The March 2017 issue of the 8th AF News contains a wonderful story, “Band of Daughters.” The story is about two women, Ellen Hartman and Laura Edge, and their adventure together to visit the WWII prison camp, Stalag Luft IV, where their fathers and my father, were held as prisoners of war. You can read the story here.
Laura holds a Masters of Social Studies Education degree and wrote the book “On the Wings of Dawn: American Airmen as Germany’s Prisoners – Their Story of Courage, Sacrifice, and Survival.” Ellen owns her own public relations agency in Atlanta and is just beginning to research her father’s service in WWII. You can read the post I wrote about Ellen’s father, Joe Weaver, here.
I contacted both Ellen and Laura and learned that they had big plans for this year’s Fourth of July weekend in Savannah. They would be visiting the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. Joining them would be Zigmunt Wujek, a Polish sculptor, and Jupi Podlaszewski, head of the English School of Koszalin. Zigmunt created the memorial sculpture at the site of Stalag Luft IV.
Zigmunt Wujek has created more than two hundred memorials in his native Pomerania including monuments commissioned by Lech Walesa to mark the entrance to Stalag Luft IV. Zigmunt also created a bronze bust of an American airman from a photograph of Stalag Luft IV POW Joseph O’Donnell, author of the book “The Shoe Leather Express.”
Also joining the group as the third Stalag Luft IV daughter would be Candy Kyler Brown. Candy wrote the book “What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father.”
A WWII veteran of the 8th Air Force, Walter Grotz, was to join the group. Walter, of the 445th Bomb Group and his wife, Mary, sponsored the Polish dignitaries’ journey to the US. Walter and Mary had a B-24 propeller blade to donate to the museum and wanted Zigmunt to see his American Airman’s home in the museum. Walter became a prisoner at Stalag Luft IV when he had to bail out of his B-24 on the November 26, 1944 mission to an oil refinery at Hannover, Germany. Sadly, Walter Grotz died in May, but his wife, Mary, carried on Walter’s wishes and joined the group in Savannah.
Walter’s B-24 Propeller Blade
Zigmunt Wujek’s bronze bust of the American Airman in the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force
The American Aviator bronze bust (as described in the accompanying plaque) …
is the only exact copy of the “American Aviator” in the 1992 memorial at Stalag Luft IV, the WWII prison camp for enlisted American airmen in Poland. Wujek used a photograph of Joseph O’Donnell, a POW at Stalag Luft IV, as his model. At the 2006 dedication of the site as a Polish War Memorial, Wujek gave this bust to former POW Walter Grotz. It took Grotz five years to make the necessary import arrangements, and in 2011 he delivered the bust to this museum which will be its permanent home. Wujek presented it on behalf of the people of the Pomerania region of Poland as a Thank You to Eighth Air Force Veterans, all Veterans and the people of the United States.
Zigmunt Wujek and Mary Grotz admire Zigmunt’s work.
The organizer of the Savannah group, Ellen Hartman, was kind enough to invite me at join them as the fourth Stalag Luft IV daughter. And I, knowing that a WWII veteran living near me, John DeFrancesco, had a great desire to see the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, invited him to go to Savannah with me. John had been a POW in WWII, but not in Stalag Luft IV.
John was a pilot with the 384th Bomb Group, 544th Bomb Squadron, the same group and squadron in which my dad served. John was on his thirty-fifth mission on January 8, 1945 to a railroad line in Kyllburg, Germany when two of his engines exploded and his B-17 caught fire. After bailing out of the crippled aircraft, John was a POW at Stalag 13D Nuremburg (Oflag 73) Bavaria, an officers’ camp, and later after a forced march, was held at Stalag 7A (Moosburg).
Our experience at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force was extraordinary. In addition to touring the museum on our own (we took advantage of every free moment in our schedule to see as much as we could), we had two excellent guided tours.
Our first tour was led by 384th Bomb Group, Inc. Historian and NexGen Research Director John Edwards. John was one of the original nine who started the Museum of the Mighty Eighth. Between John’s history with the museum and his interest in aviation research, John’s tour offered our group a unique insight to the museum and the WWII history of the 8th Air Force.
Our second tour was led by Al Pela, museum docent and son of Stalag Luft IV POW Albert Pela who was a flexible gunner with the 100th Bomb Group, also known as “The Bloody Hundreth.” Albert’s B-17 crashed at Gottesgab (now Bozi Dar, Czech Republic) on September 11, 1944. Al’s stories of his father’s experiences at Stalag Luft IV added another perspective to our museum experience.
Just past the POW exhibit in the museum is a display case in which the vest that Candy Kyler Brown’s father, John Roland Kyler, made while he was a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft IV. Candy proudly shows her father’s work to the group. Kyler knitted the vest from a Red Cross-provided kit and he was able to bring it home on his trek across Germany in the Black March.
The museum is full of wonderful displays. John DeFrancesco stands in front of a memorial to the 384th Bomb Group complete with a model of a B-17.
Past a set of glass doors at the back of the large space housing the B-17 and other aircraft is the museum’s memorial garden. The garden is a beautiful, peaceful place full of memorials to groups and members of the 8th Air Force and the Chapel of the Fallen Eagles.
Inside the chapel are a multitude of stained glass windows…
… including a replica of the one honoring the 384th Bomb Group in the Church of St James the Apostle in Grafton Underwood, England.
John DeFrancesco stands in front of a replica of the 384th Bomb Group Memorial in Grafton Underwood, England, where the group was stationed during WWII.
After some help from Al Pela, I was able to find the memorial to the Brodie crew of the B-17 Lazy Daisy which collided with the B-17 Lead Banana on which my dad was the waist gunner on September 28, 1944.
To end this wonderful weekend, our group was honored at the American Legion Post 135 which is housed at 1108 Bull Street in Savannah, where on January 28, 1942, the Eighth Air Force was activated.
In addition to honoring the WWII veteran of our group, John DeFrancesco, the American Legion also honored Zigmunt Wujek, Walter Grotz, and each of the Stalag Luft IV daughters’ fathers.
Following the ceremony at the American Legion, our group enjoyed a spectacular dinner right next door at the restaurant Local11ten. It was the perfect ending to the perfect adventure for this group which was brought together because of a shared history in WWII. That adventure ended, but I suspect a new journey is just beginning.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017
My dad flew sixteen missions with the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII, but the only mission location he marked on this Invasion Map of Europe in his World Atlas was Magdeburg, Germany. It was the only mission he told me stories about, the one where another B-17 collided with his and he lost all of his fellow crewmates on that ship that day.
In a report to the military after his return to the States, he wrote:
Am very sorry I can’t give more information, but our ship was hit by another B-17 from our group. The other ship must have hit right in the center of our ship, as we were knocked half in-to. At the time we were struck I was knocked unconscious, and fell about 25,000 feet, before I knew I was even out of the ship. Never saw any of the other boys. I received a little rough treatment from the Germans when I hit the ground, and was unable to tell where I was.
He also marked Magdeburg on another map in his World Atlas and wrote “Belgard” in the top margin. Belgard, or Bialogard, is the county in which Gross-Tychow (now Tychowo), Poland lies, home of Stalag Luft IV.
Stalag Luft IV in Gross-Tychow was where Dad spent the darkest days of his life. It was one of the worst WWII prison camps in Germany, where prisoners were mistreated and underfed. It was the camp from which prisoners were marched in early February 1944, in one of the worst winters in Germany’s history, until their liberation in late April/early May.
These places, Magdeburg and Belgard, these two places on his map, would be burned into my father’s memory and soul forever. He would never return to those places for the rest of his life, but the memories of them remained with him every day and every night.
I am drawn to these places and I hope one day I will visit both. Neither look the same today as what Dad experienced in 1944, but I wish to stand on the soil where he hit the ground in his parachute, where his B-17 crashed to earth, and where he was held a prisoner behind barbed wire. I would like to walk the roads he marched as a prisoner of war by day, and see the barns where he slept in the hay at night.
Why do I want to visit these sites? Dad would probably not want me to see these places he would like to have forgotten, but they were an important part of his history and that makes them an important part of mine. I imagine seeing these places will take my breath away and bring me to tears.
I lost Dad almost thirty-five years ago. He died at the age of sixty-one. His heart gave out when he was too young to leave us. The mid-air collision and his subsequent time as a prisoner of war are what killed him. But he was tough and it took him another thirty-eight years to die. I would like to have had him around for another thirty years or more, so he could watch my sister and me mature, walk us down the aisle, and hold his grandchildren. But I understand now that the only way he found peace from the war was to leave this life and those horrible memories behind.
Rest in peace, Dad. I will never stop loving you.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017
I don’t know how many of you are members of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society, but I am a member and receive their 8th AF News magazine. I was intrigued by the cover of the March 2017 issue I received in the mail. The cover photo was a woman named Ellen Weaver Hartman holding dog tags and surrounded by photos and other items. The item that caught my eye was a small piece of wood inscribed with “Stalag Luft IV 1944.” Stalag Luft IV was the prison camp in which my dad was held POW in 1944 and 1945.
I quickly turned to the article, “Band of Daughters.” It was a reprint of an article by Josh Green for the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper. You can read the entire article here.
I went on to read the story of Ellen Weaver Hartman and Laura Witt Edge. Ellen’s dad was Joseph (Joe) Donald Weaver, who was a Radio Operator/Mechanic Gunner with the 9th Air Force, 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squad.
According to the American Air Museum in Britain, the 386th Bomb Group flew B-26 Marauders for the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces. While assigned to the Eighth Air Force, the 386th developed the formation release procedure for the B-26, a medium bomber, on missions from Great Dunmow, England in the winter of 1943 – 1944 to aerodromes, marshalling yards and V-weapon sites along the coast of France. In October 1944, the 386th moved to Beaumont-sur-Oise, north of Paris, and on to St. Trond, Belgium in support of the push eastward by ground forces.
Laura’s dad was Lawrence (Larry) Lee Witt, who was an Engineer/Waist Gunner with the 8th Air Force, 96th Bomb Group, 338th Bomb Squad.
According the the American Air Museum in Britain, the 96th Bomb Group flew B-17 Flying Fortresses to targets across occupied Europe from May 1943 to April 1945. They were awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations, the first for bombing an aircraft factory at Regensburg on August 17, 1943 under intense pressure from enemy fighters. The second was for leading the 45th Bomb Wing through difficult weather conditions and anti-aircraft fire on a mission to an aircraft components factories at Poznan on April 9, 1944.
Laura Edge knows a great deal about her father’s service in WWII. When her father was in his eighties, Laura sat down with him and one of his old crewmates and they told her their stories of WWII, Stalag Luft IV, and the Black March they endured while prisoners of war. Laura wrote a book, On the Wings of Dawn, a well-written and excellent record of the experiences of the American airmen who shared those experiences. I consider it a must-read for anyone whose father was confined in Stalag Luft IV during WWII and I will write more about it in a future post.
While Laura Edge knows a great deal about her father’s service in WWII, Ellen Weaver Hartman does not have as much information about her father’s service, but she would like to learn more. Who were the members of Joe Weaver’s originally assigned crew? How can she find a photo of that crew? If you have found your way to this article through an internet search on one of the names I’ve mentioned here, or if you recognize any of the faces in the included photos, and you have any information to share, I urge you to comment on this post or e-mail Ellen directly.
Joseph (Joe) Donald Weaver was born on August 28, 1923 in Ackerman, Mississippi. On October 8, 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. At the time, he was living in Choctaw County. He was assigned service number 14150971. Joe served in the 8th AF, 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squad as a radio operator/gunner on a B-26 Maurader. The 386th Bomb Group started out with the 8th AF, but transferred to the 9th AF in 1944.
Early in his overseas service, Joe was in a training accident in Ireland with pilot Robert G. Fry. The American Air Museum in Britain describes Fry as an Instructor (Pilot) with the 3rd Combat Crew Replacement Center. On December 27, 1943, B-26 #41-17961 was involved in a landing accident at Froome Airfield (Station 236) near Antrim, Northern Ireland after a local training flight. The aircraft landed in a small field. Joe Weaver and four others returned.
The four others mentioned were:
- S/Sgt. Pierre S. Buckner, tail gunner
- 2nd Lt. Vernon R. Hodges, pilot
- Sgt. John G. Latiloasis, engineer
- Captain Robert G. Fry, pilot instructor
John Latiloasis was from Louisiana and remained friends with Joe Weaver after the war.
The American Air Museum in Britain web site notes that after flying fifty-one missions with the Lt. Fry crew, Joe Weaver was assigned to the 386th Bomb Group, 554th Bomb Squadron of the 9th Air Force. Joe was a Radio Operator/Mechanical Gunner. On the August 6, 1944 mission to bomb fuel dumps near the Forêt d’Andainnein, east of the Domfront region of Calvados, France, Joe was flying with pilot Walter Edward Payne in B-26 #42-96184. This was Joe’s fifty-second mission, but his and the other gunners’ first mission with Captain Payne. Joe replaced Payne’s regular radio operator who had just completed his tour. Hit by flak, the plane crashed in the English Channel, one mile off the coast at Trouville-sur-Mer. Joe Weaver was made prisoner (POW) and was interned at Stalag Luft IV in Gross Tychow/Tychowo, Poland. Four others, including Captain Payne, were also made prisoners of war. Gunner Franklin E. Swanson was killed.
Aboard B-26 42-96184 that day were officers…
- Pilot/Captain Walter E. Payne
- Co-Pilot 1st Lt Hubert M. Altvater
- Bombardier/Navigator 1st Lt Edward William Roggenkamp
Payne, Altvater, and Roggenkamp were all on their 63rd mission. All three were made prisoner.
And enlisted men…
- Radio Operator/Mechanical Gunner T/Sgt Joseph D. Weaver (Ellen’s Dad) (POW)
- Ap. Armorer Gunner Cpl William L. Salyer (POW)
- Ap. Armorer Gunner Sgt Franklin E. Swanson (KIA) (injured by flak and his chute failed to open – Killed In Action).
The three enlisted men on board were all experienced gunners who had flown on earlier missions and were replacing the Payne crew’s regular gunners who had flown more than the sixty-five required missions (some with other crews) and had completed their tours.
The AAM (American Air Museum) reports that B-26 42-96184 was on its second mission of the day when it was hit by an 88mm flak shell above Le Havre, causing a fire in the right engine. Included in the missing air crew report, MACR7875, is this eyewitness statement from S/Sgt. Leonard J. Zuckerman:
I was flying as tail gunner in lead aircraft of formation in which Captain Payne was flying deputy lead.
Capt. Payne’s aircraft was hit by flak, causing fire in the right engine, which didn’t seem too large and was apparently unnoticed because ship was equipped with engine fire extinguishers. The flames subsided for a moment then flared up brightly and I saw three chutes from the tail end of the ship.
The pilot held the ship in formation for a time but was losing altitude slowly and the engine was burning brightly.
Two more chutes which evidently came from the front end of the ship, blossomed out as the ship began to lose altitude more rapidly. When about one mile off shore the right engine and wing came away from the ship and the ship itself spiraled into the channel.
I did not see a sixth chute from this aircraft. My vision was blurred after the first few minutes by hydraulic fluid which was smearing my plexiglass windshield.
This map, included in the missing air crew report was likely drawn by S/Sgt. Zuckerman to indicate the path of the aircraft, flying through the flak area and over the English Channel until it crashed in the Channel. Zuckerman also includes lattitude and longitude markings on his drawing. Zuckerman has drawn an outline around the flak area. Note the zig-zagging pattern of the aircraft through the flak area, attempting to evade the flak guns. The crew bailed out somewhere along the line indicating the aircraft’s path and probably landed somewhere between the flak area and the coastline at Trouville-sur-Mer, except for the co-pilot who actually landed in the channel about fifty feet offshore on a sandbar.
More information is provided in the Missing Air Crew Report, MACR7875, and in a narrative of “Mission 63” written by co-pilot H. Mark Altvater. Among the details are these:
- According to Lt. Altvater, bombardier/navigator Lt. Roggenkamp commented on the return trip from the target that they were getting too close to Le Havre, which was heavily defended by flak guns. He did not understand why the formation did not turn to avoid Le Havre, but they had no choice but to follow the lead aircraft.
- Lt. Altvater reported an ear-splitting explosion and realized that they had taken a direct hit from the 88mm flak guns in Le Havre. The windshield was hit and the pilot compartment was littered with dust, debris, Plexiglass splinters, and shell fragments. The fuel tanks in the right wing were punctured and spewing aviation fuel. Shortly after, they were on fire.
- About four minutes before the crew bailed out, Sgt. Swanson announced by interphone that he had been hit by flak, but that he would not leave his guns.
- They left formation approximately three minutes south of Trouville-sur-Mer.
- Lt. Roggenkamp, then Lt. Altvater bailed out of the aircraft through the bomb bay slightly west of Trouville, France. Cpl. Salyer, then Sgt. Weaver, then Sgt. Swanson left the aircraft through the waist window over Trouville. The last to bail out, Payne followed Altvater and Roggenkamp out the bomb bay.
- Captain Payne reported that his aircraft struck the ground in the English Channel approximately 10 miles west of Trouville and that none of the crew were in the aircraft at that time. (Although the witness, Zuckerman, noted the crash as one mile off shore, Payne noted ten miles off shore).
- The other gunners reported seeing blood on Swanson’s clothing near his groin, but they did not believe he was badly wounded before he bailed out. They saw his chute come out of its pack, but it did not canopy. It merely trailed behind, apparently caused by cut shrouds.
- After bailing out, Joe Weaver watched Franklin Swanson pass him on the way down. Swanson was trying to get his chute open as he passed Weaver. Weaver reported that Swanson’s chute was “one long streamer” and that he watched Swanson almost to the ground.
- Payne’s supposition was that at the time that Swanson was injured, his parachute was also hit by flak causing it to fail to function properly.
- The Germans provided Swanson’s dog tags and reported him found dead in a nearby woods. The Germans also said they buried him. He was likely buried in a local French cemetery, probably near Trouville-sur-Mer.
- The exact locations of where all of the crew landed are not noted other than Swanson’s body was found “in a nearby woods” and Altvater reported landing in the Channel, having to wade ashore.
After enduring six months in Stalag Luft IV and three more months on the road in the Black March, Joseph Donald Weaver was liberated and returned to the US. His formal date of separation from the Army Air Forces was October, 15 1945.
Ellen Weaver Hartman would like to find relatives her dad’s crew mates, and especially relatives of Franklin Swanson, the only crew member killed aboard 42-96184 that day. When Ellen’s dad, Joe Weaver, was picking up his gear for the August 6 mission, he didn’t pick up the parachute that he was supposed to get. Instead, he picked up the previous one in the gear line. Franklin Swanson picked up the parachute that was intended for Joe, the chute that didn’t open properly and didn’t deliver him safely to the ground. Joe Weaver was so upset over this that when he was liberated and returned home after the war, he and his parents drove from Mississippi to New York to visit Franklin’s parents. But, probably not considered by Joe was the possibility that the parachute Swanson picked up from the gear line was damaged by flak rather than defective.
Sgt. Franklin Swanson was born in 1923. His parents were Charles and Margaret Swanson and he had a younger brother named Carl. They were from Buffalo, Erie County, New York. Franklin enlisted in the Army Air Corps on August 28, 1942 in Buffalo and his service number was 12139321. He was noted, at the time of his enlistment, as being employed in the building of aircraft and also as single, without dependents. He served as an Ap. (airplane) Armorer Gunner with the 386th Bomb Group (Medium), 554th Bomb Squadron in WWII.
Franklin Swanson died August 6, 1944. He was awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and the Purple Heart. He was re-interred in the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, Plot B Row 9 Grave 6. Ellen plans to visit Franklin Swanson’s grave this summer.
Ellen Weaver Hartman would like to find the names of the men on which her father, Joseph Donald Weaver, served as an original crew and would also like to find a photo of the crew. Was the pilot of his original crew Robert Fry? Or did Weaver only fly with Fry on training missions?
She’d also like to find the exact location where the crew bailed out of the aircraft before it crashed into the channel, and also the places they landed and where Franklin Swanson’s body was found. In sixty seconds after bail out, the plane would have been over the sea, so it must have been very near the coastline, probably within a mile of Trouville-sur-Mer.
Ellen would also like to know what happened next. Her dad mentioned going to Chalon, France, and her mother told of a packed train ride to Dusseldorf, Germany.
Ellen would like to find more information about Franklin Swanson, pilot instructor Robert G. Fry, and the other men with which her father served in WWII. If any relatives of any of the men mentioned in this article stumble across it, Ellen Weaver Hartman would love to hear from you to learn more about the men her father flew with under pilot Robert Fry (Robert G. Fry, Pierre S. Buckner, Vernon R. Hodges, and John G. Latiloasis), and the men he flew with under pilot Walter Payne (Walter E. Payne, Hubert M. Altvater, Edward William Roggenkamp, William L. Salyer, and Franklin E. Swanson).
If you are related to any of these men or have any information for Joe Weaver’s daughter Ellen, please contact her through e-mail using this link: contact Ellen Weaver Hartman.
To learn more about the B-26 Marauder, click here.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017
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
More than a year had passed since George Edwin Farrar spent his last day marching across Germany and his ultimate liberation on May 2, 1945. We Americans that know of the Black March probably picture the marching prisoners in our minds as American, but my father’s companion on the march was a British soldier, not American. From this letter my father kept since 1946, I must assume that he was housed in a Stalag Luft IV barracks that was a mixture of American and British prisoners.
July 15, 1946
6 Forest View Cottages
It seems a long time since those unhappy days at Luft 4 & the three months marching but I haven’t forgotten the many Yank friends that I made & thought that I would give you time to settle down before I dropped you a line. I hope this finds you in the best of health old-timer & settled down to your home life again, enjoying all those good things that we used to dream about, steaks, chocolate, ices, etc. I’m sure you deserve them all.
I hope that this letter also brings back a few pleasant memories of England with its small hawthorn hedged fields & narrow country lanes. It looks very lovely at the moment as the crops are just about ripe & everywhere is so green. I am writing just after my Sunday tea & it is one of those rare sunny days that we get so few of over here.
I have been demobbed 12 months now & am back at work with promotion to shop foreman. My family has also risen to two boys since I got back. I expect you are also out of the Army Air Force.
Have you ever come across any more of Room 12. Old Mac Whorter lives down south at East Bernstadt, N London, Kentucky but I forgot that your states are as big as England. If you do write any of them please give them my regards.
I have been keeping my eyes open for some card-views of England, but I am sorry to say George that they are not yet back on the market but I shall remember. Try & get me some of those railway view that you told me about.
I’m afraid there’s not too much of anything yet over here & rations are as strict if not stricter than they were during war-time. Now bread as gone on rations due to the state of the continent, the capitalist clique over here are making a lot of party capital out of it but we shall pull through this the same as everything else.
Now that the American loan as gone through we expect to get more petrol, newspapers & a bit more variety in our very dull meals. I’m sure that you won’t regret it when you know what good it will do. It’s no good to anyone as money alone & a thriving Britain means more trade for the U.S.A. as I see it. Anyway our two countries must stick together.
I never saw you again after the day we were liberated. I understand that nearly all your boys stopped the first night at Boizenburg but most of the RAF went straight on to Luneburg & I got there that night. From there I went to Emsdetten near Holland & then flew to England in a Lanc [possible abbreviation for Lancaster bomber].
Well George I expect I could write all night about the past but most of that’s best forgotten, don’t you think. I hope this letter finds you, & I shall be looking forward to your reply. By-the way are you married yet. Write & give me all the news. Please give your family my regards.
Well I must draw to a close as I’m going up to the local pub which my father-in-law runs. I should like to have you here & treat you to a pint of good old mild which I know you used to like.
Cheerio for now old pal & all the very best.
Your Limey Pal,
“Old Mac Whorter” was Cecil C. McWhorter of Kentucky. He was a Staff Sergeant with the 351st bomb group. McWhorter was a left waist gunner on the Charles E. Cregar, Jr. crew on the 351st’s October 3, 1944 mission 213 to the Nuremburg railroad marshaling yards. All on board became POW’s with the exception of bombardier John F. Dwyer, who lost his life on that mission. MACR9358 contains details, but I have not yet been able to locate a copy. McWhorter died February 10, 1965 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
Four days after he was liberated, but still in Germany, George Edwin Farrar wrote a longer letter to his mother.
May 6, 1945
Active Service Army Privilege Envelope
I guess you have heard through the government that I was liberated. I was liberated by the English May 2nd and have been treated very nice since. I should be home soon, and having some of the nice meals you fix. That I have dreamed of for all-most a year. Life was a bit hard here, but it is all over now. I have been on the road marching since Feb. 6th with very little food, but am not in bad condition. I hope that every-one at home are o.k. as I have been thinking of every-one each day. Tell Gene I hope he had a nice birthday, and I was thinking of him on that day.
I’ll sure have a lot of things to tell you when I get home, and I am really going to stay around home. I guess I’ll have to get a new watch when I return as I had to sell mine for bread when I was on the march.
I hope you can read this, as I am writing on an old German gas mask case, and it is a bit rough, so will close until I have a better chance to write.
Love to all,
Gene was Ed’s youngest brother who had just turned fourteen on March 4.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
George Edwin Farrar , my dad, was liberated on May 2, 1945. He was sent to Brussels, Belgium and on to a hospital in France where he spent several weeks.
He was allowed to pen a short note home to inform his family he had been freed.
Dear Mother, was liberated May Second. Am in good health. Will be home soon. Love, S/Sgt. George E. Farrar
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
It is March 28, 1945. For George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, Wilfred Frank Miller, and the rest of the former prisoners of Stalag Luft IV, it is the fifty-first day of marching.
The prisoners were divided into large groups or “columns” for the march. Farrar, Liniger, and Miller may or may not have been part of the same column. Such records do not exist. For Farrar and Miller, we are unsure exactly where in the march they were on that day, but we do know where Harry Liniger was. Harry was boarding a train.
A note Liniger wrote that day on a piece of cigarette rolling paper was recently found tucked into his New Testament by his son, Harry. Almost 69 years later, it briefly describes that day.
51 day on the road. Boarded train at 2PM March 28. Recd [received] 3/8 of a loaf of bread per man. 60 men on a car.
Joseph P. O’Donnell, another former prisoner of Stalag Luft IV, describes that day in more detail in his book, The Shoe Leather Express. O’Donnell writes that they arrived at 3PM and were loaded sixty-five men to each boxcar – boxcars that were designed to hold forty men or eight horses, providing the name “the 40 and 8.” They were “jammed into the boxcars and the doors were sealed shut.” O’Donnell continues to describe the scene, explaining that there was not enough room for all of the men to sit down at the same time. The sick were allowed to lie down and the rest of the men took turns sitting and standing.
The train ride did not turn into a “ride” for a very long time. The train sat without moving, other than occasional movements back and forth of one hundred to two hundred feet. The tops of the boxcars were unmarked, making them targets for allied aircraft. Transportation modes were prime targets of the allies. O’Donnell considered their “confinement in the boxcars and the intermittent movement of the boxcars as a diabolic and intentional plan by the German commandant to have us destroyed by our own Air Force.”
O’Donnell described conditions in the boxcars as “unbearable”, considering the number of P.O.W.’s with chronic dysentery. The men were denied water that was available nearby during their torturous wait. Finally, on March 30, after forty hours of confinement, the train began its journey to Fallingbostel, a thirty mile trip. The men were never let out of the boxcars until they arrived in Fallingbostel.
From the Fallingbostel train station, the men were marched to Stalag Luft XIB.
Thank you to Harry Allen Liniger, Jr. for sharing his father’s note.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
The February 1945 issue of the Prisoners of War Bulletin reported movement of prisoners from the prison camps. In reference to Stalag Luft IV, where George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, and Wilfred Frank Miller were held, the bulletin reported:
Grosstychow, in Pomerania, where Stalag Luft IV with its large complement of British and American airmen was located, was close to the combat zone in late January.
The March issue offered more information on the movement of prisoners. Here are a few excerpts from a section named Camp Movements on the back page of the bulletin with references to Stalag Luft IV:
A cable from the American Red Cross Representative at Geneva in the middle of February referred to “the great mass movement of prisoners now marching on foot westward…”
On February 13, the War Department and the Department of State jointly announced that official information had been received with respect to the evacuation westward of American prisoners of war formerly detained in camps in eastern Germany. This announcement stated:
“All the camps in East Prussia, Poland, and that part of Pomerania east of the Oder River are being moved westward. This includes among others Stalag Luft IV…”
“Information concerning the relocation of prisoner of war camps is constantly being received. This information will be made public as soon as it is possible to confirm these relocations. Pending a notification through the usual official sources, next of kin are urged to continue to address communications to individual prisoners of war to their last known address.”
Article 7 of the Geneva Convention of 1929 Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War states:
“…Evacuation of prisoners on foot may normally be effected only by stages of 20 kilometers [12 1/2 miles] a day, unless the necessity of reaching water and food depots requires longer stages.”
The latest information on camp movements is given on page 4.
Page 4 of the bulletin offered an additional section named Latest Information on Camp Movements (By cable from Geneva). Here are a few excerpts from this section:
Approximately 53 percent of all American prisoners of war in Germany, late in February, were moving westward – mainly on foot. The total number of American, Belgian, British, French, Norwegian, Polish, and Yugoslav prisoners evacuated from camps in eastern Germany and Poland exceeded 300,000.
Prisoners from …Stalag Luft IV… were grouped near Stettin.
Large stores of Red Cross supplies had to be left behind when the principal American camps were evacuated. The latest cables from Geneva emplasized that much hardship is being suffered by the evacuated prisoners, and even more by German civilian refugees.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014
Three of the survivors of the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana – George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, and Wilfred Frank Miller – were being held as prisoners of war in Stalag Luft IV. Stalag Luft IV was located in Gross Tychow, Pomerania, which is now Tychowo, Poland.
Near the end of WWII, with Allied forces advancing from the west and the Soviet Red Army advancing from the east, the Nazis began a series of forced marches of prisoners out of the prisoner of war camps. There is no definitive answer as to why the prisoners were marched from the camps or what the Nazis planned for them in the end. One theory is that the prisoners were marched out of the camps simply to delay their liberation.
By the end of January 1945, the plan to march allied prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV and away from liberation by the Soviet Red Army was ready to begin. The winter of 1945 was one of Germany’s coldest on record with blizzard conditions. The prisoners of Stalag Luft IV were ill-equipped for a march in such weather. They had been underfed and were not clothed properly for the conditions.
On February 6, 1945 the march out of Stalag Luft IV began. With just a few hours notice to prepare to march out of the camp, the prisoners scrambled to gather what they could.
The prisoners did not know where they were going or how long they would be on the road. The march out of Stalag Luft IV has been given many names – the Death March, the Black March, and even the Shoe Leather Express. Most of those that survived just called it “The March”. My dad, George Edwin Farrar, usually called it the “Forced March” when he told me stories of sleeping in the hay and stealing a chicken for food.
Back home, the relatives and friends of Farrar, Liniger, and Miller pictured the three dealing with the hardships of prison camp life. They had no idea their loved ones were enduring something even worse. “The March” meant walking fifteen to twenty miles a day. It meant very little food. It meant sleeping in piles of hay in barns and sometimes out in the open. It meant exhaustion, illness, and starvation. Some would not reach liberation, but most just kept marching, with thoughts of home and family keeping them going.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014