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 had been shot down in Italy, and had traveled by train from the Po Valley in northern Italy in the company of three Afrika Korps soldiers.

We were approaching the marshalling yards of Frankfurt where the desert fighters gave me to understand that we would part company. As we entered Frankfurt, one of the German soldiers indicated that I should remove my pilot's wings from my shirt and put them in my pocket. In the Italian and German we used to communicate, he said that the civilians of Frankfurt might lynch a pilot because of the saturation bombing they had received from the allies.

The train, on shaky hastily repaired tracks, pulled into the station and we debarked. There was an SS post in the station to which the soldiers took me. The SS officer had me wait and I told the three Afrika Korps men good-bye, and hoped they would find their families without too much difficulty.

After about an hour an SS corporal reported to the post and indicated I was to go with him. He patted his pistol and told me "nix" several times, indicating that I was to give no trouble. We boarded a bus for an hour ride, which brought us to an SS interrogation center on the outskirts of Frankfurt. As we entered the dilapidated frame building, an Allied soldier, dressed in odds and ends of different uniforms came up to me looking earnestly into my face and babbling incoherently. The German corporal made amotion with his hand signifying he was crazy. In retrospect, I have wondered whether this apparent lunatic might really have been a German interrogator setting the stage for intimidation. Maybe not.

I was placed in a room, five feet wide and six feet long, no windows, a solid door, and a small naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. To the right of the door was a rope attached to a board that when pulled swung the board in a horizontal position astride the door and indicated the occupant wanted to talk to an SS officer. The board was to be used for no other purpose. I had no idea as to the time when the door was partially opened, and food was put on the floor. All I saw was the uniformed sleeve. The evening meal consisted of a bowl of hot water with a cabbage leaf floating on the surface, one thinly sliced piece of black bread, and ersatz coffee, which according to later rumor was made from toasted black bread. I hadn't eaten much in a number of days, and ate all there was.

Some time later, I judged it to be late evening, a middle aged wermacht officer opened the door and came into the cell. Due to the size of the cell, there was only space to sit on the straw palliasse on my bunk. For the second time, I met a German soldier who spoke American. He introduced himself, and asked for my G.I. dog tags. I told him the dog tags had been taken by the Germans who had captured me. He replied that no German military took dog tags from a captured prisoner, and I was a spy and would be shot the next day. He then asked how many planes were on the Island of Sardinia. I countered that if he knew I was from Sardinia, he knew I wasn't a spy, and showed him my wings. He said many spies were flown and dropped from Sardinia, and the wing emblem meant nothing. I was then questioned about the groups, man power, and morale of the troops on the island. In this questioning, for the second time, by an intelligent German, I was asked how much we were paid to fly each mission. When he concluded, I told him that if he wanted to know how much I was paid for each mission, he knew I wasn't a spy, gave him my rank, serial number, name and address. He left.

The bunk in the room was made of wood nailed to the wall, and the mattress was a straw pallaisse. I lay on the bunk, and to rest my eyes from the overhead light, turned my face to the wall. In a few moments I was amazed to see bedbugs crawling from the cracks in the wall and onto the straw mattress. From that time on, the bedbugs were a constant nuisance. Between scratching, I slept fitfully, and an undetermined time later, what I assumed to be breakfast was put into the cell. One slice of black bread, and a cup of weak tea.

I had been noticing a peculiar stench and had assumed it was my quarters. I now realized it was emanating from the cast on my arm, and was caused by the seepage of the wound into the cast. I exercised as best I could in the cramped quarters and on sudden impulse pulled the rope that extended the wooden arm into the hall, signifying that I wanted to speak with the intelligence officer. After a long wait, the door opened and he came in. He asked If I was ready to talk about Sardinia. Instead, I shoved my cast under his nose, and told him to smell. I berated him for the lack of medical treatment to my hand, and told him the war was coming to an end, and his mistreatment would be remembered. His face was angry, and he left without response.

Some hours later, the door opened, and a wermacht soldier motioned me to follow. We walked from the building, and then a distance of some ten city blocks to a two story building set in a trees. We entered, and I learned that it was an analysis and disposition hospital.

I was taken in charge by a British sergeant who had been captured several years before at Dunkirk. The sergeant was beaming with a smile and good humor, and ushered me into a room with several wash tubs on the floor. He took a big bucket of hot water from the stove and poured it into one of the wash tubs and tempered it with cold water. He told me to remove my blood stained clothing, that they would be washed and returned. All the time he was humming or whistling disrobed, and the sergeant said, "mate if that's all yours put it in the tub and lets get clean." This I did, and taking a long handled brush, humming all the while, he industriously began scrubbing my back. (Continued)


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