Master Sergeant Orlo Nativig
324th Bomb Squadron
91st Bomb Group
Orlo Natvig was born in Lawler, Iowa. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and trained as a radio operator. He was assigned to the 91st Bomb Group, 324th Squadron at Bassingbourne, England. His B17 (Local Girl) was shot down over Emden, Germany, on September 27th, 1943. Parachuting into Holland, Orlo was taken prisoner by the Germans. Five other members of the crew survived; four died, two never escaping the plane.
Orlo was taken through several German interrogation centers, then sent to Stalag 17B at Krems, Austria. He remained there until 1945, when the Germans forced the POWs to march toward central Germany ahead of the approaching Russian army. A POW for 584 days, he was liberated by the 13th Armored Division on May 3rd, 1945.
Married to Ruth Phillips of New Hampton, Iowa, later in 1945, Orlo was the father of four children. He worked as Industrial Safety Manager for White Farm Equipment of Charles City, Iowa. He served as an officer of the American Ex-Prisoners of War for 15 years, holding the position of National Commander for one year. In that position, he established the Washington National office, printed a roster of all POW members, printing VA emergency stickers for drivers’ licenses, and arranged for the first civilian POW reunion. He was President of Stalag 17B, a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans. For his service, Natvig received the European-African (EAME) Theatre of Action Ribbon with one bronze star, the Good Conduct Medal, the POW medal and an Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster.
At the time Local Girl was shot down, one of the propellers spun free from the plane before it crashed. Later, a salvage crew found the prop stuck in the ground of a farm belonging to Willem Ritsema, a mile from the crash site. After a blade broke off, they left everything where it was. Later, Ritsema recovered the propeller and moved it to his yard. In 1970, Orlo visited the crash site and saw the prop, but Ritsema wouldn’t part with it. In 1980, however, his son wrote and offered it as a thank you for what the Americans had done for the Netherlands. Orlo mounted it in his front yard in Iowa, later removing it to his retirement home in Arizona. His widow donated it to the U.S. Air Force Museum in 1997.
91st Bomb Group Insignia
The 91st Bomb Group was dubbed “The Ragged Irregulars” because they had been shot up so badly, so many times that they could not put a full group into combat. They had to fill in on other units to make up a full group bombing formation.
Assigned to the Eighth Air Force in September of 1942, it included the 322nd, 323rd, 324th and 401st Bombardment Squadrons (H), flying B17s from Kimbolton until October when it moved to Bassingbourne, its headquarters until June of 1945. Its first mission on November 7th, 1942, was to the submarine docks at Brest, France. It was the first group to attack a target in the Ruhr when it hit Hamm in early March of 1943, and was selected to test first flak suits - March 43. The 91st led the famous Schweinfurt mission on August 17th, 1943.
At the time Local Girl flew her final mission, Lt. Col. Clemens Wurzbach commanded. “Wurzbach’s Warriors” were experienced airmen and General Ira Eaker, 8th AF Commander, would send them time and again to Germany. Their targets were aircraft factories, ball bearing plants and other German industries. They led their Division on the first Pathfinder mission to Emden, Germany on the 27th of September 1943,” described in the narrative by Orlo. It was on this 324th Bomb Squadron mission his B-17 was shot down.
During the war, the 91st lost 1010 combat crewmen (887 killed and 123 missing in action). More then 960 crewmen became prisoners of war. Local Girl was one of 38 planes of the 324th division lost in action. The Bomb Group had the highest total claims of enemy aircraft destroyed of all 8th Air Force bomb groups – 420 – but also the highest loss of all 8th Air Force bomb groups: 197 Missing in Action.
Steve Perri wrote for the 91st Memorial web site: “Our mission was to defeat the Luftwaffe and destroy Germanys capacity and will to fight. Along with our Valiant Allies from Britain and around the world, we defeated the axis powers. Our numbers exceeded those of any other Air Force in history, including over 350,000 devoted men and women. Our might was centered in 43 heavy bomber groups, 4 medium bomber groups, 20 fighter groups and 50 support groups. Our performance was awesome. We flew 330,523 bomber sorties, dropped 686,406 tons of bombs and destroyed 15,731 enemy aircraft. We had 261 fighter aces. Our Eighth Air Force men and women, in the air and on the ground, served with distinction having 26,000 killed, 7,000 wounded, 28,000 prisoners of war, and 1,500 internees. They were awarded 17 Congressional Medals of Honor, 226 Distinguished Service Crosses, 864 Silver Stars, 45,977 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 442,300 Air Medals, 2,984 Bronze Stars, 12 Distinguished Service Medals, 209 Legion of Merit Medals and 480 Soldiers Medals. Eighth Air Force Units were awarded 27 Presidential Unit Citations, and 19 Meritorious Service Plaques. We remember those years with sadness because of sacrifices made and comrades lost. We remember with Nostalgia the Exuberance of Youth and the inspiration of fighting for the right, but most of all, we remember with pride, that although the way was often difficult, and our losses heavy, we accomplished our mission with Valor and Endurance. We were never turned back by Enemy Fire.”
For futher information, see The Ragged Irregulars of Bassingbourne by Havelaar and Hess, and the 91st Bomb Group’s memorial web page.
XVII-B, located near Krems, Austria, about 30
kilometers from Vienna, is documented by those who were there after being
captured. It’s interesting that so many airmen were held there instead of
one of the Luft camps established for them.
described by Roy Livingstone, “Stalag XVII-B consisted of several separate
compounds: the Russian, French, Serb and American. No fraternization was
permitted between compounds. Tall, double barbed wire fences surrounded each
compound, with a guard tower on each corner. Each guard tower was manned by
a German guard, 224-hours a day. They worked on four-hour shifts. Each tower
also had an 8-mm machine gun and a searchlight. The towers were about twenty
feet high wooden structures with a roof, an open railing and a ladder.
the first American airmen arrived, they inherited the dilapidated old,
wooden barracks that had housed Russian POWs. The three tier wooden bunks
were partly torn apart because the Russians had used the wood to burn in the
stoves in an effort to keep from freezing in the winter. The straw
mattresses were infested with fleas and lice.”
remembers, “We had half rotten rutabaga soup, day after day, and black
bread that was literally made with sawdust and something like tea. Finally,
when American Red Cross food parcels started to arrive, we started to feel
alive.” Like Orlo, he also recalls the radios they made and the forced
march: “4600 of us, in groups of 500 or more” who walked for days on
end. “We slept on the bare ground, once in a pig sty; we ran out of food,
even water was scarce – but we didn’t care because we were walking west.”
in his memory, too, were the 4000 Hungarian Jews in chains being dragged
along the road by armed guards, with a dead man every fifty yards or so,
shot because he couldn’t keep up. Livingstone concludes, “Every man who
was on that march who saw that terrible site, realized then, more than ever,
what we had fought for and why so many of us had suffered, and why so many
had died – for FREEDOM.”
A play, movie and even a TV series have all centered on Stalag 17, and Dr. Barbara Stelzl-Marx of Austria has produced the first documented history of the camp.
of M/Sgt. Orlo Natvig
324th Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group
enlisted in the Air Force in 1940 and was sent to Randolph Field, Texas. I
was a member of Headquarters Squadron of the Cadet Training Command, as a
Corporal in charge of flight training.
was then sent to Scott Field, Illinois, for a 32-week training session in
radio operator maintenance. I came back to Randolph Field and was attached
to a newly formed squadron that was to be sent to the Pacific. I was placed
in charge of the personnel section in this new squadron. This group’s
destination was then changed to the Training Command again, and about
fifteen of us were sent to Waco, Texas, where we formed the nucleus of the
Waco Air Force Training Center. After that was organized, I was picked to go
to the Officers’ Training Center and then to come back to Waco and serve
as personnel officer. I turned down the offer and shortly thereafter I was
included in a group that was sent to England as replacement aircrew or
maintenance. I was sent to Esler Field near Alexandria, Louisiana, and from
there to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, and then aboard an Australian Cruise Liner –
“S.S. Strathalan” – for the trip to England. We left New York in late
August 1942 and arrived in Gourock, Scotland, the first week in September. I
served in radio M & R at Goxhill, near Grimsby, Braintree, Colchester
and then at Duxford with the 333rd Service Group.
stayed at Duxford during the time we outfitted many P-38’s that were going
to the African Theater of Operations. After that was over, I went with a
small detachment headed by Captain Ritcher to serve as a liaison in the
takeover of English bases as they were transferred to American control. I
came back to Duxford and worked in the supply room until my request for
transfer to the 91st Bomb Group at Bassingbourne came through
about May of 1943.
flew on the YB-40 for many missions, and I must say that I was happy to get
out of that as they were not productive. I can recall that we aborted many
missions while flying the YB-40.
was shot down on my 11th mission over Emden, Germany, on
September 27, 1943, and was a prisoner of war until May 3, 1945. I will put
down some of my reflections on this experience, as it happened back in 1943.
would have to say that September 26th, 1943 was an average day
and I don’t remember exactly whether we had been on a mission that day or
not, but I do remember the night of September 26th. I knew we
were scheduled for a mission the next day and I routinely caught up on my
correspondence. I sent home to my mother the loose money that I had in my
billfold and, in essence, cleaned up and tidied up my personal affairs the
night of the 26th. The morning of the 27th, I would
have to say was a very nice day, nothing particular, as we went to briefing.
We were looking at the old red string and when we saw it only went into the
continent for a short period of time, we were quite pleased. I do remember
when they said that the target was Emden and we walked out, the tail gunner
and I made a remark to the briefing office, “Why, this looks like a milk
run!” Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
got out to the plane that day and were waiting to take off. The weather was
going to cloud and maybe rain and have a little fog. About that time, a
plane came on in and it looked like an ordinary B-17, but when it go down on
the taxi strip and pulled up by the operations tower, there were a whole
bunch of MPs surrounding it. As we walked as close as they would let us, we
looked and could see what looked like a bathtub underneath the nose. That
aroused our curiosity, of course, and they told us why. “Yes, you’re
going to be led by this particular B-17. You are going to be on the first
radar mission, and you will be dropping on smoke bombs which will be dropped
by this pathfinder or radar equipped plane.” We were quite enthused bout
this and about the fact that it was going to be a short mission. We were
quite happy about the whole affair. We went through with the ordinary
preparations for take off operations without any questions at all. We were
airborne and on our way: everything seemed like quite a routine mission.
made the usual approach to Germany by going out across the North Sea and
coming in actually only 14 minutes over enemy territory or occupied Germany,
and we were quite pleased. We started to observe the coastline and were
running into some fighters. It was solidly overcast under us this particular
day as we approached the target. If my memory is correct, we had some
briefing and were told that we could expect to see a new model of the ME109
in the air. During this particular battle, we ran into this new ME109 and it
dealt us the misery and caused us to be on fire.
were going into the target. At that time, our ball turret gunner - either
through a malfunction of his valve or through some other problem – passed
out, and we had to bring him out of the turret and into the radio room where
I was. One of the waist gunners and I hooked him up to the system in the
radio room and brought him about.
he seemed fully recovered, we hooked a walk-around bottle on him and helped
him back into the ball turret, and when he went back in, we closed the cover
and he latched up. We assumed he would hook up to his own system and
everything would be quite normal. At the same time, we became engaged with
the fighters. Then I got a call from one of the waist gunners who reported
that our ball turret operator evidently was in trouble, that he was in the
same position he was when we put him in there. So we dropped what we were
doing and retrieved him from the turret. He had passed out again. This time
we brought him back and laid him down in the radio room. We decided we
didn’t have enough time to bring him about, so we just let him lie there
with the oxygen on him, and I could see that he was starting to come around.
had more serious trouble on our hands with the fighters coming at us, so we
went back to our battle stations. About one of the first passes that was
made was from the belly side, and I suspect that the German Luftwaffe
pilots, being quite adept, knew when they saw this turret pointing straight
down that evidently it was not manned, so they proceeded to come up from
underneath. They hit us in the wing about one of the first times through and
the second time through, they came up again from below and hit us again in
the gas tank, which caught on fire, and we also sustained an explosive shell
in the radio equipment, in my compartment.
I can remember about that was things started flying about, and the radio
transmitter behind me was pretty well destroyed. Also at about that time,
the fire in the left wing started blazing pretty well, and we realized that
we were in trouble. Our intercom was not operating, due to some of the shell
fragments that had damaged the rest of the radio equipment, so we were not
able to converse with each other. The attack continued from various angles,
and I remember that our one concern was the fire that was burning in the
continued, and as far as we were concerned, we still had a crew aboard. But,
unknown to us, the majority of the crew in the front end had left the ship,
and the only one left was Pegram, our pilot. He had always maintained that
he would give us all the time that he could provide so that we could bail
out, but since there was no intercom, he had no way of telling us to bail
out. But it became apparent to me after the fire had burned to the point
where I could see through the structure of the left wing, that we were not
going to be airworthy much longer. The flames were wrapping around the tail.
I decided we’d better move out, so the waist gunner, Hutchinson, and I too
the ball turret operator and put a parachute on him and got him to the
waist, kicked the door out and put him out and pulled his chute as he went
out; he went down and landed safely.
got him out at the same time we lost the left wing, and both Hutchison, the
waist gunner and I found ourselves clear back by the ball turret, and the
only way w were able to go then was to scramble up the ribs of the ship,
just like it was a ladder. Hutch went out. I grabbed the pants of our other
waist gunner, Peters, and tried to get him to come along; he just wouldn’t
move and wouldn’t react when I jerked on his leg. I really couldn’t
waste any more time with a walk-around bottle on; I just crawled up on the
ribs of the plane. When I got to the door, I did not hesitate, but bailed
soon as I hit the slipstream, I lost my oxygen mask and walk-around bottle.
Afterwards, I though maybe it was lucky that I tucked the bottle into the
right side of my chest straps, or it would have hit me right on the head or
somewhere else to cause me problems. When I bailed out, I could see that we
were bailing out into the clouds. I decided that I’d better delay my chute
opening because there was a lot of traffic from fighters in the air, and I
wanted to be in good shape when I got down into the clouds before I opened
is a remarkable thing what goes on in your mind as you bail out. One of the
first things I recalled was when I first signed on as a crewmember of the
B-17s, my mother was a little upset and said she didn’t approve of it. She
said, “You’ll probably wind up getting shot down.” Being shot down was
one of the last things I’d ever thought about. I always thought maybe
I’d get shot and get killed, but not shot down. I guess I believed that
old saying, “I’m sure it took more guts to quit than it did to keep on
flying.” So I thought, “I guess my mother’s right. I shouldn’t have
signed on with an air crew.” The next thing I thought about was an old
friend of mine, Glen Curtis, from one of the fighter groups, who was going
to meet me in London that weekend. We were going to a birthday party for one
of my friends. They lived in South Harrow and were an English family with
one of their sons on an aircrew for the RAF. We were good friends, so
whenever I went into London, their home was my home. They were a wonderful
family, and I had been invited to their home for the party that weekend. I
was out and freefalling and those were the things that went though my mind
I was floating down, the training I had also really came back to me and
served me well. I was floating in a nice position with my knees up, and
I’d look over my shoulder to see what I was falling into. But I couldn’t
see anything. All I could see were clouds and what appeared to be just a
thick fog. But I could hear the fighters zooming around and a lot of gunfire
going on, so I thought it best I keep right on dropping. At that stage, I
became a little concerned, because I thought what would happen if there were
clouds all the way down to the North Sea. I felt that we were probably out
over it, so I did what we had been told to do. I straightened out my feet
and pulled the rip cord. Everything functioned perfectly; I got a good hard
snap, and due to the fact that the chute was really not my size, I got
jammed down into the leg straps tight and was unable to pull myself up onto
the seat to use it. If I should land in water, I thought, I could be free
and slide out and let the chute go on by itself, as we had been told to do,
and not let the chute drag me along so that you came up over a wave and into
the chute itself.
that was not to be my problem. As I was coming down, I soon came out from
under the clouds and could see water under one foot and land under the other
foot. I was approaching the coast of Holland. I had a pair of flight boots
on over my shoes because I didn’t like the way they felt on my feet, so I
wore regular leather shoes with a large flight boot over them. I thought,
“If I take off one of my boots, zip it up and throw it down, maybe I’ll
get an idea of whether I’m gong to land in the sea or on land. I made
quite a struggle to get the one boot off and zipped it up. Grabbing it by
the zipper, I gave it a nice spinning effect. I watched it for a ways, and
soon it disappeared onto what I believed to be land. I thought, “If that
boot is going to be headed for land, floating down in a chute, I ought to
make it to land.
drifted on down and started heading for a little town. I could see all the
buildings were made out of brick, as is common in Holland. “Now wouldn’t
this be something,” I thought, “if I would land right up against one of
these buildings.” I’d seen some of the Germans who had parachuted and
come down into London and slammed up against the side of a building after an
air raid. It would have been ironic if I had come down in this little town,
which probably didn’t have 25-30 buildings in it and land in the middle
right up against a brick wall. There wasn’t much I could do about it at
that stage, and I was glad I wasn’t heading into the water.
it was, I came over the top of the buildings and landed about 100 to 200
yards just outside of the village of Oterdum, right in front of about four
or five contented, grazing cows. It was raining at the time, and I know that
my sudden appearance in front of these cows really didn’t disturb them too
much; they didn’t even bother to discontinue their grazing, just raised
their heads, looked and me, and continued eating.
that time, I noticed a group of people coming out of the town. I got out of
my parachute, gathered it together, and walked over to the paved road. As I
walked, I observed a policeman; I raised my hands to show I didn’t have
any arms, and he nodded his head. I handed over my parachute to some of the
townspeople, and it disappeared right away.
was a young lad who could speak English, and I asked him, “Is there any
chance to get out of here?”
answered, “No, this area is heavily defended, and the Germans will be here
walked on into town. I took my escape kit and gave it to the natives along
with everything else that I had, like my emergency ration bars. They soon
disappeared and I was sure they’d be put to good use.
town of Oterdum is close to the North Sea, and actually I landed within
about 40 feet of the dike, so my margin for error had been very slim. They
took me into a restaurant that was filled with people and the operator
brought out a bottle of some kind of drink and set it on the counter after
pouring me a water glass full. I drank it. The people were surely glad to
see me, and I didn’t fully appreciate the way they felt, because I really
wasn’t too happy to be there at that particular time.
didn’t take long for the German guards to come, and when the Dutch heard
the roar of the motorcycles approaching, they disappeared in short order.
All that were left were the policeman, a few of the people in the tavern,
and the owner. It was quite a shock to have a full-fledged German soldier
walk up to me, cock his P-38, and stick it into my stomach. It was not the
most comforting thing I had ever experienced. A man may have a lot of
courage, but when he is looking at the wrong end of a gun, his blood turns
to water in a hurry, and I was no exception: if they had said “jump,” I
would have asked, “How far?” I did not exhibit too much courage at that
took me out of the restaurant and to a nearby town where there were a number
of naval personnel in the area. They put us in an air raid shelter, and
there I found a few of our crewmembers. Before the day was over, there were
six of us together who were the survivors of our ten-man crew. We were able
to put together the information from each other to find out that it was
quite obvious that Larson, our engineer, and Cosgrove, our navigator, had
drowned. We would find out later that they did land farther out in the
water. According to Eatinger, who was saved from the water, the Germans
would not allow the fisherman who were in the port at the time to go out and
save any crew members. Only later did they let them go out to retrieve the
spent about a day and a half in this concrete air raid shelter. They brought
us a big cooker full of vegetable sew, but being truly egotistical
Americans, we didn’t want to accept and eat something like that. We
thought perhaps there were better things to eat than vegetable stew, so we
ignored it. Much to our surprise, the guards took it and divided it up and
wolfed it down like it was pie-a-la-mode. We thought this war surely
wasn’t going to last very long if these German soldiers were that hungry.
This was quite a laugh because this was September 27th, 1943, and
we had quite a few months afterward to think about that.
took us from this place to a German airstrip, a German fighter base at
Jevver. There were quite a few fighter aircraft moving in and out of there,
and this was our first taste of prison life because they put us in the guard
house that had old cell doors. When they clanked behind us, it brought the
realization home that, “Hey, I’m here!” We stayed there about two or
three days; then they took us down to the railroad station and were going to
send us to a prison camp, they told us.
remember being on the platform at this railroad station. The thing that
impressed me was the fact that we found out that our guards were our best
friends, because the townspeople that gathered around the depot waiting for
the train were ready to have our skin. We backed up against a concrete wall
by the depot and our guards stood out in front of us with their bayonets
pointing at the people. We were mighty, mighty happy to have those guards
with us. I’m not too sure that I blame the civilians, because as I was
told by the truck driver that had driven us from the airfield that some of
our bombs that day had fallen in a school yard in one of the towns. This
driver also informed us that one of the aircrews had come down in the town
and the people had just hanged them right up on telephone or light poles. He
may have been trying to make an impression and scare us a bit, but judging
from the attitudes of the civilian population at the station, I am sure they
would have had our hides if it hadn’t been for the military guards who
were going to accompany us to the prison camp.
were placed on a regular railroad car with our guards and were in a
compartment with two of them. There were still ten or twelve of us in two
compartments and the guards stood outside the compartments as we traveled to
Dulag Luft, the interrogation center at Frankfurt. It took us some time to
get to Frankfurt; I do not recall how long, but when we got there, we were
taken by bus to the interrogation center and our first taste of solitary
confinement. We were each in a small room about by four foot or six foot by
twelve foot, all painted white, and all it had in it was a light, a bed and
a mattress. I found out that you can sleep too much, for the first day or so
I thought I had it licked by sleeping, but soon I discovered I just
couldn’t sleep my life away, so I began to pace up and down the floor.
Every day, the Germans would take me out for interrogation for about 15
minutes, then it was right back into the cell. If I wanted to go down to the
bathroom, I had to holler through a peephole in the door to the guard and
get him to take me down. When they brought my food in, they slid that in
through a hole in the door. Life was pretty much confined to that little
white cubicle for the six days we were there.
shouldn’t complain, because as I found out later, there were prisoners in
there that had been there for six weeks or more. In fact, there was an
English pilot there who had been flying a Mosquito, and the Germans didn’t
know too much about that plane at that time. His had disintegrated when it
got hit, so there wasn’t enough left for them to identify and put
together. So they had been trying to get the details from him for six weeks.
was quite surprising to me to talk to the interrogators. We had been told to
give our name, rank and serial number. It was quite a shock when I found out
they actually knew more about the 91st Bomb group than I knew
myself since I had been a transfer. They seemed to know about it in every
way, shape, and form. They knew about our base back in Bassingbourne,
England. They knew the history of our squadron commander and that he was of
Jewish descent. There wasn’t much they could gain from me, and they
realized that, so they put me with a group and took us into town where they
had a holding center with wooden barracks. There was a building off in the
distance that had the name on it I.G. Farben Chemical Works. According to
the guards, we were in an area that had once been a park, and they had
erected these buildings, put up a fence and made it into a prison compound
for collection of prisoners before they were sent to their permanent prison
do remember quite vividly that while I was there, I met an English-speaking
Luftwaffe captain who had been a salesman for an optical firm and had
traveled in the State of Iowa and actually traveled through my home town of
New Hampton. It was quite amusing for him to show me a picture that he had
of his car parked on the main street of New Hampton! He was happy to prove
to me that he had been a resident in the United States and had traveled
through Northeast Iowa and knew a lot about Waterloo, a city south of New
Hampton. He called on doctors in Rochester, Minnesota and people throughout
the area where I had lived. He was interesting to talk to, and he maintained
that he had been caught up in the war after he had gone back to Germany to
visit his parents. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not.
other thing that happened while we were in this holding point was that one
day the Americans came over and bombed a propeller works in the town of
Frankfurt, and at night the English came and dropped flares. One of them
became entangled in the fence surrounding our prison compound, and, of
course, since we were a holding center, we were termed “international.”
We had English and a Canadian in our compound. I asked the English, “What
are the flares for?”
said “Everything inside the flares is the drop zone.” If they could drop
inside that drop zone, they would be within a block of our camp, and the
British were just as excited as we were. When the bombs started to fall, it
felt like the barracks were bouncing up and down with the reverberation of
the bombs. They had also set up a flack battery right around the camp, and
with the flack falling back down on the roof and the flack guns going off
and the bombs falling, I was down on the floor with the rest of them, trying
to keep my knees from knocking. The British were just as scared as we were.
There was a bit of fire in the downtown area that night, but we came to no
Germans said they were taking us to a nice prison camp. They loaded us onto
the old proverbial “40 or 8” cars (40 men or 8 horses). There were
wooden seats and they put two to three men to every seat. There was no room
to lie down, and we took turns lying down underneath the seats to try to get
some sleep. The windows were barred and the end of the car had a guard, with
a barrier on it, which made it like a prison camp on wheels. We didn’t
have food from the Waldorf Astoria, but they did provide some food for us
when we got into the towns, so we arrived in good shape.
had one peculiar incident that I remember clearly. We were in Nuremberg when
bombing started on the outskirts. They backed us right down into the main
part of the city, hoping that we’d get caught up in the bombing.
kept telling us that we were going to a brand new camp. We pulled into the
town of Krems, Austria, which was fairly close to Vienna. We walked out of
the railroad station, and they walked us out of town and up a hill. The
prison camp was close to a village called Langenlois, and I later found out
it had been a political prison camp in earlier years. They ran us through
the delouser, which was a brick building. We went in one area and deposited
our clothes in a sack. They put the clothes in a heating oven while they ran
us through the showers at the same time. At the other end of the showers, we
got our clothes, now fumigated. Then they took us into the camp. Because
they had told us it was a new one, we got quite a surprise because it was as
dirty as a cattle building with just boards and battens on the cracks, with
tarpaper floors covered with mud. The Germans gave us brooms made out of
twigs tied together and told us to clean it up, as this was where we were
going to stay. They gave us the old-fashioned straw mattresses, the
paillasse type of mattress. Those mattresses turned out to be a wonderful
haven for fleas, we were to find out later. Stalag XVIIB (17B) was famous
for its fleas!
were the first group of Americans there: they brought a group of Americans
from VII-A and we came in from Dulag Luft the next day. We were all going to
settle down in this Stalag together. The Stalag sat up on the side of a hill
and we had a wonderful view – if we could appreciate the countryside. But
there wasn’t much else to do. All we could do in the beginning was walk
around the compound, dig a few trenches for air raid shelters, and talk the
Germans into letting us build a little barracks that w used for a chapel.
had a fine Catholic chaplain by the name of Father Kane, and I highly
respected the man. He was captured in Africa, and they assigned him here.
They brought us a few medical officers, a dentist by the name of Dr.
Nungasser, a surgeon from Sioux City, Iowa. We detested him because he was a
soap and water advocate and did not have much sympathy, but as we found out
later, sympathy got you nowhere. He was trying to put a stiff backbone in
the prisoners, and he did a good job. We had another dentist by the name of
Captain Jacobs, and another MD, Dr. Tom Cocoran. We elected a camp
commander, Ken Kurtenback, a court reporter from Waterloo, Iowa.
was in 37-B barracks and in 38-B barracks for Port Kellogg, from Charles
city, Iowa, where I would live and work for years. After the war, wed see
each other every once in a while and exchange remarks about our friendship
which we established in Stalag 17B.
Christmas 1943, the Germans did play some music through the PA system. One
of the records was a song by Bing Crosby, “I’ll be Home for Christmas,
if only in a dream.”
into the winter of 1944, at night there was going to be an escape attempt.
Three or four guys were going to crawl along a fence and try to cut the
wire, but it was snowing at the time. I watched them by looking out through
one of the windows of the barracks as they got started, and I could see the
shadowy shapes sliding down along the dividing fence heading for the
boundary, and with that I went back to my bunk and lay down. I would guess
it was only 15 to 20 minutes when the shooting and screaming started. The
Germans shot two or three of them who were caught out in the open and fired
enough bullets into the barracks that they hit at least one man while is was
lying in bed. As soon as I heard the firing start, I bailed out onto the
floor. I was the first one down there, but there were plenty on top of me.
It didn’t pay to be foolhardy and brave. No one in our barracks got hurt,
but we lost one of our boys in that escape attempt. He was shot in the head
as he crawled on the ground after being caught.
had roughly 4,250 Americans, and out of those for 19 months, I don’t think
we lost too many, largely because we had started out in good health. This
really was an international camp; it had Italians, Russians, French, Serbs,
and Poles, but in our particular area of the camp, it was strictly
Americans. We were not allowed out to do any work detail, so consequently we
had no chance to get food, and we depended on the French and other workers
that they took outside. We would trade cigarettes with them for things of
value that they would bring back and that we could throw over the fence.
Germans delighted in keeping us outside all day in the snow to run dog tag
checks. They would search the barracks, run their bayonets through whatever
stock of food we were saving. We’d try to keep back some of our food from
the Red Cross parcels that we were issued and keep it in a box by our bunk.
The Germans would come by and take all the cans or cartons of food and stab
them with their bayonets, so we learned we had to eat it all right away.
did create a problem, but they were trying to stop us from accumulating
anything for an escape attempt. Escape was always a thought, and if we had
$2.00 for every foot of tunnel that was dug, we would be rich.
Germans had a spy on the inside or they had a seismograph so that whenever
we go near the boundary of the camp, they would come in and start probing
with rods and ultimately always found our tunnels. They had a good way to
stop anyone of us from using that tunnel. They would dig a hole down to the
main tunnel and get the Russians to clean out the outhouse and then take the
honey wagon over to this hole in the tunnel, where the dumped the total
load. This would close it up, and they knew very well that we would never
use that tunnel again. I suspect that they probably knew that we were
digging some of these tunnels, and they would let us dig them, and at the
last minute, they would come in and close them up for us. This way we were
kept busy and wouldn’t be doing something else.
Russian prisoners, like those forced to clean the outhouse, received quite
brutal treatment. It was nothing for the Germans to shoot a Russian, or an
Italian, or turn the dogs on them and let them ham string them. Some of
these Russians were from Mongolia and I have to say they were not the most
lovable persons; they even scared me when I’d look at them.
days were long, and we were always looking for something to do. I spent most
of the time playing bridge; we would play about three sets of 20 hands in
the morning, four sets of 20 hands in the afternoon, and then three or four
sets of 20 hands at night – until the lights were turned off. I played
more bridge there than the average person would play in a lifetime. The rest
of the time, we would walk around the edge of the compound just to do some
physical exercise so that we could sleep at night. During the fall of ‘43
and the first part of ‘44, we were in pretty good physical condition and
played volleyball and softball. We had what we called a water reservoir near
barracks 37, 38, and 39, which was used for fire protections. This was out
in left field, and if you hit one too far, it would end up in this stagnant
water. Not too many prisoners wanted to go swimming in it after the ball.
was pretty much a standard go, day in and day out, and food being what it
was, we didn’t look forward to meals. I was a team leader for about twenty
men, and it fell to me to divide the food as it came out and to be
responsible for the food for this group of people. It wasn’t too difficult
with the soup, as not too many wanted it, but the bread was something that
everyone wanted, whether they like it or not. POWs took an interest in
seeing that each slice was divided evenly so that everyone got a fair share.
Whenever we did get any meat, the same attention was given to dividing the
food. Food was the essence of the day, and everyone wanted his share.
did a couple of interesting things in camp just to devil our German captors.
We found out that we were going to be taken for a delousing, to the building
just outside the main gate. After the first group came back, we found that
they also took a barber shears and cut each POW’s hair completely off. So
the next group decided that they would take some of the no good
oleomargarine and mix it with sand and paste their hair down with this. When
the German hair clippers got into that, they had all kinds of trouble. The
only thing that went wrong was that the Germans were bull-headed and cut the
hair off anyway with the dull clippers, tearing out lots of hair. So after
that we just cut our hair ahead of time so that we wouldn’t have to go
through the ordeal of getting sheared with a dull set of clippers. We were
trying to give the Heinies a hard time.
times, they would come in and take our excess clothing and throw it in one
of the wooden wagons and haul it away. We soon got wise to that and they
next time they came and got our excess clothing, a group of people would
light up cigarettes and walk by the wagon, throwing cigarettes in until the
wagon would literally be on fire and the clothes burned up.
didn’t have much coal or fuel for heating water, but ten or twelve kilos
of coal for the whole end of the barracks. The stoves weren’t big enough
to do any good anyway, and finally that coal ran out, so we wound up cutting
up the boards of our bunks and tearing out the sub floor underneath the
barracks and tearing out the inside of the washroom. It got to the point
where the barracks were pretty well stripped, and the Germans made us quit
that. This was the only good source of fuel we had to heat water for coffee.
had a German camp commander by the name of Captain Pallega whose home was in
southern Austria. He was an Air Force captain and a real right guy. I think
he was as fair as you could expect. His family was coming by train to visit
him when they were staffed by P-38s, and his whole family was killed. He was
unhappy with us about this and was transferred, as he said, “I cannot do
my job impartially and treat you the way you should be treated.”
had another guard who would come in periodically and inspect us. He had a
wooden leg, and we called him Captain Brewwood. Another incident happened
when three or four prisoners decided that they were going to make an escape
along the low part of the compound along the fence between barracks 36 and
37. I related this story earlier. You’ll recall that the guards from the
towers took this opportunity to fire quite a number of rounds into the
barracks. He was one of them, and he didn’t stay around long but was
transferred. Rumor had it that some of the guys knew who he was, and after
the war was over, he was rounded up and court martialed for killing an
unarmed POW in prison camp.
bright spot I like to think about came about the start of the second year.
We needed a place to hold a religious service. Father Kane was from Des
Moines, Iowa, so I felt a little kinship with him. I suspect it was through
his efforts that the Germans allowed us to build a chapel inside the POW
camp so we could use it for church services. They had a barracks that was
close to a fence, and they didn’t want anyone to live in it permanently,
so they let us use the spot after they tore down the regular barracks. We
built a chapel and Father Kane very efficiently gave Jewish, Catholic and
Protestant services. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for him; I
think he did a tremendous job in giving spiritual leadership to the POWs in
the camp. It was certainly well worth the time and effort that we spent in
building the chapel, and as for my own endeavors, I very seldom missed
attending religious services on a given Sunday.
had several sources of news while we were in prison camp, and of course, we
got a lot of news from the guards and from the French prisoners who went out
on commando detail or work detail. We also had all kinds of quartz crystal
radios, cat’s whiskers radios, so we were able to listen to BBC. We also
had one larger radio that was powered. This was only operated by a select
group of men, and every effort was made to see that the Germans had no
opportunity to find and destroy it. This was our real source of accurate
information, and we could always depend on it. This we maintained up until
the last, and it was the duty of several people to accurately copy down the
BBC news and then go around from barracks to barracks and read the news just
like they were reading a newscast. It was something that everyone looked
forward to. The only newspaper that we ever saw was a prison camp paper that
the Germans put out, and of course it was loaded with propaganda – but we
read it because there was nothing else to do.
group of us acquired a stray cat that came into the compound. We very
carefully fed this cat any scraps that were left over from the meals, trying
hopefully to maintain a steady growth on this rascal so that wee hoped for
Christmas of ‘44 to have a good roast cat for dinner. But lo and behold,
our Christmas dinner never materialized. I’m sure someone else heard about
our endeavor and beat us to the punch. Once again, one of our plans never
materialized. This is the indication of the conditions under which we
to keep clean was a real problem, as there was not heat in the barracks
whatsoever. We only had water turned on about an hour in the morning and
half an hour at noon, and then maybe an hour and a half to two hours at
night, and that was from the spigots that were in the common part of the
building. Midway between 37A and 37B, there was a washroom, which was the
back of one and the front of the other barracks. There were sheet metal
troughs where we could wash our hands and faces. We took tin cans and
punched holes in the bottom and hung them up on the faucets and ran water
into the cans so we could have a shower. In the wintertime, this was
difficult because it was so cold that ice would freeze on the floor. I can
remember taking a shower in this room, and I had my wooden shoes on, or
clogs, and goose bumps as big as pimples all over my body would come because
of the cold. We did what we needed to do to try and stay clean. One
particular individual who slept in an area near me didn’t want to take a
bath, so a group of us took him and gave him a bath with a brush, which
taught him a lesson. In close quarters like that, cleanliness was an
important part of our life.
the war was coming to a close, we could see P-51s, P-38s and B-24s, which we
thought were coming out of Italy or the Mediterranean area, and according to
the news, we knew that we were closing in on the Germans. One day a couple
of P-51s flew over low and we waved at them, but I don’t know whether they
knew we were there or not. Some P-38s came over and were doing a staffing
job on the railways in the area. Another day a bunch of B-24s came over and
literally looked like they were making their turn when saddened it seemed
like they were going to bomb the camp. I was close by an air raid trench,
and I could see that they were heading for the town, and the railroad yards
at Krems, but it was difficult when they were right about us to see where
the bombs were going to fall. It was quite a fearsome feeling to look up
into that shiny Bombay of a B-24 and watch that strong of bombs come out and
wonder if they were going to drop on us. It really gave the ground a good
shaking, because the town of Krems was only about eight or nine miles away
from us. There were anxious moments when we saw those B-24s overhead.
the little town closest to the camp was a village by the name of Langenlois.
When I was back there in 1970, only the foundations were left of the prison
camp. They had a hanger there on this airfield, which they called the
Langenlois Sport Flying Club. The rest of the area was put into wheat, and
they were farming the area except for that part surrounded by trees, where
they slid the bodies of the prisoners who died there. This was a common
grave, and that area still stood, unmolested, just as it had back in 1945.
before the war ended, the word was passed down to us by one of the guards
that the order had come to the camp commander that all of the POWs were to
be shot. We had a number of meetings and the meetings were directed toward
the first group to go. We felt there was not much that whole group could do
so save itself, but we had a plan that the group would pick a particular
place in the fence and hit it enmasse. We felt that somebody would have the
opportunity to get out. We knew that we all would not make it, but when
faced with certain annihilation, you have to look at it realistically and
take advantage of every opportunity that you have, even though your chances
won’t be good; a little chance would be better than none.
knew that the Russians were getting very close. In fact, we could even hear
the artillery and the sounds of fighting and mechanized equipment as this
came to us from the valley below. On April 8, Sunday morning, the Germans
came in and said they were going to move us out and save us from the
Russians. We really didn’t appreciate what they were saying to us, so we
put up quite a determined effort not to be forced out of the camp, as they
told us they were taking us to another camp. We took all our excess clothing
and we started bonfires and did everything we could to disrupt any plans
that they might have had for moving us. But I can assure you that our plans
didn’t last too long, because around noon, they gave up trying to be nice
to us and brought in the dogs. At about 12:30 they had us under way out of
the camp and heading for the German border.
afternoon we walked about 17 kilometers and would up sleeping at the foot of
a hill, and I remember writing down a sign that said Ostra, as I thought it
was somewhere close by. We were in the mountains and had a problem sleeping
together, as it was cold in April; we’d pool our clothing and lie down on
the ground – and the next thing we knew, we would slide down. Then we had
to get back up and there would be frost on our blankets or our coats. The
rest of the march, I know that we made roughly 20-27 kilometers a day.
walked through the towns of Sarmingston, Altmark, Linz, Pogstall and
Baumgarten. They took us through Mauthausen, the concentration camp. We went
through Withering, Erferding, Neu Markt, Altheim and then to Branay, 10
kilometers away. We were just up the river to where the Inn and the Salzach
Rivers join, in an area cut out of some beautiful pine trees. This is where
we stayed until about the 3rd of May. The Germans had gone in
there and cut down a bunch of pine trees, I suppose in an area about 100
feet, leaving the trees in the middle. The weather there in April was such
that on one day it snowed and rained, and another guy from Pennsylvania and
I were lying out in the opening and trying to get dried off when behold I
saw this airplane coming at us, which I thought was a twin engine plane, but
it had no propellers on it. This was my first introduction to the ME-210
jet. We felt that we had been thrust into the Buck Rogers age because not
having heard anything about it, then suddenly looking at this plane coming
right at us was a serious moment for us. I thought, “If the Germans have
equipment like this, surely we’ve got big problems.” The nice thing
about it was we didn’t know about the errors that Hitler and Goering had
committed in trying to make the ME-210 a jet bomber instead of a fighter.
History has proved this was their big mistake. I’m glad they did not have
the opportunity to us it against us when we were flying.
thing I remember well near Linz was when our group was being marched along
the road from Krems heading for the German border. We moved into a town and
saw the remnants of what the stories would label in the paper as the death
march of one thousand Jews. These Jews had been forced to sleep on the
concrete street of this town, and as we were walking by I can well recall
two big burly German guards in green uniforms wearing rubber gloves,
throwing these dead Jews up into two-wheeled wooded wagon boxes, just like
they were so much cord wood. These were the ones that had died during the
night. The others we met later, and when we saw the condition they were in
– including the children who were still alive – it was hard to
comprehend what we were seeing, because they were in such dire straits there
is no way of describing their condition. We threw them some cigarettes, but
this was the worst thing that we could have done because they fought like
animals over them, making the German guards so made they started beating
them. We soon quit. We walked further on, but this one particular Jew (who
was not dead, but not alive either, I guess) was on his feet shuffling
along; a German guard had a walking stick on his back, pushing him on down
the street. One of my friends who came along in the group behind me said
that as soon as he got him up near the wagon, they shot him and threw him up
into it. It was not a pretty sight. I don’t know why they took us through
Mauthausen on our way, or if this was the proper way to have taken us. But
we were a very quiet bunch of people as we were marched through this
concentration camp, as we witnessed what was going on and the condition of
the people who were sitting around along the fences and in the corner of the
fences: they looked like monkeys, all skin and bones, in crouched positions.
There was no sign of life to them al all. If they Germans did this to
impress us, this they certainly did; it had quite a sobering effect on us.
were also treated viciously. Some of the Russians tried to go along on the
walk – at least they showed up at the camp in the woods. They would crawl
up the evergreen trees to debark them and use the bark for making shelters,
and sometimes the Germans would just take delight in shooting at them. In
the book “Kriegie Memories,” published after the war, there is a picture
of a dead Russian lying there in the woods.
we came into the town of Sarmingston, which is on the side of a hill, the
Germans took a Jersey cow away from one of the local people, a woman who had
been bringing this cow in from the pasture in the hills. The Germans shot
the cow, skinning it, butchered it, threw it into a pot and cooked and we
had hot cooked meat that night. I don’t think it takes much stretch of the
imagination to guess what happened when the body took some of this food. We
had diarrhea like you wouldn’t believe. So did the German guards – at
least some of them. We didn’t move for 24 hours. I was shut up in the
second floor of a barn right close to and just across the road from the
Danube River in Sarmingston, and we had problems keeping ourselves clean.
Things were in such a bad state that the next day, I walked down to the
river, right across from the main part of this town, where they had a
concrete area by the river, took off my clothes, and bathed there in the
Danube. We had to get clean, because we had been living like animals. What
brought this on was during the 18 days on the march, we didn’t get much
food, mostly because the Germans didn’t have any. We had food about every
second day and then we would get a bowl of soup, a little bread, a little
hard tack, and not much else, as they didn’t have food to give us. I had
carried a little piece of Spam wrapped up in a piece of wax paper, which
came from an old graham cracker box, for about four or five days. We got to
the point where there just wasn’t anything to eat anymore. On one side of
a hill by a farmer’s barn, there was a bunch of dandelions. I gathered all
these dandelion greens, cut them up and put them in my coffee can and very
carefully cut up the remains of the piece of Span, heated this over a fire,
and had my meal for that day.
along the walk, between Neu Markt and Altheim, some trucks from Switzerland
with English and American drivers and German guards met us and they had some
Red Cross parcels. We were given one parcel for five or six guys. I believe
without those, there are some of us who would not have made this walk at all
– not in the condition that some of us were in when we finally did make
it. If you walk 18 days, 20-27 kilometers a day, with very little food,
there is just not much left of you. The fact is, we weren’t in too good
shape when we started and dysentery a time or two really had thinned us down
Goodrich was a tank officer with the 13th Armored Division, and
on May 3rd at about 6:45 at night he said, “Hey, you people are
liberated; you are free people, but I can’t do anything about it – I
have to go!”
took off and left us, and we still had our German guards. That was a dream:
“Hey, are we free?” We were afraid it might be false, but about the
second day after that when a couple of Jeeps of infantry boys with a
lieutenant in charge came into the camp, that really brought it to a head.
They made the rounds of all the guards, and said to us, “You guys are all
free and very shortly they will make arrangements to take you home.” That
is when it finally sank in that for us the old imprisonment was over. There
were a few tears shed when we finally realized that after these many, many
months, finally we were going to head toward home. We really didn’t care
how long it was going to take, although we really didn’t think it would be
a month before we were to get home.
left the woods and moved across to Ranshafen. We were going to be flown out
of an airfield at Pocking. Pocking was where the C-47s were coming in,
unloading five-gallon cans of gas for the armored tanks and trucks; they
would take off with about 25 of us at a time. We left Pocking at 11 a.m. on
the 8th of May and flew on to Nancy, where we took a train to
Eppinall, where on the 9th of May we had showers and our old
clothes got disinfected. We got new clothes on the 10th and rode
on a hospital train, leaving for Camp Lucky Strike, near St. Valleria, which
is about 50 miles from LaHarve.
was kind of ironic, as they said we would stay there about two or three days
and then head back to the States. But this wasn’t true, as we spent ten
days in one area and then three days in another block, and then about the
we moved to a place at LaHarve and stayed there for awhile. At about 3 p.m.
and the 3rd of June, just one month after liberation, we got on a
converted cargo ship by the name of S.S. Sea Robin. We would up getting to
Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and the shock when we got there was finding that
the K.P.s were German POWs who had been in the States for a while. They had
it pretty decent, and I know there were a few harsh words exchanged during
the time that we were eating.
and I were engaged before I went overseas. What a long engagement it had
turned out to be. Finally, I returned home on June 17th, 1945 –
we were married on the 27th of June, to become the parents of
four children – Connie, Sue, Bruce and Kristen – and the grandparents of
I still have one thing from my POW days of which I’m very proud. I believe
Father Kane gave it to me. They went through the international camp records
and gave me the original copy of the German card, the prison record card,
with my picture on it and the German dog tag numbers 96560 were hanging
around my neck.
After the war, in 1970, I retraced my POW steps. That young Dutch man to whom I had spoken turned out to be Hank Elma who worked for the Department of Agriculture and was the Extension Machinery person for Holland. I found out my parachute had been made first into a wedding dress and then a christening gown that was probably still in use somewhere. Looking over the site of my landing, I decided I was with 100 feet of having gone down in the water itself. What a different story that might have been.