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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Low Point


I was locked in a basement room in a German hospital near Rimini, Italy. A German doctor had operated on my hand the previous evening. I was suffering from dysentery because of eating three peaches that a nun had thrown through a barred ground level window into my cell.

I had no watch, and estimated it to be about ten in the morning when I heard the chain on my door rattle, and a German soldier entered and signaled for me to follow. There was no packing to be done, the clothes I wore were all the baggage I had.August in the Mediterranean is much like the climate of my native Louisiana, so when I flew on the mission that was to be my last, I wor khaki pants, khaki short sleeve shirt, cap, and a good pair of G.I. high top shoes. The cap I lost when parachuting.

The German soldier led me to a waiting truck. There were German soldiers in the rear of the truck, and the driver signaled that I was to sit in the cab with him. I don't know what the Germans had done to convert the gasoline engine. Instead of using gasoline, there was a makeshift fire box with smoke stack attached to the right side of the truck, and wood fagots were being burned in the fire box. During the journey of that day, the truck would occasionally stop by the roadside, the Germans in the rear would gather dead limbs, put some in the rear, stoke the fire and we would be off. My knowledge of German was insufficient to learn the technicalities of how the engine had been converted to run on a wood fire.

The German driver had a little knowledge of English, and knew quite a lot of Italian, so this German and myself, an American, conversed fairly well in Italian. I suppose we American soldiers were subject to some misinformation, but this German G.I. was indoctrinated with ideas regarding Americans that I could hardly believe. I was wearing my wings on my shirt, so he knew I was a pilot. He also knew I had been flying a twin engine bomber, which type of plane was based on Sardinia. He said I must be very rich as all Germans knew that American pilots were paid ten thousand lire for each mission flown. When I told him my base salary was the equivalent of two hundred fifteen lire per month, he shook his head in disbelief and heartily laughed.

The solders in the rear, as well as the driver. were constantly scanning the sky for allied fighters that strafed any military truck on the road, and frequently he pulled off the road into a grove of trees if danger was apparent.

During the midday we went into a grove, the soldiers disembarked from the rear and began eating their rations of dry black bread, sausage and a piece of cheese. I had only eaten three peaches in two and a half days. I had been given no rations when I left the hospital and my stomach was rumbling mightily. The driver motioned for me to sit beside him, and from a knapsack produced cheese, black bread, and several bunches of grapes, as well as a bottle of grappa. My taste was no longer as discriminating as when I was first shot down, and the cheese, grapes and half a bottle of strong wine made the day brighter.

As we drove through the Italian towns I was struck by the number of life-size posters caricaturing President Roosevelt. He was pictured with a black shoulder cape, and the features were of Mephistophelean cast. They made him look like the devil incarnate.

In the late afternoon we drove into the courtyard of an Italian barracks. The truck driver bid me good-bye, and I was locked in a stable at the rear with iron barred windows that looked into the courtyard. A little later, an Italian soldier brought a flask of water, the heel of a loaf of Italian bread and a bowl of soup with a few cabbage leaves floating in it.

About an hour later the sentry returned, gathered the utensils, and motioned for me to follow. He led me down a corridor in the barracks to a room occupied by a large desk, desk chair, and an immaculately clad German officer. I saluted, and it was returned. From the dog tags which had been taken from me, the German read my name, home address, and serial number. He also said he knew I had been flying a twin engine B-26, and had been based on the Island of Sardinia. The shock to me was not the extent of his knowledge, but his American accent. Slang expressions, phrases and accent were perfect. He saw my surprise, and said he had lived and worked in Chicago for twenty-five years, having arrived there from Germany when he was ten years old. He gave no explanation as to why he had returned to the Reich.

The interrogation began, and he became infuriated at my standard replies of name, rank and serial number which he already had. In a burst of fury he said it was better to talk to him than have the hide stripped from my back by the Gestapo when I arrived in Germany.He then dismissed me, and I was taken back to the stable and locked in.(Continued)

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