This is a column I thought would be good for Veterans Day or near November 11. I was reading a Central Illinois newspaper, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the word “Moosberg,” and began to read to see what it said. The author was a lady who was writing about her great-uncle, Don Phillips. He was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III in Sagen, Germany, during World War II. She wrote this near Veterans Day saying that nothing captures the word of patriotism as well as Don’s letters written during his twenty months in the POW Camp.
Don’s B-17 bomber plane went down over France in 1943. He and his crew members were captured and marched until they could finally see a prison. This is the way he described it: “My first look confirmed my worst suspicions. As we approached the massive wire enclosure, the sight of the blood-red Nazi swastika billowing arrogantly above the gate stifled any hope I had. Inside I could see huddles of men, looking at us in a wistful, silent sort of way. It was as though we were one step nearer freedom than they, by mere virtue of the fact we were still outside the final fence, that was to bound our world.”
Life continued in a bleak and miserable manner for nearly two years. In January 1945 Don wrote, “The Russian army was spearheading a drive toward Berlin, and our camp lay directly in its path. Through BBC reports on our secret radio facilities, we knew they were within a few days of us, and we hoped to be liberated by them. No Dice. On January 29, 1945 in sub-zero weather, the German high command ordered us south, on foot, and the camp was deserted in a matter of hours.” The four-day, 60-mile grueling march was the most unforgetable chapter of Don’s POW experience; there were men who weren’t physically able to make that march.
The next camp, near Moosberg, Germany, was much more crowded, with very little sanitation facilities and very little food.
Don wrote: “By the end of April we knew that General Patton’s Army was very near. On the morning of April 29, we watched from the camp as the German swastika at the top of Moosberg’s town hall, a mile away was lowered, and in its place, and billowing softly in the April breeze, up went the Stars and Stripes, seen for the first time in so many months. Never will I see a more beautiful sight, and never have I seen so many grown men cry. It was the most moving experience I have ever witnessed.”
Don wrote: “Many times in later years, I have stood at athletic events as the flag was raised and the anthem played to a yawning, apathetic crowd, and thought again of that moment. If you have never lost your freedom, it is a thing taken for granted, perhaps even laughed at or scoffed by some. For them I have pity. Minutes after the allied forces captured the town, a U.S. Army tank mowed down the barbed wire gates of the prison. Even though we hadn’t budged an inch from where we were, suddenly we were home…..we were among friends.”
“Three things stand out for me,” he recalled decades later. “The raising of the flag in Mossberg, the Statue of Liberty as we entered the harbor on our way home, and the final moment when I stepped off the bus in Pontiac and embraced Mom and Dad for the first time in so many months – a most gratifying moment, and a cherished memory.”
A good article, and I especially liked the lady’s story because I was with the tanks that drove in and liberated the Moosberg Prison that day. April 29, 1945.