It was Army reunion time and our daughter came down from Waukegan to get Christine and me, and take us to the reunion of the 14th Armored Division, up in Milwaukee. There were 22 veterans in attendance and over fifty wives, children and grandchildren who brought their veteran. We had two daughters and their husbands with us at the reunion. One of them was with us constantly or we couldn’t have been there.
On Thursday the bus took us to the Milwaukee baseball park in our wheel chairs to see the Cubs win a game. The best part of the reunion was that across the hall from our big hospitality room was the 319th fighter group. It was a great experience meeting a man who on his 26 and 3/4th mission, had his plane shot down. He was in the Mooseburg Prison Camp and remembers how thrilled he was when he saw our tanks driving in to free the couple of hundred prisoners who were in that prison.
Here is another prisoner story. It is about young Robert Hall who was a sophomore at Illinois State University in 1941. With the war getting a good start in Europe, he went to Canada and joined The Royal Canadian Air Force; this was before the United States was in the war. His squadron was sent to East Moore in Yorkshire, England. His squadron was flying the four-engine Halifax bombers at that time of the war. On the night of May 27, 1944, his mission was to bomb a military camp in Belgium. The trip was uneventful until while leaving the target, two enemy planes came from below and set two starboard engines on fire. The command was to abandon the aircraft. Hall remembers putting on his chute, but he must have hit his head as he bailed out as he didn’t remember pulling the cord or the free fall to the ground.
When he regained consciousness it was 3 a.m., and he started walking down a lane, but his neck was so painful that he crawled into the woods and fell asleep. In his words he told: “I awakened at daybreak and with each turn of the head there would be a sharp pain. I came to a small farm where a farmer took me in, and gave me breakfast of three eggs. The farmer was a member of the Belgium underground and told me I would be taken care of. He let me exchange my flying uniform for civilian clothes. He gave me Belgium money in exchange for my English, French and German money I had in my escape kit.
About 10 o’clock that morning two men arrived on bicycles. The farmer gave me his bicycle and we started for Overpelt where I was to stay with a Belgium policeman for a few days. While at his place I was given treatment by a doctor. I was also visited by people who gave me cigarettes, candy etc. After three days I was moved to a small farm where four Americans were hiding. We five were there five days until word came that we were to take the train to Antwerp. In Antwerp we were taken to a café where I was happily pleased to be joined by the wireless operator of our crew. We were then split up in groups of two and taken to various houses in Antwerp. I was paired with a lad from New Hampshire and we really had a swell place to stay. Our new home was with a broker who had been in the first World War. We were treated like kings, food was very good, there was a plush garden to walk through, there were English language books and I had the first ice cream since leaving home, and above all they had a radio we could listen to.
Our stay here was much too brief; three days later we were taken to another house. This time it was a modern apartment occupied by a young married couple. As soon as we arrived we were served a variety of pastries and real coffee. It seemed as if they couldn’t do enough for us, we were offered a variety of French liquors. We were to have a late dinner then we would be taken to France that same night.
Just before dinner three men arrived who were to drive us to France, and from that moment on our lives were in the hands of the Gestapo. It appears that the head man of the underground was also connected with the Gestapo, so instead of going to France we were taken to a prison at the edge of Antwerp. We learned never to trust anyone. The date of this episode was June 5-6, also the date of the Invasion of Europe by the Allies. Our first stop was a prison at the edge of Antwerp, where I spent the seven worst days of my life, shut up in a 6 foot by 9 foot room with little ventilation. On June 13 we were taken to Brussels for two days, then to Obereusel near Frankfort, and there we were put in solitude confinement. That was the camp where all allied flyers were kept for interrogation.
Three days later we went to the Weslow camp where we had our first shower and first square meal. We were only there one day before loading us on a cattle box car for a three-day ride to Stamlager Luftwaffe 7, near Bankau. I was a prisoner there for the next 11 months, until that prison was liberated near the end of the war.
I won’t relate to my life in prison but I do remember one time in December when there was an air raid, and prisoners had been told to remain in their barracks during any air raid. A 19-year-old boy from 8 Division stepped out to take a look and without a warning they shot to kill. The Jerry guard didn’t give him a chance, and used a “dum-dum” bullet that makes a small hole on entering and a three inch hole on leaving the target.”