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.
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.
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.
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.
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)