|A Long, Forced March
After questioning, the Germans marched the 300-400 of us out of, and away from, the barn in which we had been held. A hay rack with a team of horses followed us to pick up the stragglers, and it soon filled up - but not with Airborne guys. All of our forced hikes in England paid off and, by this time, we were march-oriented. The Air Corps boys didn't walk very far with ease, as they hadn't been trained for it. We marched for days with little or no food. Our hike took us through villages and countryside. Villagers with bushels of apples and other fruits would line the roads and give us much-needed food. The German soldiers would allow this because they would then not have to feed us themselves. The Dutch civilians asked for the American flags we had sewn on our right sleeves and for the Airborne insignias we had on our left. I didn't give mine up because I wanted to be identified as an Airborne GI. During this march, Milton Moore, who was a heavy smoker, was really missing his cigarettes. We tore apart the plug of chewing tobacco the English-speaking interrogator at the barn had given me, and put it in our coat pockets to dry. To hurry the drying process, we stripped dried leaves from plants along the side of the road and mixed them with the tobacco leaves. After several days of drying and mixing, Milt rolled the stuff into strips of paper to make a cigarette. When we had gathered the leaves to help with drying, we had also gathered seeds so, when Milt smoked his homemade cigarettes and they burnt down to the dry seeds, they would pop and, sometimes, shoot off like a roman candle. These fireworks provided us with some much needed laughter and comedic diversion from the serious situation at hand.
We marched for days until we reached Utrecht, Holland. We were told by the locals at a rest area that we were cut off from Germany, so we couldn't be taken there. That information proved to be incorrect. We were loaded into boxcars and were off toward the Fatherland. The train was strafed once by our own planes during that ride. The gunners must have known the train was filled with POWs as they only fired on the engine area.
Inside the German Border
Our first stop of any length in Germany came on October 1 when we reached Stalag XII-A near Limburg, where the famous cheese was made. We were served rations of the cheese at times, but, as hungry as I was, I couldn't force myself to eat the foul-smelling stuff. This location seemed to be a POW distribution center, since the American GIs were being shipped to other camps from here. The facilities were ghastly, with terrible soup to eat and floors simply covered with straw for sleeping. While we were being processed at Limburg, the Germans stenciled a large white triangle on the back of our jackets and on the back of each pant leg in the area of the thigh. We were told this was a target for a guard to shoot at in case we tried to escape. This provided us with a good incentive to stay put!
|It was at Stalag XII-A that I had my billfold
returned, but never saw my watch or fountain pen again. As expected, all my invasion money
was missing from the billfold, but, thankfully, all the pictures were still intact. That I
still had my pictures from home was good for my morale as I spent many hours looking at
them in times to come. I was also given a deck of cards that hadn't been mine but which I
gladly received. That deck of cards would also prove to be very beneficial to me later.
It's pertinent to note at this point that the Germans, we were told, had to make a decision whether to treat the Airborne as Air Corps or Ground Personnel. The Air Corps went to camps that, reportedly, offered better treatment than that for the lowly ground soldier. Eventually, we Airborne were given the lower rating. So, shipping out of the camp near Limburg on October 10, we spent many days and nights on a train apparently on its way to another stalag designated for U.S. ground soldiers. We traveled mostly by night, parking on sidings during the day. We were told they did this to keep us from being strafed by our own planes. We were given nothing but bread and water (and very little of that) while we were on the train. We had to relieve ourselves in old coffee cans, then empty them out the high window slots that were covered with barbed wire. We were, incidentally, supposed to detrain in Frankfurt for much needed food and rest but our German train commander was from Frankfurt and, when he saw how U.S. bombers had devastated his home town, he ordered us to be kept locked in the foul boxcars straight through to our destination.