Chapter 9

First March

There were about lO,OOO British and American POW's who gradually left 

the compound. We formed a line down the road to the southwest through 

the pine forest, in the cold, as the snow fell gently. We looked back, 

Bruce and I, at our home for the past eight months. There was a red 

glow in the sky above our compound as someone, in a last act of 

defiance, had set fire to his barracks before leaving. This march was 

to last for six days and we were to walk sixty two miles. There was 

about four inches of snow on the ground. and during the first mile we 

began to realize that we were too weak to carry everything. I took the 

heaviest cans of food out of my coat and threw them in the snow. I kept 

the powdered milk as it was the lightest and most nourishing food. Soon 

the road was littered with food and extra clothing. We knew that we 

would need the food later, but it was a choice between that or falling 

behind and possibly losing our friends.


About a mile down the road we could hear the Russian guns getting much 

louder (they were thirty miles away). Suddenly there were some rifle 

shots and we all scattered off the road, diving head first into the 

snowy brush. It turned out to be a false alarm so we stopped praying 

and got back onto the road. At daylight the wind began to blow and for 

the next two days we marched in a blizzard. We stopped at intervals for 

ten minute rest periods, dropped into the snow and just dreaded getting 

up again. We marched this way until noon the following day when we 

reached Freiwaldu, a distance of eighteen miles in eleven hours. We 

stopped at a farm house and the barn was full so Bruce and I laid down 

in the snow against the back of the barn out of the wind. During the 

afternoon we took turns going to the farmhouse to get warm. Bruce and I 

got into the kitchen and the farmer and his wife were there just 

looking bewildered. The German soldiers were noted for taking 

everything from the people in the countryside in the places they 

occupied and the Americans were just the opposite. After our time was 

up and we were warm, Bruce and I took some cans of food out of our 

packs and gave them to the woman. It was our way of saying thanks to 

them for allowing us to get warm and we received a smile from her as 

thanks. Then we returned to the blizzard.


Later on during the march we did pick up some things around the farms 

and it must have been hard for the farm people. Having thousands of 

Americans crowding into every space must have been traumatic for them. 

The British prisoners were soon mixed in with us, as all became 

scattered in line. They were the most amazing people I have ever known. 

They were always happy and singing, innovative in finding ways to carry 

their packs. After a few stops at farms they would come down the road 

with baby buggies, carts and makeshift hand carts created from old 

wheels they found. I recall one group with packs piled high in a buggy. 

They also found sleds which worked until the snow melted.


Under the miserable conditions no one gave thought to trying to escape. 

The American Colonel who was in charge of us recommended that we stick 

together for reasons of safety. We had few guards with us and they were 

mostly old men. The old man with our group rode a bicycle and carried a 

rifle. It wasn't long before he was walking too and when we had rest 

stops we immediately fell to working on the blisters we had developed 

on our feet. We even patched up the guard's feet and it wasn't long 

before we took turns carrying his rifle and pack. This was the only way 

that he could keep up and we felt sorry for him. We began again at 6 PM 

and marched all night in the blizzard. The next day we arrived at a 

little village named Muskau. Thus far all we had to eat was cold food 

that we were carrying and some bread the Germans had given us. We were 

so cold and hungry as we looked for a place to get inside.


Bruce and I found a place inside a small stone church in the center of 

town. We were crowded in so tightly that the only spot Bruce and I 

could find to sleep was next to the altar. On each side of the altar 

was a section filled with dirt, with many small white crosses stuck in 

the dirt. We removed enough crosses to make a place to lie down and 

when we left we smoothed the ground and replaced the crosses. This was 

Monday and the first sleep we had since the Friday before. We were very 

weak and desperately needed it. It was also a relief to get inside away 

from the cold and snow. We were still eating cold food and more bread 

from the Germans. With so many men on the move, they had no way to feed 

us and by this time in the war they barely had enough for themselves 

anyway. I know our guards had even less than we did.


When we started marching again we were really in bad shape. We were so 

weak with aching muscles and blistered feet that we began to worry 

about whether or not we could keep going. The boys from our barracks 

were still together and wanted to keep it that way. The only good thing 

was that the blizzard had stopped and it was beginning to thaw a 

little. Many of the guys were falling out now and laying along side the 

road. Bruce and I were having trouble and soon our knees began to 

buckle and we would fall down. Our legs were so weak that they wouldn't 

hold us up any longer. We would help each other up and go a little 

further. After several falls we crawled to the side of the road to rest 

awhile. We were worried about being separated from our group so 

struggled on as long as we could. Finally, so far behind our group, we 

gave up. After many falls we decided to lay there on the ground with 

the others who had dropped out. Then we began to worry about what the, 

Germans might do to us and concluded that we might be shot. That 

thought was enough to make us get up and keep going no matter what. We 

made it to Sremburg where we were going to spend the night.

When we later arrived at Nuremburg we discovered that those guys who 

had fallen out along the road had been picked up by trucks at the end 

of the line and sent by train to the camps to which we eventually 

marched. They got there a week ahead of us. Ironic things like this 

seemed to happen to me all through these years.


I stayed that night in a very large building 1ike a gym or a warehouse 

and we were packed in so tightly that there was barely room to lay 

down. There was only one small light bulb hanging about forty feet up 

on the ceiling. You couldn't see anything once it got dark. In the 

night when someone had to go to the bathroom there was no light to see 

by or room to keep from stepping on someone. We just ran as fast as we 

could, with our shoes off, over the top of everyone. There was only one 

small door at the far end of the building and everyone that was stepped 

on would yell, swear and wake up the rest of us. At least it was dark 

so they didn't know who did it to them. When we got up the next morning 

they were passing out watery barley soup from a big drum outside the 

building. This was the first hot food we had had in four days and we 

were very hungry. I got a cup full and took a big drink of it. The 

broth was so hot I burned my tongue and mouth so I couldn't taste the 

rest of it. I downed it all and was warmed inside.


I was lucky not to have any back problems on this march as the weight 

of all my belongings in the bottom of the coat really pulled on my 

shoulders. When we left this place we walked a few miles to the 

railroad yards where we were to make the two day trip by train to 

Nuremburg and Camp X-111D. By this time we were all getting diarrhea 

from drinking the water we got along the march. It was not the same as 

the spring water we had in Sagan. With all the cloths  we were wearing 

it was not easy to suffer from diarrhea. At this time we thought the 

worst of the march was over as at last we were getting a ride, but it 

was nearly a disaster. We were put into box cars, fifty men to a car 

with out guard. We were packed in so tightly we could not sit down and 

there was very little air. In order to sleep, we sat down all wound 

around each other and tried to Keep our heads out at best.


A couple of the guys fastened their blankets across the corners on 

nails and made a hammock in order to make more room. It didn't help 

much because they were always getting in and out due to the diarrhea. 

There was always someone at the door in a bit of a rush waiting for the 

guard to unlock and open the door. Two guys would hold the victim by 

the arms while he let his rear hang out the door. When the train made 

stops we were all outside immediately with the same problem. One time 

the train stopped at a station in the middle of a city and we all 

jumped out onto the platform between the trains with the same problem. 

We all went right there on the platform with the German civilians 

walking around us. We didn't have time to be embarrassed as we couldn't 

wait any longer. We were so miserable we didn't care any more and 

everyone was in the same condition. After two days of this we arrived 

at Nuremburg. It was approximately February 4. We were farther south 

now and the weather was a little warmer. We were relieved to have made 

the trip without being strafed or bombed by our own comrades as we knew 

the Allies were aiming at all the trains they could find. It just gave 

us out more thing to worry about.


We walked three miles to the new camp outside Nuremburg. The conditions 

at this camp were much worse than those at Sagan. The camp had been 

used by Italian officers who were prisoners and it was filthy, dirty 

and muddy. Bruce and I managed to stay together and get into the same 

barracks but we had lost Ullo and the others from the barracks at 

Sagan. The barracks were in sections with bunks for twelve men on one 

side of each section. A cooking area with a table was on the opposite 

side with an aisle down the middle. Each man did his own cooking on a 

stove which we turned on its side to make more of a cooking surface. 

When we found something to burn, we cooked on the stove. The remainder 

of the time we ate cold food. It was becoming more difficult for the 

Red Cross to deliver food parcels to us and some weeks we got half a 

parcel, other weeks none. We were hungry all the time and gradually 

getting weaker. The water, however, must have been good here as we were 

finally getting over the diarrhea.


I should mention one of the observations I made about men at this time 

and know I'll always remember. The prison experience really separated 

the men from the boys, as the saying goes. I suppose it was because of 

their background that some of the biggest and strongest men were the 

ones that could not take this situation. They couldn't carry packs, 

cook, even light a fire and needed the most help during the toughest 

parts. The men you least expected to would become a tower of strength. 

It made me realize that I was a better man than many of the men I would 

normally have looked up to.


There was a dirt road through the center of camp and we used this for 

walking for exercise. We didn't get enough food to exercise much and 

there was no room for sports. One of the guard towers was close to our 

barracks and it had a searchlight which rotated back and forth at night 

to keep us in our buildings after dark. They threatened to shoot anyone 

outside after dark as there was no wide open space between our barrack 

and the barbed wire fence with the pine woods beyond. They also didn't 

have the large guard dogs loose in this camp.


We didn't have any hot water here so we did not take any baths or wash 

our clothes for two months. Our mattresses were burlap filled with 

shredded paper and so filthy that every day that the sun shone we would 

take them outdoors to air with our blankets. We soon discovered we were 

infested with bedbugs lice and fleas. Don't ask me why but they never 

bothered me at all. I would lay on my bunk and they were so thick that 

I could see them jump from the guy on my right to me then on to Bruce 

on the next bunk. Some guys were scarred all over their bodies from the 

bites, but I can't remember having a single bite. A boy named Lindstom 

was in the bottom corner bunk and he was so sick he didn't move the 

last three weeks we were there. His skin was Just raw from the fleas. 

One of his buddies was feeding him and I wondered what happened to him 

when we moved out of this camp as he couldn't walk. When I was in 

Atlantic City for discharge I met him on a street corner and had a 

visit with him so I knew he made it. About a week before we left this 

camp, the Red Cross sent in some insecticide and we put it all over 

ourselves and our clothes and blankets. By the time we moved out a week 

later we had rid ourselves of most of the insects. 


Next to our barracks was a large one room building used for a wash 

house. It contained only some old sinks and two cold water faucets so 

we seldom used it. The old boards ran up and down on the sides and we 

were gradually taking them off the building to use for fire wood for 

cooking. The Germans forbade it so we had to sneak around when they 

were not looking. The nails would make a terrible noise when you pulled 

the boards off so we would loosen them very carefully during the 

daytime when the guards were not looking and at night we would time the 

sweep of the searchlight to dash out and rip one off, then run for the 

barracks before they turned the searchlight back and shot us. The noise 

of the nails was awfully loud in the night and would alert the guards. 

By the time we left this camp, all that was left of the wash house was 

the roof. We had outside toilet buildings for daytime use but no inside 

toilets for nights although we weren't allowed out at night. At the end 

of the barracks was a small room with a twenty gallon garbage can for 

use at night. It had to be carried out by two men in the morning and 

emptied into the outdoor toilet. It was almost always full and running 

over when you carried it. We drew cards every morning and the two low 

cards got that dirty Job. Bruce had terrible luck and got the low card 

about twice a week whereas I only did it once or twice. We didn't have 

any toilet paper, but. found that a cigarette pack contained four 

sheets of thin paper if you separated it carefully. I cut the tail off 

one of my shirts and used that then washed it out in the wash house. 

One day there was a rumor going around that a shipment of toilet paper 

was coming in and we all lined us to get it. By the time it was divided 

up each man received three sheets. Big deal! We finally got a chance to 

take a shower at the other end of the camp, about a mile down the road 

that ran through the camp. Every so far in that wash building there was 

a one inch pipe hanging from the ceiling. They only turned the hot 

water on for a few minutes for each group so you had to work very fast. 

About five guys would get under a pipe and we would Jostle to all get 

wet as it was only a small stream of water coming out. We soaped 

ourselves then crowded under again to wash the soap off before the 

water was turned off. In our group were four or five white men and one 

black man. We must have made a beautiful sight all trying to get under 

the water at once. As I look back on it this is what was meant by true 

integration! On the walk back to our barracks some of the guys were too 

weak to make the trip and fell down. We didn't realize that in our 

weakened condition the hot water was too much for our systems. The 

stronger men carried the weaker ones between them back to the barracks. 

This was the only good bath I had during the final two months as a 

prisoner. Each morning we had to line up outside for roll call which 

was the way they kept track of the number in each barracks to determine 

that no one had escaped. We had a bugle player who played revile when 

the German Camp Commander and his group came in every morning. As soon 

as they arrived Inside the wire he would start playing a swinging 

revile. He really played some hot music and we would clap and cheer 

which made the Germans angry. We stood there while they counted us and 

once in awhile someone too weak to stand would fall and lay there on 

the ground. After roll call we would carry them back to the barracks. 

Most of the weakness was caused by inactivity and having only barely 

enough food to survive. Once a day they gave each of us a cup of soup 

which was all that they prepared in the cookhouse at this camp. One 

soup was barley and water (mostly water) and a dirty gray color. The 

other was a green soup made with dehydrated vegetables. This soup had 

black bugs, about the size of ladybugs, floating on top of it. Some of 

the guys could never eat this soup but I was so hungry that I did. At 

first I took my spoon and skimmed all the bugs off the top and ate the 

rest. I wondered why it was so crunchy until I discovered that there 

was a beetle inside all the dehydrated peas in the soup. After that I 

just stirred the soup up and ate it as fast as I could. These two 

months were very nerve wracking due to the continual bombing of 

Nuremburg which was only three miles away. The Americans bombed it 

almost every day and the British at night. Nuremburg had a large 

railroad terminal and was a favorite target. When the bombs fell, the 

ground and barracks would shake and everything fell off the shelves as 

the windows broke. During one raid the bombs were so close that one 

wall of our barracks moved Six inches. At night we crawled under the 

lower bunk together for safety as we couldn't leave the building. In 

the daytime we look two bed slats with the blanket folded on top and 

held it over our heads to go outside and watch the bombing. This was to 

protect our heads from all the shrapnel that was falling on the camp. 

The camp was right in the middle of the ring of big German anti 

aircraft guns that circled Nuremburg. One of these guns was in the 

woods just over the fence from our barracks and the noise was terrific. 


We watched the smoke rising from the city of Nuremburg those days and 

nights. When the British bombed at night they dropped flares which lit 

up the entire area and the searchlights that were probing the sky. We 

watched from our windows and worried that a bomb meant for the railroad 

yards so near us would fall on our camp. We had begun to dig trenches, 

but they were only a couple of feel deep so we never used them. We were 

more interested in just standing around and watching the planes go 

over. We began to see more of our fighter planes flying down low and 

one day a P-51 flew very slowly over the middle of our camp, only a 

hundred feet up. We could see the pilot and we all ran around waving 

our arms and yelling at him to get out of here before he was shot down. 

We began to hear rumors and sounds of battle again and were told we 

would be moved. We didn't know where, but after the poor food monotony 

and misery we had had for two months, we were glad to be leaving this 

place. We didn't need to prepare for this march because we had nothing 

but the clothes on our backs and blankets so were ready to go any time.

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