B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group

 

  Eight Months of Human Contact in a POW Camp
by Joseph R. Armstrong, 442nd Bomb Squadron

 

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High Point

 

While flying in Italy I was shot down and wounded in the right hand, and taken prisoner by Germans.

About four hours after being shot down an open car drove into the farm yard with a German driver and a guard with an automatic weapon keeping watch on two of my crew members who had also been captured and were sitting in the rear seat. I was motioned to get in the rear seat also and we drove off along a precipitous road hugging the side of a cliff and overlooking a lush valley of farmland.

We arrived, after some hours drive, to a front line hospital just out of Rimini, Italy where I was taken from the car and into the hospital. My crew members were driven off and I never saw them again.

Inside the hospital, wounded Germans lay on stretchers on the floor and the sound of moans and cries were intolerable. A guard led me to the basement where I was locked in a small room, the only light being from a barred window at ground level some five feet about my head. It was dusk when the door of my room was opened and an orderly motioned for me to come with him.

We went from the basement to the first floor where I had seen the German soldiers lying on stretchers. They were still there with more being brought in. The orderly motioned me to ascend a staircase to the second floor.

In my native Louisiana, I have seen many beautiful stairs in ante-bellum homes, but this staircase was the most magnificent I have ever seen. This front line hospital must have been a fine pre-war villa of some Italian nobility. Climbing the staircase, blood still dripping from my hand, we turned right into an immense room that must have formerly been a ballroom or state dining salon. In this immense room, in the center, was a huge desk that served as an operating table.

On the blood stained desk lay an aged Italian woman, still clad in her black head shawl and black dress. Her dress was pulled to her knees and the German surgeon was stripping varicose veins from her legs. Hovering in the background was her husband. He was gnarled with years of working in the fields , and his weather beaten face looked as though it belonged in the Sistine Chapel. His hands were clasped, and eyes riveted on his wife's face. The doctor finished the operation, the old woman was placed on a stretcher. Before she was carried away, the doctor went to the old man , placed his arm about him and said some consoling words in Italian.

The doctor was of Falstaff proportions, and despite his evident weariness, his face still shoed kindliness and strength. He looked down at me, and patted my shoulder. The orderly placed gauze on my nose and mouth and began to drip chloroform from a can onto the gauze. Unlike modern anesthesia, this was a choking, burning experience, and struggling I became unconscious.

When I awoke I was standing in a corner of the operating room trying to fight two German guards who were gently, but firmly, securing my arms. They were not trying to hurt me, but had held me until I regained my senses. My right hand was in a cast from fingertips to elbow, with a hole in the cast at the back of my hand to be used for drainage.

The doctor was preparing to operate on a young German soldier who had stepped on a land mine. The steel pellets had ripped into his testicles and abdomen. I went to this Falstaff of a German doctor and in my few words of German thanked him. His tired eyes looked at me, he nodded his acceptance, and bent to his patient. (continued).


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