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.
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.
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
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
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.