen and I went to the 45th Infantry Division. Lt. Hoffman went to the 36th Division and Lt. Hood went to the 3rd Division.


Later Hood and Hoffman were killed, Olsen was wounded and I was captured. This was typical of most all of the 60 or 70 officers who had come over together.


As we were at the docks to load up on assigned Liberty ship s to go to Anzio, I was walking along the dock and met Warren Pavlat. He had also been a close acquaintance from the Agriculture College in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was now a naval officer on one of the Liberty ships. He asked me to ride up to Anzio with him, so I went back and got permission to get off the ship I had been assigned to and to ride up with Pavlat on his ship.


We sat up all night talking and the next morning, while sitting in the harbor at Anzio, the Germans came over and bombed us. The ship that I had originally been on got a direct hit and blew sky- high having been loaded mainly with gasoline and ammunition. This was sort of the begin-ning of lucky events that enabled me to come home later.


Lt. George Olsen and I were taken to the Bn headquarters of the 158th FA Bn of the 45th Infantry Division to report in. Both of us were as signed to C Battery as Forward Observers to be up with the Infantry, supporting the 3rd Bn of the 157th Infantry Regiment.


We worked with Co. I, K or L, to call for and direct artillery fire on targets ahead of them. As we walked into the Bn headquarters, several other Lieutenants were also there – along with Captain Beverly Finkle, and Lt. Col. Dwight Funk, who was the Battalion Commander. At the time we got there, the radio was on with the conversation of one of the FO’s up with the Infantry.


He was in a building and we could hear the Germans breaking into the house and shooting the FO. The officers there immediately started dividing up some of the valuables that he had collected. Then they looked at what Olsen and I had brought with us and started dividing up things we had – what a nice welcome! Also we found out that the life expectancy of a Forward Observer was about six weeks. Our future was to be killed, wounded or captured. My first real job after graduating from college!


Because Anzio beachhead was so small they suggested that we stay with Service Battery most of the time we were not up with the Infantry, instead of with the Battery because of the space involved. Our first job was to dig a hole to stay in and to get situated. Everybody lived in dug out holes covered with earth for protection against the German butterfly bombs, or Bouncing Betties, that would destroy most of what was above ground with small pieces of scrap iron etc. in them.


When these bombs hit the ground, they bounced up about five feet before exploding. We dug a hole about eight feet square with a dog leg entrance. We went into Anzio (town) and got doors and other timbers etc. to cover our hole so we could put about two feet of dirt over it.


We had a bulldozer from Service Battery dig holes for our jeeps so the tires wouldn’t get hit by the steel bomb fragments. Then we ran a wire from a jeep over to our hole and hooked up a light in our hole. All the comforts of home! The toilet was out in an open area where there was a shovel with a roll of toilet paper so each person could dig and cover up his daily contribution to build up the fertility of Mussolini’s soil.


Then it was about time for us to get to work doing what we came to do. Both Olsen and I were each given a jeep and driver along with a 710 radio and a radio operator and two men to carry the radio and batteries. I had Charles Smith and Her-man


Rodriguez to carry the radio and Dick Both-wick as a radio operator. We were all replacements. To begin with, Sgt. Walt Schumaker, who was part of the original Oklahoma National Guard Unit and had been through Sicily and Italy before Anzio, went up with me to help me get acquainted with their method of calling for and adjusting the artillery fire. Needless to say this was a lot different procedure than they taught us at Ft. Sill. It was much more practical and easier. After a couple times up with Walt’s help, I was on my own from then on.


At Anzio I had a lot of interesting events that happened and will try to relate a few of them to help describe what had been described as Germany’s largest concentration camp the Anzio Beachhead.


One night I went up to relieve another FO at an outpost. He showed me a piece of shrapnel that had landed by his feet. It had his initials on it. Right in front of us was a barbed wire entanglement between us and the German’s front line. I was told that information had been received that the Germans were expected to drop paratroopers that night. Along in the night we heard a big commotion in the barbed wire in front of us. I directed some artillery fire in and behind the barbed wire and the Infantry shot it up good with their machine guns etc. Then all was quiet again.


In the morning we saw a dead cow that had got tangled up in the barbed wire out in front, instead of what we thought were German paratroopers. Being in stalemate position, we had telephone wires to the various units instead of depending entirely on radios. However, the Germans soon found our telephone wires and tapped into them and we tapped into theirs.


We enjoyed listening to German and Italian radio propaganda programs designed to make the Americans and British homesick by playing all the current popular songs. Either we had to check our wires quite often or use radio for official calls.  The Germans also dropped the propaganda leaflets to help destroy our morale. At least that was their intended purpose, but we found them quite amusing.


On March 4th I had a close call. I was back at the firing battery (Battery C) and they were getting a lot of counter battery fire, i.e., the German artillery shooting at our artillery positions. I had gone from the CP to the kitchen truck to get a can of C rations for lunch and was on my way back to the CP when an 88 shell just missed my head and landed about six feet on the left side of me. I was lucky that most of the shrapnel went out away from me and all I got was a few small pieces and lot of sand etc. embedded in my skin along with a bleeding and broken left ear drum. It took a couple of people with tweezers, two or three hours to pick all the stuff out of me. Lady Luck had smiled on me again.


The British were on our left flank and back at Service Battery we were fairly close to some of them. After getting acquainted, we visited back and forth. We didn’t get a liquor ration and they did, so one evening they invited Olsen and me over to drink and visit. Their hole lived up to their motto – “As long as you have to go, you just as well go first class”. They had dug a hole about 10 feet deep and had about four feet of dirt over the top of it. Also electric lights like we had from a close by vehicle. While sitting down there, we heard a loud thud up above and dirt started shaking down on us. We went outside to see what happened, and there on top of their hole was a projectile from the big Railroad gun that the Germans had up near Rome – the “Anzio Annie”, as we called it. It had apparently hit a tree that deflected it and it landed on its side without hitting the fuse on the end of it, which would have caused it to explode. Had it exploded, it would have made a hole big enough to bury a truck in.


Lady luck smiled on me again!


There had been quite a few trees around the Service Battery area so when a German ME109 fighter plane was shot down close by they took the machine guns out and mounted them on about a four foot stump of a tree they had cut off.


By late spring there were at least six or eight of these mounted and used every time a German plane came near. I don’t know whether they ever shot down a plane or not, but we had fun trying.


One evening the Germans hit a large ammo dump about a mile from Service Battery and it literally rained red hot pieces of steel for about one half hour from the exploding shells in the ammo dump. That would put all the 4th of July fireworks displays to shame.


Lt. Colonel Funk had Service Battery build a still to take the alcohol out of the Italian cognac and Vino that the GI’s liberated. Otherwise it was about like drinking gasoline. They had the kitchen order lots of orange juice, pineapple juice, etc. to mix with it. This was then distributed to the men in the firing batteries.


On Easter Sunday I was up with the Infantry in their trenches next to no-man’s land. The Germans were on the other side of it. A rather un-usual thing happened. The Germans had given orders not to shoot at us, at least part of that day, and they also got a liquor ration. So some of them were coming out of their holes or trenches and crawling over to visit some of their friends. Before we knew what they were doing, we shot several of them with rifles. After capturing one or two we found out what was happening and we quit shooting them.


The men closest to us were mostly Polish or other nationalities the Germans had taken as prisoners and forced to fight us. Behind these frontline men were the German non-coms, whom the front line men were more afraid of than they were of us. If they retreated from us they would be shot by the Non-coms. Behind the non-coms were the German officers, so the non-coms didn’t dare retreat either.


After that we aimed for the ones behind the front lines. To punish these front line men, the Germans sometimes sat in their holes and gave the men close order drill, hoping we would shoot them.


In April the weather was warm and sunny, but the fighting went on. One night when the moon was not shining, I went up with the Infantry to relieve others in a house that was surrounded on a little more than three sides by Germans. They occupied the house close to us. Being out like on the small end of a piece of pie, we could only get to or out of our house in the black of night or they would see and shoot us. Also from the neighboring house, they would shoot at us every time we moved in front of a window.


One day one of the Infantry soldiers went nuts and we had to put a hammerlock on him and hold him all day and part of the night before they could get him out and back safely. Just outside the window were two dead Germans that had been there for probably two weeks. With the warm weather they swelled up and really stunk! In addition, there were about 40 head of cows that had been killed by artillery fire a couple weeks before and they, too, were really stinking.


One day I was directing the fire of one artillery gun around the house next to us. One shell landed out about 30 feet north of this house and I saw the legs and arms of a man fly up when the shell hit what was apparently the hole that one of their observers was in to watch us. From there he could relay the information to those in the house. Any-way I was glad to get him.


Then one morning they decided to demolish our house. The previous night an Infantry boy had come up to replace the one who had to be taken back. He had previously been wounded and in the hospital. He had a big stack of letters that had accumulated while he was gone, and at day-light he got up to start reading them. One of the first shells the Germans shot at us made a direct hit on this man and killed him as he was sitting in a doorway where he could get more light to read.


The house we were in was a big square house made with thick stone walls and stone interior partitions. I only had two men of my FO  party with me – Dick Borthwick and a new man that had been an Infantryman in the 180th Regiment and had gone AWOL to come over and join our outfit in the Artillery. He was Homer Smith.


As the Germans continued shooting at our house with either a big mortar or 88, or both, we knocked a hole in the concrete floor of the room and dug back under the big stone stove that was in the interior corner of the room. We finally got a big enough hole under it for the three of us to get in to protect us from the incoming shells and falling roof etc.


I counted the shells, and there were about 160 shells fired at our house that day with over 80 of them direct hits on our house one at a time. After getting the roof knocked in, the shells were landing and exploding in the room with us. The concussion was terrible as also were the fumes and smoke from the shells.


That night when they quit shooting, we finally got out. Homer had been in the middle and the concussion had torn all his insides loose. He died from it. Dick and I survived, but with very sore lungs for a week or two.


I had gone seven days and six nights without any sleep. We didn’t dare go to sleep as the Germans could have come and killed us all before we knew what was happening. Fortunately there was no moon so we could get out of the house early that night after it got dark. Later I attributed my two episodes of pneumonia to the damage that had occurred to my lungs.


On May 22 I had my first airplane ride. They took me up in a Piper Cub liaison plane to look over the area we would be attacking the next day. Ordinarily the Germans didn’t shoot at these planes, as the pilot would direct our artillery fire on them if they did. He could see where the shooting came from. However, on this occasion we must have got too close or something as they started shooting at us before we could turn and get away. That is a helpless feeling being up there, as it seems like we were sitting still while they were shooting at us. I was glad to get back with my feet on the ground again.


The next morning we got up early and in our position with the Infantry to start the break out of the Beachhead. Getting ready and waiting for H Hour (the time to shove off on our attack) was the worst part – anticipating what will, or what might happen, and wondering which of us will get killed or wounded before night. Also it rained a little to make us cold and shivering during our waiting time.


At H hour, 6:30 am, every Artillery piece on the Beachhead (640 guns) started continuous firing right in front of us. There wasn’t any place 10 feet square but what had been hit. We first had to go through a German mine field and I was following the Platoon leader. He stepped on a mine and blew off one foot, so I took his platoon on through. Then the next platoon followed, with that Platoon leader also stepping on a mine. I went back and led his platoon through. Luckily I didn’t step on one.


The Germans were still in their holes and either too scared to come out or too shocked from all the Artillery fired on them, so we hollered at them to come out and if they didn’t, we threw hand grenades in and went on to the next holes As we advanced we radioed back and lifted the artillery barrage and replaced it on ahead of us—a rolling barrage.


By about noon we had go t-ten ahead of the units on either side of us, so we stopped to wait for them to catch up. We stopped on the German side of the top of a long hill and occupied some of the shallow German trenches. While waiting,. I was looking around to see what I could see while my three men were in the trench. Obviously a German spotted me and they fired an 88 that landed to the right side of me. A piece of shrapnel from the shell hit me on the right side of my head – coming through the steel helmet and the plastic liner and hit the little metal clip holding the headband in. This little clip was bent almost double where the piece of shrapnel had hit it, but if it hadn’t hit it, I would have been killed instantly as it hit me on the right temple. It did fracture my skull. If I had had my head turned an eighth of an inch either way it would have missed this little clip and killed me.


About an hour later after I had recovered from the initial shock, six German Mark VI tanks started up the hill toward us. When the closest one was about a block and one-half away from us he spotted us. I can still see him lowering his 88 down and the first three shells he fired missed me by about a foot or so. I could feel the heat from them as they went by. Then he lowered it down a little and nearly buried us. I had been trying to get some artillery with phosphorous shells on the tanks and finally it came. I got two tanks and I think the others pulled back, but we didn’t stay there any longer.


I wasn’t in very good condition then, so decided to get back over the top of the hill where they couldn’t see us. I didn’t know what the next move for the Germans would be and we were in a hurry to get back over the hill and away from them. I shot out my radio as it was too big and heavy to carry and didn’t want to leave it so the Germans could use it. I had emptied my carbine on it and didn’t take time to reload before we left.


As we came up to the top of the hill, I looked up and a German was standing at an intersection to the trench we were in. My gun was empty! I looked at him and he looked at me. Neither of us bothered the other and we kept on going. I’ll never know why he was there or where he came from, but he must have been lost, or like I was, too dazed to do anything.


We kept on going back to find an Aid Station or medics. As we went back along and in one of Mussolini’s big drain ditches there were lots of dead and badly wounded men, both German and Americans, along this ditch. The little stream of water from the previous night’s rain was red with blood. Eventually somehow I ended up at a hospital tent that was so crowded I had to sleep on a cot with another wounded soldier.


The next day they took us to the Anzio harbor and loaded us up on a Hospital ship. What a wonderful feeling it was to be on this clean white Hospital ship with lights on at night and a bed with clean sheets to sleep in– away from the war.


We went to Naples where I spent two or three weeks in the 45th General Hospital. The doctors looked at my helmet and me and marveled at the fact that I was still alive. Lady Luck had smiled on me again! The fellow in the bed next to me had been hit in the back with shrapnel and kept begging the doctors to let him die. I felt luckier than ever after seeing others.


While I was in the hospital, the 45th Division had advanced on to Rome and a little farther, before they were taken out of the line and relieved by others. Finally about the second or third week of June I was discharged from the hospital and along with Frank Mathers, a 157th Infantry Lt., and others, were loaded on a ship and went to Civitevetchi, just north of Rome.


While on this ship, the German planes came over to bomb or strafe us and again I wished I was back on land where I could dig a hole to get in. It is a helpless feeling sitting out there in the bay or ocean with enemy planes coming at us. This time we did not get hit though.


After getting off the ship we were met by a 45th Division truck and taken back to where the Division was bivouacked. On the way we passed right by and saw the big railroad guns the Germans had been shooting at us while at Anzio.


These big guns were on a track and when not firing was ran back into caves for protection. Later, one of these two “Anzio Anne” guns was taken to the Ft. Meade, MD Ordnance depot where it is still on display.


After getting back to the 158th FA I got together with Dick Borthwick, Charlie Smith and Herman Rodriguez and my jeep with Carter the driver. For three days Lt. George Olsen and a Lt. Grabowski, and I used my jeep driven by Carter, to go sightseeing in Rome. Carter had the un-canny ability to never get lost and to always be able to get back from wherever we were.


We went to the Vatican and St. Peter’s, but not being a Catholic at the time, I didn’t understand the full significance of all there was to see. I was surprised that there were no seats or pews to sit down. Instead everybody stood up. All the various paintings and mosaic pictures were very interesting.


Of course the Swiss guards at the en-trance were impressive. We also went down in the catacombs and I remember the sort of shelf with St. Cecilia on it. Her body never decomposed and was laying there as if it were still alive.


We didn’t see the Pope, but there were lots of Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests etc. with lots of GI’s there visiting too. We also went to the old Coliseum. It was easy to visualize what it had looked like so many centuries before when the Romans used it for their amusement by watching all kinds of fights to the death by both men and animals.


We saw the balcony where Mussolini made many big speeches – lots of old statues all over Rome – other churches and many government buildings. The streets were crooked and very narrow, making driving or walking difficult or hazardous.


One day we went to the big Rome Opera House where Al Jolson and others with the USO show were entertaining the American and British soldiers who had fought so long and hard to get there. It was a beautiful opera house too.


In Rome the general population was somewhat different than those down in the southern part of Italy or Sicily. Here most were bigger people, more blondes and blue eyed people, where in the south they were smaller, with dark hair and dark eyes.


Finally we had to leave and the Division was all lined up in vehicles for a long convoy to near Salerno, south of Naples. At Salerno most all of the old timers in the Division well remembered the bloody battle to invade Italy nearly a year before– after taking Sicily. Here we recuperated from the long fighting at Anzio, replaced those men who had become casualties, and had more training.


We also had amphibious training for the invasion of Southern France in August. While here I got to go on R&R to Surrento. The Army had taken over a hotel there. While there I went to the famous Isle of Capri one day. Also swimming in the blue Mediterranean. It was here that I lost my high school class ring while swimming. It was a well deserved week of vacation and relaxation.


Back with the 158th, Olsen, Grabowski and I were living in a tent in an Italian orchard. The weather was warm and we enjoyed not having to fight for while. A couple times we went to Pompii and it was very interesting to see the way people lived about 2000 years before. They died when Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano, erupted and covered them up with ash.


One nice afternoon I stayed in our tent to write some letters while the others went someplace. While sitting there, a garter snake about two feet long came across the ground floor of our tent. I grabbed him by the tail and with a quick movement like cracking a whip, I broke the snake’s neck without popping his head off. Grabowski was one of the few people who had an air ma t-tress in his sleeping bag. I coiled the dead snake up on his pillow. That night when Gabby came home – drunk as usual – he saw the snake and pulled out his 45 caliber pistol and emptied it on the snake while I pretended to be asleep until then. Needless to say, his air mattress was well ventilated. He always thought the snake was alive when he shot it and I never told him otherwise.


Numerous times we practiced climbing down the rope ladder- like nets on the side of ships to the small landing craft below. Also riding around in the landing craft, as we would do later when we landed on the beaches in Southern France. By the second week of August they got all the equipment etc. loaded on the ships. On August 13th we headed out to sea. After organizing the ships in the convoy, we sailed west, going between Cor-sica and Sardinia. I never minded riding on the Navy’s ships, as we officers were always given nice beds and good meals with the navy officers.


Early on the morning of August 15 we ate breakfast and put on our backpacks, carrying our guns and climbed over the side of the ship to the small landing crafts below. The water was sort of rough with swells. Making it difficult and dangerous going from the more stable big ship with the nets to the small boat that was bobbing up and down. I was with Lt. Van Barfoot and his platoon of Infantry which was part of I Co. of the 157th Infantry Regmt. Also with me and my FO party was a navy officer who was supposed to direct the fire from the naval ships after we landed, and until our artillery got on shore. Then I would take over.


After getting in the small landing craft, we were two or three miles from shore and it seemed like they traveled awfully slow. Earlier, the Air Force bombed the beaches. Then the Navy fired their big guns at previously known targets. All the while we were heading toward the beach the navy was firing small rockets over our heads. Some of them were defective and landed all around us but again we didn’t get hit—just scared. When we got to the beaches all the earlier Navy and Air Force preparation had quit. Now it was up to us. We knew there was a sea wall where we were supposed to land at St. Maxime so we took along some dynamite to blow a hole in it to get on shore. We also took some ladders in, just in case we needed them. The dynamite had got wet and wouldn’t explode so we set up the ladders. Lt. Barfoot climbed up and sat there for a few seconds and looked back and said “Come on, they didn’t shoot me!”


The Navy and Air Force had done a good job of getting rid of most of the Germans in our sector, so we had little trouble getting into St. Maxime. Here there were numerous snipers etc. that had to be cleared out of houses etc. The Navy officer with me was shot so now I had the job of directing fire for the Navy too. After clearing out the town, we turned and had to clear the German positions along the coast. To our left was a high hill with Germans in deep holes and tunnels etc. We went around the backside of it and I directed the fire from the battleship “Texas” and several Destroyers. Since we were directly in line with the ships and the hill, if any of the shells would have come over the top of the hill, we would get hit, so I was real careful in creeping up on the other side of the hill with one gun to get to the top. Then all the guns fired.


With those big 14- inch shells, the hill shook and sort of settled down. It was a lot different than shooting the 105’s of our artillery. The hill had a barbed wire entanglement around the upper part of it, so with a Bangalore torpedo, the infantry opened up a gap in the wire to go through. There were still a lot of Germans in there in spite of the Navy’s firing. Lt. Barfoot had gotten rid of his gas mask and filled the bag with rifle grenades that were his favorites. He went in alone and it reminded me of shooting prairie dogs in Nebraska. One would pop up out of a hole and Van would shoot him. Then another, and another, until he had killed seven or eight of them. Then all of the platoon went in and finished the job.


A German Captain, a Sgt., and one or two others surrendered. I helped search them and I took a real neat safety razor from the Captain. The Sgt. was a mean looking guy and he had a pair of brass knuckles in his hip pocket. One of the Infantrymen took it and tried it out on the German Sgt. to show him how it felt. That is why we had been advised to never carry a big knife.


That night we were tired and I slept outside on the sidewalk by a house that had been destroyed. From then on we walked and cleared the retreating Germans who would stop and fight and then we would chase them again. Lots of times they would fight almost to the last man for some important road intersection or something. Our artillery had a hard time keeping up and having the guns in position to fire at all times. On one of these occasions my driver, Carter, had done some trading with the French people and we started cooking a rabbit stew that included some potatoes and carrots. We had just got started with the cooking when we had to pack it up and move. Again we got it all out and started cooking again, but before it got done, we had to move again. The third time we finally got it cooked so we could eat it.


As we went farther north, generally following the Rhone River, we got into areas where there were lots of good ripe tomatoes and then into the grape vineyards with lots of delicious ripe grapes. They were welcome supplements to our C or K rations. Sometimes we walked with the Infantry and sometimes I had Carter bring the jeep so we could ride.


The French civilians were very glad to see us come and always gave us a big welcome. They dug down in the floors of their cellars and got some of the best wine they had buried to hide it from the Germans. Since the Germans had taken all their livestock and most everything else they could, these people had been hurting for food. Our chocolate bars (D-bars) were some of the things they hadn’t seen for several years. The Germans had several thousands of troops back inside France and with the Allies pushing toward us from the Normandy invasion force, we were trying to close the gap and trap all the German Army. As we closed tighter they fought harder and harder so they could escape back into Germany. Here was where we had some real hard fighting.


Our OSS (Office of Strategic Services) was helping the FFI (Free French of the Interior) as well as the Marquis (the Communist French) to fight the Germans by dropping arms and ammunition and explosives etc. to help these Resistance Fighters sabotage and otherwise harass the Ger-mans. Occasionally we would overrun an area that they worked in and the OSS officer would join us for a while. Some of the French also worked with us as they could monitor the German activities ahead of us. Many times we just took the main towns and bypassed some to the sides as the Germans seldom stayed back where they would be trapped.


One day a young lady came running over to us and was so hysterical she could hardly talk. Finally somebody understood French and could make out what her problem was. We had by-passed a small village over three or four miles to the side of us where the civilian FFI had been supplied rifles and ammo. They got real brave since we were close, and chased the Germans out of the town. Then they ran out of ammunition and the Germans came back. They tied the French men up and put a stick of dynamite in their mouths with a long fuse so the individual could watch the fuse burn until it blew his head off. The women and kids were treated worse. Their eyes were poked out and their fingers chopped off. Needless to say no prisoners were taken over there, but this was a good example of what the Germans were capable of doing to other people they controlled.


One night my FO party and I were waiting beside the road under some bushes for our Infantry to meet us before crossing the Daubs River. The Engineers were finishing building a pontoon bridge across the river. As we were sitting there under some trees and bushes, four trucks loaded with Germans were came up the road and stopped right in front of us. After hesitating, I decided that I would rather be a live coward than a dead hero with the four of us trying to kill or capture all these Germans. So we sat there watching them. After a few minutes they drove on across the pon-toon bridge. They were the first ones to cross it after our Engineers built it. Later our Infantry came and we went across. Maybe the Engineers saw them and felt the same way I had – or they didn’t recognize the fact that they were Germans instead of Americans.


One day we were supposed to attack and while we were waiting to push off the Germans decided to attack us. They started out with a lot of artillery firing on us while we were getting lined up. It is nerve wracking waiting for the next shell to land — wondering where it will hit and who will be the victims. Finally we pushed off too – with me directing our artillery fire on them ahead of us — with them trying to do the same to us. We finally made some progress, and I got in an old stone house where I could look out a window and had good observation of them. The Germans were circling around from one side trying to get us sur-rounded. I fired over 1,000 rounds at them and finally succeeded in chasing them out of the trees where they had to go across an open area to re-treat.


Having already adjusted on this area and had what we called a Concentration Number for it, all I had to do was call for this concentration number and the whole Battalion of our Artillery would immediately blast this area when the Germans were out in the open. Then I could shift back to the trees to chase out another bunch. I easily killed 50 to 100 of them and no doubt wounded three or four times that many more. However, then several Mark VI tanks, along with their infantry soldiers, came toward my house. I took a chance and brought the whole battalion of our artillery in on myself and the Ger-mans.


While it was hitting all around me, we ran out and got away from them without getting hit. The Germans had sense enough to keep their heads down while the artillery was coming in. Fortunately, my men and I got away and kept from being killed or captured or wounded that day.


While in the house and looking out the window, a shell had landed just outside and a piece of shrapnel hit me in the forehead, but again my helmet saved me, as it just made a big dent in it and didn’t come through. Lady Luck had smiled on me again, but I wondered how much longer this could go on. After a few more days of minor skirmishes with the Germans, I was with Lt.Van Barfoot and his platoon of I Co. By this time we were getting fairly close to Switzerland and in the edge of the Alps. They were long sloping hills with most of the higher area forested. About the lower third was cleared and provided grass for livestock. Usually in the bottom was a little stream and an occasional village or town – very picturesque. Back at the Bn Hqtrs, before going out again, I jokingly had told Col. Funk that I was going over the Switzerland and they could go ahead and fight the war. I was never to see the Col. again, but I never got to Switzerland either. We knew the Germans were up ahead of us, but we didn’t know where. On the night of September 10, 1944, Van I took a sound-powered telephone and strung a wire as we went, but leaving my FO party and Van’s platoon behind. In the middle of the blackest, darkest night imaginable, the two of us went through the forest to see where the Germans were. Every little twig we stepped on sounded like a herd of elephants out there. Once we saw a small luminous spot ahead and Van raised his gun to shoot, thinking it was a man’s wristwatch – and it did look like it could be. However, I had seen this type of thing before and figured it was some free phosphorous from an old dead and decaying tree. Luckily, I grabbed his arm and stopped him before he shot. Going up toward it, it did turn out to be phosphorous, so we avoided alerting the Germans. We kept going until we came to the edge of the clearing and still hadn’t encountered any Germans. We waited there until it starting getting daylight. There was the usual cleared area below us with a stream in the bottom. There was also a road with a bridge across the stream at the edge of a small town also located along the stream. This was the town of Abbenans, France.


We could see a lot of Germans in the town so we started firing artillery on them. All the houses had red tile roofs and the artillery shells hitting them sent up a cloud of red dust. One Frenchmen came out waving a sheet indicating he didn’t want us to shoot up his house, and I really couldn’t blame him.


After firing around and on the town for one hour or two, suddenly about 60 to 70 ambulances left the town. We had our doubts that they were all carrying wounded people but we didn’t shoot at them.


About that time a tree that was right out in front of us, only about 150 feet away started moving. It was a well camouflaged anti-tank gun with five men. They pushed it down the hill and as they were crossing the bridge I got a direct hit on them. They flew in all directions. The bridge was also pretty well demolished.


At about noon we didn’t see any more German activity in town so we called my FO party and the platoon of infantry to come and join us as we went into town. There were no more Germans there. Lt. Barfoot’s platoon was relieved and they went back in reserve. After having been with Barfoot’s platoon al-most all the time since we landed in France, this was the last time I was to see him until many years after the war. A couple weeks after I was captured he had been sent back to the US where he was awarded the Medal of Honor for what he had done while still at Anzio. He was a remark-able individual and excellent soldier. He was ½ Cherokee Indian and about 6 ft. 6” tall. He would rather go prowling around at night over behind the German lines than stay back on our side.


Then I went with another platoon of I Co. and was with Frank Mather, who was now the Co. Commander. I had been with him back in Naples in the hospital earlier. Now we were going up the hill on the other side of the town and across the clearing toward the wooded area above. This time some of the Germans had escaped from the town and had gone up in the wooded area where they could see and shoot at us and we couldn’t see them.


Frank and I were walking side by side. He always carried a pistol instead of a rifle. I always carried a carbine. I remarked to him that someday he would be identified as an officer and get shot. It wasn’t 15 minutes later that, while talking, he stopped right in the middle of a word. I looked over at him and he was dead – having been shot by a sniper from the trees above.


The rest of us kept going and late in the after-noon we got to the top of the hill. By then the Bn. Commander, Major Merle Mitchell, Captain Henry Huggins, and another Lt. and a Frenchman had come up to take command of I Co. since Frank was killed. I was with them as we looked at our maps and tried to find a road that went down on the other side of the hill, but couldn’t find it.


After deciding what to do, I started walking back to my FO party and had only gone 50 to 75 feet when the Germans opened up with a machine gun and killed the Bn. Commander and all the other officers who were with him. Right where I needed it, and when I needed it, there was a shallow depression inside of where the walls of an old building apparently had been. My FO party was already in it when I joined them. The Germans continued firing directly over us while our tanks from behind were shooting over us at the Germans. I set up the radio and was shooting our artillery in a semi-circle in front of us, directing it by the sound, as I didn’t dare stick my head up. About dark our tanks pulled back, which was customary, and the Germans quit shooting too. A few min-utes later we heard a German tank coming toward us real slow and quiet. All we could hear was the clank-clank-clank of the track as it came closer.


I told my men that it was time we were getting out, and if I made it, for them to follow. I got out and had to go across an open area of about 100 feet to get to the trees beyond the clearing. It was practically dark then. When I got out in the open, they started shooting at me from all across the front of the trees ahead of me as I headed back to-ward our lines. I raised my hands and gun and hollered at them to stop shooting. They answered back in German!


There I was out in front of a whole line of Germans and in the open with no place to go or way to get there. I had no choice except suicide or be captured. They came out after me and of course took my gun. Believe me that was a traumatic experience when they took my gun away from me. A couple of nights before, I had lost my bin-ocularsso borrowed a pair of real good German binoculars from one of the infantrymen. I had them around my neck. Also I had a little German pistol on my belt. If we ever caught a German with any American equipment on him, we killed him, and they normally did the same thing. Having no time to get rid of them, I figured this was going to be the end. However, to my surprise they acted like a bunch of little kids to see who was going to get them. Later I found out that they were some of the German Luftwaffe ground force that were put up in the infantry and this was their first fighting. Again Lady Luck smiled from ear to ear on me.


However one of the first things they did was to take my glasses off and stomp on them to break them. After finishing searching me and taking my cigarettes and lighter, money, and jack knife, they made me lay down with my head on a big rock. A rifle was held against it on the top side until they finally captured the rest of my men. None of them were wounded, but they did shoot up the radio while Smith had it on his back. After they got us, they fed us some real good beef stew with potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. that they, too were eating. This was probably the best meal I was to get from the Germans while I was a POW. My Lt. bars were on my shirt collar but I had them covered so they didn’t find out that I was an officer or I might not have been treated as well. Lt. Howard Litske was also captured, apparently shortly before I was, as his platoon was sup-posed to be out ahead of us while I was talking toMajor Mitchell.


A German soldier had been shot through the stomach and wit hout a stretcher, the four of us had to carry him about 3/4 mile down the hill on a shelter- half, holding it tight so his middle didn’t sag down. Every time we let it sag down, a guard would jab us in the back with his bayonet. The Germans took us down a trail on the back side of this hill to what appeared to be like aRegimental Hqtrs. When they had searched me, they had failed to find my map that I had inside my shirt next to my chest. It had our unit’s location etc. on it. As we were going down the hill, I managed to hide it in some bushes next to the trail.


At the headquarters we were turned over to an old German Captain. He had learned to speak English while he was a POW of the English in World War I. With an English accent along with his German accent it was rather comical, but he was a pretty good old guy and gave us some good advice on things not to do. The n we were put in a truck and taken to a schoolhouse where we slept on the floor that night. The next day they took us to another town some distance away where they put me in solitary confinement for a couple of days. Then they took me in another building for interrogation. The officer took me down a hall and showed me one of the ways they get people to talk. I was very thankful they didn’t think I had any information they needed.


There was an oversize bathtub next to a wall. A sort of post was across the top of the bathtub with one end of it in a hole in the wall on the other side of the tub. On our side, at the end of the post was a crank. They would put a person on this post and tie him down like a chicken put on a rotisserie for a barbecue. The bathtub was filled with water and human excrement. They could then turn the crank and hold a person’s head un-der this crap in the tub for as long as they wanted to, and bring him up when they wanted to. Thank God they didn’t put me through this. Instead he took me in another room where I sat by his desk, where he tried to visit a little. Then he picked up a big black book, about 12″ by `15″ in size, and about two or three inches thick. He opened up the book and found my name. He told me where I came from in Nebraska; when I went into the Army; and every place I had been stationed in the States, when I left the States, and every place I had been since. I was amazed! Obviously they had this same information on thousands of other Americans. Even yet, I don’t know how they got all that information, and much less how they kept it up to date – and without computers. The only explanation I have ever heard was that they had enough people in the U.S. reading newspapers and keeping track of every one in every small town in the U.S. and forwarding the information to some central area. Anyway other than my name, rank, and serial number they didn’t need or get any more information.


The next day we were taken over to Mulhouse or Mulhousen. During an Air Raid, we were taken to an air raid shelter. After that they put us on a boxcar, and the train headed north. Of course we didn’t know where we were going, but we traveled at night and sat in the railroad stations during the day to avoid being bombed or strafed by our own American pilots. Their favorites were to catch a train going into a tunnel and bombing the other end of it shut so it would pile up the train in the tunnel.


We were each given one loaf of German bread to last us until we got to wherever we were going. Occasionally we could peek through the cracks of the boxcar and knew we were going north up past the Siegfried line. Occasionally we could see parts of it. After several days we stopped and were at Limberg, Germany in Stalag XII-A. This was a sort of a distribution center for POW’s and our first experience in a POW camp.


This was the last time I was to see Dick Both-wick or Charles Smith. Later I got to see Herman Rodriguez. We were separated with the officers, non-coms and privates put in separate compounds. Here we were registered with the International Red Cross – who in turn notified our government that we were POW’s. Until then, the Germans could do anything they wanted to with us, but after we were registered, and according to the Geneva Convention, they were accountable for our safety and welfare. It didn’t always work out this way, but that’s the way it was supposed to be according to the Geneva Convention.


Each of us were given German dog-tags. My German serial number was 87959. It was on both halves of the tag. This metal dog-tag was perforated so it could be broken in two, permitting one part to be left with a body and the other half taken for the records. We officers were photographed with our serial no. and the picture put on an identification card that we had to carry at all times.


As this was about the middle of September, they had lots of cabbage. So all we got to eat was purple cabbage soup. I don’t know of anything that will cause more gas on your stomach than this. Every morning and night they got us out for Appel. We were lined up in blocks of 50, (10 wide and 5 deep) to count us. One guard went down the line counting us – then he clicked his heels and raised his arm to Heil Hitler as he reported up to the next level of command. Then that one would click his heels and Heil Hitler when reporting to the next one. Each time they clicked their heels and raised their arm to Hiel Hitler all of us would make an effort to fart as loud as we could. It made the Germans mad, but there was nothing they could do about it. At least it gave us a little satisfaction to get rid of some of the gas from the cabbage at an opportune time.


One day hundreds of American bombers went over heading north east to bomb some other city. A couple hours later they came back over us. A few of them had some bombs left so they bombed our camp. Some of the bombs didn’t explode, so they made some of the American POW’s go out and dig them up so they could dispose of them. On a work detail of Russian POW’s that came back into camp after a day’s work, I saw a German guard hit one of the POW’s in the head with a shovel and kill him.


After being in Stalag XII-A for about a week the officers were loaded into boxcars for another train ride. This time we headed East. I found out later that Smith and Bothwick went to a Non-Com camp, III-C, near Frankfort on the Oder. Rodriguez went to Dachau where he worked in a railroad shop as a slave laborer. The privates were made to work. The Non- Coms had a choice of working or not. Sometimes they got more to eat if they worked. The officers were not allowed to work.


We were each given our one loaf of black bread that was about one third sawdust. We had three guards in the car with us. One was an ornery devil and didn’t like us. We didn’t like him any better. They put what looked about like a five-gallon bucket of water in the car for us to drink. After the water was gone that was also our latrine. Most of us had dysentery by then with notoilet paper, no way to wash up, and of course no change of clothes except what we were captured in. When the train stopped this one guard pre-tended to empty the bucket and refill it with water to drink. However he usually left various amounts of the crap in the bucket and then filled it. A per-son has to be pretty thirsty to drink it, but being the latter part of September, with warm weather and shut up in the box car, we did what we had to do to survive – no matter how disagreeable.


I remember stopping in Liepzig, but at that time we had no idea where they were taking us. On September 30 we got to Schubin, Poland and Oflag 64. This is where all the American ground force officers were kept. The Air Force personnel went to separate camps under the control of Herman Goering, the head of the German Luftwafte.


Our camp was located north west of Warsaw and south of the Baltic Sea – a long way from the American lines. There were virtually no chances of escaping and getting back. At the time I arrived, there were about 350 American officers there. Most of them had been captured earlier in North Africa or in Sicily or at Anzio.


Up until then, the Red Cross food parcels had been arriving quite regularly so each man could supplement his German diet of about 800 calories per day, and most had been getting along pretty good. Also, up until then the POW’s had been receiving mail and packages from home. However, now with the war escalating, the roads and trains were busy trying to keep the German Army sup-plied as the Allies were closing in on both the Russian and the western front.


Our welfare was considered low priority. I never did receive any mail while I was a POW. When we arrived at Oflag 64, our reception by the other POW’s was pretty cool for a few days. Previously the Germans had attempted to slip in a stooge with the incoming POW’s. There was a committee of officers who interviewed each of us to determine if we were in fact legitimate American POW’s. I don’t care where in this world you go, there is always someone who knows someone you know, or some common place or names that both are familiar with. After we were “cleared” the old POW’s were very helpful and friendly.


We were put in an empty barracks up in the Northwest part of the camp. Since this place was only for American officers, there were no separate compounds, as in most other camps, to separate different nationalities or ranks. There was only a double barbed wire fence around the entire camp – along with the guard towers and guards. Previously this had been used as a boy’s school before being converted to a POW camp. Then it had held other nationalities for awhile. In fact it was said that Stalin’s own son was held here for a while. Later he had died in another camp after Hitler had tried to trade him to Stalin for a German General. Stalin had no use for any POW, as he thought all soldiers should die fighting instead of surrendering. His son had been a pilot and was shot down.


In our barracks we had wooden bunk beds with one above the other. These were placed end to end from the center aisle to the wall. By leaving a space between rows, this formed sort of an enclosure or room. With me, in our little cubicle was Edward (Bud) Fairchild, Dr. Edward McGee, Dr. Monahan, Bill Boucher, John (Tex) Williams, Orville Simmons, and Bill Pryor. Boucher was an Artillery Liaison pilot with the Third Division and had been shot down and wounded. He and I had come up from Southern France while all the others were some of the early ones from the Normandy invasion.


Our armies from the south and those from the north had not closed together yet when I was captured. Dr. Monahan got sick and was taken out and we never saw him again. Dr. McGee was\ later transferred to some other POW camp as a doctor to help other POW’s – even though they had very little to work with except giving advice. While I was a POW I had no toothbrush or dental care or medical care.


In the German army, rank was highly respected and some of it was carried over to showing some respect to us as officers. As such, they had brought in a number of American Enlisted GI’s as our orderlies – mainly to do the cooking and kitchen work. They had their own separate living quarters.


With our meager diet, along with the others, I started losing weight. Dysentery had been a problem most of the time after I became a POW – especially after that train ride to this camp. For breakfast we had “tea”. They raked up tree leaves and boiled them for tea. At least it was hot and provided some liquid other than cold water which was available only from a faucet between two barracks that were end to end.


Our latrine was in a separate building that was also used by most of the other barracks in the camp. Occasionally the Germans brought in a “Honey Wagon” and pumped the pit out, as there was no sewer system.


For lunch, there was usually some kind of soup or sauerkraut. I never did like cabbage anyway, but here there was no choice or substitute. For dinner we had some boiled potatoes – sometimes having been frozen and black. Also we got about a 1/8 of a loaf of their black bread which contained about 1/3 sawdust for filler. Once a week we got a little dab of margarine and a tablespoon full of sugar. There was seldom any meat, but if there was, it was in the soup at noon. Each of us had been given a German knife, fork & spoon. I was given a razor and five blades and they lasted me as long as I was a POW. We learned how to sharpen and resharpen them. About once a month one of the POW’s who had a pair of hand clippers gave us haircuts. We had no showers and had to wash the best we could with the one cold water faucet when we could – usually after standing in line. The only soap we had come from the Red Cross food parcels.


Every morning and evening we had to line up for Appel where they counted us. If anyone was not there, we all had to stand there and wait until all were accounted for. Nobody wanted to stand out there in the cold in the morning waiting for someone who had a hard time waking up, so we always made sure everybody was up and out there on time.


At night the lights were shut off about 9 o’clock and everybody had to be inside until morning. No radios were permitted, and the only news we had was German news that was posted on the bulletin board by them. When a new group of POWs came, they of course could tell us what was happening in the outside world up until they were captured.


However, some of the older POWs had been able to put together a secret radio that could get BBC from London, so each night, with somebody standing guard to prevent any German from catching us, we listened to “the Bird”. During the day, with someone guarding, the radio was turned on and the news copied on slips of paper and distributed to each barracks to be read that night after the lights were out. Then the slips of paper were destroyed.


The Senior American officer, Col. Paul Goode, and his predecessor, Col. Drake – both West Point officers – dealt with the German camp commander, Col. Schneider, to settle any problems that developed between the POW’s and the Germans. From the beginning at this camp the senior American officer had set up a typical military staff to run the camp somewhat like any Army unit, with pretty strict discipline for all those in the camp. This prevented the problems of mob rule as happened in some camps and with some nationalities.


In the camp we had a library. Some of the books were there to start with and others were brought in by the YMCA representative from Sweden. He also brought in various equipment for athletics, as well as some musical instruments and playing cards. I couldn’t use the library be-cause the Germans had broken my glasses when I was captured. We did spend lots of time playing cards and just visiting. I don’t know how it got there, but there was a pet Raven in our barracks most of the time. It of-ten landed on the table where we were playing cards and would pick one up and fly over to the other side of the room with it.


Most of the POWs here were college graduates or had been in college and were from all professions and all parts of the U.S. Some started teaching classes on different subjects, as they had been college professor’s before being called for active duty.


One day in October or November they got everybody out for an extra Appel while the Germans went through all the barracks and took all the parts of uniforms they could find. I had all mine on that I was captured in, so I didn’t lose any-thing. Later we found out that these uniforms were used by the Germans to impersonate American soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge.


Another secret that the Germans suspected, but never could locate, was a tunnel that was dug from one of the barracks to escape through. It extended under the fences and beyond. One of the POWs was a mining engineer and with a lot of ingenuity and help, they had dug down and out through the sandy soil by shoring it up with the bed boards. By taking a few from each of about all the beds in camp, it wasn’t too noticeable as long as our so-called mattresses were held up and we didn’t fall through. The Germans probably thought we were using the “extra” bed boards for fuel for our little makeshift stoves that were made out of tin cans from the Red Cross food parcels. Other works of engineering ingenuity resulted in electric lights in the tunnel and an alarm to warn the one in the tunnel in time so he could get out and look presentable if a guard came close. Other people disposed of the dirt from the tunnel by scattering it outside over the compound or hiding it in the attic in Red Cross Food boxes.


The tunnel entrance was made behind and under one of the barracks stoves, which had to be moved and put back each time. Anyway, the Germans spent a lot of time hunting for the tunnel but never did find it. Neither was it ever used because in this remote area there was no place to go with any reasonable chance of ever escaping back to friendly forces.


A number of escape attempts were made, but the only successful one I ever heard about involved three POWs who implanted some coal dust under the skin of their chests, and later put on a coughing act until the Germans finally took them out to a Doctor. X-rays showed spots on their lungs, and they were repatriated because of Tuberculosis.


At about this time winter was coming on and I had gone from about 175 pounds at the time I was captured down to about 140 pounds. Also with a lack of vitamins, etc. I kept getting stys on my eyes. In November I caught a cold and it settled in my chest and developed into pneumonia. I am sure this was a result of the damage to my lungs while at Anzio. With bronchitis too, I couldn’t talk for a week or two. I finally got over it about Christmas time. By that time a lot more POW’s had arrived and the camp population of POW’s would soon be about 1,600.


One morning I was helping to carry a tub of hot water for “tea” and slipped on the ice, hurting my back. For the next several days I spent most of my time in bed, not only because it was cold, but because of my back. Eventually it got better before we had to march out of Oflag 64, but it has been a problem all the rest of my life. Several amusing things happened while at Oflag 64. Every Saturday morning the German guards came in for an inspection. Usually they were only looking for one item, and with the German discipline they did exactly what they were told – nothing more and nothing less. One Saturday the guard pulled back the “mattress” on the bed of a fellow in our barracks. There laid a German rifle. Why the fellow had it, I will never know, but I suppose he had traded a guard out of it. Anyway the guard laid the mattress back down and said, “we are not looking for guns today”. I never did find out what the fellow did with the rifle after the guard left.


F. Eugene Liggett

After Christmas, with the arrival of a new group of POW’s, one Lt. had gotten by with keeping the family pictures he had in his wallet. He was showing some of the older POW’s the picture of his wife. Suddenly after looking at it again, one fellow said, “What do you mean your wife? That is my wife”. Evidently the girl didn’t think the first one was coming back and married the other one. I have always wondered what happened after the war, if both of them made it back home.


Another time the Gestapo agents came in the barracks in the middle of the night and made everyone pull down their pants and bend over while they looked up our ass holes. I don’t know what they were looking for, but one of the fellows down the line from me had a good case of dysentery, and as the Gestapo was looking, he almost got an eye full. Needless to say the German moved on very quickly.


In Northern Poland the winters are quite cold, and this winter of 1944-45 was certainly no exception. We only had two thin German blankets to keep us warm (or from freezing). We slept in our clothes too, but were still cold all the time. We only got one bucket of coal each morning and another one each evening to heat the big non-insulated barracks. Water would often freeze in our cubicles at night as most of the time it was below zero at night.


In January 1945 the Russians started their big drive across Poland and were headed our way. On the morning of January 21, the Germans marched us out of the camp, headed on foot back to Germany\ and away from the Russians. About 100 of the POW’s were too sick to march, so they stayed there. About 1,500 of us started Northwest, which was against the wind, and with a foot or two of snow on the ground, it was mighty cold. Some days it was snowing too. Fortunately, the Germans had given me an old Polish army overcoat that had a number of machine gun holes through it and blood on it. At least it certainly did help. From the Red Cross I had gotten a wool knit cap to keep my head from freezing. No gloves or heavy sox though, just the clothes I was captured in.


Our column of POW’s was strung out for a half- mile or more. Bill Pryor and I were at about the tail end of the column, as our feet were frozen and hurt. The guards prodded us on to get across some of the bridges before they blew them up to slow the Russians. We would leave a place in the morning and the Russians would take it about that night.


At night we stopped at the big collective farms where we slept in the barns. I slept with the sheep, the hogs, or on manure piles to try to keep from freezing to death, as it usually was 30 to 40 degrees below zero at night. Every night the Russians sent out a patrol and the Germans managed to kill them each time.


One day Col. Schneider, the German commander, who drove his little car, left to visit a friend of his, and left a German, Capt. Hautman, in charge, with instructions that if it appeared the Russians would come, to load up the guards in the trucks and send them back to Germany. That night the Russians did send out a pretty big patrol but the Germans managed to kill all of them. However, this Capt., an old Austrian school-teacher that had been more sympathetic toward us, loaded the guards up and sent them on their way back to Germany. Some of the POW’s dressed him up so he could be an “American” when the Russians came.


The next morning the Polish people butchered a hog or two, and had started cooking it when the Col. came back through the town. He never even stopped, as it was obvious what had happened. He took off again, and a couple hours later came back with a company of SS guards. They quickly rounded us up and out on the road again. I don’t know what happened to the Capt., but I can guess.


After about a week of marching, I caught a cold and it quickly developed into pneumonia again. There were about 120 of us who were too sick to march any farther so they loaded us on two boxcars. Sixty of us and five guards in each car. The guards took the entire area between the two doors. We had both ends of the car and were so crowded that we alternately stood up, sat down, or laid down at two-hour intervals. The first few days I was pretty much “out of it” and I am sure that had they not made me move around and take my shift, I would have died. The will to live was pretty strong as I was determined to get home to Skeets and my folks. Without that I probably wouldn’t have made it. After several days I started getting better.


One day our train stopped in front of a depot or train station and there was a German Red Cross soup kettle there serving transients. Three of us talked two of the guards into letting us get out and see if we could get some soup. Along with the guards, we got in line and waited. By the time we got up to the kettle, they wouldn’t give us any because we were not Germans. Then we went to the restroom, where I was surprised to see women and men both using the same facilities, side by side.


When we went out, our train was gone. We stood there waiting while one guard went to find other transportation. The civilians recognized us as Americans and as this guard didn’t care, they starting spitting on us and hitting us. Being fairly close to Berlin and with all the bombing there by the Americans, the civilians had no use for the Americans. We were so weak it didn’t take much to get us knocked down. Fortunately, about that time the first guard came back and chased the civilians away.


Then we got on a regular passenger coach with a small compartment all to ourselves where we could sit on the seats – pretty nice! But it didn’t last long. At the next town or two the train stopped and we had to get back on our boxcar again.


On February 3rd we were sitting in the rail road yard in Berlin. That day the Americans made one of the biggest air raids of the war – 2,600 B-17’s and B-24’s bombed us with the rail road yards as their main target. I can still see those red streamers coming down to mark the targets and hear the bombs coming down. Again Lady Luck smiled on us as we didn’t get a direct hit. After the raid ended, there were thousands of old women and men as slave laborers out there getting the track back in shape so the trains could run again.


On February 4 we moved out and were taken to Stalag 3A, just south of Berlin. We were so weak we could hardly walk and had to help each other to get the 1/4 mile or so that we had to walk from the train to the camp. We had had nothing to eat for 8 or 9 days, besides being sick when we got on the train.


We were put in a big building that had one corner of it partitioned off, with a big iron door on it. They told us they were going to give us a shower. Some of the POW’s had heard about Auschwitz, which was in Poland, so we knew what we could expect. They had carts with racks with pegs on them to hang our clothes on after undressing. Then they ran about 30 men in that corner room and shut the door. Nobody ever came back out. After a while another bunch went in. They never came out. Then my turn came. In the room were showerheads all around the outside walls, but until they turned the water on we didn’t know whether we were going to get the showers or gas. Our clothes were wheeled around to the other side where another door led us out and we got dressed again.


This camp was becoming crowded with POW’s from other camps being sent here. We were put in the same compound with the British RAF officers and a few of the remaining old Polish army officers. About every Allied nationality was represented here at Stalag 3-A. After having nothing to eat for 8 or 9 days and being sick with pneumonia, I was in pretty bad shape. I weighed only about 100 pounds by then and was so weak I could hardly get out of bed and stand up. In fact when I stood up I had to hold onto the bed, as I would black out for awhile. Finally, I could see where I was going again and walk away.


We heard that there were 57,000 American Red Cross food parcels here in the camp, but they wouldn’t give us any. Instead, they were giving them to other nationalities. The Norwegian officers were in the compound across the fences from us. Up until recently their Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish Red Cross had been allowed to bring in food in their own trucks to the Norwegian POW’s. Now they knew they would get no more, but they gave us one half of what they had. We got this on my 25th birthday – February 19th. Even though it wasn’t much, it was certainly appreciated. This was far more than any other nationality did or offered to do for us. Here in this camp the fleas, lice and bedbugs were thick and there was no way to get away from them. I was fortunate in that they didn’t seem to bite me like they did most others. They sure did a lot of crawling though. Many of the men would always have a scar about three inches wide around their waists from where they were bitten.


In late March the Germans started giving us barley soup which was good. It even provided quite a bit of protein from the abundance of little black bugs in it. With spring coming, and lots of warm sunshine, I felt much better again. Being in with the RAF officers, we got well acquainted and enjoyed visiting. We started trading and copying down recipes for good food that we remembered and someday hoped to enjoy eating again. I filled six pages in a little notebook I had carried all the time I was a POW and before. Some of these were quite interesting as they were from all over the world where some of the POW’s had been stationed.


Here our beds were the same wooden ones, only here they were three tiers high instead of only two as they had been in Poland. I had a lower bunk to start with, as I was too weak to get in or out of an upper one. Later I switched to a top bunk where I could sit up in bed. I made a calendar on the wall and each morning crossed another day off—that much closer to when the war would surely be over and we could go home again. On warm days we sat outside the building in the sun with our pants off, picking out the lice and fleas that were abundant on the inside seams. Another favorite past time was watching the Americans bombing Berlin in the daytime and the British bombing at night. The German spotlights focused on some of the planes and often were able to shoot some of them down. One day the Germans brought in an officer who was part of the crew of a plane that had been shot down on February 3rd – the day we were sitting in the rail-road yard in Berlin. He was the lead bombardier of a squadron or group of planes. After talking to him about where we were at the time, he said he was supposed to have bombed this area, but had goofed up when he dropped his target marker for the other planes to drop their bombs. Somehow, due to various quirks of fate, I had been spared again and again. Lady Luck was still smiling on me, but I kept wondering if my luck would hold out to the end.


One day the Germans came in and told us that President Roosevelt had died and that the U.S. would now join them in fighting the Russians. We of course questioned it, but still it seemed quite possible. Now we wondered what would happen next.


On the morning of April 18th when we woke up, the German guards were all gone. For several days we had been hearing artillery firing to the west of us and hoping the Americans would come soon. Then it ceased and became quiet on or about April 16th. On the 18th, with the guards gone, other nationalities in other compounds were getting out and running wild. Especially the Russian POW’s who had been treated more brutally than most other nationalities for several reasons. Russia had not signed the Geneva Convention as most other countries had. Stalin had us no use for prisoners and treated the Germans that they captured accordingly.


The Russian officers who were POW’s in Stalag 3-A were used to clean out our latrines and other such jobs. Many died from starvation. In 3-A some of the Russian POW’s were used in the bakery by the Germans. The other Russian POW’s were envious because these 20 or so Russian\ POW’s were getting more to eat. After the German guards had left that morning, the Russian POW’s took clubs and killed these so-called traitors who had been working in the bakery. Other Russian POW’s got out of the camp and killed anything that was German – dogs, cats, men and women (usually they raped them first and then cut their throats). We observed this from in the camp. They got some guns from some of the Germans and killed more Germans, getting more guns. Sort of a snowballing effect as their violence escalated. Some of the Russians explained to us that if they weren’t actively fighting the Germans when their army got there, they too would be killed by their own troops. We and the British decided we would be better off staying in our own compound until the Russian army came and things settled down again.


On the morning of April 20th a Russian armored spearhead group, commanded by a woman Major came into the camp, knocking down the barbed wire fences as they came. We thought that at last we were freed. Since the Russian Army did not carry any food with them, they lived off the land, taking whatever they could find. They told us to do the same.


For several days we got out of the camp to see what we could find. . Several of us stayed together and saw a number of interesting things without going but a short distance from camp. We saw various machine shops etc. with tools and machinery for making various products. These were marked and protected by Russian guards posted to keep this equipment until it could be dismantled and taken back to Russia. We also got into a German warehouse and “borrowed” some small backpacks. Mine was used to hold all my possessions and enabled me later to carry my “stuff” back home. I still have it.


Also in the same area we saw a sort of a hotel with a big courtyard around it. This was used as a German R & R to reward heroic German officers and men, mostly from the Russian front. Each man was there for 30 days and was given 10 girls to get pregnant during that time. The girls were selected for their superman German qualities – blonde, blue-eyed and physically strong and fit. Afterward these girls went back home and were paid well without having to work like everybody else. They were to raise these super-race kids for Hitler’s future Germany.


In the initial fighting that took place as the Russians came to Stalag 3-A and Luckenwalde, the electricity and the water was knocked out. The Russians sent in a group that would be comparable to our Military Government people to occupy and administer the area. These people were a lot different than the front line combat soldiers and were much less friendly toward us. At first they gave the Luckenwalde burgomaster 24 hours to get the electricity and water back on. No help— just orders to get it done anyway he could, but to do it!


He didn’t quite make it, so they shot him and got another burgomaster. He got the job done. They told us that they went into the schools and without any instructions or help to the teacher, a Russian sat in the back of the room. If he didn’t like the way the teacher was teaching, they shot that teacher and got another one.


The whole Russian Army seemed to move past us on their way to Berlin. Most of the Army was horse drawn, except for the initial spearhead units and those who followed with American made 6 x 6′ trucks. Their soldiers had taken out the seats etc. and replaced them with over- stuffed cushions etc. from German houses. They usually had bright colored curtains up in the win-dows.


The horse-drawn artillery was mostly American made 105- mm howitzers like we had used. The ammunition was hauled in wagons or on the caissons with the howitzers. Because of this American made equipment, most of the Russian soldiers were more friendly to us than other nationalities. One interesting sight was the hayracks hauling hay for their horses to eat. Several crates of chickens were up on top of the hay and two or three cows tied on behind the hayrack. This arrangement provided feed for both the horses and the soldiers.


I did not see any of their soldiers wearing a steel helmet, nor did I see any evidence of any medical personnel or equipment. They had an unlimited supply of men and women to replace any who were killed. The wounded apparently were left to either live or die. Some of their troops looked like Mongolians or others who were a long way from home. As the whole Russian Army seemed to be comprised of both men and women – approximately a ratio of about 10 men to one woman. These could be privates, non-coms, or officers. There were about two distinct group of people – the educated and the uneducated. Most were at the extreme, with not too many in between. Some of the officers could speak English, so we were able to talk with some of them. We asked if they had trouble with the men and women being integrated so closely in their Army. They said, “N o, we don’t have any trouble with that. If any of these women get pregnant, they will start down the line and shoot 100 to 150 of the men until they are sure they get the right one– then kill the woman too”. This eliminated the problem, but it sure put all the German women in danger of being raped and killed.


One day as part of the Russian Army that came by, there was a whole Division of Women’s Cavalry. They rode some of the nicest looking Arabian horses I had ever seen. All the women had a dark gray cape over and around them with a Tommy gun under it. A tough looking bunch of women!


Some of the Russian soldiers we were talking to wanted us to go with them to Berlin. One showed us how they treated the Germans. He had a beautiful SS knife with a red swastika on it that he had taken from some German officer. He indicated how he cut across their stomachs and let their guts spill out. They were brutal and blood thirsty people. But with them, as it was with most of us, it was either kill of be killed. Human life didn’t mean much to them, theirs or anybody else’s.


One day I went over through the Russian POW’s compound and in one of their barracks. I had seen a lot of human misery in the Army, but this was probably one of the worst. Laying in their bunks were very sick and starving men who were not able to fight. Others who were nearly dead, and many already dead. If they weren’t able to fight, the Russian Army left them there to die.


There was other evidence of how badly they had been treated by the Germans. May 1 was “May Day” which was an important day observed by the Russians. Marshall Zu-kov, who was the commander of all the Russian Army that came through here, came into the camp for a big celebration. They had dug a big hole for a grave for these 20 or so Russian POW’s that the other POW’s had killed with clubs – the ones who had worked in the bakery. Of course though, the Germans were blamed for killing them, so they had a big military funeral for them. In honor of Marshall Zukov, they got about all the different nationalities of POW’s in the camp out on the Parade Ground where this funeral took place. A newsreel cameraman was taking pictures with the Russian Army, we Americans and the British al-ways in the foreground. Other nationalities were in the background, including the French, Serbs, Norwegians, and others. Marshall Zukov got up and made a big speech, then called on the Senior American officer, and then the Senior British officer to go up and give a talk. Along in the middle of the ceremony, the cameraman ran out of film, so everything stopped for about 20 minutes until he got more film. Big propaganda deal! At the end, they shoveled the dirt back in to cover the graves.


There were rumors going around that we would be taken back to Russia to use for bargaining power at the end of the war. After the Russians started fixing up the barbed wire fences, we gave the rumors more credibility. Then when they had the fences about fixed up, they put armed guards back in the guard towers. Some of us de-cided we had better try to get out and back to the American lines, which were about 60 to 70 miles west on the other side of the Elbe River. The Americans had been closer, but due to some agreement with Russia, they pulled back to theElbe River and let the Russians go on to take Berlin.


That was when the four of us Americans and one Norwegian officer, Leif Bucholz, decided to try to escape and get back to American lines. We definitely didn’t want to go east to Russia. The Norwegian could speak German and also English, so he would be a big help. He was a naval officer so we found some clothing to make him look like an American. We managed to get out of the camp, as they were not real forceful yet in keeping us in. We headed west, bu should have been more careful. After going several miles the Russians caught us. These were some of the military government people. They took us back with strict orders to stay in the camp.


Now we were more determined than ever to get away. Again we managed to get out but this time we were much more careful about being seen by the Russians. Eventually we got away from the military government controlled area around the camp and closer to what appeared to be the Russian front line troops. We decided to take to the roads again. We stopped at a house where an old German lady lived, to get something to eat. She was quite cordial and fed us. Then she gave us a map that helped a lot but did not cover the area far enough west to the Elbe River. She told us that when Hitler first come into power, they were very poor and could hardly buy enough food to live on. He started building the Autobahn highway and other projects to put people to work. She said he built up the country and helped the people, but he went too far. He shouldn’t have started invading other neighboring countries. Again we started down the road. Later a Russian soldier came by and stopped us. He wanted to know who we were and where we were going. After finding out that we were Americans, he asked us why we were walking. After visiting for a little while, a Frenchman, who had also been a POW, came by driving a horse and wagon. The Russian stopped him and told him to get off and give the wagon to us. The Frenchman argued a little, so the Russian shot him and gave us the horse and wagon.


That night we stopped at a small town and went to see the Russian commandant about staying in the town that night. He was in the best house in town – a nice two story brick home. He was upstairs by a window, with a machine gun set up on the windowsill, trying to shoot the chickens in the back yard. However, he was so drunk he couldn’t even see the chickens. The next ranking officer took us to the next best house, which was next door. There were two old German women living there. The house and all the furnishings were beautiful. Since there were five of us, we told the Russians we wanted the beds rearranged somewhat. We didn’t trust anybody and wanted to be closer to each other.


The Russian told the women to move the furniture the way we wanted it. They started in, but didn’t work fast enough to suit him. The women were trying to move a beautiful dressing table. It had a glass top with real expensive looking cut glass lamps on each side. They were moving too slow to suit the Russian so he kicked the dresser, breaking the top of it etc. Then he pulled out his pistol shot at the dresser several times. The old women were about scared to death, but moved a little faster after that. After getting it situated the way we wanted it arranged, he asked us if we were hungry. We were. He went outside and fired his gun up in the air several times and shouted at the German people. They came running and he told them what he wanted for us. They took off on the run and soon came back with more food than we had seen in months. One old man had several rings of bologna over one arm. The Russian said something and kicked him in the rear end. He took off running again and we wandered what was happening. Pretty soon he came back with the bologna all neatly wrapped up for us.


Then the Russian asked us to join them at a party that night. He told us to just point out any girl we wanted and he would see to it that she would be ours. We finally succeeded, without making him mad, in telling him that we were very tired and weak and wanted to go to bed instead. We thanked him very much though, and he left us alone to eat and to go bed. Along in the middle of the night we heard a lot of shooting going on and wondered if the Germans had counter attacked or what was happening. Finally it quieted down.


The next morning when we got up, there were German women out scrubbing the steps in front of our house and the Russian’s house next door. In talking to the Russians, we found out what all the shooting had been about during the night. It seemed that one of the Russians next door had had a German girl up there with him. He had got up to go to the bathroom or somewhere, and while he was gone another Russian had gone in and took over the girl. When the first one came back, they started shooting at each other and went outside, running all over town and still shooting at each other. These Russians were a wild and un-predictable bunch!


When we got ready to leave again to head west, some of the Russians asked us to ride with them on a big tank. Of course we gladly accepted his invitation and left the horse and wagon be-hind. This was a big help to us until they let us off to go another direction. Then we were walking again for the rest of the day.


Considerable fighting had recently taken place in this area as there were a lot of dead horses as well as dead Germans along the road. One dead German soldier at the edge of the road, had a pair of spurs on his boots, so I took them off him as a souvenir. I still have them.


It was dark when we got to the bridge to cross the Elbe River and were lucky no Russian guards stopped us from crossing. On the other side of the bridge were the Americans! Never had we been so glad to be back where we could trust people and feel safe again. Lady Luck now gave us agreat big smile.


We were taken to an army unit that night. Their mess hall was closed by then, but they did give us some white bread. That tasted better than any angel food cake I had ever had —after eating that German bread composed of about 1/3 saw-dust for eight months. That night, I slept for the first time without the uneasy feeling of wondering what would happen next. I almost had to pinch myself to believe that at last I was really free again and out of barbed wire enclosures and away from the Germans and the Russians.


This was the night of May 6, 1945. Previously the Russians had told us that they could do whatever they wanted to do with the POW’s and other displaced people they liberated or overran until the Germans surrendered. Then it would be up to the diplomatic people to get us back home.


The Germans did surrender at 2:00 am the very next morning of May 7th. With my prayers and with lots of luck, I had made it back just in the nick of time. Certainly somebody had been looking over my shoulder to have kept me from being killed so many times during the past two years.


Lady Luck was still smiling, and Old Father Time was still saying “ Not Yet”


I felt extremely thankful that we had encountered the friendly Russian soldiers on the way back after getting away from Stalag 3-A at Luckenwalde. At that time we didn’t know it, but over 3,000 American POW’s in Stalag 3-A were not so lucky and never did come home. Apparently they ended up in Siberia as slave laborers for the Russians.


According to some reliable sources, a total of 23,500 known American POW’s that the Russians had liberated or recaptured from the German POW camps they overran in their drive across Poland and Germany never did come home and no doubt ended up in Siberian slave labor camps. How very lucky I was! Believe me, nobody can know or appreciate the freedom that we have and enjoy here in the United States until they lose it. Neither do they realize what the American Flag really stands for {FREEDOM) until they see the German flag with the big Swastika, or the Russian flag with the Hammer and Sickle displayed up on the top of the pole, instead of our Stars and Stripes.


After a good breakfast with the US Army personnel the next morning, we were put on a truck and taken about 40 miles away to Hildesheim where there was an airport. That night we stayed there. The next morning, May 8, 1945, we were waiting at the airport for the C-47 plane that took us to Rheims, France, where the Germans signed the official surrender with the Allies. After arriving there, we were taken to our tent. An American one star General stopped to visit and took five of us for a ride around Rheims in his official big Cadillac or Packard car. We were still in our old dirty clothes and needed a haircut and shave. All the taverns in town were boarded up that day, so he couldn’t get any drinks for us.


After we got back to our tent living quarters, I was very much surprised to see Herman Rodrigues stop in to see me. I don’t know how he found me though. He had been one of my Forward Observer Party and was captured with me. He had been taken to Dachau and worked in the railroad shops as a slave laborer and had been liberated by I Company of the 157th Regt of the 45th Division. What a coincidence!


He told me some of the harrowing experiences he had while at Dachau. If somebody caused a problem, all the men in their group were made to undress and were run over to the gas chambers to scare them, and unless it was for some serious offense they were sent back to get dressed and go back to work. For punishment, some individuals were hung up “spread-eagled” and naked. A German pointed with his whip to the man’s testicles and a big German Police dog then jumped up and tore them out. These were almost everyday occurrences while he worked there. It was real good to see him again, and to know that he had survived.


Dick Borthwick and Charles Smith also survived. Their camp, Stalag III-C, at Frankfurt on the Oder, had been overrun by the Russians in January or Febr. and they somehow made their way down to Odessa where they got a ride on an\ American ship to get back to the US.


After a couple of days at Rheims, we got on a train and went through Paris to Camp Lucky Strike. Here we got hot showers again and dusted from head to foot with DDT to kill all the lice and fleas etc. With new clothes and a shave and hair-cut, we felt wonderful.


The first day I tried to eat three meals; I passed out like a light and fell flat on the ground. Too much food for my stomach that was not used to it. It was here that we had to sign statements not to tell anything that had happened to us as POW’s that might be considered “classified” information or that could be detrimental to other POW’s still being held, or in the relations with other countries and the U.S.


With the war in Europe just ending, there was a shortage of ships to go back to the U.S. But for some reason only about 250 of us former POW’s were put on the USS John Erickson for the trip home. We had staterooms, but the ship still had room for a lot more people when we pulled out from the harbor. We went to South Hampton, England where we stopped again overnight. We didn’t get off the ship though, and the next day we sailed out for New York. This time the lights were on at night, and we could be out on deck whenever we wanted to. In the galley they would only give us a little bit of food at a time, but we could go back anytime, day or night, to get more. This was certainly the most enjoyable ship ride I had.


The Statue of Liberty was a beautiful sight as we came into New York harbor. We were taken to Camp Kilmer, NJ, where they kept us for three days to get our records up to date and to pay us etc. Here I called and talked to Dwight Cherry, who was still going to medical school at Columbia University.


We were then put on troop trains that took all those going the same direction, dropping them off a stations closer to their homes. We stopped in Indianapolis at about midnight on about May 30th, and while standing out on the station platform to get some fresh air, I saw a man standing there that looked familiar. I asked him if he was Bing Crosby. He smiled and we visited a while. He had been there to the auto races and was now leaving. I got his autograph on the back of my German identification card.


In. St. Louis, Mo. we stopped again, and some of us went into a restaurant where we got the first hamburgers we had seen since leaving the U.S. in 1943. From there we went to Ft. Leavenworth, KS, where I got off this troop train and had to get another train to get to Nebraska. While there I was able to make a telephone call to Skeets. We had been on the move all the time up till then without even access or time to call anybody. When she answered, I sensed something was wrong. She apparently didn’t think I would ever make it back, and now had other arrangements with some Air Force Captain that never got out of the U.S. This was about the biggest blow to me that could be. After being engaged and with all that I had endured during combat and as a POW with her as the main reason for my will to live and survive. This was hard to take. During the war I had seen other men who got the “Dear John” letters, and many of them were either recklessly killed or lacked the will to live and did not survive. Now I was glad I did not know this while I was a POW. Since I never did get any mail while a POW, I didn’t know whether she had written to me or not.


The train I was on arrived in Shelton, NE, about 6:00 am on June 2, 1945. Bill Evans, the depot agent, was there when I got off the train. He had some other guy there go across the street to the tavern and get a pint of whiskey for us to have a drink together. I called my brother, Harold, and he came down to get me. We went to his place and then to my parent’s place. My other brother, Bob, had just got home from the South Pacific, after fighting the Japanese. A lot had taken place over the past two years since I had last seen them or been home. The Army gave all of us former POW’s a 60-day recuperation leave outside of our regular leave time. This was to rest up and recuperate. After several attempts to reconcile my relationship with Skeets were unsuccessful, I gave up.


In August I went to Hot Springs, Arkansas to an Army Redistribution Center. Here I stayed in a nice hotel with some of the other POW’s I had known in POW camps. We were all processed here to get our records up to date and to give us another physical exam. This was also like most of the others since I had got back from being a POW — we could walk and were warm and breathing. Just so glad to be back to the U.S. again that we didn’t complain about anything else.


While at Hot Springs the Japanese surrendered, and now WWII was over, both in the European side as well as the Pacific. There was a big celebration in Hot Springs, but I quietly celebrated with a friend and fraternity brother from Nebraska, Mark Keller, who was stationed at Hot Springs.


For a new assignment to bide time before get-ting out of the Army, I chose to go to Ft. Bragg, NC because it was the closest place to Atlanta, Georgia. I wanted to see a girl I had met there while on my way in 1943 from Camp Shelby, Miss. to Ft. Meade, Maryland. I had stopped in Atlanta to visit my cousin, Elsie Moye. This time Elsie’s husband, Lt. Leon Moye, was an OSS of-ficer and was home on a leave with orders to go to the CBI (China, Burma, India) area to work. However, with the war ending, his orders were soon canceled. Anyway nothing developed there with this girl I had previously met.


At Ft. Bragg I was assigned to a new outfit being formed. It was all black enlisted men with white officers. This was a new and interesting experience for me, but after a few weeks I wanted to move on. I put in a request to go back to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and left Ft. Bragg a short time later. At Ft. Sill, with nothing else to do, I joined other officers in a class at school, and we spent a lot of time out on the firing range. It was sort of fun again adjusting artillery fire on targets as we did in combat in Europe– only this time it was for fun.


In October they decided to release me from the Army and after another physical exam, they sent me to Chickasha, Oklahoma to Border General Hospital. This was primarily for those with hearing problems. I had had too many close calls with exploding artillery shells and concussions and with my left eardrum having been broken. I had hopes that they could help me. Anyway during the six weeks that I was there they tried all kinds of hearing aids, but none were made at the time that helped much. Then they gave me lip reading classes that have been a big help ever since. Forty years later the Veterans Administration did give me hearing aids that do help.


On December 5, 1945 I was discharged from the hospital and left for Shelton, Nebraska, where my parents lived. With accumulated annual leave, I was separated as of February 11, 1946. While on leave and back home, I met Rosalie Wiese who was also back from Vancouver, Washington to visit. She had previously lived close to my parents before moving to Vancouver. She and I had both arrived at about the same time and immediately started going together. It was love at first sight and on New Year’s Eve we decided to get married. This happened on February 3, 1946 in Shelton.


After a honeymoon in Omaha, we rented a small apartment in Kearney, Nebr. where on Feb. 15, 1946, I started on my first civilian job as the Assistant County Agricultural Extension Agent of Buffalo Co. Thus began a long and happy marriage, as well as a very enjoyable and interesting career in working with Nebr. farmers to help them improve their farms. The first few years I worked as a County Extension Agent and later as a District Conservationist with the USDA Soil Conservation Service in several counties in Nebraska.


As my military service in WWII ended, I decided to be patriotic and stay in the Army Reserves. In the spring of 1951, at which time I was a District Conservationist with the USDA Soil Conservation Service and was transferred from York, Nebraska to Grand Island. After sending in a change of address, I got orders to go back into the Army again during the Korean War. This time Army life was a lot different than it had been in WW II. Now I was married with two children. We bought a large trailer to live in and rented out our house in Grand Island, Nebraska.


From Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, I went to Camp Carson, Colorado with a unit that was ge t-ting ready to go to Alaska. This sounded like a real good assignment, but about that time I got a letter saying that because of my hearing loss, I wasn’t supposed to be on active duty. Then I got orders to go to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC.


We then took the trailer to Denman, (South of Shelton, Nebr.) and parked it at Rosalie’s Aunt Ann and Uncle Mike Andersen’s place. This was also close to my parent’s place. After about six weeks at Walter Reed Hospital, they finally decided I was good enough to go to Korea. I had missed the opportunity to go to Alaska and was sent back to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for more Artillery training.


We took our trailer to Lawton, Okla., near Ft. Sill. Rosalie, Jim, and Dorothy were able to be with me. In January 1952, after completing the schooling, I got orders to go to Seattle, WA to ship out to Korea. Since Rosalie’ parents and family lived in Vancouver, WA, we sold the trailer and we all went to Vancouver where I left my family with Rosalie’s parents.


I reported in at Seattle to go to Japan in January. In Seattle I hurt my back again by swinging a barracks bag over my shoulder to carry it. After going to Japan on a ship, I was sent to Tokyo General Hospital. Later I was put on limited service and assigned to an Anti-Aircraft Unit about 40 miles from Tokyo in Japan, instead of going on to Korea. From here I was able to go see many interesting places and things in around Tokyo and Yokohama,


My friend, Merritt Plantz, was also called back to Active Duty, and we again met about this time near Tokyo. He was on his way to Korea and I didn’t see him again until he later got back to Nebraska and was again a civilian. We both worked with the Soil Conservation Service in Nebraska Until we retired.


I was sent to a CBR (Chemical, Radiological, and Biological Warfare) school at Osaka. Along in July they finally decided to make me a civilian again and sent me back home. This time by plane from Tokyo, instead of by ship. We stopped in Guam and again in Honolulu, Hawaii before go-ing on back to Travis Air Force base in California. There they separated me from the Army for the last time.


This time I resigned my commission as soon as I could. Again I was finally a full time civilian. After calling Rosalie, she met me in San Francisco in August 1952 and we went back to Vancouver to our two children, Jim and Dorothy, and Rosalie’s folks. This time I was only gone about 6 months, but it was wonderful to have Rosalie and the two kids to come back to. We went back to Grand Island, Nebr. to our home and to my job there with the Soil Conservation Service. Two more children, Ron and Marianne, became part of our family during the next several years. I retired in 1975 and in 1979 we moved to Vancouver, WA.




For most combat solders, war was a matter of killing or being killed. Sometimes there was a delicate balance between these two objectives be-cause those opposing us had the same objectives. Usually the outcome for individuals was the result of their training and experience. Almost everybody ended up in one or more of the following categories: the Wounded, the Captured, or those Killed. Luck could influence the fate of all com-bat soldiers. Now, having reached my 81st birth-day, Lady Luck is still smiling at me and Old Fa-ther Time is looking closer, but still saying “No, Not Yet”. Like a schoolteacher awarding gold stars to children for certain achievements, the Military of all Nations presents colored ribbons and medals to their soldiers. At the time I was separated from the Army for the last time, I was a First Lieutenant and was only interested in becoming a full time civilian again. The ribbons and medals didn’t mean much to me compared to returning home. We, and the soldiers before us, had earned and protected all the Rights and Freedoms that we as citizens of the United States now enjoy.


About 50 years after WW II, with the assistance of our US Senator Slade Gorton, I received all of my medals and ribbons from the Army that I had earned during both WW II and the Korean Conflict. These included the following:


Purple Heart Medal and Ribbon, with one Oak


Leaf Cluster


Bronze Star Medal




Eastern Campaign Medal and Ribbon, with 4


Battle Stars and One Bronze Arrowhead for


an Amphibious Landing


Prisoner of War Medal


WW II Victory Medal


American Campaign Medal


National Defense Medal


United Nations Medal–Korea


Korean Service Medal•1987






Today Gene Liggett is 92 years old and living in Vancouver, WA with his wife Rosalie.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2012 7:59 pm

    Such an amazing story! Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. January 30, 2012 5:54 pm

    Reblogged this on Boudica BPI Weblog.

  3. Jennifer permalink
    January 30, 2012 11:46 am

    What an amazing story! I am grateful to you for your service and sacrifices and so very glad for you that you made it back home after the experiences you endured. Thank you so much for sharing these experiences with us. I feel it helps civilians to understand much better the kinds of horror combat veterans are faced with on a daily basis to read your first-hand experiences. Again, thank you, for everything.

  4. January 30, 2012 8:59 am

    What a story! It took a strong, brave man to live through these conditions. I can imagine the joy, comfort, and relief of being together with your family and starting life as a civilian. Thank you for sharing this so others can realize the high price that has been paid for our freedoms.

  5. V. Lyn permalink
    January 29, 2012 8:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing this riveting story of your military service.


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