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The Ring – March 11, 1948

To review:  On March 8, 1948, the Buslees wrote to both Mr. B – the translator living in Texas – and Z – the finder of the ring.  In the letters they identified themselves as the parents of Lt. John O. Buslee, O-764209, who lost his life in a plane on a mission over Magdeburg, Germany in September 1944.  They also confirm that the ring in question is their son’s ring.  In addition to wishing to get the ring back, they ask for information about the crash that took their son’s life.

Mr. B writes the following letter back to the Buslees.

Mr. B
Richmond, Texas
U.S.A.

March 11, 1948

Mr. and Mrs. John Buslee,
Park Ridge, Ill.

My dear Mr. and Mrs. Buslee:

To-day I received your letter and am answering at once. I am writing to Z in Czechoslovakia too and at the same time, but—I don’t know if the letter will reach him. You know, dear Mr. and Mrs. Buslee, what happened in that little country I was born, last couple of weeks – the red murderers took Czechoslovakia over – and I did not receive any mail.

Your letter, dear people, touched us – me and my wife – so much, that we were not able keep our tears back-! Your sorrow is our sorrow-! You don’t know how happy I would be, if it would be possible for me now, to get the ring for you, because I DO know, how you would be happy and how you would esteem it.

The way it looks to me now is, that the red murderers, who took Czechoslovakia, do not let the peoples even write the letters to USA, and I don’t believe it would be possible for Z to mail the ring now. But, I got an idea, how it would be possible to get the ring and I will return to this below.

First I would like to tell you, that I do not know Z. I have some friends in the same town where he is, and all my letters to Czechoslovakia I furnished with nice American stamps, the “flag stamps”. And it so happen, that he have soon one of my letters and because he is a stamp collector, my friend gave him my address and he asked me for the stamps and in the same letter he asked me, if I would be able to find out you.

I am enclosing his first letter and you better send this letter to the American Embassy too, so they will understand better what it is all about. So I am very sorry, dear Mr. and Mrs. Buslee, that I am not able tell you anything about your beloved son. All I know is, what Z wrote to me, that is, that the plane came down Sept. 24, 1944, near a town about 50 km from Magdeburg.

“I worked” – he write – “near by, and came to the plane sooner than the German did. The plane came down in flames and none of the flyers were alive.” Then he write, he found the ring with the name and number and he ask me, if it would be possible to find out his family, that he would be glad to send them the ring.

I don’t know this man, but I do believe, he is an honest man. You know, Mr. and Mrs. Buslee, it all could be finished already if it would not be so much red tape. Soon, as I got the letter from Z, I went to the Veteran Service Officer here in Richmond and asked him for help.

He wrote at once to the Adjutant General’s Office, but they told him, “It is a long established policy of the Department to protect the privacy of the next of kin of former military personnel.” Well, I do understand this, but in this case, if the Adjutant General would send your address, you would have the ring long time ago. Of course, nobody knew, what would happen in Czechoslovakia. But now, here is my idea, now – I hope – would be possible to get the ring for you. I am SURE, Z will be glad to send you the ring. If he would be not, he would not ask me to find out the family of that flyer.

Please, write a letter to: American Consul General, Prague, Czechoslovakia., and tell him all you know, now you got the information about the ring, and it would be wise, to enclose the letter which Z wrote to me. It is written in Czech, but they have translators in the office in Prague, and asks the Consul General, to ask Z to send the ring to the Consul General and he will deliver the ring to you. It will be possible for the Consul General to do this, because I believe, those red murderers would not dare to open diplomatic mail.

You don’t know, dear Mr. and Mrs. Buslee, how happy I would be, if you would get the ring. I know, it would be great ease for you. And I do all I am told, to get it for you -! I will write to the president office in Prague, and I will beg President Dr. Beneš, to help me and, if the komunists will not kill him before that, – like they kill Jan Masaryk last Tuesday – I am sure he will help us too.

I am asking Z, if he will get a letter from American consul in Prague, and the consul will ask him for the ring, just to send him the ring, because I did arranged it this way, and please, Mr. and Mrs. Buslee, ask the American consul, when he will ask Z for the ring, ask him to enclose Z a letter, /which he wrote to me and I am enclosing to you/ so he will be sure, that the right people get the ring.

I am closing, dear Mr. and Mrs. Buslee and I wish, you believe, how happy I would be if you would get the ring-!

With great respect for you,
I am sincerely yours:
Mr. B.
Richmond, Texas

Handwritten addition to the above typed letter:
P.S. Please, send the letter to the Amer. Consul General in Prague Registered and Air Mail (15cents half oz., 30 cents one oz. and 20 cents registry)

This transcription is a careful reproduction of the original except for occasional spelling and punctuation corrections. Some names have been masked to protect the privacy of those individuals and their families.  In some circumstances, based on relevancy or a desire to mask locations, some material may not have been transcribed.

Thank you to John Dale Kielhofer, John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s nephew, for sharing these letters with me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

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The Gift of Dance

Researching and writing about the men of the 384th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force during WWII has become my favorite hobby.  But on this Christmas Eve, I’m going to take a break from my dad’s WWII story.  It will resume again next week.

For the past couple of years, my other favorite hobby has been line dancing.  I live in an “active adult” community where dancing is one of the most popular activities.  I have two instructors who are very passionate about sharing their love of line dancing with other residents who want to learn.

Jeri became the community’s first resident line dance instructor about seven years ago.  Her husband, Gerry (yes, Jeri and Gerry), manages the music and sound system.  Amy started out as a student and became an instructor herself.  Jeri teaches the beginner and low intermediate dancers, while Amy teaches the intermediate and advanced students.  I wrote a little poem for them this year for Christmas.  I shared it with them and about 140 fellow line dancers at our annual Christmas party this year.  Now I’d like to share it with you.

“The Gift of Dance”
by
Cindy Farrar Bryan

‘Twas just before Christmas, when all through the ballroom,
The music was playing, Amy upping the volume.

Line dancers gathered at once on the floor,
While other arrivals streamed in the door.

I thought back of my choices in my Stone Creek start,
Deciding between bocce, dance, cards, or art.

My first dance class at Stone Creek was two years ago,
I loved the commercials and, even more, loved the show.

Mr. Gerry had the sound and music all set,
He had everything perfect, on that you could bet.

Jeri said “You don’t need a partner, just make a line,
And I’ll show you your first step, a simple grapevine.”

A few steps more and that was the Electric Slide,
I felt almost giddy with the way I could glide.

Then came coaster steps, jazz boxes, and twinkles,
With crossed legs, Jeri said “They’re twinkles, not tinkles.”

Then I learned a rhumba box is a square,
And line dancers don’t sit in their rocking chairs.

I was learning to dance, I could hardly believe,
And then Jeri tried to teach me to weave.

I eventually got that step and more,
And began to wonder what else was in store.

For a line dancer like me, hungry to learn,
It was Amy’s class where I learned how to turn, and turn, and turn.

Turning and kicking and shaking her hips,
Amy’s moves are like watching a total eclipse.

Filling my brain with too many steps,
Amy’s dances left me confused and perplexed.

Practice, and practice, and practice again,
I’m not learning one dance today, I’m learning ten.

The music’s familiar, I know one part,
I love that dance. How does it start?

Santa’s reindeer are Donner, Vixen, Dasher and Prancer,
Blitzen, Comet and Cupid and, my favorite, Line Dancer.

The night before Christmas, our gifts they will bring,
New dance shoes, potato chips, M&M’s, and some bling.

I think of line dancing for the last time this year,
And silently have to hold back a tear.

I can’t wait for January, but while I have the chance,
I say “Thank you, Jeri and Amy, for the gift of dance.”

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

The Ring – March 8, 1948 – Letter to Z

To review:  On February 20, 1948, the Buslee’s had learned that their son’s Air Force ring, a gift from them, had surfaced in Czechoslovakia.

On March 8, the Buslee’s wrote to both Mr. B – the translator living in Texas – and Z – the finder of the ring.  Last week’s post presented their letter to Mr. B and this week’s post will present their letter to Z.

411 Wisner Avenue
Park Ridge, Illinois U.S.A.

March 8, 1948

Dear Z:

Your letter of December 22, 1947 to your friend Mr. B was forwarded to us through the Adjutant General’s Office so that we could personally get in touch with you and Mr. B. This correspondence has just been received by us.

We are the parents of Lt. John O. Buslee, O-764209, who we were informed lost his life in a plane on a mission over Magdeburg, Germany in September 1944. Yes, it is his ring which you describe and now have. We gave it to him as a gift before he went overseas, and we would be very happy to have it back as a keepsake.

Z, it would be wonderful if you could help us get the ring back and write to us and tell us all you know about our son, the condition of the plane and, if possible, if our son and the rest of the men were dead when the plane reached the ground. Any news you can tell us we will be thankful for.

The Government has never been able to tell us anything about him due to the fact that the plane came down in enemy territory, so you can well imagine how word from you will help to ease our broken hearts. He was our only son.

We are so grateful to both you and Mr. B for your effort in trying to locate us and we assure you we shall always remember your thoughtfulness.

We will gladly reimburse you for any expense you have in returning the ring to us.

We patiently await an early reply from both of you gentlemen and our sincere thanks to you both for your kindness.

The anxious parents of John O. Buslee.

Sincerely yours,
Mr. and Mrs. John Buslee
411 Wisner Avenue
Park Ridge, Illinois, U.S.A.

Notice that the Buslee’s did not specify the date in September 1944 in which their son lost his life.  They were probably perplexed, as I am, as to why Z reported the date in his letter as September 22 instead of the actual date of the mid-air collision, September 28.  They chose not to correct the date or pursue any line of questioning regarding the date.  Were they skeptical, as I am, with Z’s claims, considering the inaccurate date?  Skepticism only goes so far, though, if Z actually has the ring.

This transcription is a careful reproduction of the original except for occasional spelling and punctuation corrections. Some names have been masked to protect the privacy of those individuals and their families.  In some circumstances, based on relevancy or a desire to mask locations, some material may not have been transcribed.

Thank you to John Dale Kielhofer, John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s nephew, for sharing these letters with me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

The Ring – March 8, 1948 – Letter to Mr. B

To review:  On February 20, 1948, the Buslee’s had learned that their son’s Air Force ring, a gift from them, had surfaced in Czechoslovakia.

On March 8, the Buslee’s wrote to both Mr. B – the translator living in Texas – and Z – the finder of the ring.  Today’s post will present their letter to Mr. B and next week’s post will present their letter to Z.

411 Wisner Avenue
Park Ridge, Illinois

March 8, 1948

Mr. B
Richmond, Texas

Dear Mr. B:

The letter you wrote to the Adjutant General Charles D. Carle, was in turn mailed to us so that we could personally get in touch with you and Z. This correspondence has just been received by us.

We are the parents of Lt. John O. Buslee, O-764209, who we were informed lost his life in a plane on a mission over Magdeburg, Germany in September 1944. Yes, it is his ring which Z describes and now has. We gave it to him as a gift before he went overseas, and we would be very happy to have it back as a keepsake.

Mr. B, it would be wonderful if you could help us get the ring back from your friend, Z. We would appreciate it very much if you would get in touch with him at once, as you suggested in your letter and write to us and tell us all you know about our son. We are also sending a letter to Z with the hope that he will write and tell us all he can about the day he saw the plane, the condition of it, [and how many men were in the plane,]and if possible, if our son and the rest of the men were dead when the plane reached the ground. Any news you can tell us, Mr. B, we will be thankful for.

The Government has never been able to tell us anything about him due to the fact that the plane came down in enemy territory, so you can well imagine how word from you will help to ease our broken hearts. He was our only son.

We are so grateful to both of you men for your effort in trying to locate us and we assure you we shall always remember your thoughtfulness.

We will gladly reimburse you for any expense you have in returning the ring to us.

We patiently await an early reply from both of you gentlemen and our sincere thanks to you both for your kindness.

The anxious parents of John O. Buslee.

Sincerely yours,
Mr. and Mrs. John Buslee
411 Wisner Avenue
Park Ridge, Illinois, U.S.A.

I have two copies of this letter.  One is typed and one is handwritten.  In the handwritten draft of this letter, the Buslees also asked how many men were in the plane.  I have included that text above in brackets.  I assume that the typed letter is the one sent to Mr. B and the Buslee’s decided to leave out the question of how many men were found in the plane.

This transcription is a careful reproduction of the original except for occasional spelling and punctuation corrections. Some names have been masked to protect the privacy of those individuals and their families.  In some circumstances, based on relevancy or a desire to mask locations, some material may not have been transcribed.

Thank you to John Dale Kielhofer, John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s nephew, for sharing these letters with me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

The Ring – February 20, 1948

To review:  On January 28, 1948, Mr B sent a letter to the Adjutant General’s office in St. Louis, Missouri.  He requested that his enclosed letter be delivered to John Oliver Buslee’s parents.  It took three weeks for a letter to be drafted and sent to the Buslees.  Along with Mr. B’s letter was this one from Colonel Charles D. Carle.

DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
OFFICE OF THE ADJUTANT GENERAL
RECORDS ADMINISTRATION CENTER
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

In reply refer to:
ACRS-CD-S 201 Buslee, John O.
(28 Jan. 48) 764209

20 February 1948

Mr. John Buslee
411 N. Wisner Ave.
Park Ridge, Illinois

Dear Mr. Buslee:

The inclosed letter is forwarded to you for whatever action you deem appropriate inasmuch as it is the policy of the Department of the Army not to furnish the address of the next of kin in order to protect their privacy.

Sincerely yours,
Charles D. Carle
Colonel, AGD
Commanding

1 Inclosure
Ltr dtd 28 Jan 48

Imagine the Buslee’s surprise upon receiving the letter from Mr. B and hearing that their son’s ring had surfaced, and in all places – Czechoslovakia.

This transcription is a careful reproduction of the original except for occasional spelling and punctuation corrections. Some names have been masked to protect the privacy of those individuals and their families.  In some circumstances, based on relevancy or a desire to mask locations, some material may not have been transcribed.

Thank you to John Dale Kielhofer, John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s nephew, for sharing these letters with me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

The Ring – January 28, 1948

To review:  a man whom I will call “Mr. B” was an immigrant to the United States from Czechoslovakia.  In 1948, he was living in Richmond, Texas.  He had received a letter from a friend of a friend still living in Czechoslovakia.  The friend had a special favor to ask Mr. B – to please help him find the next of kin of the owner of a ring he had found in Germany in September 1944.

With the information he had been given, on January 5, 1948 Mr. B wrote to the Veteran’s Service Office in Richmond requesting the name and home address of the family of John Oliver (Jay) Buslee.  He received a letter in reply on January 21, stating that if he transmitted any communications to the next of kin to their office, they would forward it to the family.

A week later, Mr. B wrote back, giving the details of his request.

Richmond, Texas, Jan. 28, 1948

The Adjutant General’s Office,
Records Administration Center,
St. Louis, Missouri.
Charles D. Carle, Colonel, AGD Commanding.

AGRS-DC-8 301 Buslee, John O.

Dear Colonel:

Mr. William F. Doggett, Veteran Service Officer for Fort Bend County, Texas, send to my hand your letter, concerning John O. Buslee, serial number O 764 209. Let me explain first, why I would be so happy to get in touch with the next of kin, above mentioned flyer.

On 22/12, 1947, I received a letter from one unknown in Czechoslovakia, who got my address from one friend of mine. Here is the translation of said letter:

Dear Mr. B,

I am begging you for a favor and I do hope you will be so kind and help us. On Sept. 22, 1944, American plane came down in flames alone, about 40 kilometers from Magdeburg. I have been working in the fields, there the Germans put me on forced labor. I came to the plane before the Gestapo and SS did and all the flyers have been dead and I pick up a ring which belonged to one of the flyers. It is a ring with a big jewel and around the jewel there are 13 stars engraved, and on one side of the jewel is a USA emblem and on the other side a USA flyer emblem with the wording: War of survival, and the name John O. Buslee, O-764209. Please, Mr. B, if it would be possible for you to find out the family of the dead flyer, so I would be able to send them the ring. But I will not give it to nobody, unless I am sure the right people will get it.

I hope you will fulfill my wish and I remain yours,

Z
Czechoslovakia

I would be very happy, dear Colonel, if the ring would be send to the family of the flyer and I am sure, they would be happy to get it too. I am sending a letter to Z too and I am informing him, that if he would send the ring to me, I would send the ring to you and I am sure, the ring would reach the right people. Please, kindly advise me on this matter.

Respectfully yours,
Mr. B
Richmond, Texas

A young man from Czechoslovakia witnessed the Lead Banana crash after its mid-air collision with the Lazy Daisy.  He was working in the fields, as forced labor of the Nazis during WWII.  He was the first person to arrive at the plane and discover that there were no survivors of the crash.

In this letter, Z identifies the date of the crash as September 22, 1944, a Friday.  The mission, and crash, actually occurred the next Thursday, September 28, 1944.

This transcription is a careful reproduction of the original except for occasional spelling and punctuation corrections. Some names have been masked to protect the privacy of those individuals and their families.  In some circumstances, based on relevancy or a desire to mask locations, some material may not have been transcribed.

Thank you to John Dale Kielhofer, John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s nephew, for sharing these letters with me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

The Ring – January 21, 1948

A man whom I will call “Mr. B” was an immigrant to the United States from Czechoslovakia.  In 1948, he was living in Richmond, Texas.  He had received a letter from a friend of a friend still living in Czechoslovakia.  The friend had a special favor to ask Mr. B – to please help him find the next of kin of the owner of a ring he had found in Germany in September 1944.

With the information he had been given, on January 5, 1948 Mr. B wrote to the Veteran’s Service Office in Richmond requesting the name and home address of the family of John Oliver (Jay) Buslee.  He received the following letter in reply:

21 January 1948

AGRS-DC-8 301 Buslee, John O.
(5 Jan 48)

Veterans Service Officer
Richmond, Texas

Dear Sir:

Reference is made to your letter in which you request the name and home address of the next of kin of John O. Buslee, serial number 0 764 209.

It is a long established policy of the Department of the Army to protect the privacy of the next of kin of former military personnel. However any communication intended for the next of kin will be forwarded to the last known address if transmitted to this office.

Sincerely yours,
Charles D. Carle
Colonel, AGD,
Commanding

This communication between Mr. B and the Veterans Service Office began the quest to return John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s ring to his parents.  In subsequent letters, we will learn how the man in Czechoslovakia, whom I will call “Z”, came to possess the ring.  We will also learn that this was the second time Z attempted to reunite Jay Buslee’s ring with his parents, something he had tried to do three years before – in 1945 – but was unable to accomplish.

The letters show the dedication and persistence of a man on one side of the world to bring some peace to another family far away, the family of a man he had never met, but who he felt a bond with through the tragedy of war.  The letters also open a window to what another part of the world was like during and after WWII.

This transcription is a careful reproduction of the original except for occasional spelling and punctuation corrections. Some names have been masked to protect the privacy of those individuals and their families.  In some circumstances, based on relevancy or a desire to mask locations, some material may not have been transcribed.

Thank you to John Dale Kielhofer, John Oliver (Jay) Buslee’s nephew, for sharing these letters with me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

The Ring

John Oliver (Jay) Buslee died September 28, 1944 when the B-17 he was piloting, Lead Banana, crashed after a mid-air collision with B-17 Lazy Daisy.  His parents were notified shortly thereafter that he was missing in action, but it would be another four months before they received news that he had died in the collision.

Mr. and Mrs. Buslee eventually received Jay’s possessions, only to find that the Air Force ring they had given him as a gift was not among the items returned to them.  He must have been wearing the ring on his last mission, but it was not recovered with his body as far as they knew.

Several years later, in 1948, Jay’s ring surfaced.  At the time, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, the waist gunner and sole survivor on Buslee’s aircraft, was working for Mr. Buslee and living in the Buslee home.  I believe in that situation, he would have been aware of the ring’s discovery, but it’s not anything he ever mentioned to me.  He was a traveling salesman and it was the same year he met and courted my mother, and it probably wasn’t as important of a discovery to him as it was to Mr. and Mrs. Buslee.

The surfacing of the ring was one thing.  Getting the ring back was another.  Distance and politics and the state of the world in the 1940’s made this a very difficult task.

Over the next several weeks I will publish a collection of letters shared with me by John Dale Kielhofer, Jay Buslee’s nephew, and share with you The Story of the Ring.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

 

Propwash?

I recently found a handwritten report from the September 28, 1944 Mission 201 that I had not seen before.  It was written by co-pilot Ronald H. Froebel.  He was on the crew flying lead that day, which put him in the tail gunner position, presumably for observation purposes.  I am told that this was a common practice – placing a co-pilot in the tail gunner position – on lead crews.  The crew that day was made up of Commander Horace E. Frink, pilot L.K. Davis, Jr., three navigators, a bombardier, a radio operator, an engineer/top turret gunner, a waist gunner, and Froebel.

In the tail, Froebel would have a birds-eye view of the mid-air collision between the Brodie crew in Lazy Daisy and the Buslee crew in Lead Banana.  After returning from the mission Froebel wrote:

No. 3 ship in the High Element (Green) was almost constantly lagging behind his respective position in the formation.  No. 4 in Low Element flew a good lead most of the time but flew his position lower than he should have.

Two ships in the high group, Brodie & Buslee, which were involved in the collision appeared to have been caught in prop wash on a turn to the left.  It appeared that Brodie was thrown down and into Buslee one plane, immediately disintegrated and the [other] broke into at the ball turret and finally caught fire and broke up.  I observed one chute.  On the whole the formation looked fairly decent throughout the trip until we were hit and had to leave the formation.

Lt. Ronald H. Froebel, Tail Gunner, Lead Ship

Screaming Eagle, with Ronald H. Froebel and the Frink crew on board, was hit by flak.  The ship was damaged seriously enough to necessitate landing away in Brussels.

Froebel’s report is the only explanation I have read that points to prop wash as a factor in the mid-air collision.  Lead Banana is the plane that broke in half at the ball turret.  My father, George Edwin Farrar was just behind the ball turret in the waist gunner position.  He was knocked unconscious and must have fallen through the break in the fuselage.  He was fortunate to come to at 5,000 feet, in time to pull the D-ring on his chute before losing consciousness again.

Below is a document from September 28, 1944 showing the 41st “C” Combat Wing.  The document illustrates where  all the crews should have been in the formation.  The Buslee and Brodie crews are in the High Group.

DSCN4649
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

 

The Congressional Record

John William Warner, a veteran of WWII, served as Secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974 and as a five-term United States Senator from Virginia from January 1979 to January 2009.  On May 8, 1995, in the First Session of the 104th Congress, Mr. Warner entered the following commemoration into the 141st Congressional Record (S6237):

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the
Forced March of
American Prisoners of War from Stalag Luft IV
 

Mr. President, today we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Victory in Europe Day is one of the milestone dates of this century. I rise today to honor a group of Americans who made a large contribution to the Allied victory in Europe while also enduring more than their fair share of personal suffering and sacrifice: The brave men who were prisoners of war.

I believe it is appropriate to commemorate our World War II POW’s by describing one incident from the war that is emblematic of the unique service rendered by those special people. This is the story of an 86-day, 488-mile forced march that commenced at a POW camp known as Stalag Luft IV, near Gross Tychow, Poland, on February 6, 1945, and ended in Halle, Germany on April 26, 1945. The ordeal of the 9,500 men, most of whom were U.S. Army Air Force Bomber Command noncommissioned officers, who suffered through incredible hardships on the march yet survived, stands as an everlasting testimonial to the triumph of the American spirit over immeasurable adversity and of the indomitable ability of camaraderie, teamwork, and fortitude to overcome brutality, horrible conditions, and human suffering.

Bomber crews shot down over Axis countries often went through terrifying experiences even before being confined in concentration camps. Flying through withering flak, while also having to fight off enemy fighters, the bomber crews routinely saw other aircraft in their formations blown to bits or turned into fiery coffins. Those who were taken POW had to endure their own planes being shot down or otherwise damaged sufficiently to cause the crews to bail out. Often crewmates–close friends–did not make it out of the burning aircraft. Those lucky enough to see their parachutes open had to then go through a perilous descent amid flak and gunfire from the ground.

Many crews were then captured by incensed civilians who had seen their property destroyed or had loved ones killed or maimed by Allied bombs. Those civilians at times would beat, spit upon, or even try to lynch the captured crews. And in the case of Stalag Luft IV, once the POW’s had arrived at the railroad station near the camp, though exhausted, unfed, and often wounded, many were forced to run the 2 miles to the camp at the points of bayonets. Those who dropped behind were either bayonetted or bitten on the legs by police dogs. And all that was just the prelude to their incarceration where they were underfed, overcrowded, and often maltreated.

In February 1945, the Soviet offensive was rapidly pushing toward Stalag Luft IV. The German High Command determined that it was necessary that the POW’s be evacuated and moved into Germany. But by that stage of the war, German materiel was at a premium, and neither sufficient railcars nor trucks were available to move prisoners. Therefore the decision was made to move the Allied prisoners by foot in a forced road march.

The 86-day march was, by all accounts, savage. Men who for months, and in some cases years, had been denied proper nutrition, personal hygiene, and medical care, were forced to do something that would be difficult for well-nourished, healthy, and appropriately trained infantry soldiers to accomplish. The late Doctor [Major] Leslie Caplan, an American flight surgeon who was the chief medical officer for the 2,500-man section C from Stalag Luft IV, summed up the march up this year:

It was a march of great hardship * * * (W)e marched long distances in bitter weather and on starvation rations. We lived in filth and slept in open fields or barns. Clothing, medical facilities and sanitary facilities were utterly inadequate. Hundreds of men suffered from malnutrition, exposure, trench foot, exhaustion, dysentery, tuberculosis, and other diseases.

A number of American POW’s on the march did not survive. Others suffered amputations of limbs or appendages while many more endured maladies that remained or will remain with them for the remainder of their lives. For nearly 500 miles and over 86 days, enduring unbelievably inhumane conditions, the men from Stalag Luft IV walked, limped and, in some cases, crawled onward until they reached the end of their march, with their liberation by the American 104th Infantry Division on April 26, 1945.

Unfortunately, the story of the men of Stalag Luft IV, replete with tales of the selfless and often heroic deeds of prisoners looking after other prisoners and helping each other to survive under deplorable conditions, is not well known. I therefore rise today to bring their saga of victory over incredible adversity to the attention of my colleagues. I trust that these comments will serve as a springboard for a wider awareness among the American people of what the prisoners from Stalag Luft IV–and all prisoner of war camps–endured in the pursuit of freedom.

I especially want to honor three Stalag Luft IV veterans who endured and survived the march. Cpl. Bob McVicker, a fellow Virginian from Alexandria, S. Sgt. Ralph Pippens of Alexandria, LA, and Sgt. Arthur Duchesneau of Daytona Beach, FL, brought this important piece of history to my attention and provided me with in-depth information, to include testimony by Dr. Caplan, articles, personal diaries and photographs.

Mr. McVicker, Mr. Pippens, and Mr. Duchesneau, at different points along the march, were each too impaired to walk under their own power.  Mr. McVicker suffered frostbite to the extent that Dr. Caplan told him, along the way, that he would likely lose his hands and feet–miraculously, he did not; Mr. Pippens was too weak from malnutrition to walk on his own during the initial stages of the march; and Mr. Duchesneau almost became completely incapacitated from dysentery. By the end of the march, all three men had lost so much weight that their bodies were mere shells of what they had been prior to their capture–Mr. McVicker, for example, at 5 foot, 8 inches, weighed but 80 pounds. Yet they each survived, mostly because of the efforts of the other two–American crewmates compassionately and selflessly helping buddies in need.

Mr. President, I am sure that my colleagues join me in saluting Mr. McVicker, Mr. Pippens, Mr. Duchesneau, the late Dr. Caplan, the other survivors of the Stalag Luft IV march, and all the brave Americans who were prisoners of war in World War II. Their service was twofold: first as fighting men putting their lives on the line, each day, in the cause of freedom and then as prisoners of war, stoically enduring incredible hardships and showing their captors that the American spirit cannot be broken, no matter how terrible the conditions. We owe them a great debt of gratitude and the memory of their service our undying respect.


Information in the above commemoration is sobering.  I must point out, however, that it is not entirely accurate.  The march did indeed start on February 6, 1945, but for many of the prisoners it did not end until May 2, 1945.  There were several groups, or columns, of men marching.  My father, George Edwin Farrar, was in the group of men that were still on the road until May 2, when they were liberated by the British.  If you calculate the dates, the number of days between February 6 and May 2, 1945 is 86.

Along with my father, who was the sole survivor from the Buslee crew aboard Lead Banana, two of the three survivors from the Brodie crew aboard Lazy Daisy were also imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV.  They were Harry Allen Liniger and Wilfred Frank Miller.  And Liniger and Miller were later joined at Stalag Luft IV by former crewmate William Edson Taylor just one week after they were captured.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014