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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

The Shadows in the Alley

zombie storyJust a quick post about my latest foray into fiction writing…

My local newspaper, the Ocala Star-Banner, ran a “round robin” story contest for Halloween this year.  Rick Allen started the story and published the first 500 or so words and challenged readers to finish it in 300 words or less.

I won the contest and had my picture and ending to the story published in the Sunday, October 26 paper.

If you’d like to read the story and Rick’s write-up about me, just click here.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

 

2014 Reunion of the 384th Bomb Group

The 384th Bomb Group held their 2014 reunion this past week in Dayton, Ohio.  I was very proud to attend and meet a wonderful group of veterans that served with the 384th at Grafton Underwood, England.  Of course, meeting and talking to the veterans and hearing their stories of combat and life in the 384th was the top highlight of the event.

Other highlights were touring the restoration and Presidential hangars of the National Museum of the Air Force, and attending a dinner at the museum Friday night.  On Saturday, we were treated to a tour of a new B-17 being built in Urbana, Ohio and a wonderful banquet on Saturday night.  Speakers on Saturday night were Richard Peaslee, son of the first 384th Bomb Group Commander, Budd Peaslee; Brigadier General J. Kemp McLaughlin; and keynote speaker, Lt. General C. D. Moore.

Four 384th veterans signed the wing panel during the reunion.  Lawrence W. “Red” Gerbig wasn’t able to stay for the entire reunion and signed on Friday.  Saturday night during the banquet, Donald Bean, Leonard R. Neimeic, and Warren Tessmer signed.  By the end of the reunion, the wing panel contained 99 signatures.

On a sad note, for Lawrence Gerbig the 2014 reunion would be his final mission.  He returned home on Saturday, and told his family what a wonderful time he had at the reunion.  He passed away unexpectedly on Sunday morning.  Rest in peace, Mr. Gerbig.  The war is finally over.

2014 Reunion of 384th Bomb Group Veterans - Touring the New Build in Progress of B-17 "Champagne Lady", Urbana, Ohio

2014 Reunion of 384th Bomb Group Veterans – Touring the New Build in Progress of B-17 “Champagne Lady”, Urbana, Ohio

2014 Reunion of 384th Bomb Group Veterans in Dayton, Ohio with the Wing Panel

2014 Reunion of 384th Bomb Group Veterans in Dayton, Ohio with the Wing Panel

I’ll try to add identifications and more pictures soon.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

384th Bombardment Group Statistics

Fred Preller, webmaster of the 384th Bomb Group’s web site, has provided me with a few statistics about the group.  Keep in mind these numbers are approximate.  This data reflects the count as of October 8, 2014.  The numbers are subject to change as duplicates and other errors are discovered in the data.

384th Bomb Group Personnel

  • 7,121 personnel are listed in the 384th’s database at http://www.384thbombgroup.com/.
  • 4,380 were combat crewmembers – those recorded with one or more combat missions.
  • 2,741 were non-combat personnel at Grafton Underwood (GU), where the 384th was stationed during WWII (derived from subtracting the 4,380 combat personnel from the 7,121 total personnel).

384th Bomb Group Combat Crews

  • 446 crews have been identified from Special Orders, Squadron Histories, and other non-combat mission documents.
  • 4,214 crewmembers have been identified in the 446 crew assignments.
  • 166 combat crewmembers who had no permanent crew assignment participated in at least one mission (derived from subtracting 4,214 assigned crewmembers from 4,380 total combat crewmembers).

Of the 7,121 384th Bombardment Group Personnel listed in the 384thbombgroup.com database,

  • 1,456 completed their tour (CT).
  • 225 flew at least one combat mission, but had not attained a full combat tour of 35 missions by war’s end (FCMEW).
  • 134 transferred out of the 384th (TR).
  • 116 evaded capture and returned to allied control after having been shot down in enemy territory (EV).
  • 4 were wounded in non-combat service, as a result of a non-flying, non-combat cause, seriously enough to end service with the 384th (WNC).
  • 32 were wounded in action, seriously enough to end service with the 384th (WIA).
  • 52 were interned, held by a neutral power in Switzerland or Sweden.  There were a variety of circumstances and experiences to having been interned, ranging from unimaginably bad to country club-like (INT).
  • 884 became prisoners of war (POW).
  • 19 were killed in service, as a result of a non-flying, non-combat cause (KIS).
  • 24 were killed in a flying accident that was not related to combat operations (KIFA).
  • 497 were killed while participating in combat activity, also known as killed in action (KIA).
  • The remaining 3,678 are undetermined.  Efforts are ongoing to reduce this number.

The 384th Combat Crews’ Grim Statistics

Keep in mind, these are approximations derived from the available data.  Of the 4,380 combat crewmembers,

  • 20% (1 in 5) became POWs or Internees
  • 12% (1 in 8) were killed in action or in a flying accident

Thank you to Fred Preller, 384th Bomb Group Webmaster, for providing the above data and allowing me to share it and the grim statistics on The Arrowhead Club.

Fred also reminded me that…

The 384th was special to the personnel who were assigned to it, but in all other respects it was typical of heavy bomb groups of the 8th AF.  Some groups were there longer, some shorter.  Some had greater casualties, some fewer.  Some earned greater honors, some fewer.  And so on…  This information is not intended to glorify the 384th, but only to convey the conditions and hazards of all the bomb groups in the 8th AF, and to a degree, all combat units worldwide, as they fought to defend our Freedoms.

Well put, Fred.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Never Forgotten

Marvin Fryden was the original bombardier of the John Oliver (Jay) Buslee crew.  He trained alongside his other Buslee crewmates in Ardmore, Oklahoma before the crew transferred to the ETO, being stationed with the 384th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force in Grafton Underwood, England.

On August 5, 1944, on only his second mission with the 544th Bomb Squad, Marvin was hit in the chest by a fragment of a shell at the start of the bomb run of Mission 173 to a Luftwaffe controlling station in Langenhagen, Germany.  He was able to press the bomb release and completed his task of getting his bombs on the target before collapsing.  Marvin and the rest of the crew made it back to England in their flying fortress, Tremblin’ Gremlin, on only two engines and riddled with over 100 flak holes, but Marvin was mortally wounded.  He died later in an army hospital with his friend and crewmate, navigator Chester Rybarczyk, by his side, holding his friend in his last moments.

Marvin Fryden was a married man.  He had married the former Marilyn Ash on October 8, 1942 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  At the time, he was a bombardier instructor at the Albuquerque Air Base.

On November 18, 2007, almost sixty-three years after Marvin died, Marilyn Ash Fryden, now Marilyn Samet, posted a request on the 384th Bomb Group’s web site Log Book.  It is still there today in the Log Book archives.  It reads:

My husband, 1st Lt. Marvin Fryden was on his second mission as bombardier aboard the Tremblin Gremlin when he was fatally wounded, remaining conscious only to drop his bombs over Langenhagen..(544th) He had been commissioned and assigned as an instructor in the states. We had almost 2 years together as he constantly said he was not doing his part, He finally requested combat duty and was assigned to the Gremlin with John Buslee, Dick Albrecht and other crew members. He was gone from me less than six weeks when he was killed. I have contacted a lot of old friends..but would love knowing more about Dick Albrecht’s wife, Patty, and the baby girl they had with them in Ardmore Ok. They were from Chico, Ca.

Another six years went by and on October 17, 2013, Marilyn again posted to the 384th’s Log Book.  Marilyn must have had some difficulty typing her message, and I have edited it only to be easier to read.  This original message, too, is still in the 384th’s Log Book archives and can be accessed at www.384thbombgroup.com under the Resources menu heading.

My husband, 1st Lt Marvin Fryden, left his Bombardier Training in Deming, NM because he felt needed in combat.  Left me to fly the Tremblin’ Gremlin over the pond at the end of July 1944.  Fatally wounded on second mission. Buried in Maddingly in Cambridge.  I am 88, still loving my first love. Ready to leave this world and reunite with my love in England.  Only one survivor of the Tremblin Gremlin.  He died in Akron as a fireman saving someone from a fire.  Will say more later.

Marilyn was mistaken about the lone survivor of the Buslee crew in the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision.  The lone survivor was my dad, George Edwin Farrar.  The firefighter she refers to was Chester Rybarczyk, who was not with the Buslee crew on September 28, 1944 and completed his tour with the 384th.  Chester, the same man who held her husband as he lay dying in 1944, died fighting a fire in Toledo in 1967.

Three days later, on October 20, 2013, Marilyn posted her final message to the 384th Log Book (again, I have edited).

I am inspired by so many still remembering.  My husband Lt Marvin Fryden was a Bombardier Trainer in Deming NM, but on D-Day he woke up and said, “I should be over there.” He requested combat duty, trained with crew on a B-17, and left me on June 23rd.  I went home.  He flew his first mission on 8/4/44.  Next day he was fatally wounded and is buried at Maddingly.  All of the crew were killed on another mission except the navigator who lived to become a firefighter in Toledo and died trying to save someone in a fire.

Two and a half weeks later, on November 7, 2013 Marilyn Ash Fryden Samet passed away after a long illness. She was 88 years old.  Marilyn willed her remains to the Duke Medical School and asked that no service be held, feeling that “good memories make enough of a memorial.”

I did not discover Marilyn’s posts until November 17, 2013.  Not knowing that she had died ten days previously, I e-mailed her, but of course, I was too late.  I was not to discover until early in 2014 that Marilyn had left this world.  I can only hope that she got her wish and has reunited with Marvin in England.  Perhaps their ghosts roam the grounds of the old Grafton Underwood airfield together.  Someday when I get a chance to visit that place, I will stand silent and listen.  With the rumble of the B-17 engines long gone, I may be able to hear their happy laughter at being together again forever.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

The Window

8x10 GU Church Window

The Church of St. James in the village of Grafton Underwood, England has a special stained glass window depicting a B17 Flying Fortress that memorializes the air base that was home to the 384th bombardment group.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014