Heroes: the Army
"...Camouflaged hangers were cut into the woods on alternate sides of the highway where the aircraft were housed. Here we experienced our first sight of a jet powered aircraft. These silent aircraft soaring through the air at incredible speeds sent a chill through our spines contemplating the damage they could do to our bomber fleets..."
Jay A. Drake
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 379th FA Btn.,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: 2nd Lt., Silver Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Jackson, MI
POW Experiences of Jay Drake,
2nd Lieut., 379 FA Btn.
by Jay Drake
This story was written and illustrated by Jay Drake for his children.
Germany- Siegfried Line
Early in the evening our forward observer crew was informed that we were to accompany a unit or infantry from the 405th Regiment on night mission to secure a point along the highway running between Linnich and Geilenkirchen and interdict the German supply traffic using this road. Our forward observer crew consisted of myself as F.O., Bernard Pelza, radio operator, and Albert Brent, driver and radio operator. Albert was left behind with the jeep and a spare radio in the event it was necessary to relay our radio commands to the artillery fire direction center. Pelza and I accompanied the infantry company carrying our two piece radio and field equipment.
On our way out we received considerable small arms fire and had to hug the earth on several occasions. About halfway to our objective we passed a large hay stack that was on fire.
Once we arrived close to the highway we started digging in. The Germans did not appear to be aware of our presence, I could see German artillery muzzle blasts coming from a position just the other side of the highway. As soon as I registered the guns on a "base point" this would be my first target. Pelza set the radio up to make contact with the fire direction Center, but no luck. Upon examination we found the radio had received a round of small arms fire and was inoperative.
I contacted the infantry company commander and asked if he had a radio we could use. He replied "no." I told him we would attempt to return to our jeep for a spare radio and get back before night. We were of no use without communications.
We started back, following the same route we had taken to the objective. As we approached he burning hay stack, we jumped into a large bomb crater to rest. As soon as we hit the bottom 3f the crater we received rifle fire. Looking over he edge we observed a German force of tanks and infantry moving across our proposed route.
Three infantry men and a tank turned and leaded toward the crater. Capture was imminent, as we were no match for a tank and because of the light from the burning hay stack there was no escape.
I had a German P38 pistol in a shoulder holster that I removed and hid under a large clump of dirt. It was not healthy to be captured with a German weapon in your possession. Next I removed the wax pencil markings on my map showing the selected base point and the German artillery position. We then raised our hands in compliance with their "hands up" command.
The main interest of the Germans was our cigarettes. They seemed to know our nationality and indicated that had we been English, French or Poles they would have killed us right there; "Americans goot." A German infantryman then escorted us a considerable distance back to a bunker and turned us over to a line outfit. A guard used us to load wounded Germans on stretchers into ambulances.
Later on I was directed into the bunker and questioned by a German officer. He wanted to know what we were doing at the location where we were captured. I told him we were lost and had bypassed our unit in the dark. From that point on all he got was name, rank and serial number.
He gave up questioning me and walked me to the bunker door just as Pelza and a German soldier were to load another wounded. The soldier in charge of the loading crew saw me exit the bunker and directed me to the other end of the stretcher. The German officer said "nix officer" so I sat in the field white Pelza and a German soldier loaded the remainder of the wounded.
At daybreak I was taken to a German jeep with another ROW officer and driven to Dusseldorf. That was the last I saw of Pelza; however I later learned that both Pelza and Brent made it home safely after the war.
Dusseldorf was in shambles from Allied bombings. We were taken to a basement in a large building near the railroad siding and directed to sit down around the wall with a number of recently captured American soldiers. A German officer was making the rounds collecting the overshoes worn by the POWs. I saw him coming so I removed my overshoes (worn over my dress oxfords as they would not fir over my combat boots), then removed my oxfords and hid them under my coat and replaced my overshoes. The German officer soon arrived and directed me to remove my overshoes, which I did, and upon noting my stocking feet, he let me keep my overshoes.
We were interrogated here rather extensively.
The interrogating room displayed the information they had on our unit and others including where we trained in the States, date of arrival in France, etc. After several unsuccessful and threatening attempts to make us talk; they gave up and shipped us out by rail.
THE BOX CAR RIDE!
Fifty five American POWs were loaded into a single box car. The helplessness of our situation became evident with the closing of the box car door and the sound of the locking latch being swung into place. Darkness surrounded us and as our eyes adjusted we could see light streaming through the many holes in the roof, torn through by the gun fire of strafing Allied aircraft. A constant reminder that death was also a passenger.
We rested in shifts with half the men on the floor and half standing up. It was necessary to keep tight control of your emotions. Think of anything other than the box car prison and our situation.
We were given food for two days; however the box car ride from Dusseldorf to Hannover Stalag Xl B took four days. We were allowed to detrain twice in the four day trip to relieve ourselves. The remainder of the time we used a corner of the box car.
STALAG XI-B, HANNOVER, GERMANY
DECEMBER 3, 1944
The twelve officer POWs were separated from the fifty five and housed in a building by themselves. One of the main problems in our new quarters was trying to stay warm with the meager wood supply provided. Another problem being our frustrating trips to the latrine. As soon as it was dark the shutters on the windows were closed and inside was total darkness. Our sleeping bunks were at one end of the rectangular building and the latrine located at the other end. The trip from the bunk room to the latrine was about fifty feet, interrupted by many building columns. It was a frustrating trip to the latrine and back with your arms crossed in front of you to avoid coming in contact with the columns. This was solved by an observant POW when he noticed one night a number of phosphorescent chips where the fire wood was piled. He collected the chips and before dark each night marked a path from the bunk room to the latrine, missing the columns. The chips were collected each morning and relayed the next evening.
We had one shave by a Polish POW using a straight razor. This was the first shave since capture.
On the 19th of December the twelve officers were loaded into a box car along with four guards on our way to Oflag 64 near Altbungund, Poland. This was a six day trip, arriving at our destination on Christmas eve.
OFLAG 64, POLAND
This camp housed about 1,400 American ground force officers. The Air Force was a separate branch in the German armed forces; therefore they had POW camps for our Air Corps people. The Americans were allowed to run the camp on the inside of the barbed wire. They were in charge of the hospital, mess, entertainment and overall duties of running the camp. This was a favorable arrangement for both sides.
The incoming POWs were isolated until they were cleared, making sure there were no German plants to learn what was going on in the camp such as escape, school, learning German and Polish languages, lectures on tactics, etc. We also had a small short wave radio and each night it was tuned to the B.B.C. to learn the latest war news. The news was then delivered to each barracks by a POW called "the bird." Also there was a tunnel that had been dug from one of the barracks to the outside of the barbed wire enclosure.
We received showers once a week but the water was closely monitored. Water on -- get wet-- water off -- soap -- water on, rinse -- water off. Then we put on the same clothes that were infested with body lice.
Col. Goode, our senior American officer required all POWs to be clean shaven, shoes polished and to take daily walks around the compound yard to stay in some semblance of shape. We were issued a safety razor with one blade. The blade was kept sharp by honing it on the heel of our hand.
We received Red Cross food parcels, which were really welcomed, to supplement the meager food allowance from the Germans. Barley was added to many of our soups. Along with the barley you also got the meal worms which, when cooked, sank to the bottom of your bowl. Since you could not afford to discard any food you never looked into your bowl as you spooned out the last of the soup.
We had two appells (head count) a day; one in the morning and another late in the day. We were organized into platoons of fifty men each, in about 26 platoons. To aid the Germans in their count each platoon leader would indicate the number of men needed to fill his platoon to fifty men. The extras all came from the last platoon. This arrangement speeded up the count as the number absent was indicated by the short count in the last platoon. We would then stand in the cold until the Germans accounted for the missing POWs in the camp.
In a couple of weeks we could hear the artillery and small arms fire of the advancing Russian army and on Jan. 20, we were told to prepare for a march west in an attempt to avoid the Russians.
For a number of days previous we had been watching the fleeing German and Polish civilians heading west in their horse drawn wagons filled with their possessions and many on foot with their provisions in packs on their backs. The procession was continuous. Tomorrow we will join them.
THE 39 BAY MARCH
The day before the march all the POWs who had been here for some time (1 to 2 years) drew out the provisions that they had received from home and the YMCA that had been "banked" in a warehouse to be drawn out by them as needed. Drawing out all their supplies, cigarettes, clothing including socks, scarves, long underwear, etc.
The supplies were so numerous they divided them among the most recent POWs. Two days previous you could not bum a cigarette from anyone and today I had three cartons of cigarettes. I took them along for their anticipated trading value with the Polish civilians.
For the long march I had a long Polish army overcoat, socks used for mittens, long underwear bottoms used as a hat, face mask and scarf and another one modified for a pack. Somewhere along the fine my overshoes were taken from me so my footwear consisted of my oxfords, which I can't believe held together for the remainder of my POW experience. Fortunately I had a number of spare socks and shoe laces given to me by the old POWs. We each took one blanket rolled and carried over our shoulder with the ends tied together at our belt line.
We all selected a buddy to help each other on the march, share our food and sleep together at night to try to stay warm. My buddy was Ed Lockert. Ed was a good scrounger and a loyal buddy through the long march.
About 1300 POWs left Oflag 64 in six inches of new fallen snow and temperatures well below zero. A number of weak or sick POWs were left in the hospital and a large number, those who had dug the tunnel, remained hidden in the tunnel waiting for the Russians.
150 old Latvian guards accompanied the main body of POWs to keep us in line. We mingled with the refugees. There was some assemblage of order by platoons for awhile but as the day continued the stronger POWs made their way to the head of the column and the weaker ones fell to the rear. As long as you kept moving you could keep from freezing, especially the feet.
We were billeted in large barns that night. The next morning we woke to find that our guards had been ordered to the rear to fight a delaying action. Only the camp Oberst Lieut. Col. remained for our protection in case we were accosted by German soldiers. About 180 POWs took off that day as there was no one to stop them. My buddy and I, as well as the majority of the POWs, stayed as a main group, thinking it would be safer when we met the Russians.
Mid afternoon our guards came back and we set off down the road again. We had hopes of being rescued by the Russians each day but lost hope when we crossed over the Oder River and observed the extensive fortifications being prepared by the Germans and slave labor along the west side of the river. Our group now headed north toward the Baltic Sea.
Up to this point we had been billeted at night in large barns on the farms. We would stand outside until our platoon leader was assigned a space in the barn. The Germans would then tell us what could be used for fire wood: picket fences, old barn siding, wood piles, etc. Also they told us the designated "shitzzan area" By now it was dark and many small cooking and warming fires would start up. We would dry our socks and cook in tin cans whatever we had to cook and also boil water to drink to keep from getting dysentery.
In one barn I found wheat kernels on the floor and sifted then out until I had two pockets full. Each night we would cook the kernels in a water filled can until they were softer; then we would chew the cooked kernels during the next days march.
The German ration each day was hot ersatz coffee in the morning, at night 1/3 loaf of bread, soup and/or boiled potatoes. This was supplemented by additional bread and food that we traded for while passing through the Polish towns. On three occasions we received Red Cross food boxes. God bless the Red Cross.
After the fires were extinguished we made our way back to the barn to find our bed space in the hay. One blanket doubled on the bottom and one on top. Your shoes were removed and placed next to your skin under your clothing to keep them from freezing solid so you could get them on in the morning. Next put on a pair of dry socks and you were ready for bed.
Due to the heavy liquid diet it was necessary to make one or two trips outside to relieve yourself. You could not go in the hay as POWs would often be sleeping beneath you under a deck. It often took an hour to grope your way down an aisle and then down a ladder to the ground floor and when completed find your way back to your buddy and bed in pitch darkness.
One day while passing through a large forested area our road crossed a highway that was used as a runway for German fighter aircraft. Camouflaged hangers were cut into the woods on alternate sides of the highway where the aircraft were housed. Here we experienced our first sight of a jet powered aircraft. These silent aircraft soaring through the air at incredible speeds sent a chill through our spines contemplating the damage they could do to our bomber fleets. We hoped they were not in production.
During one of our rest periods the American POWs were sitting along the road when a large group of British POWs were marched through. I had a pack of cigarettes out when a British POW asked "How about a cigarette Yank?" I held up the pack but due to the difference in our elevations he had difficulty reaching me. A German guard yelled at him to get back in line and then hit him three times with the butt of his rifle. I heard the impacts and saw the grimace of pain on his face.
He removed two cigarettes from my pack and then put one in his lips and turned, with a smile on his face, and offered the other cigarette to the German guard. Those British were a tough lot.
On several occasions the POWs who were too ill to travel were loaded into box cars and taken to nearby camps. We soon left Poland and the large barns and we were then billeted in schools, Hitler Youth camps, old army barracks and in a naval base when we reached the Baltic Sea. Most had little or no heat.
Our final walking destination was Parchine, Germany. We had traveled a total of 580 km or 362 1/2 miles. We marched for 33 days out of the 39 days since leaving Oflag 64. 1350 POWs started; 490 finished the march.
My last box car ride was from Parchine to Hammelburg, Germany, Oflag XII!"B. Upon arrival we left the railroad siding and walked up a steep hill outside the town where our German Oberst Lt. Col. assembled us for his last talk. He told us there was a General in charge of this camp and that he would likely be sent elsewhere. He said he hoped the war would soon be over and that we might have a speedy return to our homeland.
Once inside the campground we were deloused and then searched by the guards. I had a small compass about the size of your thumbnail called an "asshole compass" as that was where you were expected to hide it prior to a search. I hid the compass in the bowl of may smoking pipe, packed tobacco on top and lit the tobacco. The compass came through undetected. I didn't realize how useful this compass was to be in a few weeks.
March 9; 1945
In the camp, in a separate compound, were 3000 Yugoslavian officers and in our compound we joined 700 officers from the 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions captured during the "Battle of the Bulge."
Our short wave radio was smuggled into camp undetected so we continued to hear the latest war news.
We enjoyed the rest from the road, washed our clothing, played cards and on sunny days sunned ourselves and read. The food, mostly soup, was nauseating after what we had been used to on the march from trading and stealing. Thinnest watery soups which we called Purple Passion and Green Hornet.
The Germans changed the orders and allowed us to go to the latrine singly during an air raid alert. One guard didn't get the change and shot and killed POW Weeks. We all lined the main street in the compound up to the gate where Weeks flag covered casket was carried on a cart down the street and out the gate to a nearby cemetery. A bugler from the Serbian camp played taps.
LIBERATION OF OFLAG XIII-B
by the Fourth Armored Task Force -- March 27,1&45
A Sherman tank appeared on the horizon and broke any doubt we had as to the proximity of the Americans. We all lay on the floor, anxious as the tracers tore through the streets and overhead.
Upon arrival of the American Task Force, the German Commander of Ofiag XIII B ordered his guard troops out of the camp and set up a defensive position well to the rear. He then surrendered the camp to Col. Goode. This action was taken to eliminate the exchange of gun fire that could have caused many POW casualties.
The only POW wounded during the liberation was Col. Waters who was shot in the hips by a German guard while attempting to contact the Task Force under a white flag to advise them that the Germans would not defend the camp.
The Task Force was commanded by Capt. Baum and consisted of 53 vehicles including medium and light tanks, armored half tracks and two command jeeps and employed a force of 294 men. Their mission was to penetrate the German defenses, fight their way sixty miles inland and liberate our POW camp, then return to the main American forces with as many POWs as they could carry.
The Task Force commander had been told to expect 300 POWs. What a shock when 1500 POWs streamed out of the camp and up to the waiting task force vehicles. The 3000 Serbian officers stayed in their compound during and after the liberation.
In the gathering dusk of this liberation day and climaxing what seemed to be hours of waiting and milling around the task force, we were finally assembled and told what the situation was and that we had three choices: 1. Head west on foot in small groups to the main American forces about 60 miles away; 2. Ride back with the task force if you were fortunate to be one of the 300 they had room to take; 3. Return to the POW camp and German control. Many of the POWs concluded that since the main American force was so distant, the safest and surest way home was to return to the POW camp, A number left in groups of 2 to 6 heading west on foot. I was one of those hoping to return with the task force.
On my way to the half tracks I passed a scene that lives vividly with me today. A wounded task force soldier had been patched up by a medic and laid on the ground. Sometime later in the darkness a Sherman tank's tread had backed over the wounded soldiers head. I only hope the tank driver was not aware of what happened.
NINE DAYS TO FREEDOM
After several unsuccessful night attempts to break through the road blocks the Germans now had in place, the task force commander regrouped his remaining vehicles and announced he planned to fight through the road blocks at first light. The final attempt would be made with a limited number of POWs that could fill in for his injured or missing troops. They would leave with about half the task force vehicles, cannibalizing those left behind for ammunition and gasoline. At this point Col. Goode, our senior American POW officer, announced that he felt most of the task force POWs wanted to return to camp and they started to walk back.
A few POWs, mostly former armored force people, stayed with the task force. The exhausted task force men hit the ground and fell asleep. I turned to Ed Lockert, who had been my travel buddy since leaving Oflag 64, and said "Let's head west." Ed replied that he was going back to camp with the others. Two fellow POWs overheard my conversation with Ed and said they would go with me. So Robert Corbin, Dallas Smith and I became a team and we headed west on foot.
Our first thought was to put as much distance between us and the task force as possible before first light. It was now 0300 hours. We traveled at a fast pace for about two hours until the first hint of daylight, then we found a good hiding place in thick bushes to wait out the day. We had left Oflag XIII B with our coats, gloves and hats but no blankets. Our food supply consisted of three loaves of bread that was taken from a German truck the task force had knocked out. I also had my escape compass.
A little before mid-morning we heard the German 88s firing at the task force. In a short while the tiring ceased. A couple hours later we observed members of the task force heading west on foot and we knew the task force was destroyed or captured. All that first day we saw POWs and German soldiers playing hide and seek. We stayed put close to the ground and well hidden throughout the day.
When full darkness closed in we left our hiding place and traveled south west. We masked the white of our faces and hands at the first opportunity that mud was available. Our first contact with the Germans occurred when we came upon three in a foxhole manning a machine gun. The moon was shining and I saw the reflection on their helmets. Their field of fire covered a large open area free of all trees. We slowly retraced our steps until we were in the wooded area again.
We headed in a northwest direction but always came back to the clearing which we could not cross in the moonlight. We hid ourselves and fell asleep. When we awoke the moon was obscured by clouds so we continued over the open field and soon came to a wooded area again.
We did not travel on roads or pass through villages. When we came to a road or a village we backtracked and went around it, or changed direction. For every mile we traveled west we went two miles north or south.
As night progressed we entered extensive pine forest plantations and found the only way to travel through the pines was to follow the fire lanes. Every mile or two there would be a wide, cleared fire break, some traversing north-south and some east-west. We followed the east-west fire lanes. It was so dark the only way we could maintain our direction was to look up and observe the pine trees on each side silhouetting the fire lane boundaries against the sky.
I was the "point man." Corbin walked ten yards behind me and was to watch and listen to the flanks. Smitty brought up the rear ten yards behind Corbin and kept a watchful eye and listened to the rear so we wouldn't be overtaken. The darkness was so intense in the pine forest that when I stopped to listen or consider a change of direction I would first feel Corbin bump into me and then Smitty bump into Corbin. Occasionally the moon would shine through and we could see the dim path we were following In the center of the fire break. On one rest period, we moved from the moonlight path to the cover of the pines. Shortly after we sat down to rest a German patrol came down the path we had just vacated. Lesson No. 1. Don't take a rest break unless you are well hidden. After that close encounter we kept watch on the traveled portion of the fire break and moved north or south to an east-west lane that indicated minimal travel paths.
We ate the last of our bread before leaving our daylight hideout. This was the night of the river crossings. We made two river crossings that required us to disrobe. Using the bridge was out, as the rivers formed a natural funnel and the Germans had placed guards on every bridge to pick up the fleeing POWs. At each river crossing we would disrobe; tie our clothes and shoes into a bundle and swim or walk across the river. Upon reaching the other side we used our hands as a squeegee to remove the water from our bodies and then dress again.
After two river crossings our clothes were damp and we started looking for our day hide. We came to a railroad track and soon found a 10' x 10' story and a half building located next to the tracks. The first floor was vacant. The attic floor was accessible through a door in the gable end and we climbed up through this door into the attic.
This wasn't the best hiding place, but we were cold and the building was dry and warmer than the ground.
At full light we awoke. Daylight was shining through the spaces between the vertical board siding. We observed that we were on one side of a wide and fairly open valley. The railroad tracks were on one side and a road paralleled the tracks about 2,000 yards away on the other side. A river ran through the center of the valley. A road cut across the valley over the river and railroad tracks.
This day brought a fortunate find for us and also the closest encounter to recapture. About mid-morning we observed a German army trunk stop on the road on the far side. A squad of men left the truck and traveled in formation across the river bridge and entered a wooded area on our side of the valley. After a few minutes they returned bringing ten Russian POWs with them. The task force had liberated a Russian work camp on their way to Oflag Xlll-B. They loaded the captives into the truck and drove off.
That afternoon another German army truck appeared with six soldiers. They proceeded to place mines in the bridge road bed. While they were busy placing the mines, the soldier who appeared to be in charge noticed our building and walked over to investigate. The inquisitive soldier entered the first floor, then came out and started to the opposite end where the door to the attic was located. We crouched by the door, each armed with a short wood club, waiting for him to open the door.
Just as he was about to round the corner, one of his men called to him and he returned to the bridge and they all left. The remainder of the day was spent resting with one man on guard. Lesson No. 2 - Don't choose a day hide without a back door.
When darkness arrived we opened the gable door and there laying on the ground was one of Corbin's U.S. Army issue gloves. The wool knit glove with a leather facing was easily identified as U.S. Army. If the inquisitive soldier had seen the glove and had known of the POW release, I am ---"" sure he would have summoned his squad and made an armed check of the attic.
Before leaving the valley we decided to check out the wooded area where the Russian POWs had been. Just in case they left anything of value. On the floor of the wooded area we found a number of small party food packets. Each was a cellophane wrapped package containing five cookies, a fruit bar, some dextrose wafers and small candies the flavor of coffee. After eating our fill and dividing the remainder we continued west. This "find" provided nourishment for the next three days.
The terrain was now becoming more open with rolling hills. The open grass area had been terraced years ago, forming pastures for cattle. The terraced walls rose from one to ten feet tall and they became our greatest hazard. The night was overcast and dark. As point man I was the first to fall over the terrace walls. From the base I would call up to Corbin and Smitty of the impending danger, at the same time trying not to alert any Germans who might be nearby. We encountered several terraces but fortunately did not get injured.
As daylight approached we were back in the hilly pine forests and looking for our day hide. We had noticed that late evening and early morning were time of increased German activity. There fore, it was necessary to locate our day hide each morning before it was light enough to always pick the best spot. This morning we found a dense growth of bushes; we moved in covering our bodies with pine needles, leaves and sticks and fell asleep. Sometime in the early morning I was awakened. I slowly turned my head toward the sound and noticed our hide was located on the edge of a deep cut in the earth. The cut ran from the top of a large hill to the bottom. We later determined it was a log slide. I then saw what awakened me. A platoon of German soldiers in full field gear was climbing up the hill in the log slide and would pass within six feet of us. It was too late to warn Corbin and Smitty who were still sleeping.
Fortunately the Germans were tired and interested in their footing on the rocky path. So they passed by us with their heads down. If they had looked up and our way they would have spotted us as we were laying at their eye level. After a few minutes passed, I alerted the others and we moved to a better hide.
On the night of this day we met a uniformed German nearly face to face. We were approaching a road when I saw the moonlight reflect from his belt buckle. The German stood still and apparently was also aware of my presence. I stopped and soon felt Corbin and Smith as they arrived. We were still armed with the log clubs from the railroad house. At this point the German decided that his best course of action was to say "Goot Morgan" and proceeded on his way. We left in the opposite direction, found a stream in which we walked for quite some distance to mask our scent in case the German returned with dogs and help.
Early this morning we came upon an isolated farm and decided to spend the day in the barn. The cold nights and hard ground were beginning to take their toll and we needed a warm rest. We moved slowly into the barn and up into the hay mow. Knowing the farmer would be up in the mow to fork hay down to the stock, we moved to the outside walls and dug deep into the hay. During the day we could overhear the farmer and his wife making many references to the "Americans" and we assumed our army was getting close.
When darkness arrived we left the barn, but not before filling our pockets with feed potatoes. We were still in a semi-wooded area but it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep to the woods. We made good progress this night because we had no encounters with rivers, terraces or Germans. The night treks were punctuated by many rest periods as we were getting weaker due to lack of food. We found our day hide early.
This was to be our last day hide. It was uneventful except for seeing a German civilian walking through the woods. He stopped and dug into the ground, removing a rifle wrapped in a blanket, then proceeded on his way. We knew that this guy was not one we would want to meet.
After traveling about four hours we again found our day hide early as we were getting weak. Our stomachs had rejected the potatoes, our water supply had been from rivers and irrigation ditches and slowly our strength was ebbing away. When morning arrived we found our hide was on the edge of a cultivated field and a large village was located to the southwest. A road ran southeast toward the village. As we watched the road we thought we were seeing American army vehicles but they were too distant to be certain. At this point we decided to take a chance and walk to the road. A German farmer was plowing the field with oxen - we waved as we walked by.
The first vehicle to come by was a U.S. army jeep with two signal men. We stopped the jeep and told them we were American POWs and they were the first American military people we had seen. We must have looked rough with our beards, muddied faces and Polish army coats. There response was "Where are the front lines?" Then the driver put the jeep in reverse, turned around and headed back down the road. This didn't bother us as we were elated that we were now in American controlled territory.
The next vehicle was a 3/4 ton with two combat engineers. After relating our story they told us that General Patton had set up a receiving station for the Hammelburg POWs and they drove us there. A breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and coffee was served. Before we started the meal we bowed our heads and gave thanks to the Lord for giving us the strength to come through this four month POW experience and especially his guidance and presence these past nine days. Then we ate breakfast, showered, and were issued clean clothing, in that order. We were the last POWs and task force people to arrive at the station. We brought the number to 17 (15 POWs and 2 from the task force.)
After returning to American control on April 5. we were sent to Camp Lucky Strike and then home. On May 5 we arrived in New York harbor in a ship with 900 former POWs. I arrived home to my wife and a daughter who had been born while I was a POW.
EPILOGUE ¥ NINE DAY TREK
Why were we successful when so many POWs failed to reach the main American forces and were eventually recaptured? The following could have played a part.
Our fortunate find of the food packets and those three loaves of bread we started with was a definite advantage as we were not required to take risks to obtain food.
Wilderness skills had long been a hobby of mine. I was first introduced to the woods as a Boy Scout and developed an interest in wilderness skills and the ability to live comfortably in the woods with a minimum of equipment and supplies. These skills served me well! on family camping trips, army field maneuvers, wilderness canoe trips to Canada, hunting in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and again on this nine day trek.
In a number of POW accounts I have read of their attempts to evade recapture which indicated trouble choosing a leader and trouble in agreeing on the route to travel. My role as leader was established at the onset without any urging on my part. When Corbin and Smitty said "We will go with you" they noticed my hesitation.
I felt that traveling solo offered the best chance of success. They immediately followed with "We will do anything you tell us." So I became the lead man. We often discussed options enroute but there was never any argument when the final decision was made. The fact that I was the only one with a compass helped establish my role. Also, since we were all second lieutenants rank did not play a part.
We traveled at night, only occasionally in the early darkness of evening or morning. We did not travel roads or trails in the woods that indicated repeated use. We stayed in wooded areas as much as possible.
I am sure the following was not unique to our group. We noticed an increasing keenness in our senses of sight, hearing and smell as the days of being hunted progressed. Success and possibly life itself was predicated on seeing the enemy first.
I believe we all posses senses that were developed during the thousands of years man was a hunter gatherer (and often the hunted) which lay dormant within us and are tapped into on occasions such as this.
Have you ever been at the top of a river rapids while canoeing and considering to take the run or to portage? Then something deep within you says "take the portage" and you listen. I believe this is the primordial sense I am referring to. I have always made it a point to listen to this inner voice.
Lady Luck, I am sure, was also a factor.
There is no official record of the number of casualties incurred by the task force and POWs in this liberation attempt. The task force lost a number of men on their way to Oflag XNI-B. There were casualties in the attempts to run the road blocks and again during the battle and capture of the task force on the morning of March 28th. Capt. Baum was wounded that morning. He removed his division insignia and blended in with the POWs. He was left at the POW camp infirmary with the other wounded and eventually returned to his unit and the States.
The POWs who returned to camp on that liberation day and those subsequently recaptured were sent east by rail or on foot and were liberated within four weeks.
Ed Lockert returned home safely. Col. Waters recovered and continued his military career. Col. Waters was General Patton's son-in-law.
General Patton, on retrospect, believed the task force should have been a force large enough to take and hold the POW camp until the main Allied forces arrived. This was Capt. Baum's opinion at the outset of this operation.
I have always wondered what happened to the infantry company left at the highway on their night mission.
----- Jay Drake
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen War Crime
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "POW Experiences of Jay Drake, 2nd Lieut., 379 FA Btn", by Jay Drake, 379th FA Btn, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 3, April/June, 2001, pp. 4-14.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 25 March 2005.
Story added to website on 25 March 2005.
September 5, 2002.
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