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S/Sgt Ronald D. Cox

612th Bombardier Squadron

401st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force

Washington, Iowa


      A Purple Heart, Air Medal, American-European Theatre Medal, Victory Medal, European-Eastern African Campaign Medal, Presidential Citation and a Good Conduct medal: Washington, Iowa’s Ronald Cox earned an impressive array of “hardware” for his WW II service in the U.S. Army Air Force. They just begin to reflect the experience the twenty-year-old smalltown boy began when he entered the Air Force in January of 1943.

      A Washington newspaper announced in April 1944 “Sergeant Ronald Dean Cox, of Class 43-31 successfully completed the flexible aerial gunnery course of the Army Air Forces Flexible Gunnery School, Laredo Army Air Field, Laredo, Texas. Upon graduation, he was promoted to his present rank and received the coveted aerial gunnery wings. He is now eligible to take his important position as a member of an Army Air Forces combat crew.”

      Following his extensive training, Cox flew in a B-17 for sixteen missions over Europe before the plane Salvo Sadie was damaged on the 17th over Berlin in June. Forty-four crews of the 401st were part of a massive attack on the German capital that included 1,234 bombers and an equal number of fighters. 16 planes were lost to the bomb group, including one from the 401st – Sadie. Able to bail out, Cox ironically landed in the middle of a concentration camp right in Berlin. Two other crewmembers also bailed out while the remainder stayed with the aircraft, which Pilot J. Atherton succeeded in bringing down in a forced landing. All were captured.

      Sgt. Cox was first taken to a medical camp near Stettin, Germany, for treat; he would also spend time at Stalag Luft III at Sagan and Stalag IX-C, the infamous “Bad Orb” camp. At the end of the war, official reports revealed that POWs at the latter were not issued soap or towels and had only one cold-water tap per 160-person barrack. A hole in the ground served as a toilet and there were no beds, only lice-infested straw mattresses. By the end of the war, 4,700 Americans were at this camp, many to weak to even greet their liberators. Sgt. Cox, however, was moved to Moosburg and Camp VII A, which was liberated April 29th by Patton’s forces. By that time, he had been packed into railroad boxcars and forced on several marches through Germany. He finally made it home June 3rd, 1945.



for my grandchildren


      I volunteered to serve in the Iowa State Guard from March 18, 1942, to July 8, 1942, at Camp Dodge, Iowa. With the United States entering the war on December 8, 1941, I was drafted. At 11 :00 p.m. on January 15, 1943, I and several other young men left Washington on a bus for Des Moines, Iowa. After spending three or four days there, we left by train for six weeks of basic training in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Florida, then went on to Boulder, Colorado, for approximately three months of armament training.

      On May 14, 1943, my Dad (Ray), Mother (Mabel) and girlfriend (Lorene) came by train to visit me. I told them there was no need to bring umbrellas, as it doesn’t rain here; of course, it rained most of the time. Lorene and I became engaged on the 15th of May.

      Shortly after they returned home, I was sent to Laredo, Texas, for gunnery school, which lasted three months. Then we went to Alva, Oklahoma, Northwestern University to get college time in three months, which amounted to six months of credit. I received my diploma on July 31, 1943. From there we traveled to San Antonio, Texas, and then Tampa, Florida, for overseas and three months of flight training. I went home on furlough in April 1944.

      My crew left Florida and stopped at Savannah, Georgia, where we spent 2 or 3 days. The reason for staying that long was because our navigator got sick so they had to get another navigator who had no actual experience, just his schooling. He did a tremendous job as we had fog nearing our destination, so he took us above the fog and then through it to land. I flew the plane most of the way as the pilot wanted to play poker with the other crewmembers.

      Our stops along the way to England were at Newfoundland overnight, Greenland overnight, Iceland overnight and then our destination, Prescott, Wales. It took about one day to get there. The Squadron was based at Kettering, 8th Air Force, 401st 80 mb Group, 612 Bond Squadron {H). Our missions were daytime and the English flew the night missions.

      The name we gave our plane was Salvo Sadie. All planes had a name that the crew decided. We looked at pictures and chose this name and her picture. The crewmembers on my plane were:  Jack Atherton, Pilot (deceased)

Donald Await, Co-Pilot

Richard Fitzmaurice, Navigator

John Whelan, Bombadier

Jeral Smith, Gunner (Florida)

Robert Sonnhalter, Top Turret gunner (California)

Bill Gray, Tail Gunner (Virginia)

Dan Grunstad, Bell Gunner (Minnesota)

Jim Burg, Radioman (Chicago)

                R. Dean Cox, Left Waist Gunner (Washington, IA)


      I was shot down on our 13th mission on June 21,1944, the longest day of the year, and it really was! We lost the supercharger and two other engines. Five German ME 109 planes shot us down, and as we were parachuting down, German troops on the ground shot at us. First Armor, left waist gunner was my position on the plane. When our plane was hit, the shells came between me and the right waist gunner (the shells were 20 millimeter). My left wrist was hit, severing all the tendons to my fingers, and two shells hit my right leg, one near the groin and the other above the knee. Two braids on my watch were cut when my wrist was shot so it was hanging on by the remaining braid. A German rapped my knuckles to take it away from me in the hospital.

I landed in a Polish Concentration Camp in Berlin, Germany. A Polish girl came to my rescue. With the language barrier, it was difficult to get the parachute unfastened. She brought some Polish guys and they carried me to the barracks. The Polish girl brought me a bowlful of potatoes. The German Police came and picked me up. They took me to a Berlin City Prison. My flying suit was removed there, never to be seen again. I was there for over 24 hours without any medical attention. Then they took me to a German POW hospital where I stayed for four or more days still without medical attention. I was then transported to a civilian hospital where the best German surgeon operated on my arm. All the tendons in my left wrist had been severed when I was shot down, so the surgeon had to pull them together from the arm and hand. I was able to use my hand; the middle finger is the only one that I do not have complete feeling in. A couple days later they lanced the leg wound, then took me to another hospital where I spent two to three weeks. The infection was fought with infection. While I was there, a roommate who was dying asked that I write his parents a letter. I think it was the hardest thing I ever did. My own parents learned I was Missing in Action on July 4, 1944. On August 9, 1944, they learned I was a POW.

      I ran into Burg (my radio operator) in this hospital. He was shot up in the shoulder. We were issued English boots with hobnail soles here. Then they took us by train to Stettin, Germany, on the Baltic Sea close to Poland, to a Medical Camp (POW). I was sick with a high fever and freezing to death. They put me in a small cell for two or three days and turned up the heat thinking it would make me talk for interrogation purposes, but it felt good to me. I was there for two or three months. While in this camp, they told me I had made Staff Sgt. All of this was June through September. I then got on a train, packed in like sardines, and went to Frankfurt, Germany, along the west where I stayed for several months. During the time at Frankfurt, I made a cigarette case out of strips from Spam cans and powdered milk cans, which I still have in my possession. We left Frankfurt on the road marching and camped out on the ground with a blanket at night. I dared not take my clothes off; as someone would have stolen them.                     

      Our marching itinerary was:

·         End of first day, 24KM, stayed in a barn at Nuremburg. At 12 p.m. April 4, 1945, a P47 dive-bombed Nuremburg.

·         Raid at Nuremburg after our first day by our American fliers as they didn’t know we were marching there

·         On to New Market, had soup and bread (1/9 of a loaf). This was second night we stayed in the woods. Rained.

·         On to Berching. Red Cross (English) provided bread

·         Beilngries

·         Paul Shauten for our third and fourth nights. Had bread and soup.

·         On to Pondoae for a two-hour stop. Had hot water.

·         Sandersdorf

·         Mindelstettin, stayed in a barn, bread and spuds

·         Forchheim and then marching along the Danube River

·         Reustadt

·         Muhlhausen

·         Seigeberg Red Cross (Belgian), stayed in barns

·         Halzhausen, learned of President Roosevelt’s death Stayed in a barn, ate bread

·         Bermunchen

·         Camelsoor -Red Cross -Bread

·         Then to Moosburg -POW Camp

·         German rations were: 1/2 loaf bread, 2 soups, 1 spuds, 1 water for 13 days. 10,000 men. Red Cross parcels 2 1/6 parcels per man for 13 days but we did not get that much


      We received Red Cross packages which were to last each person a week but they had seven men to a package. The Germans kept the other packages. I guess they had trouble getting them to us. Once I caught a cat and ate it. The Germans fed us potato peelings and carrot peelings.

      Another incident in prison camp was going to the privy, which was called “Sittin’ on the Tall Top Rail”, which was probably three feet off the ground. One shy GI and I were sitting on the rail when a German woman joined us there. Being embarrassed, he fell off and started running. You really can’t run with your pants down. It was also difficult to do a job and not fall or get it on your feet.

      One day we were outside when German planes flew overhead. We hoisted pretend rifles to our shoulders and Rat-A-Tat, shot them down. To our amazement one of these planes crashed not far from the prison camp. Our captors, being superstitious, wouldn’t allow us outside while planes were flying overhead after that incident.

      We would barter one American cigarette for 10 German cigarettes. If we were lucky enough to accumulate 10 packages of Lucky Strikes from American pilots, we could trade them for wool jackets and pants. Also we played cards (poker) with American prisoners for cigarettes. While in the prison camps we would have air races. They had extremely large flies; we called them horse flies. We would catch a fly and take a raveling and tie it on the hind legs. It took two of us to get this done. Then we went to the end of the room and let the flies go, seeing whose fly got there first. We would also try to catch them.

      There was one small stove to heat the room, probably 20 x 10 feet with 25 men in a room. We got seven briquettes to use in the stove. When you ran out, it was COLD. They gave us paper sacks to sleep in on a bunk, which were for dead bodies and the bunks were four or five tiers. Guard dogs roamed hallways, so it was best not to sleep on the bottom two bunks. The bathroom facility was a trench outside. Food was brought to each room.

      On a bulletin board outside the office were the names of prisoners, and I saw Phil Caldwell’s name and #3765, which I knew was the from the Midwest. I went to the barracks he was assigned to and asked for him and he said he was from Washington, Iowa. I called him a damn liar. If he had been a Washingtonian, I would have known him since he was my age. He admitted he grew up in Columbus Junction, and his parents moved to Washington after he went into the service. Another thing I did was read about ten books while in prison camp. We spent approximately seven to eight months there. Then they marched us to Munich, Germany, and spent a short time in the barracks there. General Patton liberated us. That morning we saw tanks all around the prison camp and they ran down the fences to set us free.

      After our liberation, we were walking down the street and stopped at the first bar, went behind the bar and got mugs and helped ourselves to beer. I saw General Patton there with his boots and ivory-handled guns but did not have the opportunity to meet him. The reason I mention his boots is because he didn’t wear the regular army boots; his were especially nice and shined to the hilt.

      We stayed there for two days until facilities were available and then were put on planes and flew out to Reichenburg, Germany. We were issued some new clothes and waited a couple days to fly to France. Of course, after being a prisoner for a little over 11 months, I had long hair, which was in curls. We had it cut when we got to France and were issued clothes but that didn’t get rid of all the fleas. Even after taking showers and getting the new clothes, I still had them.

      We boarded a ship and sailed to England, spending one day there and boarding another ship to begin the trip (14 days) to the U.S., landing at Boston June l, 1945. We were taken to Camp Miles Standish and given more clothes, then an entire trainload of POW’s headed to the Midwest. We went to Minneapolis and were given a 60-day furlough. There was a bar in the depot, which appealed to us. When the local people found out who we were, they bought all the drinks we could drink. We handed the bartender a note telling him what train we were to be on asking him to make sure we were on it as we knew we wouldn’t be in any shape to get on. I then took a train to Washington, arriving June 3, 1945.

What a wonderful feeling to be back home! On July 1, 1945 Lorene and I were married. I then had to report to Florida where we had thorough physicals and then were sent to San Antonio, Texas. I was discharged on October 29, 1945 and headed for home.