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384th Bomb Group Airmen Confined to Stalag Luft IV

During WWII, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a prisoner of war held in the Stalag Luft IV prison camp for enlisted airmen. I have seen several lists of WWII airmen who were held as prisoners of war in Stalag Luft IV, but until recently I have never found my father’s name on any of the lists.

The only place I have seen Dad’s name associated with Stalag Luft IV is his record in the digital records of the National Archives.

Recently, Fred Preller, the webmaster of the 384th Bomb Group website, added several new reports to the site, among them a list of 384th Bomb Group airmen who were prisoners of war in all prison camps. In all, 880 airmen of the 384th Bomb Group became POWs during their WWII service, and 156 of those were held in Stalag Luft IV. Finally, I have a list of Stalag Luft IV POWs that includes my father’s name. This one’s for you, Dad.

384th Bomb Group Airmen Held POW in Stalag Luft IV

Adams, Benjamin Harold Marshall, Sylvester Joseph
Amspacher, Ray Richard May, Gayle Gustavus
Anderson, Frank J McAnear, Carlton S
Anderson, Jack R McClure, Charles Roesler
Andrews, Ralph Cash, Jr McCracken, Dwight Howard
Atkinson, Owen Glenn Miles, Harold Ruoff
Baird, Ralph Edwin, Jr Miller, Robert Lee
Barnes, Karl Francis Miller, Wilfred Frank
Bartholomew, Everett Laverne Misiewicz, Joseph R
Bedsted, Lee Roy Moore, John William
Benker, Patrick Denis Mosbey, James Millard
Bianca, Buddy Armand Nickles, Mercer Chartos, Jr
Bingaman, Jack William Norton, Richard Anthony
Boon, Howard Goodall, Jr O’Leary, Edward Joseph
Borgeson, Wesley Clifton Odom, Rufus Thurman, Jr
Brannigan, Allen Francis Oldham, Jesse Zera
Brown, Cecil William Oliva, Armando (NMI)
Brown, Jack M Onstad, William Walter
Brown, James Paul Osepchook, Arthur John
Cameron, Robert Allen Owens, Norris Reece
Castiglione, Vincent Joseph Page, William Marvin
Clary, Leonard Estus Palladino, Joseph Anthony
Clymer, Charles Richard Parsons, Roland Westley
Cook, Herbert Arno Peckerar, Irvin Milton
David, Alfred Alme Perry, Gilbert Franklin
Day, Huley Newton Petrillo, Joseph (NMI)
Ecker, John Eric Pierce, Lee Clifton
Edwards, Thomas Joseph, Jr Pire, Irwin Joseph, Jr
Egger, Richard Henry Plotz, John James
Egger, Robert Ross Rabe, William Arthur, Jr
Fallesen, Wayne Peter Raines, Louis Edward
Farrar, George Edwin Rardon, Edward Perish
Farrow, Thomas Chapell Reed, Clarence Eugene
Faust, Glenn Millard Robinson, Warren Ray
Felicetti, Frank Dominick Romano, Vincent Peter
Fiory, William John Joseph Rood, James Raymond
Flaherty, James DeValera Sack, Ralph William
Fooder, Elmer H Sager, Edwin M
Foretich, Gerald Fabian Santosuosso, John Peter
Franzo, Anthony Joseph Saunders, Paul Ralph
Frederickson, Ralph Louis Schepers, Bob Eugene
Friedman, Jack Kenyon Schick, Frank Joseph, Jr
Fulwider, Albert Clayton, Jr Sexton, William Hiram
Gabriel, Daniel (NMI) Simon, Edward (NMI)
Gerhold, Melvin Henry Smith, Joseph H
Gilroy, Robert Peter Snead, William Austin
Girard, Donald Robert Snyder, Charles Leslie
Golka, Larry John Stanley, James Farrell
Gregorich, Vincent (NMI) Stephenson, Hilton Hubert
Gribbons, Warren David Stevens, Howard Orville
Grimes, Robert Albert Stropek, George Vincent
Hale, Kenneth Oliver Sylvia, Joseph Herbert
Hallam, Harley Ross Taylor, Homer William
Hamilton, Harry Tobais Taylor, William Edson
Harbrecht, Robert Francis Thompson, Raymond Archie
Hardman, John Bethany Thornhill, John G
Harrison, Joseph Horatio Traynor, James Patrick
Haverlah, Alton Bernhard Treat, John Afton
Hickey, James Currie Van Beveren, John Edward
Holler, Edward Ralph Vennel, Alexander Joseph
Hopkins, James Russell Wallo, Andrew (NMI)
House, Horace Doster, Jr Walsh, James Francis
Hunt, Walter Francis Walton, Horace Murphy
Jellings, Charles Albert Wasilewski, Aleck Michael
Jones, Leroy Charles Watson, Paul Leland
Kane, Francis P Way, Arthur Harold
Kenedy, John Joseph Whipple, Charles Thomas
Kidwell, Hugh Thomas Whitney, Stanley Clifford
Klonowski, Francis Dominick Wick, Andrew Oliver
Kohl, John Gustave Wilson, Gerald Eugene
Kushner, Jack (NMI) Wolfe, Clark Benjamin, Jr
Larocca, Frank (NMI) Woodruff, Walker Ace
Liniger, Harry Allen Woods, Harold Leroy
Louden, Jack Elmer Wright, William Clifford
Lunceford, John William Wyatt, Kenneth Ainley
MacGregor, Douglas Roy Younker, John Joseph
Madden, Arthur W Zesch, Charles Emil
Mariani, Waldo Frank Zordel, Wilbur Godfrey

Thanks, Fred, and thank you to all of the 384th Bomb Group volunteers who research and record, compile, and share information with me and all other 384th Bomb Group researchers. Whether we researchers are historians or family members, we all greatly benefit from the hard work of these few:

Fred Preller, 384thBombGroup.com Webmaster, tries to keep all the pieces of the website working together. Fred’s father Robert H. Preller served as a 546th BS copilot from May to September 1944.

Keith Ellefson, combat data specialist. Keith’s Uncle Raymond O. Wisdahl flew 35 missions with the 384th. Keith has taken a serious interest in data validity and completeness He has been especially involved in the Wing Panel Signing Project.

John Edwards, 384th Bomb Group, Inc. Historian and 384th NEXGEN Research Director. John is an aviation researcher who, thru friendships with 384th Veterans, formed a bond with the 384th family.

Mark Meehl, 384th Bomb Group, Inc. Archivist, is a researcher who specializes in ground personnel, and who also maintains the master log of all combat sorties. Mark’s father Paul E. Meehl served as a 384th ground crew chief from early 1943 thru the end of the war.

Phil Hettel, combat data specialist. Phil’s Uncle Joseph J. Rachunas flew 25 combat missions with the 384th, was shot down and became a POW on his last mission.

Marc Poole, 384thBombGroup.com Webmaster Emeritus, founder of the original 384th website. Marc now serves in an advisory capacity, with occasional forays into research. While a student at Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS, Marc established the website in 1999. He was motivated by the wartime experiences of his uncle, Johnny Butler, who was a 547th Bomb Squadron pilot during Summer 1943. In 2004, Marc turned over operation of the site to current webmaster Fred Preller.

And, yes, I’m one of the research volunteers, too…

Cindy Farrar Bryan, author of this blog, researcher and website analyst. My father George Edwin Farrar, a gunner on the Buslee Crew, was the sole survivor of that crew when they were involved in a mid-air collision on the 28 September 1944 mission to Magdeburg, Germany.

In addition…

All who contribute materials and suggestions – and who report factual errors and website problems. Additional volunteers are always welcome. If you have an interest in helping to preserve the heritage of the 384th, whether you are a computer whiz or not, there are tasks in the (overflowing) Official 384thBombGroup.com Job Jar to suit all capabilities. To inquire about opportunities, e-mail the Webmaster.

The above information was appropriated from Fred Preller’s “About This Site” page on 384thBombgroup.com.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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Zygmunt Wujek

I met Polish sculptor Zygmunt Wujek in July 2017 at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Georgia, near Savannah, during a gathering of descendants of WWII POWs. In the above photo, Zygmunt is pictured at the museum with his American Aviator bronze bust.

The American Aviator is one of more than two hundred works Zygmunt created in his native Pomerania. Among Zygmunt’s many works were monuments commissioned by Lech Walesa to mark the entrance to Stalag Luft IV. To see photos of Stalag Luft IV then and now, including the monuments created by Zygmunt Wujek, please visit this POW site.

The American Aviator bronze bust in the photo…

…is described on the accompanying plaque as …

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.

Note:  The POW from whom the American Aviator was modeled, Joseph O’Donnell, was the author of the series of “The Shoe Leather Express” books.

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was one of the American aviators imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV during WWII, and so this particular work of Zygmunt Wujek has special significance to me.

I have not been to the site of Stalag Luft IV to see the remains of the prison camp or the memorial erected there, but seeing and touching this memorial to all the men with whom my dad shared this part of his past sends waves of emotion though me. I am thrilled that we have such a monument on American soil to remind us what these men sacrificed for us so many years ago.

Next year, 2020, will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the march of prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV. Plans are in the works to mark the anniversary at the memorial site and across Germany following part of the path of the march. I know Zygmunt would have taken part, but sadly Zygmunt Wujek died on December 22, 2018.

Zygmunt’s obituary shared the following information:

On Saturday (22 December [2018]), a sad news came. At the age of 80, Zygmunt Wujek, a sculptor from Koszalin, a medalist, painter and draftsman and a social activist died. He became famous as the author of over two hundred monuments, including Jan Stawisiński, Victims of Bolshevism, General Władysław Anders and Martyrdom of the Polish Nation.

Zygmunt was born on September 22, 1938 in Rawicz, Poland. He studied sculpture at the State Higher School of Fine Arts (currently the Academy of Fine Arts) in Poznań. In the capital of Wielkopolska he was a participant in the demonstration of support for the workers’ protest in June 1956. He worked as an instructor at the Youth Culture Center in Poznań, but in 1965 he came to Koszalin. Here he was a teacher at the Technical School of Building, and later a sculpture teacher at the State High School of Fine Arts and a lecturer at the Design Institute of the Koszalin University of Technology. He was an activist of the Union of Polish Visual Artists. Awarded many times, including decorated with the Gold Cross of Merit, the Mater Verbi Medal and the West Pomeranian Griffin.

The news about the artist’s death is a huge loss for the Koszalin culture and a surprise for a group of his friends, because Zygmunt Wujek, who was still active, had many plans for the next year.

A more complete biography is included Zygmunt’s full (translated) obituary here.

But something is missing from this summary of Zygmunt’s life. What formed the man is not the list of his accomplishments, but the impressions that formed in his young mind when he was growing up in Poland.

Zygmunt was born during a terrible time in the world, during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Barely over a month following Zygmunt’s birth, over 15,000 Polish Jews living in Germany were expelled without warning. They were loaded in boxcars and dumped at the Polish border. Weeks later, the Nazis coordinated widespread attacks on Jews throughout Germany in an event call Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass.

Shortly before Zygmunt’s first birthday, the Nazis invaded Poland, initiating WWII in Europe. Britain and France demanded Germany withdraw its troops, but instead the Luftwaffe raided Warsaw. In September of 1939, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all declared war on Germany. Before the end of the month, Warsaw surrendered to the Nazis.

In the early years of Zygmunt Wujek’s life, his country was under Nazi occupation. Concentration camps arrived and the extermination of Jews began. Stalag Luft IV opened in May 1944 for the imprisonment of captured allied enlisted airmen.

On January 17, 1945, with Zygmunt only six years old, Soviet troops captured and liberated Warsaw from Nazi control. On the 26th, the Soviets liberated the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. On February 6, with the Russian Army approaching, the POWs of Stalag Luft IV were made to gather their belongings and march from the camp, beginning their eighty-six day odyssey out of Poland and across Germany.

Until VE (Victory in Europe) Day, May 8, 1945, Zygmunt Wujek had known nothing but war in his life, but now at school age, those terrible times would become memories, but memories that would last a lifetime.

It is impossible to think of the memorial at Stalag Luft IV without remembering Zygmunt Wujek. Though he will be greatly missed by family and friends, including the daughters of Stalag Luft IV, his memory will live on through his works of art, and especially for me, his memorial sculpture for the airmen of Stalag Luft IV and the American Aviator.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The Shoe Leather Express

Seventy-four years ago, 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 their 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, the POW camp in which Dad was held prisoner, 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.

Many books have been written about the 86-day 500-mile march of Stalag Luft IV prisoners. The best book on the subject is the original The Shoe Leather Express by Joseph P. O’Donnell. Joe was Stalag Luft IV POW 1414 and experienced the prison camp and the march firsthand. Joe wrote a series of six books on the subject of POWs, with the first book of the Shoe Leather Express series subtitled The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany.

The complete list of the Shoe Leather Express books is as follows:

  • Book 1:  The Shoe Leather Express, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany
  • Book 2:  The Shoe Leather Express Book II, Luftgangsters Marching Across Germany, A Potpourri of Prisoner of War Experiences in Nazi Germany During World War II
  • Book 3:  The Pangs of the Thorn, Book III of The Shoe Leather Express, A Collection of True Stories of Prisoners of War in Japan and Nazi Germany WWII
  • Book 4:  A History of Stalag Luft IV, May 1944 – February 1945, Book IV of The Shoe Leather Express
  • Book 5:  And Then We Came Upon A Time of Great Rewarding, A Time of Remembrance, A Collection of Prayers and Poems for and by Prisoners of War
  • Book 6:  Talent Behind Barbed Wire, A Collection of Sketches and Cartoons of Prisoner of War Life

The harsh conditions of the march from Stalag Luft IV and treatment of the POWs is not well known. The march itself is rarely a topic of discussion in the subject of WWII history. But that needs to change. February 6, 2020 will mark the 75th Anniversary of the start of the Black March, and this event from history should be recognized and remembered.

The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March was commemorated in the Congressional Record. On May 8, 1995, in the First Session of the 104th Congress, John William Warner entered the commemoration into the 141st Congressional Record (S6237). It may be read here in one of my past posts.

As for Joseph O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express books, they are out of print and hard to find through used book sources, but the preface and first two chapters of the original Book I may be read online courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.

Candy Kyler Brown, daughter of Stalag Luft IV POW John R. Kyler kindly provided me with the titles of all the books in Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express series. Candy began researching her father’s WWII and POW experiences long before I began researching mine and has produced both a website and book with must-read information for anyone interested in learning more about the WWII POW experience.

Candy’s book, What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father, is available on Amazon.

Candy’s website, Remember History, offers a wealth of information about her father and about her friend, Joseph O’Donnell, and his POW experiences.

As Candy and I and other sons and daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs have learned, it all starts with an inquisitive mind and a desire to know the truth about our fathers’ captivity during WWII. Don’t let this important part of our country’s history and your family’s history be lost to the past.

Learn everything you can by reading published books and personal accounts published online.  Search for your own family WWII-era letters and photos long packed away.

If you’re lucky enough to have a living father, grandfather, or uncle in his mid-90’s, ask him if he served in WWII. Ask about his war service and learn everything you can from him. If he is a former prisoner of war, find out everything you can about his POW experience. Record it. Share it with the world or just share it with future generations of your family.

We must not forget their service and we must not forget their sacrifice. Remember and make these men proud.

Resources

Preface and first two chapters of The Shoe Leather Express Book I

What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father by Candy Kyler Brown

Candy Kyler Brown’s website, Remember History

The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March commemorated in the Congressional Record

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Laurie Newbold of Belton, Leicestershire, England

First, a recap…

In August, I wrote about an aspect of the WWII Black March of prisoners of war of Stalag Luft IV, the Combine. My father, George Edwin Farrar, who was a waist gunner in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England, was one of the prisoners on the March. Dad’s B-17 went down on September 28, 1944 and after a lengthy hospital stay, he was placed in Stalag Luft IV around Thanksgiving.

I have found that when the prisoners of Stalag Luft IV were marched out of the prison camp on February 6, 1945, Dad, RAF airman Laurie Newbold, and 351st Bomb Group waist gunner Cecil McWhorter likely made up a three-man combine. I learned of these men through a letter Laurie Newbold sent Dad on July 15, 1946.

I wanted to know more about the two men my dad spent his darkest days with in the prison camp and on the March. I have already researched and written about the man I learned was “Old Mac Whorter.” He was Cecil Carlton McWhorter and you can read more about him in these previous posts, Cecil Carlton McWhorter –

…End of recap

My search for Laurie Newbold began with his letter. I had his address, 6 Forest View Cottages, Belton, NR Loughborough, Leicestershire, England. Belton is a parish, or small village, in the district of North West Leicestershire in England. A Google Maps search today does not find “6 Forest View Cottages” in Belton.

I learned a few other things from the letter. Laurie was married and his wife’s father ran the local pub. Laurie had one son before his war service. And after he returned home from the war, he had a second son.

In an internet search, I recently found a pub in Belton called “The Queen’s Head Pub.”

Queen’s Head Pub in Belton

The Queen’s Head Pub in Belton, Leicestershire has been a village pub for over 200 years. The building is a historic coaching inn which was built in the 1700’s. It has been a pub since 1800. Now it is a restaurant with a bar and accommodations. The Queen’s Head is situated in the center of the village facing the square. The pub is located at 2 Long Street, Belton, Loughborough, LE12 9TP.

I e-mailed the pub and quickly received a response from Jo Newby, General Manager of the Queen’s Head. Jo did some checking and discovered that I had the correct Belton, England (there are two), but possibly not the right pub. Jo said that there were once two pubs in Belton. The other, the George Hotel, is no longer there, but she thinks it was the George which Laurie Newbold’s father-in-law ran.

Jo found a few folks who remember Lawrence (Laurie) Newbold. A couple of Jo Newby’s regulars at the Queen’s Head, Barry and Mary-Jean, know a lot about Laurie. He was Mary-Jean’s uncle and they lived next door to him. Laurie Newbold had three children, Michael, Stephen, and Janice. Laurie has passed away and so have Michael and Janice. But Stephen is still alive and lives in the adjacent village of Long Whatton.

Jo found an interesting photo hanging on a wall of the Queen’s Head Pub. It is a picture of Laurie Newbold and the Long Whatton and Belton Home Guard. In the photo, Laurie Newbold is standing second from left in the second from top row. I have circled him in the photo.

Lawrence Newbold, second from left in the second from top row
Long Whatton and Belton Home Guard
Photo courtesy of Jo Newby

More internet searches revealed that L.E. (Laurie) Newbold was a Sergeant in the RAF, in the No. 50 Squadron of Bomber Command.  He became a POW on March 18, 1944 when his Avro Lancaster #ED-308 went down on a mission to Frankfurt.

The No. 50 Squadron flew out of RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincoln, England, from November 26,1941 to June 20, 1942 and October 17, 1942 to June 15, 1945. Skellingthorpe was about seventy miles north of Grafton Underwood (where my dad was stationed) and Polebrook (where Cecil McWhorter was stationed).

The Back to Normandy website has a photo of ED-308 and some information about the March 18/19 mission. The site’s publisher, Fred Vogels, wrote,

On Saturday, 18 March 1944, (a part of) the aircraft of the 50 squadron (RAF), took off for a mission to Frankfurt in Germany from a station (airfield) in or near Skellingthorpe.

One of the crew members was Flight Sergeant H J Rouse. He departed for his mission at 19:15.

He flew with a Avro Lancaster (type I, with serial ED308 and code VN-J). His mission and of the other crew members was planned for Sunday, 19 March 1944.

I found a list of the crew aboard ED-308 on March 18, 1944 on the UK’s National Archives website. Once the page opens, scroll down and click Preview an image of this record. Select Image 12 and then go to full screen. About halfway down the page, you will see 18/19 March 1944 in the left column. Zooming in helps immensely. You can view the crew listing and comments even though viewing is obstructed by a water mark. The pilot’s last name is Miller, and fourth line down on Miller’s crew is Sgt. L.E. Newbold.

The Sortie notes state: Bombing Attack on Frankfurt. Aircraft Missing – no signal received.

I’m happy to have learned more about Laurie Newbold and have a photo of him thanks to Jo Newby. Perhaps someday Stephen Newbold and I will be able to meet face to face. I think that if I can look directly into his eyes, I will be able to see the ghost of his father and he will be able to see the ghost of mine, how they appeared seventy-four years ago when they helped each other survive what was probably the most fearful time in their lives, and watched each other waste away from lack of food, illness, and other hardships of marching across Germany, not knowing if they would live to ever see their families again. Stephen Newbold, this is our shared history. The history of our fathers, two survivors of WWII.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Cecil Carlton McWhorter, Part 3 of 3

Cecil Carlton McWhorter, continued..

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

In my search for Cecil Carlton McWhorter and descendants, I also turned to Ancestry.com for personal information.

Cecil was born in Olney, Texas on March 4, 1918. His birth year explains why Laurie Newbold considered Cecil McWhorter “old.” Cecil would have been twenty-seven years old in 1945. Most of the men who made up WWII air crews were in their late teens and early twenties.

In 1930, the United States Census reported that the McWhorter family lived in Throckmorton County, Texas. Cecil’s father was Isaac McWhorter, 51 years old, and was a farmer. Isaac was born in Kentucky as was his father. Isaac’s mother was born in Tennessee. Cecil’s mother was Susan Cloyd McWhorter. She was born in Kentucky as was her mother. Her father was born in Tennessee. Susan was 41 years old in 1930. She and Isaac had been married for 23 years.

Isaac and Susan McWhorter had 5 children living at home in 1930. Albert was 20, Cecil was 12, Martha Dee was 10, Louis Winston was 6, and Eldon Cloyd was 2 1/2. They also had an older daughter, Francis, who was 22 and no longer living at home.

Shortly before being shipped overseas, on May 6, 1944, at age 26, Cecil Carlton McWhorter married Martha Elizabeth Rohner in Highlands County, Florida. At the time, he listed his address as the 399th Bomb Squadron of the 88th Bomb Group, stationed at Avon Park Army Air Field. He listed his occupation as S/Sgt., U.S. Army. Martha’s age was listed as 27, birthplace East Bernstadt, Kentucky.

Oddly, it was Cecil’s marriage license that revealed how and where Cecil served in WWII before he was assigned to the 351st Bomb Group. The 88th Bomb Group was a training unit that was part of the 2nd and 3rd Air Forces and was based in Avon Park, Florida. It was inactivated on May 1, 1944, just five days before Cecil married Martha. They must have married knowing Cecil would soon be going overseas, leaving Martha behind. She must have worried greatly about her new husband when he was first declared missing in action and then prisoner of war.

Between 1956 and 1958, Cecil and Martha must have divorced. They are listed as husband and wife in the 1956 Louisville, Kentucky city directory. Cecil worked in the lab at Ford Motors and they lived at 1353 Lillian. In the 1958 directory, Cecil’s wife is listed as Ethel L., and the couple lived at 1207 West Market. Cecil was employed as a Trimmer for Ford Motors. Cecil must have been 39 or 40 years old when he remarried in 1957 or 1958.

Cecil Carlton McWhorter died on February 10, 1965 in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky at age 46 of pancreatic cancer, of which he had been suffering for ten months. On his death certificate, his occupation was listed as Assembler for the Ford Motor Company. His wife was listed as Mrs. Ethel McWhorter. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.

Cecil’s first wife, Martha Rohner, died March 21, 2010 in Louisville at the age of 93. The last name “McWhorter” was not included in her obituary title, leading me to believe that she and Cecil had indeed divorced. However, there was mention that she was preceded in death by her husband, Cecil [McWhorter]. Survivors listed in her obituary included nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, but no children.

I cannot find an obituary, death record, or current address listing for Cecil’s second wife, Ethel L. McWhorter. An obituary usually reveals whether a person had any children or not. Cecil and Martha apparently didn’t have children, but I don’t know if he and Ethel did. They were married for seven or eight years before he died, so could have.

When I visited the NPRC (National Personnel Records Center) in St. Louis, Missouri, I reviewed Cecil McWhorter’s military record. Unfortunately, Cecil’s record was destroyed in the fire of 1973, or at least most of his record. The only document it contained was Cecil’s Final Payment Roll dated August 25, 1945.

As far as I know, on Black March Liberation Day, May 2, 1945, Dad, Laurie Newbold, and Cecil McWhorter finished their march across Germany together. The column of prisoners of which these three were a combine had been on the road marching since February 6, eighty-six days and five hundred miles. They endured so much together, but I don’t believe that they ever saw each other again for the remainder of their lives. I would like to find their children to share the knowledge of the bond our fathers had almost seventy-five years ago with the next generation.

If you are a relative of 351st Bomb Group waist gunner Cecil C. McWhorter or RAF airman Laurie Newbold, please Contact Me.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Cecil Carlton McWhorter, Part 2 of 3

Cecil Carlton McWhorter, continued…

Read Part 1 here.

On his final mission, Cecil McWhorter was left waist gunner on the Charles E. Cregar, Jr. crew of the 511th Bomb Squadron of the 351st Bomb Group on the October 3, 1944 Mission #213 to the Nuremburg Railroad Marshaling Yards. They were aboard B-17G 43-38518, which was a new ship assigned to the 511st Bomb Squad/351st Bomb Group less than two weeks before on September 21 according to Dave Osborne’s B-17 Fortress Master Log. Cecil was on his twelfth mission with the 351st.

On October 3, 1944 the Cregar crew consisted of:

  • Pilot, 1st Lt Charles E. Cregar, Jr., SN O-1043908
  • Co-pilot, 2nd Lt Sanford N. Groendyke, SN O-819086
  • Navigator, F/O James D. Timmie, SN T-124869
  • Bombardier, 1st Lt John F. Dwyer, SN O-1283565
  • Top Turret Gunner/Engineer, T/Sgt Edward L. Huth, SN 32447653
  • Radio Operator, S/Sgt  Elwood A. (Ziggy) Zigenfus, Jr., SN 13152369
  • Left Waist Gunner, S/Sgt Cecil C. McWhorter, SN 6285927
  • Ball Turret Gunner,  S/Sgt Charles E. Weller, SN 35263548
  • Tail Gunner, S/Sgt Thomas W. Richardson, SN 15195066

All on board were taken prisoner of war with the exception of bombardier John F. Dwyer, who lost his life on that mission.

The details of MIssing Air Crew Report 9358 (MACR9358) explain what happened on October 3, 1944 to the Cregar crew.

According to witnesses from other aircraft in the formation, the Cregar crew’s 43-38518 left the formation at 1150 hours under control for causes unknown. Pilot Donald Hadley noticed that Lt. Cregar’s plane failed to turn with the formation coming off the target. Hadley reported no visible signs of damage and all four engines turning. There were no fighters in the area, but there was moderate flak. Cregar never caught up with the formation and descended under control out of sight. Hadley saw no parachutes and heard no radio call from 43-38518.

Another witness, tail gunner Jack Tucker, reported much the same as Donald Hadley, adding that as the plane left the formation, it began to lose altitude and traveled in an easterly direction. He saw nothing to indicate that Cregar’s plane was damaged and the last he saw of them, they were flying at about 8500 feet (descending from their flying altitude of 25,500 feet).

Either Hadley or Tucker later added that thirty minutes after the aircraft left the formation, the pilot was heard to call for fighter support over VHF.

According to Individual Casualty Questionnaires included within the Missing Air Crew Report, just after Bombardier John Dwyer released the bombs and was observing the results, he was hit by flak and killed. One of the responders to the questionnaire (probably the navigator James Timmie, who would have been in the nose of the B-17 with Dwyer) reported,

The first shell burst about ten feet in front of the nose slightly to the right. A small fragment entered his head thru his steel helmet, earphone, and skull and started profuse bleeding. I administered firstaid to no avail and in a few minutes he was dead. His body was left with the plane, which did not burn, when last seen.

The pilot left formation in an attempt to fly the badly damaged ship to Switzerland.

The radio operator, Elwood Zigenfus, and tail gunner, Thomas Richardson, both reported that the pilot and co-pilot remained at the controls while the rest of the crew, with the exception of bombardier John Dwyer who was dead in the nose of the ship, assumed ditching positions in the radio room.

None of the men bailed out of the ship, but instead rode it down to a crash landing. The men reported that the ship struck the ground using various landmarks:

  • At Stellman (300 m west) 12 km west of Donauwoerth at 1230 hours
  • 10 miles south of Ulm
  • Near Dilligen, Germany
  • Near Elms, Germany
  • At the small village of Stattinham

Bombardier John F. Dwyer (born September 10, 1918) was found dead in the aircraft after the emergency landing. His date and place of death were listed as October 3, 1944 in Stillnau at Leipheim/Donau. His initial date and place of interment were October 7, 1944 at Leipheim/Donau town cemetery.

One of the crew said that the German guards reported that Dwyer was given a military funeral near where the ship went down, a small town named Dillingen. According to Findagrave.com, Dwyer was later re-interred at Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial at Saint-Avold, Department de la Moselle, Lorraine, France.

The pilot, Charles Cregar, summarized with:

The target was RR Yards in Marsburg. They were at the target at 11:55 a.m. at an altitude of 26,000 feet. They left the formation at the first turn off the target. He didn’t bail out nor did any of the other members of the crew. He wrote:

All members of crew remained in the plane until we crash landed. One member was killed by the flak burst which knocked out our four engines. All other members uninjured then or in the crash landing that followed.

A German interrogator informed me voluntarily that Lt. Dwyer had been buried in Leipheim, “with full military honors just as if he had been a German officer.”

On pilot Charles Cregar’s page on the American Air Museum in Britain website, his son wrote about memories of his dad, in part,

Dad would never discuss the war, Mom said it brought up terrible memories. He regretted the death of his one crew member, and never discussed POW with anyone…Dad had fun, enjoyed friends including Ernie Kovacs (TV comedian), who was a childhood friend and Ziggy (from the flight crew). Never would eat potato soup or cabbage, apparently a POW thing.

Bombardier John Dwyer’s page includes a photo and notes,

John Dwyer, 351st Bomb Group

Killed in Action (KIA) Crashed near Stellnau in B-17 4338518.

Lt. Dwyer was a member of the International Guards before Pearl Harbor and first served with the Infantry, then being transferred to the air corps. He received his training at Santa Anna, Cal., Las Vegas, Nev., Carlsbad, NM, and Avon Park, Fla.

He was overseas from July 1944, and had completed twelve missions. Lt. Dwyer received the Presidential Group Citation and a posthumous Purple Heart.

Tail gunner Thomas Richardson’s page includes a photo,

Thomas Richardson, 351st Bomb Group

Pages for the remainder of the crew, including Cecil McWhorter, do not include any additional information or photos.

Thank you to 384th Bomb Group researcher Keith Ellefson for getting me a copy of Missing Air Crew Report 9358.

If you are a relative of 351st Bomb Group waist gunner Cecil C. McWhorter, or others on the Charles Cregar crew, or RAF airman Laurie Newbold, please Contact Me.

To be continued…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Cecil Carlton McWhorter, Part 1 of 3

A few weeks ago, I wrote about an aspect of the WWII Black March of prisoners of war of Stalag Luft IV, the Combine. My father, George Edwin Farrar, who was a waist gunner in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England, was one of the prisoners on the March. Dad’s B-17 went down on September 28, 1944 and after a lengthy hospital stay, he was placed in Stalag Luft IV around Thanksgiving.

I have found that when the prisoners of Stalag Luft IV were marched out of the prison camp on February 6, 1945, Dad, RAF airman Laurie Newbold, and 351st Bomb Group waist gunner Cecil McWhorter likely made up a three-man combine. This is not information that my dad shared with me. He never mentioned these men when he told me stories of the POW camp and March. These things I had to find on my own, but as a place to start, he left a clue, a letter he had saved since 1946.

Most of the letters in the bundle my dad saved since the war were written by the families of my dad’s crew between the time the crew went missing and the end of the war. But this one was dated July 15, 1946 and it came from England. It was from Laurie Newbold, an airman with England’s RAF and it was clear that he had been close to my father when they were prisoners of war. In his letter, Laurie mentioned another airman, this one American.

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.

This one letter my father saved added to the little detail I knew about his time as a POW:

  • My dad, Laurie Newbold, and a man Laurie called “Old Mac Whorter” roomed together at Stalag Luft IV and likely marched together in the Black March. Laurie also noted that this man lived in East Bernstadt, Kentucky.
  • Dad, Laurie, and “Old Mac Whorter” were assigned to Room 12, hut number unknown, compound unknown.

Gregory Hatton runs a memorial website on Stalag Luft IV. Among the interesting information Greg presents is a document that contains a “Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross Visit of Oct. 5 & 6, 1944 by Mr. Biner, Stalag Luft IV.” In a section describing the accommodations at the camp, the report notes that there are four camps or compounds within Luft IV: A, B, C, and D.

A, B, and C contained Americans only. Camp D contained American and British. I must assume that my father and “Old Mac Whorter” were in Camp D as they were housed with British RAF POW Laurie Newbold. I don’t know how many barracks or huts were built in Camp D and haven’t yet found a way to determine which one they were in, but apparently they were in Room 12 of their hut.

I wanted to know more about the two men my dad spent his darkest days with in the prison camp and on the March. Since “Old Mac Whorter” was an American, I thought I would research him first since I am more familiar with the American WWII airman websites and genealogical sites.

To discover the real name of “Old Mac Whorter,” I had to make a few guesses. First, the man’s last name was probably MacWhorter or McWhorter. Searching the National Archives database of WWII prisoners of war in Stalag Luft IV, I found him. Not easily, but I found him. For some reason, the database listed his last name as Mc Whorter, with a space after the “Mc.” But here was a good candidate, Cecil C. McWhorter, and his home was in Kentucky.

Cecil C. McWhorter’s Army Air Forces serial number was 6285927. He was a staff sergeant in the Air Corps, had become a POW on October 3, 1944, and served with the 351st Bomb Group. The 351st was a B-17 group based in Polebrook, England, not very far from my dad’s group, the 384th in Grafton Underwood, less than fifteen miles away. Cecil’s plane went down just five days after my dad’s.

Continuing my National Archives search, I found Cecil’s enlistment record. It revealed he was born in 1918 and he resided in Laurel County, Kentucky. The city Laurie Newbold mentioned in his letter, East Bernstadt, is a city in Laurel County.

Cecil enlisted in the Air Corps on December 19, 1941. I realized Cecil must have also served in another capacity or he would have finished his tour and returned home long before he became a POW in 1944. I did not discover how or where else he served at this point in my research.

Next in the search, I turned to the American Air Museum in Britain’s database. Here I found that Cecil served in the 511th Bomb Squadron of the 351st Bomb Group, based at Polebrook, England. His page confirmed how Cecil came to be in Stalag Luft IV,

Prisoner of War (POW) Crashed near Stellnau on 10/3/44 in B-17 #4338518

When I followed a link to the page for the aircraft (unnamed 43-38518), I learned even more details:  where the ship crashed, the names of the crew, and the Missing Air Crew Report number, 9358.

Now that I knew which bomb group of the 8th Air Force Cecil served in, I searched for more information for his group, the 351st. I found they have both a website and a Facebook group page. The 351st Bomb Group’s website contains detailed information about Cecil’s last mission, the crew he flew with, their target for October 3, 1944, the B-17 they were aboard, and the number for the missing air crew report, MACR9358.

If you are a relative of 351st Bomb Group waist gunner Cecil C. McWhorter or RAF airman Laurie Newbold, please Contact Me.

To be continued…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

A Black March Combine

I have previously written several articles about the WWII Black March, the march of prisoners of war of Stalag Luft IV across Germany in the winter of 1945. Today, I want to explain a very important aspect of that march, the Combine.

But first, as a refresher to the Black March itself, please refer to this previous post. It is the proclamation entered into the Congressional Record on May 8, 1995 by WWII veteran, Congressman John William Warner.

Congressman Warner was approached by three WWII veterans who were on the march and who brought this piece of WWII history to his attention – Cpl. Bob McVicker of Alexandria, Virginia; S. Sgt. Ralph Pippens of Alexandria, Louisiana; and Sgt. Arthur Duchesneau of Daytona Beach, Florida. Rep. Warner wanted to tell their story and raise awareness of what the Stalag Luft IV prisoners endured on this little-known march in pursuit of freedom.

The proclamation explains that McVicker, Pippens, and Duchesneau each survived, “mostly because of the efforts of the other two – American crewmates compassionately and selflessly helping buddies in need.” This statement is the definition of a Black March “Combine.”

In WWII, my dad, George Edwin Farrar, was a waist gunner in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England. His B-17 went down on September 28, 1944 and after a lengthy hospital stay, he was put in Stalag Luft IV. On February 6, 1945, he was one of the prisoners from Stalag Luft IV who were marched out of the camp in several columns accompanied by German guards armed with rifles, and guard dogs. For Dad, the Black March lasted the full eighty-six days, covering approximately five-hundred miles.

From an old letter, I determined that the two men closest to my dad in the prison camp and on the Black March were the author of the letter, British airman Laurie Newbold, and American airman Cecil McWhorter.

Newbold’s letter adds much to what I know about who shared my father’s WWII experiences, especially these two sentences.

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.

In my research of my father during WWII, it is not enough to know who the members of my father’s air crew were. Although Dad’s WWII experience was shared with the other men of the John Buslee crew, 544th Bomb Squad, and the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, he had a connection that went beyond the usual military camaraderie of an air crew. He had a connection with two men with whom he had not served in the 384th, Laurie Newbold and Cecil McWhorter, on whom his life depended in that eighty-six day span of time he called “The March.”

Joseph O’Donnell, another Stalag Luft IV prisoner on the Black March, wrote a book about the march. In The Shoe Leather Express, O’Donnell explains how the prisoners joined forces in small groups in order to help each other survive. These small groups of two to four Kriegies (short for Kriegesgefangenen, which is the German word for prisoner of war) were created out of necessity, for survival. Joe wrote:

A combine usually consisted of three Kriegies, sometimes two, sometimes four, but the most logical number combination was three. Further explanation will confirm the logic of three men versus two or four men. Of all the reasons for a three man combine, there is no one reason to justify this combination, there are many reasons. As stated before, we each had two blankets, and with a combination of three Kriegies this gave us six blankets. After our arrival at a barn we would stake a claim to an area in the barn according to our arrival. First-in claimed the advantageous areas, usually near an exit.

Since we shared our food, it was imperative that we should stick together; but we usually marched in columns of fours and it always presented a problem at the end of a [day’s] march, when the guards would count off 150 or 200 Kriegies for one barn. This would usually split a combine. One hell of a lot of shuffling went on to get the combine together again. When trading, bartering or stealing detail; the other two would construct our bed of straw for the night. Our bed of straw was covered with the three German blankets, two lengthwise and one across the bottom and tucked in. The three GI blankets would cover us along with our GI overcoats.

The mention of trading, bartering, and stealing references the fact that the men had very little food and clean water on the road. They often attempted to supplement their meager rations by trading items like the watch my father traded for a loaf of bread, or stealing potatoes or chickens from the farmers in whose barns they slept.

The combines walked together, all day, every day, sometimes as far as twenty miles in one day. They shared food and ate together. They slept together and shared body heat in the unheated barns and under the stars in the sub-freezing temperatures of the winter of 1945. When one felt weak, the others helped him put one foot in front of the other, to take one more step, to keep up with the column. Falling behind the group meant the risk of being shot and left for dead beside the road as the group trudged forward. The combine gave the men someone to lean on in more ways than one.

How many men died on the march is not known. It is truly a miracle that any of them survived. They were covered in lice, were afflicted with dysentery and other diseases, and were close to the point of starvation. They have been described as walking skeletons. Thoughts of home and the support of each other must have kept them going.

But when it was all over, when Liberation Day came, the combines were split apart for good. Each man went his separate way, returning to his country and his family, to pick up with life as though his eighty-six day struggle for survival was all a bad dream. Laurie Newbold wrote:

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.

Is the past and that piece of history best forgotten? When I read pages from Joe O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express and read Laurie Newbold’s letter, their words trouble me. They unsettle me. It disturbs me deeply to know these things that my father endured. Things that he himself could not or would not tell me. I understand, at least I think I do, why he wouldn’t divulge these things. I was too young. I was too innocent. He did not want to burden me or anyone else with this horrible knowledge.

My father was right in not telling me. I should not know these things because as I’ve learned, now that I know them, I cannot un-know them. They rattle around in my head and pop to the surface at unexpected moments. These things that were a part of him, they are now a part of me. Not to the extent they were for him, of course, because he actually lived them and I only learned them. I cannot imagine the way the horrific memories crashed upon his shore of existence every single moment of every single day of the remainder of his life.

These are things that no being should ever have to endure. But at that time in history there were people who looked much like the rest of us, who underneath that layer of human-like skin were not human at all, but monsters.

When I was young, monsters lived under my bed and in my closet. I had to take a long-jump into and out of bed so the monster wouldn’t grab my feet and pull me under into a certain horrible death. I had to jump back when I opened the closet door so the monster inside couldn’t grab me and drag me in.

My monsters vanished over time. They probably tired of not being able to catch me and moved on to the bed and closet of another child. But my father’s monsters never left. He died thirty-seven years after his time in the prison camp and Black March were over. Dying was the only way to end the war for him and banish his monsters.

Notes

Joe O’Donnell inadvertently used the word “concubine” to define the groups of marching prisoners in the text of The Shoe Leather Express rather than the word “combine.” I have published Joe’s passages substituting the word “combine,” which Joe points out in a correction at the top of the Table of Contents page. He states:  “CORRECTION. The word ‘concubine’ was misused, it should be ‘combine.’

The Preface and first two chapters of Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express may be read courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.

To be continued with more information about Cecil McWhorter and Laurie Newbold and my search for their relatives…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

Rendezvous in Savannah

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 Zygmunt Wujek, a Polish sculptor, and Jupi Podlaszewski, head of the English School of Koszalin. Zygmunt created the memorial sculpture at the site of Stalag Luft IV.

Zygmunt 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. Zygmunt 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 Zygmunt 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

Zygmunt 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.

Zygmunt Wujek and Mary Grotz admire Zygmunt’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).

John DeFrancesco standing in front of the B-17 “City of Savannah” at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

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.

Left to right: Zygmunt Wujek, Mary Grotz, Jupi Podlaszewski, and John DeFrancesco enjoy John Edward’s tour of the museum

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.

Al Pela’s tour included the personal POW history of his father in front of the museum’s POW barracks display

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.

John DeFrancesco receiving a Certificate of Honor from American Legion Post 135 in Savannah

In addition to honoring the WWII veteran of our group, John DeFrancesco, the American Legion also honored Zygmunt 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.

Four daughters of Stalag Luft IV with WWII veteran John DeFrancesco.
Left to right: Cindy Farrar Bryan, Laura Witt Edge, John Joseph DeFrancesco, Candy Kyler Brown, and Ellen Weaver Hartman

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017

Magdeburg and Belgard (Bialogard)

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