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American commando #1
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
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Telesfor "Blackie" Lucero 1st Armored Div.On the eighteenth day of February 1943 I was taken prisoner in Tunisia, by the Africa Corp Rommelís Panzer Divisions. I was on a small mountain on an observation post. My company, Company A of the Eighty First Recon, was forced to pull back by an attack of the tiger tanks of the Africa Corp. and I was left behind. The small mountain I was on became surrounded by tanks and infantry of the Africa Corp, and for three days all I could think about was how to get off of that mountain and away from the Germans. I discovered that on the N E tip of that little mountain there was a dry creek running N E across the desert. I kept thinking if I could get down to the bottom of that little mountain without being spotted I believed I could make it across the desert and made up my mind to try it.
On the seventeenth of February I was approached by an American soldier who informed me that there was an American officer who wanted to talk to me and pointed to where the officer was. I reported to him. He was a 2nd Lieutenant; Iíll call him Bob. The officer told me that as soon as it got dark we were going to go down the West side of the mountain and try to rejoin our troops. I told him the only thing we would accomplish would be to get caught by the Germans. I told him that place is swarming with Germans. He said, "Those are Arabs." I told him those are Germans wearing shilabas. He told me to go back to where you were and when itís time to go we will call you. I went back and sat behind a large boulder because the Germans every once in a while would fire a shell up on the mountain, some exploded and some wouldnít.
Shortly after that another American soldier came to where I was and asked me what kind of a uniform I was wearing. I said, "a tankers uniform." He asked me if you are a tanker what are you doing here? I told him. Then he asked me how long have you been here? I told him about three months. Then he asked me, "Do you know where we are?" I said, "Yes, I am a Recon man." He left and in a few minutes returned and said that the officer wanted to talk to me. And again I reported to him. As soon as he saw me he said, "You are the one that gave me an argument about going down the West side of the mountain." I said, did. Then he said, "Do you have any ideas?" I told him about the creek on the N E side of the mountain. Then he asked me, "Did you know that there are forty one other men and another officer on this mountain?" I told him no. Then he called the other officer, a 1st Lieutenant; Iíll call him Moss. He told the first Lieutenant who I was and what I had said about going down the West side of the mountain. He looked at me and asked me, "Do you know what you are talking about?" I said yes I do. I have been observing them for three days and I know that they are Germans. I told him I am going to get off of this mountain but not going down the West side. He asked me, "Do you think you could get all of us off of this mountain?" I said, "If everyone does as he is told we may have a chance."
This was still early in the day. We talked for a while and then they said, "We will try it your way. Go back to where you were and as soon as it is dusk we will meet you where you are and go from there. I went back and sat down behind the big boulder.
Some time later an American soldier spotted two Germans coming up the South side of the mountain and went to where the 2nd Lieutenant was and told him there are two Germans coming up the mountain with a white flag. Do you want me to shoot them? Bob said no, first they have a white flag; second they probably have you spotted. Go back and wait until they get close then halt them and ask them what they want. The soldier did as he was told. It was an officer and a young soldier that spoke English through the soldier. The officer asked the American, "Didnít you know that we have a forty eight hour truce to take care of our wounded and exchange prisoners?" "We want to talk to your commander." The soldier told him to go back down and I will try to find the CO. As soon as they were gone far enough, he went back to the Lieutenant and told him what the German officer had said. Bob told him he is a ÖÖ..we have no truce and we donít exchange prisoners in the field. Go back and tell him he canít talk to the CO until six thirty. Then he told him to to tell me to go back to see him. As soon as I went to see him he called Lieutenant Moss and told him what had transpired in the last two hours. We talked for a while then they said, "We are going to leave as soon as it is dusk." Go back and we will meet you there and go from there. I went back and as soon as it was not quite dusk they all showed up very quiet. I pointed to the officers the way we would go to get to the mouth of the dry creek and I said we should go down ten or fifteen feet apart and we should have a number in the order we go down so the last man would know there would be no one behind him in case we were followed.
The 1st Lieutenant and a soldier that said he was a platoon leader went first. Then about eighteen men followed. Then Lieutenant Bob and about another eighteen men went down. Then I went down and four men followed me down the mountain. The last man had just reached the mouth of the creek when he passed word to me that he thought he had heard someone behind him. I went back. We took cover on the side of the creek and we heard them. I told them to halt and advance one at a time. They said, "We are Americans." I said advance one at a time. They did. They were Americans. I passed the word to the front and told them to take cover on sides of the creek and wait. We walked until we reached the front of the column. The creek was so sandy that you couldnít hear the man in front or the man behind walking. We rested just a few minutes then continued in the order we had started with three more men.
We walked for about two and one half-hours then took another rest for about fifteen minutes. At this time we were walking closer to each other but not talking. The creek was not as deep as it was at the beginning because by this time we were in the middle of the desert. In front of us was another small mountain that in the daytime looked red. We walked for a long time then took another break. At this time I told the two officers we should pass that little mountain to the left about a half of a mile and they said, "We will go to that little mountain and rest all day and as soon as it gets dark we will go again." I said, "that is dangerous, there is bound to be an outpost there and we will get caught." They said, "We have to stop, the men are tired and hungry and they canít go on all night." I said, "We should bypass the mountain and go as far as we can." If we want to rest we can do it after we have gone as far as we can. If we want to rest we can do it after, and we went to the mountain. There was a hogback to the left of the mountain and a creek. In between the ground was very sandy with some brush and small boulders scattered around. I said, "We should take cover on both sides of the creek and stay as close as we could and if anyone saw a German leave him alone if he didnít see them. "
The 1st lieutenant and the man that had said he was a platoon leader went looking for a good place to sleep and saw a German soldier in the skyline and fire with their 45. They fired one shot each and there guns jammed. The echo of their shots hadnít died when we got a shower of bullets over our heads. The firing continued until some of the Germans that were on the top of the little mountain came down to within talking distance of us. One of the soldiers was no more than twenty feet from where I was flat on my belly, my head was behind a small boulder but my butt was not. The soldier said, "Stand up with no weapon, we will not shoot." I said, "Bob I am going to stand up." He said, "donít Blakie, they will shoot you." The German said, "Stand up and I will not shoot." I stood up and walked the few feet that was between us. He said, "Tell your men to stand up, we will not shoot." Then he asked me where did you come from? I said, "From there" and pointed back. He must have caught me looking at his canteen because he took it off of his belt and offered it to me and said drink. I shook my head and he took a drink and offered it to me again. I took it and took a drink and handed it back. He said he wouldnít take it and said drink all you want and tell all your men to stand up. They all came up and the soldier that gave me his canteen told the rest of the Germans to give their canteens to the Americans. After all the rest had some water, the Germans said, "We will go up to the top and wait until daylight then we will take you to where there are some more American prisoners."
In less than two hours it was daylight and we started right back to where we had come from. About half way there they stopped us and gave us a loaf of bread and one can of sardines for each five men. In a few minutes we started again and walked passed the point we had started from then came to a place where they had a fence made of three roles of concertina wire, two rolls on the bottom and one on the top. There they had a lot of American officers and GIís. We were there about three hours then they gave us some coffee and some bread and told us we would get some food later.
That same day they took a whole bunch of us to a place near Tunis. This place looked like it must have been a camp. There were two rows of buildings with a road between. They marched us down the road and halted us and counted us then counted a number of men and told them to go to one of the buildings and continued this until they had all the men in each of the buildings. They told us not to come out at night until we called a guard or we would be shot and said if anyone tried to escape he would be shot. They said we could stay outside during the day but at night we would remain in the building. Before dark they gave us some coffee and said we would get food later. They didnít say how much later.
The next morning they gave us some coffee and some bread. We spent the rest of the day just laying around until it was time to go into the buildings. They told us to get into three ranks and counted us, then told us to go into the buildings and told us to go to the buildings we were assigned to. The next day they gave us some bread and coffee with the promise that we would get some food later. Among the officers and men of the Africa Corps. quite a few of them spoke English, the ones that took us prisoners at the little red mountain. Several of them spoke English and not with the English accent. They spoke just like us.
I believe it was on this day that I saw a POW take a bullet out of another POWís right leg just above the knee with nothing more than a razor and a knife. The one that was acting like a doctor told us to hold him while he was sitting on a box. I believe he said three men hold his right arm and three more his left arm and about four men were holding his left leg. The bullet was not very deep but when the POW that was doing the operating made the first cut with the razor it took all of us to hold him still. Of course this was with his permission. He knew that the bullet had to come out. It only took a few minutes to take the bullet out but it seemed like a long time. He didnít bleed very much because we used someoneís belt to use as a tourniquet. As soon as the bullet was out we loosened the belt for a few minutes and the POW that took the bullet out cleaned the wound with clean handkerchiefs and bandaged it with a clean handkerchief.
Later that day some American Air Force was flying overhead and one of the aircraft was hit and the pilot bailed out. I believe that before he did he aimed the plane at the tallest building because thatís where it hit. When the Arabs saw the man coming down they ran to where he was landing and killed him with stones and we couldnít do anything about it. But as soon as the first Germans arrived where he was they beat the Arabs up and chased them away.
The next morning they fell us out and counted us then gave us some coffee and bread and after a while they told us to get into three ranks and counted us. Then from the front of the column they told a number of us to stand fast and told the rest to go back to what they were doing and told the rest of us that we were going to an air field to be flown to Italy and started us walking to the air field. When we were about a quarter of a mile from the field we saw the American Air Force bombing and strafing the airfield. The Germans told us to spread out to the edge of the road but not to fall in any ditches or to look up. We scattered all over that field but we did look up to where the planes were bombing and strafing the field and a lot of the planes on the ground were hit. After the raid they told us to get into two ranks and counted us then started us walking to the place we were staying and told us we would try again the next day. That is when I made up my mind not to get in any of those planes if I could help it.
I had been paid three months back pay just before I was captured so on the way back I bought from the Arabs, French bread and Arab cakes and oranges and anything that was edible. From one of them I bought a basket and put all the bread and everything in it. When we arrived back at the camp we were told that we were to go to the building we were assigned to and that we would try again the next day. I knew that they were going to take the first building so I went to the building behind the one I was in and each day I would move back one building until I got to the last building where there were only French soldiers and Arabs from the French Foreign Legion. I told the French why I was there and they said it was OK and if I was questioned to say I was a Legionaire from Algeria and if it worked out the Germans would send them and me to France. There they would help me get to Spain and from there I could get to England and back to our troops.
The morning they took the last of the Americans and counted them two of the officers came back and looked in all the buildings. Then they came to the last building and looked all over. Then one of them nudged me on my foot and asked me, "Who are you?" I said, "I am a Legionaire." He asked me, "Do you speak French?" I said, "No, Spanish." He went back and returned in a few minutes with the other officer and asked me, "Are you American?" And for the first time in my life I denied I was American and said, "I am a Legionnaire." Then they asked, "Why donít you speak French?" I said, "In Algeria most of the people speak Spanish." They asked me, "Where were you born?" I said, "Spain." They asked me what city? I said, " I donít remember I was very small when my family moved to Algeria." Then they said, "Stand up." As soon as I did they said come with us we think you are an American. I picked up my basket and followed them to where the column of men were and they said, "get in line." Then they counted us. But as soon as they started counting someone would move up or down and they would have to start counting all over. Finally they were satisfied with their count and we started walking to the airfield.
I was talking to a GI that said he had a pilotís license for a two engine plane back in the states I asked him if he could fly a three engine plane. He said, "Yes, they are all the same once you are in the air." Then I asked him if he would be willing to take over a plane and fly us back to our troops. He said, "How are we going to do that?" I told him the Germans are loading fourteen POWs and seven guards in each plane. If we disarm the guards each two men surprise each guard and take his weapon away from him, we would force the pilot to give up the plane or we would kill him. He said, "You know we just might get away with it." We talked to five other POWs and they agreed to try. We were going to rest as soon as we were in the plane. When we arrived at the air field we sat together while we were waiting to board the plane. One of the Germans came over and told three of the men we had talked to, to follow him and he said, "No just three." We told him we are all friends and want to go together. When we arrived where the other men were waiting we told them we are all friends and want to go together and they sat down. In a few minutes they loaded us on the plane and we sat down and waited for them to load the other seven men after what seemed like hours. As soon as they did we went in with the odds against us we couldnít do it. So off to Italy we went. They took us to somewhere near Naples or rather to near the foot of Mt. Vesuvius where they had a temporary camp with a lot of American officers, NCOs and enlisted men.
The camp was divided by concertina wire. They put us in one side of the fence, on the other side they had the POWs. As soon as we were in the fence I went to the fence that divided us from the other men and started asking if there were anybody from my old outfit. The only one that answered was my old CO. He asked me, "Lucero, is that you?" I said, yes, what are you doing here?" He said they took me on the fourteenth. I told him I heard you turned the command to the Lieutenant, I canít remember his name. The first question he asked me was how many of our men can you tell me were alive or you can account for. I told him I saw him looking at my basket with the bread so I took a loaf of French bread and offered it to him. He said, "No, I couldnít take it." I said, "Take it, here the only difference is I can get it and you canít." He said, "Iíll take half." I gave him half. Then he told me how they had been trading their watches and their rings or Parker pens for bread. Because all the bread the Italians were giving them was a small bun smaller than the ones we use for hamburgers. And worse of all some of the Italians would tell them, let me see the watch or what ever they had to trade. Once they had it in there hands they walked away and say stupido. The Italians were worse than the Germans.
After a day or two they gave us some Red Cross food parcels. They gave us one parcel for five men. Then in a few days they gave us one parcel for two men. My partner was an Italian kid from NY so we decided to get even with the Italians. We took all the cigarettes out of the packages and stuffed some paper in them and went to the fence to trade them for bread. But we told them to give the bread to one of us and the other would give them the cigarettes. As soon as we got the bread we walked away and said stupido. Yes it was dishonest, but they started it and they were on the outside. In a day or two a priest came to give mass and take confessions. He told us to write our name and address at home on it and say that we were in a prison camp but told us not to say anything about the camp, just to say that we were OK or the letter would not go through. He said he would send those letters to the HAM radio in the States and they would put them on their broadcast. My mother did not hear that on the radio for three months my family did not know I had been reported as MIA. One day a lady from Florida called my mother and told her to turn her radio on that there was a message about me being a POW. My mother tried all the stations but she did not get the message. She did receive several calls from all over the US telling her that I was a POW.
The next day they took a whole lot of us to a railroad where there was some boxcars. They put us in them and took us to Germany through the Brenner Pass to Moosburg and Stalag 7A. There they had some political prisoners and Russian prisoners, not in the same compound. In a few days they gave us some Red Cross food parcels because the only thing we got from the Germans was bread and coffee. We were there a few days then they sent us to Stalag 2B in boxcars.
At Stallag 2B they put us in one of the many barbed wire compounds. On the compound next to where I was which was next to the gate there were some sailors. I asked one of them if anybody had escaped from there. He said no some had been shot trying. He told me if you get away from this place and escape go to a large city and to the slum district or red light district and donít try to contact the underground. If they want to help you they will contact you.
On about May the 20th we were put on a train in boxcars and sent to American Commando #1 near Sprenburg. The day we arrived there they made us walk to the camp where we would stay and work. They marched us and lined us in front of the camp in three ranks and one of the officers said, "We know that among you there are some Jews." Those that are Jews line up one step of the column. For a second nothing happened then a tall man stepped up and with his head held high said, "I am Jewish." He had no longer said that when a large number of POWs stepped up beside him. I thought that kid has a lot of guts and make up my mind to get to know him. We became very good friends. The barracks were frame buildings made of one inch boards. Inside there were bunk beds three tiers high. The Germans told us we were there to work and the first thing you will do is dig some trenches six foot deep, six foot wide at the top and four feet at the bottom. We told them we werenít going to work. They said yes you are. Those trenches are for your protection in case of an air raid. In about two days they showed us where we would dig the trenches. They told us to dig them about ten feet long then change direction and dig them zig zag like almost like a Z. A few days after we started digging somebody buried another manís pick. When he complained about it Rayack (the one that had stepped up first and said Iím Jewish) told the man what do you care did you pay for it? After that it became a habit to bury someone's pick bar or Shovel. When we started digging the trenches the Germans gave each a pcik, shovel and and iron bar to gig with and every day we buried tools. Why the Germans didnít miss them I donít know. Every morning they gave us the tools and each evening they took back and put them in some long boxes they had outside of the camp.
After we dug the trenches they put us to dig some sod in the valley just below the camps. We cut the sod a foot square about two inches thick and put it in stacks to dry. After all the sod was cut, they brought a small narrow gauge train and rails and laid them where we had cut the sod. They had some iron buckets like on this train that hung from a frame on wheels. The Germans were digging the side of a hill and loaded the train with the dirt. Then the Chech would drive the train to where we were. We would dump the dirt and spread it and once in a while we would raise the tracks and move them forward to where the Germans told us. We kept doing this until we had a bank about 16 feet high and several hundred feet long. The Germans said it would be a dam. One day we told the Chech to drive the train to the bottom of the incline and then give it all the steam he had. He did this about two or three times and the boiler blew up. The Germans didnít have another engine so they said we would have to mix some cement. We told them we werenít going to mix no cement. They said yes you will this is not a war project.
Then Rayack said who said we know how to mix cement. We got the hint so when we went to where the Chechs were building some smoke stacks they had some boxes made with 2x10 boards about six feet wide and about twelve feet long with a tin bottom. We put a whole lot of sand and a sack of cement and water and mixed it. The next time we would put three or four sacks of cement and some sand and mixed it. We were making so much cement that the Chechs were getting mad at us. But when the cement dried on the smoke stacks the smoke stacks came down. The Germans got so mad they took us off and said we were so dumb we couldnít mix cement and took us back to where we had built the dam and put us to cut some brush around the dam. They also divided us into four groups to work at night. One group started at eight and worked until four. The next worked from four until midnight. The next from midnight until eight. If we had an air raid the flood lights we worked under, they had lights all around us on tall poles. Around the area we were working during an air raid the lights went out. Sometimes the air raid lasted a long time and some times just a few minutes.
One of these times the air raid came on and the lights went out and so did I. I went walking towards the town. I hadnít gone more than a hundred feet and the lights came back on and the guards started looking for "The Schwartza" Blackie, thatís what everybody called me. When the lights came on, I found a large hole about three feet in diameter and three feet deep. I got in and sat down and pulled my coat over my head. I heard the guard walk past me three or four times but did not see me and I just sat there. After about an hour he found me. Because the air raid didnít come on again that night the guard got very mad and threatened to turn me in to the Commandant. I asked him what are you going to tell your Commandant you were doing when I walked away. I know what Iím going to tell him. He said donít ever do that again you could be shot. But I kept getting into trouble with him and the civilian guards. Someone turned me into the Commandant and I got fourteen days on bread and water (in solitary confinement) which didnít bother me the least.
It was on one of the times that we worked night shift that Rayack got one of the civilians to get him a radio. And a few days he brought one to work with him. Seven of us had formed a pretty tight click, Rayack, Greenfield, Sammie, Gans, Bogner, Vecchio and myself. We all pitched in with coffee, ration D bars and cigarettes to pay for the radio. Rayack kept it under his bunk under the floor, but one day one of the tubes burned out. So Rayack said we were going to find somewhere to hide that damn radio. I said I know where, in the washroom. They said, "Are you crazy?" I said no. In the attic of the washroom I can go up there and hide it. Rayack asked me, "Will you?" I said, "Sure", and one day while they were watching for the guards while we were in the washroom I went up through a trap door and hid it.
In the meantime Rayack got a key for the building where some of the Germans repaired their uniforms. He walked into the building and the Germans were listening to a BBC broadcast. One of the Germans said, "Turn off the radio." When they asked him why, he said, "Rayack speaks German and he isnít supposed to hear that." Rayack told him what is the difference you arenít supposed to listen to BBC either. So they left it on. After that he spoke to one of the guards that worked on the building and asked him to get him a key for that building. He said, "I canít." But when Rayack told him how many cigarettes he would give him he said, "Iíll try." And in few days he gave him a key and everyday when the guard changed at five thirty we would go and watch to see who got the area where the building was and we would tell the guard to come over to our room we are having some coffee because itís one of the guys wifeís birthday or something. As soon as he came in someone was waiting to pour him a boiling cup of coffee. As soon as he drank half of it someone would fill it again until Rayack came with the news. Then we would tell the guard you better go now so you donít get into trouble. And Rayack would tell us what was in the BBC broadcast.
I kept getting into trouble for talking to the civilians and for arguing with the guards or some of the civilians. And several times I got solitary confinement on bread and water. But it didnít bother me I told them I wasnít there as a guest of honor. Some of the other POWs told me cool it Blackie one of these days you are going to get hurt. I told them they wouldnít dare they know how bad it is in the Russian front. Then about a week before Thanksgiving eighteen days in solitary confinement on bread and water. Our click had bought a goose from one of the Germans and on Thanksgiving Day they bribed one of the guards to see that I got three big sandwiches of goose on some black bread. The building had a window to the top. The top had some wire. The guard that walked around the fence that was around the building which was only about five feet from the building when he was making his rounds. He called me Schwartz softly. When I answered he told me I have something for you and tossed them on top of the window. But one fell off to one side, I tore the wire off from the top and got the rest. When my time was up I went to work with the rest of the POWs.
Then one day right after that Rayack told me we have to get the radio down one of the Germans is going to get a tube for it. We told him to leave it alone we donít need it and itís too dangerous having it in the barracks. But he insisted so I went up into the attic and got it and he hid it under his bunk under the floor. Then the day before Christmas before noon one of the guards came to where we were working and said the Commandant said you can have the rest of the day off and they took us back to the camp. We hadnít been there very long when they came to all the barracks and said fall out for count. I didnít go out. They counted them and then told them to go into the dispensary. As soon as they were in the dispensary the guards all came into our barracks and started looking all over. Until I heard one of them say, "Here it is." I must have moved when I looked to see because one of them said, "What are you doing there?" I said, "Iím sick." He said, "Get down and go to the dispensary." I did and told Rayack. Then they called us all out and told us they had found a radio and they told us that, that was a very serious offence and kept asking us who bought it and from who. But we kept telling them we knew nothing about any radio. Then they told us to go to our barracks, then started calling us out one by one to the Commandantís office and asking us who bought the radio. The Commandant said, "We know someone or more than one bought the radio. If whoever bought it will come forward and say so only he will be punished. If not all of you will be punished." But they were only asking the ones that were in our barracks, the other POWs they didnít bother. After two days of this Rayhack said, "Iím going to tell them I bought it." I told him "No! Rayhack you are Jewish and they could go pretty rough on you." Let me tell them I did. And the rest of the POWs in our barracks told him he is right let Blackie tell them he did. But Rayhack said no I bought it and Iíll tell them I did and as much as we argued with him we couldnít change his mind. And he told them. amcmdo12The next day they sent him to Stallag 2B to await trial. And the following day they sent me to Stallag 3B. Somewhere between our commando American commando #1 and the train in which they were going to take me to Stallag 3B, we picked up three other POWs that were being sent to Stallag 3B. When we arrived at the train station there was a big commotion. There were trains leaving for a lot of places and there were people all over. In all the commotion I lost the guards and mingled around with all the people until all the trains were gone then started walking around. I didnít even know where I was but I was on my own until a German policeman caught me and I didnít know enough German. So a couple of German guards took me to Stallag 3B.
As soon as I got there I volunteered for commando and they sent me to Pommernia where I met Helena. There were eighty-two Russian-Polish and Ukrainian girls working in this farm. It was a very large farm with the main house on one end of the farm and the other five kilometers from the main part of the farm. The Russian girlís barracks was by the main house and ours was at the other end of the farm where there were some other buildings. A small house where one of the Germans and his wife lived. Another smaller house where the Military German guards lived. There was a long sheep barn and a large tank for water which was filled by a pump on a small electric motor and then there was the building where we stayed. It had one door that was locked from the outside as soon as it was dark. There was one or two fences about ten feet high with two rolls of concertina wire on the bottom and one on the top. And the gate was locked with a chain. Outside of our compound there was a small building with a large vat where we heated water for coffee.
The winter was not too cold. When I arrived, the Russian girls and the POWs were clearing old posts wire and large rocks from the fields and carrying them to the end of the field. I hadnít been there but about a week when one of the Germans picked up a stick and was about to hit one of the girls on the butt. I reached over and took the stick with my right hand and his wrist with my left hand and took the stick away from him and told him you donít hit the girls. For a few seconds he was dumbfounded. Then he said itís none of your business. She is a Russian and you are an American POW. I just told him donít hit the girls.
After a while or rather in a few days they put me to drive a two wheel cart with a team of horses that the Russians loaded with large rocks to where some other Russians were building a road or at least thatís what I thought at the time. The road the Russians were building was on the other side of the main ranch house between some trees. I did that for a few days and then they took me off of that and gave me the job of keeping the fire going at the boiler room and when they brought some rutabagas I would make some soup for all of us and kept the water hot for coffee. Sometime during the day they would bring me the rutabagas and bread for each of us. Sometimes they would throw in a few potatoes.
In the spring after they got the ground ready they put us to transplanting cabbage. The German women would bring us a box of plants and we went down the row and planted them. Before I left Commando #1 I asked a friend of Rayackís that worked in the dispensary what were symptoms for stomach ulcers and he told me. I kept repeating them until I knew them by heart and I complained every day about my stomach until one day the commandant told one of the guards to take me to the doctor in town. The guard told the doctor why I was there and the doctor asked me what was my problem. I said my stomach hurts very much. He asked me how does it hurt and I gave him the symptoms that I knew so well. He put his hand on my stomach and pressed and I would flinch as if it hurt. The doctor examined me and then wrote a note to the Commandant saying that I was a very sick man and couldnít do any hard work and they even gave me a special food parcel that didnít have corned beef, cheese and some of the other stuff the food parcels had, but it had some other things that were better and I used to trade with the other POWs for what I wanted.
When we were transplanting cabbage I kept telling the other POWs not to work so much and I managed to slow them down, even the Russian girls. Helena came by me one day and asked me, "Do you speak German?" I said, "Yes" and started to talk to her but she said you donít speak German and walked away. An old man came over and told me she doesnít understand you because you speak Platt Deutch and she speaks Ho Deutch. So the first chance I got I told her and said Iíll learn Ho Deutch. She said better learn Russian. After that her and a friend of hers, Tonia started to teach me Both Ho Deutch and Russian. They would tell me words and I would write them as they sounded using Spanish sounds. At night I would study them and the next day I would say them to them and they would laugh and ask me how I learned them and I would tell them.
Helena and I became very good friends and I saw her every time I got a chance. But I told them donít work so much donít do any more than we do. The Germans knew that I was the one that was slowing the work down. One day when we were planting cabbages, the boss left the farm to go to town and the straw boss and the guard came to where Helena, Tonia and two other girls and a couple of POWs were about 100 yards from the end of the field the guard told me if all of you finish all the rows to the end of the field we will quit for the day. The ones that were ahead of us were still five or six hundred yards from the end of the field. I told them OK lets finish them. They got to the end and started back on our rows. When we were finished we said to the guard lets go. But he and the straw boss said we canít go to the barracks yet but you can sit down here. So we sat down and talked with the girls. The boss came back and saw us all sitting down and asked the guard why we werenít working and I told him about the deal we had made with his straw boss and the guard. He said, "No deal, go back to work. I said, "no a deal is a deal." He said, "Iím the boss, no deal." But I told him about the deal we had made with his straw boss and the guard. He said , "no deal go back to work." I said, "no a deal is a deal. He said, "Iím the boss no deal." But I told everybody sit still. The boss got so mad he said shoot the Schwartza. He took the rifle off of his shoulder and put the butt on the ground and said Blackie tell them to go to work. I said no. The boss told him to take them to the barracks and I am going to report this to your commander. The guards took us to our barracks.
After a while the officer in charge of the guards came to our barracks and asked where is the interpreter? I said I speak German. He said not you the interpreter. I said he went to the main farm to bring some drinking water in a barrel. The officer then asked what do you mean he went to bring drinking water? I told him the motor that pumps water into the tank burned out and the boss hasnít fixed it. He asked me does he know you havenít any water here? I said yes, we have asked him to fix the motor but he hasnít fixed it. The officer asked me how long have you been without water here? I told him about three weeks. He asked me, "What do you do for water?" I told him when we come back from work each day we each bring our own water in our canteens. He asked me, "What do you do for lights?" I said nothing we stay in the dark. The officer then said I am going to talk to that man. Just then we saw the wagon coming with the water and we all went and got our cups as if we were thirsty. When the guard and the POWs arrived with the wagon the officer jumped all over the guard and told him you are the one in charge of the POWs not the boss. The guard said I havenít been here very long. And the officer told him and you arenít going to be here very long unless you learn what your duties are. You are here to protect these people and not take orders from the boss. And he told us Iím going to have a talk with that man. And from what we heard later he gave the boss hell and told him if I got anymore complaints from the POWs I am going to take them and the girls away from you. And the boss didnít bother us anymore.
The spring went by and we worked through the summer. The girls taught me Russian and I would teach English. An Italian kid from NY (a POW) wanted to talk to Tonia so he became a very good friend of mine and we would see Helena and Tonia every time we got a chance. In the evening when everybody was getting ready to leave for the other end of the farm, this kid and I would go to the Russian girls barracks which were just beyond the barns where everybody would line up to go to our barracks. When they were ready to leave they would make lots of notes and we would go and get in line. Everything went pretty smooth until one day I saw Helena crying and asked her why? She wouldnít tell me so I asked Tonia and she told me because in about two weeks it will be her birthday and at home we always have dances, coffee and wine and we have a good time. So I told Helena I wonít promise you wine and dance but you will have coffee and cake. A week later I went to the boss after we were ready to go our barracks. I wanted two kilos of white flour and four eggs. He said nobody gets white flour or eggs. Above all I said if I donít get them itís going to make me very unhappy and when I am unhappy I donít work and if I donít work neither will a lot of others. Then he asked me why do you want them? Itís going to be one of the POWs wifeís birthday and we want to help him celebrate with coffee and cake. He asked me is that for all of you? I said yes. He said, I will give you one kilo of flour and two eggs. In a couple of days his wife who was a real bitch told him donít give him nothing. But in two days I got them. I asked the German that lived close to where our barracks was if his wife would bake a cake for me and told him I had white flour and eggs. The next day he told me she would. So I gave him the flour, eggs and some chocolate bars and told her to put enough chocolate in the cake and I would give her some bars for herself. So he told me she had put in two more eggs in because I didnít have enough eggs. That week they took us to work cutting some wood for firewood and then the guards started asking me if I was going to the Russian girls barracks.
Next week, I said jokingly yes I want to get some wine and go over and they said no joke we have heard that you are going to go to the Russian girls barracks. I said no, I am not. We worked three days cutting wood where I got into a fight with a POW who told me not to be so smart tempting the Germans the way I did. I told him if he loved the Germans to move into their barracks with them. He called me a name and I belted him one on the face and we got into a fight. That evening the guards again asked me are you going to the Russian girls barracks? And I told them you know I canít go.
About two days later the guards came over with two Polish POWs to cut our hair. By that time I had the cakes in our barracks. Our barracks was a long building, the front room where the door was and a room to the right and one to the left with doors in the middle of the rooms leading to the front room. We put the Polish POWs in the right side room to cut hair because two of the POWs were decorating the cake with powdered lemon and sugar and chocolate. They asked me, "You arenít going to try taking it to her tonight are you?" I said, "Yes." They all told me to give it to her tomorrow. I said no Iím going to give it to her now. I walked into the room and put my shoes at the foot of the bunk and hung a jacket on the bunk then walked into the room where the two guys were working in case they were finished, but they said donít go tonight, put the cake in an empty Red Cross box and I went out the door.
I walked that five kilometers in record time. When I walked into the Russian girls barracks they were surprised, maybe all except Helena. She said Blackie you could have given it to me in the morning and you better go now before they find out. If they come looking for you theyíll shoot you.
I ran all the way back. When I got there I went around the corner of the sheep barn but there was some ice on the ground and it cracked as I stepped on it. I saw the two guards and some of the POWs standing at the gate. One of them yelled Schwartza but I didnít answer until I got to where the water hydrant was at the middle of the building. He yelled again and I said, "What, Iím getting a drink and walked to the gate. They said you went to the Russian girls barracks. I said, "No, I was getting a drink." The guards were very mad and one of the GIs said you are in a lot of trouble. They missed you about forty minutes ago. They looked all over for you. We told them you were hiding somewhere but they wouldn't believe it when they couldnít find you. The one in charge told the other guard to get his rifle and go up the road and if he saw you not to warn you just shoot you. Thatís what they were arguing about at the gate. The one guard was very mad and said, "Iím going to write the Commander a report about what you did." I said, "I did nothing but went to the barn to get a drink." He said, "Look at you as cold as it is you are sweating." I went by them and went to my room. The next day they opened the gate for the men to get some hot water for coffee. I said, "Iím going to the guards room and they told me to leave that man alone he is mad enough to kill you. I told them I can handle it. When I walked into their room the one in charge asked me, "what do you want?" I said, to talk to you." He said," I donít want to listen." I said, "Itís best you do." He said, "I have the report I wrote to the Commander here" and waved a piece of paper. I said, "Put that in the fire and listen, nobody but you and the Russian girls know about this and the girls wonít tell." What are you going to tell the officer you were doing while I was gone? Drinking coffee, smoking American cigarettes and what do you think he will do? The Germans were afraid of the Russian front and they werenít taking any chances. He asked me if anybody had seen me. I said, "No, only the girls." He said donít ever do that again. I said, "Give that to me." He gave me the paper and I put it in the fire. I said, "Thanks" and went out and got some coffee. Everybody asked me what happened. I said, "I had a talk with him and he told me to tell all of you never to mention this to anyone."
By this time it was in the fall of l944 and we were working in the field hauling the grain close to where our barracks were and getting to thrash. Things didnít go so good for me, the guys said that I shouldnít be so smart and the POW'S said that it wasnít doing any of us any good. So I started saving some of the food from my food parcel but didnít tell anybody.
One day, I believe it was in October, the guard opened the gate for the man to go to the boiler room to heat the water for our coffee and went back to his room and didnít lock the gate. As soon as he was in his room I went where I had hidden the things I had been saving. The man in the boiler room asked me what are you doing here? I told him donít worry about it and keep your mouth shut. He said, "Donít worry about it, I wonít tell anyone." I got my stuff and walked into the woods and walked as fast as I could. I didnít want the guards to catch me. I had walked about an hour through the woods when I came up on a bunch of wild hogs and scared them. I donít know who got more scared, me or the hogs. They scattered all over and I kept walking. I came in sight of a large canal and followed just inside of the woods. I knew that there was a French commando somewhere around there. The French POWs worked without guards. I walked until I came parallel to where they were working. I waited until I was sure there were no Germans around and when one of them got close I called him. He came and asked me what I was doing there. I asked him where is the bridge on the canal? He said I canít tell you and get away from here before a German sees you and gets us in trouble.
I kept walking until I spotted the bridge. I waited just for a few minutes then walked over to the bridge. I had almost reached the bridge when I saw three German soldiers coming towards the bridge. I couldnít go back or stop so I walked right to the bridge. I met them about half way onto the bridge. I saluted and said Bonswa. They returned my greetings and kept on walking. About a half of a mile there were some tall woods. Thatís where I was headed. Half way to the woods I saw a German walking towards the canal. I was sure he had seen me so I couldnít do anything but keep walking. When we met I did the same as I had done with the soldiers. I saluted and said Bonswa. He returned my greetings and kept walking. When we met I recognized him, he had worked at commando #1 and was caught doing black market with the Chechs and was taken out of our commando. I had walked about sixty yards, looked back over my shoulder and saw him facing me and motioned for me to come to where he was. I started to ignore him then I saw him reaching for his hip pocket. I knew they all carried a pistol. I knew he couldnít hit me but he could attract attention and that I didnít want so we both started walking until we met. He asked me, "Who are you" and I said, "I am a legionnaire. He asked me, "Do you speak French?" I said, "no, Spanish." We went to a house in the village, there was a lady in the back yard. We both greeted her and he asked her, "Is your husband home?" She said, "Yes upstairs." He told her to call him. When he came we both saluted him and said Bonswa. The civilian told him this man says he is a legionnaire but he doesnít speak French. The officer told him that is possible a lot of them donít speak French if they are from Algeria. You go about your business I will take care of him. He spoke very good Spanish. He asked me some questions, then said where is your commando. I pointed in the direction of the canal. He said lets go if you are from there everything is OK.
About half of the way to the canal he stopped and asked me, "What is the number of your commando?" I said, "Eighteen." He said, "No your commando." I said, "Sixteen." He said is your name Lucero? I said, "Yes." He said, "You left yesterday at eight oíclock." I said, "No, I left at six oíclock." He said, "How could you have left at six at that time you were locked up in your barracks. I told him when the guard came to open the door for the man to go to the boiler room to heat water for coffee he didnít lock the door or the gate and I went out as soon as he went to his room. He said, "Thatís OK you will sleep in jail tonight and tomorrow they will take you to the Stalag." Trying to escape is an automatic twenty one days in solitary confinement on bread and water. They put me in a small rock building with one barred window, an iron door, the window was barred from the outside. There was a straw mattress, no blankets.
The next morning two military guards came and took me to a train and took me to Stalag 3B and solitary confinement. The next day a doctor and two American NCOs came to see me. They asked me if I was OK. I said, "Yes." They asked me how I had been treated. I said they treated me as good as I could expect. They didnít beat me or threaten me. They asked me, "Do you need anything?" I said, "No just to get out of here." Later the guard that came to stand guard brought me a sandwich and some cigarettes. He said donít get caught or we will have trouble. When the twenty one days was up they came and got me out. I said, "I want to go on a commando."
They took me to a disciplinary commando (but they didnít call it that), it was close to the Polish border. In this commando we cut trees in the forest. The German civilians would mark the trees we were to cut. Sometimes we would mark a tree and cut it down. When the Germans found it they would scream and raise hell. We would tell them it was marked. My Daueir seemed to get to where I was being sent before I got there. At this commando, the POWs told me that at five we had to take our shoes and pants off and one of the POWs and the guard would take them to a small room outside of our compound and lock them up. I said Iím not giving up my clothes and for five days I got away with it until one of the guards came to our room and saw me with my pants and shoes on and asked me why I didnít give my shoes and pants to the man to take them to be locked up. I told him that it is against the rules of the Geneva convention. He told me we make up the rules here. Take them off. I said, Iím not ready to go to bed." He said, "Take them off and again I said, "No." He asked me you are not going to take them off? I said, "No." He went to his room and came back with a German Lugur (a P thirty eight) in his right hand and a clip of ammo in his left hand and said take them of. The POWs told me the same. I said, "No." He put the clip of ammo in the gun and pulled the slide back and said now take them off. I did and told him I wanted to see the Red Cross man. He said, "You will when he comes around."
Days went as usual. They controlled our food parcels. We would tell them what we wanted and they gave it to us. I always asked for more than I was going to eat and hid the rest. The day after I got to that commando they brought back a man that had tried to escape. As soon as I could I asked him if there was anything he could tell me as I had planned to escape. He said, "Yes, if you get the chance go from here to NE all the way." Travel only at night and donít trust anyone. The Polish or the French will turn you in if they saw you and if they didnít turn you in they would catch hell maybe even shot.
Sometime in October two other POWs told me we heard that you are planning to escape. Could we go with you? I said sure maybe we will have luck in numbers. So they started saving food and hiding it, but we didnít talk about our plans. There was an Italian kid from NY so he said. But we didnít trust him, he was too friendly with the Germans. Once in a while they would leave him at the farm where we stayed to sharpen the saws and they didnít leave a guard with him. One morning we lined up before going to work and the guards told us we found some food stuff hidden. We told them yes, we hid it sometimes so we can eat whenever we feel like it. You have to give it back to us. They said OK this time but donít do it again. It was lucky they found just a small amount of the food we had hidden but we thought we better leave as soon as possible and in a couple of days we took with us all the rest of the food we had to work with us. Some of the other POWs helped us.
That day after we had lunch and went back to work, two of the POWs started an argument about the lumber feet there was in the tree they felled. The German civilian heard them and he got into the argument. Soon the guards and most of the POWs were all in the argument. While this was going on we picked up all our food from where we had it and cut out through the woods. About four thirty the civilians said we havenít done much today and itís time to go. When they lined them up for count the guards said, "Where is the Schwartza?" And when they counted them, the guard said three men short. One of the guards told the other get on your bike and go and report that we are three men short. In the meantime we were going through those woods as fast as we could. We came to where there was an open place in the woods about a hundred yards wide. It seemed like they may have had a potato field there. There was a ditch between the woods and the open field. It had about an inch or two of water in it and it had started to rain. We were about to cross into the field then we saw some vehicles on a road to our right about a couple of hundred yards away. They would stop and use a light about three feet above the ground. They would move the light back and forward a few times then move on a short distance and do the same. As soon as we saw the light we jumped into the ditch. The Germans did this until they reached the other side of the open field. As soon as they were past us we got up and hit the field running and it was hard running in that field, it was wet. We got across to the woods and walked just as fast as we could. We stayed in the woods until later in the night then we followed the road. It was in the same direction we were going to NE.
We walked all night and it rained all night. At daylight we hid in a haystack. We dug a hole in the hay and crawled in and pulled the hay behind us. We slept until dark. All day we could hear people all around the field. As soon as it was dark we came out. There were no people around so we started walking again and it was stll raining but we walked all night until the next morning. We found another haystack and did the same as before until it was dark. We hadnít walked very far when we heard the river and walked towards it. Just ahead of us we saw the bridge. One of the POWs said now what I said (they say donít cross your bridges until you get to them) and now is the time to cross. We all thought that there would be a guard on the bridge. We decided if we saw a man on the bridge we would walk up to him and salute and one grabbed his rifle and the other two tossed him in the river. But no guard. Just across the river to our right there was a large building like a hotel but it was dark. We all thought the guard was probably standing close to the building and out of the rain. We didnít see anybody and kept walking less than a quarter of a mile. We came to another bridge. I knew we had to cross one river but I didnít know anything about the second river. The man I got my information from told me when you get to the river find the bridge. Thatís the only way you can get across. Once you get across you are in Poland. There was no guard on the second bridge so we walked on until daylight.
We couldnít find a haystack but we found a farm with a large barn. There was nobody around so we went to the barn and went up on the hayloft. There were chickens, goats and cows there. We put the hay over the trap door and tried to sleep. I started coughing. I would put the sleeve of my overcoat over my mouth which was soaking wet but it didnít do much good. I could hear the women down below feeding stock and gathering the eggs. They heard me coughing and called the German that was around. An old man poked his head through the trap door and was saying Volchivix. I said no American POWs. I said in German Kriggs gefangenas. I finally got him to calm down and told the other two to get up slowly. We went down the trap door and in a minute two officers came in two cars that looked like 1926 Dodge touring. They asked us if we had any weapons. I said, "No." They asked us where we had come from I told them we were in a commando and left because we didnít want to work. But they wouldnít believe me. They asked me if we had bailed out from one of the planes that had been bombing. I said, "No we are POWs." They asked where were you going? I said, "Any place." They asked me, "Did you know you are in Poland?" I said, "No", which was not true because I knew that once we crossed the river we would be in Poland. They started to ask the other two men something and the two just looked at them. I said, "They donít speak German." The officers asked me, "Do they speak Polish or Russian?" I said, "No, English is all they speak." Before we started we agreed that if we were caught they would not speak German because they spoke very little and we didnít want to get our stories crossed in case they wanted to talk to them. They asked me, "do you speak Russian?" I said, "no, Polish or French." That wasnít true, because I spoke German, Russian and French. They said take everything out of your pockets and put everything on top of those barrels. There was some sixty gallon barrels there.
When they saw all the cigarettes and chocolate bars we had their eyes got as big as plums. We had all kinds of food stuff. They asked us, "Where did you get all that?" I told them from American Red Cross food parcels. They asked, "How do you get all that?" I said, " At our work commando wherever we work." The Germans and some of our men go to the rail head where the Red Cross ships them to and they are brought to commando and put up in a room and locked up. Then every week we get one parcel per man. They asked, "Do you get cigarettes in every parcel?" I said, "Yes we get five packs in each parcel." How many chocolate bars do you get? I said, "Three but we only got one." I wouldnít tell the Germans the truth.
They took us back to Pozen about seventy five kilometers back. We got caught between Pozen and Warsaw. In Pozen they put us in the Pozen City jail. We were there for four days then the SS came and took us to the SS police station and started interrogating us. They brought a good looking blonde who spoke English. You would have thought she had been born and lived all her life in England. She had an accent that made us laugh. The more she spoke the more we laughed until she broke into tears and said, " I canít talk to those men they laugh at my English thatís the way I learned it." So they sent her away and a big fat woman came over and said, "I want to be your friend." We said, "Then tell these people to let us go, we didnít do anything." She laughed and said, "I canít do that but I will help you all I can." The officer that was in charge told her to ask us where we came from. We told her from a commando where we had been working. She told him, he wrote something down and told her to ask us where we were from. And I told her from Stallag 3C which was about three hundred kilometers further back from where we had started. She told him then he told her to ask us if we had ridden on any trains or trucks or horses. I said, "No." Then he told her to ask us if we were going to Russia. Again I said, "No." She asked us, "Where were we going?" I said, "Anywhere we just didnít want to work." When she told him the officer told her to tell us that POWs are supposed to work and I told her yes and they are supposed to be fed and the Germans were not feeding us. She told him what I had said and he said tell them they are getting food parcels. I said, yes those are from the American Red Cross." He told her to tell them we belong to the Red Cross too, itís not just American.
They would ask us questions for an hour or more then send us back to our cell and a few minutes later they would bring us back and ask us almost the same questions and they got the same answers. The next day was the same with one exception. A good looking gal that was tall, well built with everything in the right place, she sat on a desk just in front of me. She pulled the second from top drawer and propped her heels on it and leaned over and asked me in French, "Do you speak French?" I said, "No." She said, "I want to be your friend." I said, "No I donít speak French." She wasnít a bit bashful or modest, she knew I was looking at her. Then the questioning started. But when the interpreter wasnít asking me questions she would talk to me in French or in German and I would tell her I donít speak French. She would say you speak German. I said, "Just a very little." This went on for two days. She told me once I can talk to you alone if you want. I said, "No" and kept telling the interpreter what she asked.
In the meantime across the room there were three Indians from India. I told the other two POWs donít say anything you donít want to tell the Germans. They asked why? I said, "Those three over there are Indians from India and Iíll bet they speak English. One of the POWs said the short one looks like Tojo and made a very nasty remark about him. We watched to see if he showed any signs that he had understanding but their faces were like a stone wall. The questioning went on for a while and then the officer gave the interpreter the paper he had been writing on and told her that is a report I have written about what they told me. Read it to them and tell them to sign it. After she told us what it said and asked us to sign it I said we canít sign it. She asked why? I said, "Because we canít read it." She said, "I just read it to you." I said, " I know but if we canít read we canít sign it." She said, "You donít think I would lie do you?" I said, "No." She told the officer what I had said and he said I wrote down what they said. If it is the truth they can sign it and if they donít sign it, it donít make any difference. I told the other two they canít hang us any higher if we sign it so we signed it.
Then the three Indians came over and asked me what interest do you have in Germany? I again said, "None." Then he asked me, "What are you doing here?" I said, "The Germans brought me here." He asked, "From where?" I said, "Africa." He asked me, "What were you doing there?" I said, "Getting the Germans out." He started to ask me something else and I stopped him, I said you speak English better than I do why didnít you help the officer? He looked at me and said because you speak German. I said, "Ya Vol mine herr is spreken sar good deutch, Platt Deutch und llo Deutch aug." The officer raised off of his chair and said, "What did you say?" I told him he asked why didnít you say so from the beginning? I told him you had people that speak English but only used them to listen to us. Then he said, "If you I had found out that you had come from one of those planes that have been bombing us I would have shot you myself." He took a wallet from his pocket and showed us a picture of three women and three kids. He said, "That is my wife and two of my sisters and my children." They were killed when the Americans bombed our house. I said, "War is war." He said, "Not when they bomb peoples houses." I said, "The bombs donít have eyes they fall anywhere." I started to tell him about the bombs that were falling all over London but changed my mind. I said, "You are a soldier like me, we shoot at men we donít even know, but that is war. Then he asked me where I learned German. I said, "Here in Germany, I was a prisoner of war you know." Then the good looking girl said, "I wanted to talk to you." I said, "Sey La Vi. And turned to the officer. They took us to our cell and that night they took us to a train.
There were three of us and three guards. They took us to our commando. When I got there I found things had changed, the POWs were all over the place without any guards. They were even going to the barn with the girls. The guards had changed. I asked the POWs what was going on and they said we donít know itís been like this for a week. I said, "They are losing all over and they know it. The next day the German guards said we are going to the rail head to get some food parcels although we still had plenty of them in the room where they were locked. This time they didnít take just two men to load the parcels they took anyone who wanted to go. We got more parcels that we had taken before. When we got back to the farm we put all the parcels in the room and locked them up. The next day the Germans said, "We are going to give you all the parcels." Everybody take all you can carry but donít take anything else. We are going on a march and we are not coming back. We asked, "Where are we going?" They said, "We donít know."
It was a week before Christmas 1944. We marched all the rest of that day and into the night. When we finally stopped at a small farm they put us in a barn with lots of straw. We thought they were going to set the place on fire. We didnít sleep much, lots of the POWs were awake half of the time watching but nothing happened. Everybody said the same thing, thought they were going to set the barn on fire. They got us up and gave us some coffee and we hit the road again. Sometime that day we caught up with a column of political prisoners. They were so skinny you could almost see their leg bones through their skin. I saw one that, he would walk a few steps and sit down. Once he sat down and didnít get up, he died and the column just kept on going as if nothing had happened. Later that evening we came up to a farm. The house was right next to the road. The Germans stopped the column and most of them went into the house and some girls came over to where the POWs were sitting and sat down and started talking to the POWs. We were there for about half of an hour. Before we left there were several girls sitting and talking to the POWs. We walked until close to midnight before we came to another farm with a barn and some straw in it. By this time we didnít think they would set the barn on fire.
Next day the same thing. We got some coffee and on our way we went to where we didnít know and for that matter did the people that were taking us. This went on day after day. One day we came to a place where there were some Yugoslavs in a camp with a group of buildings and a chain link fence about eight feet high with one gate. Not too far there were some hangers and a runway. In front of the hangers there was an 88 ack ack en-placement to the left of the hangers and across another runway there was a track and a railroad engine that looked as if it had been hit by some shells or a small bomb. When Yugos were told they were leaving they told us they hadnít seen any American planes for months. The first morning at four in the morning the air raid sounded. The Germans told us to stay in the buildings. They were made of 2x4 and one inch siding. When the bombing started we were all at the windows and yelling let them have it. The Americans bombed and strafed that place for about a half of an hour then went away. But before they left we saw a P51 come straight to the 88 emplacement and knocked it out. He came down so close that we could almost see the pilot. The planes hadnít been gone more than half of an hour when the Germans came and told us to fall out. They said your friends bombed those craters on the runway and you are going to fill them up. We told them we would not or you get no coffee. We went back into the barracks. In a few minutes they came on a wagon with some coffee and bread. Then the guards told us to fall out. They had fixed bayonet and said we were going to the runway and told us to march. We went to the runway. It had more holes that a golf course. They had some long wooden boxes there and they started giving us some shovels. A German would give a POW a shovel and he would give it to someone else and he would hand it to another POW and pretty soon someone would hand it to another German.
This was still going on when a German came on a bicycle and said something to the one handing out shovels. He said drop everything and run to the camp. I think the Germans were in the lead. We went into the building just as the air raid sounded and we saw a whole bunch of planes coming but they didnít drop any bombs but we stayed in the barracks. And then all hell broke loose. We saw planes and planes coming and they started dropping what we thought were some big bombs all over the runway and hangers. The Germans told us to get out of the buildings. I donít know from where two POWs got some wire cutters. They ran to the fence and from the top they cut the fence down. They were about twelve feet apart and that fence came down like a piece of cake and out we went. Again the Germans were in front. We scattered all over the field. When the raid was over they brought us back and told us if we have to go out again we will tell you when and we will go out through the gate.
When the air raid sounded again they said take everything with you and we left right through the place where the POWs had cut the fence. We hadnít gone very far when we saw waves and waves of S17s. I counted eighteen in a group and there were a lot of groups, they looked like geese and didnít come back. Two POWs said they had hidden in a potato cellar and when the raid was over a German got them out and brought them to the column. They said that when the bombing was over there wasnít anything standing, barracks, hangers and all were bombed to the ground. The building where we were in was so close to the runway that during the first bombing the dirt and spent shrapnel fell on top of the buildings. That was the first bombing run and I donít think the planes were B17s because they came in bombing and strafing. The rest were B17s.
We walked all that day and into the night again. We kept telling the Germans to go to a rail head and get us some Red Cross food parcels and they would say, "We canít get you any food parcels because your friends are bombing the railroads." Everytime we went close to a large town we would see them bombed out. About two days after we left the camp where they ran the Yugoslavs out, we came near a large city, I think it was Hamburg. They halted the column and told us they were going to try to get us some food parcels and said we would rest there. We stopped right close to a large red barn. I was on the tail end of the column and right next to the barn. Having spent most of my life on a farm I could smell milk cows and went looking for a way to get into that barn and found a small door and went in. There were some girls milking cows. I said, "Donít be afraid I am an American POW we have been walking for weeks without any food and I am hungry." The girl closest to me said, "Give me your bottle and pointed to my canteen." She filled it and gave it back to me and said drink it and give it back. I drank half and handed it back to her and said I have a friend. She said, "Send him here." I went back to the column where everyone was sitting and said to a kid that had become a very good friend, "Go into that barn, some girls are going to give you some milk." He laughed and said, "Ya I know and a steak sandwich." I said, "Go look" and I showed him the milk in my canteen. He got up and asked me where is the entrance? I told him. After he left I told some other POWs and they all went. I donít think those girls took very much milk to the house that morning but I think they were glad to give it to us. The only thing I regretted was that I didnít get a chance to go back into the barn and say thank you again because the guard came back to where we were and we didnít want for him to find out that the girls in the barn had given us some milk.
Shortly after that the Germans and the POWs that had gone to the rail head came back and they had some food parcels. They gave us one parcel for two men. The guards said we would get more later. We didnít complain. It wasnít much, but it was better than we had for weeks. After we ate we started walking again. It was still winter but I donít remember what month it was. The Germans kept their word. About five days they halted the column and said they were going to try and get us some more parcels. And like before they took two or three POWs and went to the rail head. We were near some town but we couldnít see what size of a town it was and didnít care just as long as they had food parcels for us. And when they came back they had food parcels. They gave us one parcel per man. To us they were like heaven sent we had been walking for a long time.
We had lost count of the days and nights because some time we walked all day and most of the night until we came to a farm with a barn, it was cold and we couldnít sleep in the open. Sometime later we caught up with a column of American POWs that said they had just started walking. Late one evening the Germans told us that anyone that stayed behind would be shot because the SS were behind us and anyone they found they would shoot. And walk we did until the early hours of the morning before we came to a farm with a barn where we could stay. The Germans told us they were just as tired as we were but that same day we continued walking. This went on for weeks because we were getting into Spring. We walked for a week or ten days then one night at about midnight the officers in charge called all the guards to the front of the column and gave them a choice; they could stay with us and protect us from the civilians and not let us bother the civilians or they could go with them because they were not going to try to get us any further.
The day before that this friend of mine a kid from Berkeley, California told me I am going to go off of the column and stay back, I donít care what happens, I canít go any further. I had been carrying him for three days. With his arms over my left shoulder I held on to this wrist and with my left hand I held on to the belt on his pants. He kept saying, let me go I donít want to walk any more. But I would tell him if you stay behind the SS will shoot you. And he would say if they find me. For two days we had been hearing gun fire from tanks and artillery. The bombing we heard lots of nights, almost nightly. Then the guards told us about what the officers had said and told us we werenít going to walk any more. They said we are going to go back to the small town we had passed. We walked to this small village and went to a barn. Two of the men that had been acting as our Red Cross men asked us if we wanted to donate coffee and cigarettes or whatever we had to buy a calf from the farmer to make some soup. We said about all we had was cigarettes, some coffee, soup and sugar. We had long eaten everything else. The deal was made. The farmer said he would throw in one potato. They killed the calf and put it to boil in a large black vat the farmer had. The soup was cooking and we were all over the place. Then we saw a piper cub flying very low over the barn and yard where we were. We all said that is an American plane. He made another pass very low and asked us who are you? We all yelled Americans. He asked how many and we told him. He came back and said hang on I have told the tanks and they are coming in to get you and asked are there any armed Germans there. We said no. Then he came back and asked what about those I see in uniforms? We told him their weapons are locked up in a room. He circled and landed on a rye field that was close to the barn. We were talking to him when a German civilian came running and said there are two SS men coming on a motorcycle. Tell him to go. The pilot didnít know what was going on because we were talking in German to the civilian. We told him to go and we started running to the barn. He started to follow us and we told him no get on the plane and go.
He was just barely airborne when the SS arrived. They were very mad and said what is going on? You are no longer POWs you have made contact with your troops and said get on that road and march. We told them no. The officers that were in charge told us to stay here until we were liberated. They said we are giving the orders, get started marching or we will shoot you beginning with him and one pointed his weapon at the sergeantís stomach. The sergeant said we can take these guys, some of us may get hurt, but we can take them. We told him no, itís too close now we can start walking and started towards the road in no big hurry. I waited until almost all of the POWs were on the road then I started walking. The two SS got on their motorcycles and went to the front of the column and kept yelling for us to move faster. Then a young woman dressed in black came to the column and said where is the interpreter? I said I speak German. She said the tall Sergeant, call him, itís important. We passed the word to the front and he came back. The woman took a pistol from inside of her dress and said kill those two SS or they may start the shooting and we donít want any more shooting. Other Sergeants that acted as our Red Cross man came back to see what was going on. When he was told about the gun he said a girl just gave me a pistol and told me the same thing.
The two Sergeants went to the front. They were going to shoot the SS but when they got to the front of the column the two SS had left the column. The Red Cross men said about face and go. We went back to the small town but by that time we could see the tanks busting through the woods at the outskirts of the town. The first one we met was two jeeps, a tank and two halftracks. When they met us they stopped and got out. In the lead jeep there was a captain. He asked us where are those SSs? We told him they went down the road. They told the men on the first jeep go get them and donít bring them back. They broke out several boxes of C rations and began to pass them out. In the first tank there was a captain. I said if you are short handed in that I am a tanker. Iíll gladly ÖÖ.to on that tank. He said the only place you are going is to the land of big I x.
We were liberated at about one oíclock Friday the 13th the day after Roosevelt died. We didnít know that. That little village had white sheets hanging from their windows. When all the dust settled the Americans that liberated us assembled us for a briefing they told us that the houses on the front street were being vacated by the people and we would sleep in them that night. When the American officers told us later that day that all the German people had moved out for that night and were not to come back I went to the house. There was a woman in front of a house and we told her what we had been told and she said this is my house and I have to take something. We told her you arenít even going in until we leave. She asked us how long did they have to stay out of their house and we told her we donít know, but you will be told. As it turned out this was the Berger Masterís house. Down in the cellar we found bacon and crates of eggs, something the German people hadnít had for months. We found butter and plenty of bread. That evening we had some eggs fried in butter, but we didnít over do it because we didnít want to get sick. We slept warm and next morning we had some breakfast and the woman that we had spoken to came over and was trying to tell an American officer that there were Russians. Taking her best horses and team and were loading all of her things and were going to take them to Russia. He couldnít understand so we told him that the Russians were stealing her things. He said if you want to be of any help go help the Russian load the wagon. I didnít think that was right but said nothing. I did say later to some of the other POWs we didnít come here to fight woman and children. We came to defeat the Nazis. The German people as a whole were not bad, they did help us but that was something the people that liberated us couldnít understand why we gave the German woman soap and coffee that we couldnít use. Most of us didnít have any animosity towards the German people. We knew what they were going through.
That same day we went by truck to an air field and they flew us to Camp Lucky Strike. There were hundreds of POWs there. They gave us uniforms, shoes and everything we needed and gave us shots. They had all of our names in a list and told us they were going to fly us to Bramerhaven. There we would board a ship to return to the USA. And they also told us we could go to Paris. They had trucks going there every day but they also told us if our name was called to fly to Bremerhavan and if we werenít there our name would go to the bottom of the list. I didnít want to go to Paris. I had lost nothing in Paris and I wasnít too keen on the French. Finally they called my name and I boarded a plane and we were flown to Bremerhavan and boarded a ship and waited until it was full.
Then we sailed to the good old USA. I donít remember how long we sailed but four days out of NY we got the news that the war was over in Germany. We asked why canít we go straight to NY? But we were told the ÖÖ didnít know the war was over and to some it wouldnít make any difference. The one thing I will never forget is that the day we sailed from NY there were thousands of people at the port waving good bye or giving us bottles of booze and wishing us good luck. And the day we arrived at the same port, the only people that were there were George C. Martial, two other officers and a six piece Salvation Army Band and I was sorry for those American soldiers that didnít get to come back.
Written in 1999Jeanette Adams
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