Edward A. Kussler
Pre-World War II
I was born in Morris, Illinois on December 10, 1924. Morris was and is a small town situated along the Illinois River approximately sixty-five mile southwest of Chicago. As I was growing up, Morris had a population of nearly 6,000 people. A mixture of Scandinavian, German, Irish, Polish and Italian people lived in and around Morris. Along with the river, the Illinois and Michigan Canal passed through Morris as did the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. The railroad connected Chicago with Rock Island, Illinois and with points further west. The canal was constructed in the 1840s and served towns along the canal with a means of moving goods and people into the Chicago area.
My parents were immigrants from Germany who had both come separately to the United States. My mother’s maiden name was Marie Rumpf and she came from Bad Frankenhausen in Thuringia, Germany. She had three brothers that preceded her in coming to the United States and two sisters that remained in Germany. My father came from the Black Forest area of Germany. His village was near Lahr, a town near the Rhine River that is the border between France and Germany. His name was August Kussler and he also had an older brother that came to the United States many years prior to him. His sister, Tressa, remained in Germany. My parents became naturalized citizens and spent most of their married lives in Morris. August did not serve in the military during World War I because of an ulcerated leg that had resulted from a childhood accident. He worked in the Morris Paper Mill as a printer from 1923 until his retirement in the 1960s.
I had two older sisters and one younger sister – Elsa, Helen and Maxine. As this is being written Maxine is alive and well and living in Morris. My two older sisters are deceased. I attended public schools in Morris. Grades one through eight were at the Morris Center School and my high school years were at the Morris High School. The high school was an ancient building of Civil War vintage. I graduated from high school in June of 1942 and was yet six months shy of my eighteenth birthday. I started college in September of 1942 at Northern Illinois State Teachers College. It is presently known as Northern Illinois University. In December of 1942 I reached my eighteenth birthday and at that time I enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve cadet program. The reserve units were called to active duty in March of 1943 at the end of my second quarter at Northern. Three friends from Morris High School, Wayne Erickson, Bob Barnard and Tom Heggen, had started at Northern with me. Barnard stayed in college only a couple of months before he enlisted in the Army. Wayne enlisted in the Air Corps reserve unit and was called to active duty with me. Tom Heggen stayed in school for the complete year and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy. All four enlisted rather than wait to be drafted into the military.
After German troops invaded the Czech Sudetenland and then the rest of Czechoslovakia and Poland, the war in Europe was more of a concern to U.S. young people and to the country as a whole. Issues were debated as whether the United States should provide military assistance to England after France and England went to war against Germany because of the German invasion of Czech and Polish territories. Sentiments were quite mixed on this issue in the United States but eventually the isolationists gave way to supporting the war effort in Europe.
World War II Years
The bombing of the U.S. naval fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 brought the United States into the war without any hesitancy. Our country geared up for war and it was not long before the manufacturing might of the United States began sending military aid to our allies. Although there were military defeats during 1942 and early 1943 the tide began to turn as 1943 wore on. Huge amounts of bombers, fighter airplanes, tanks, naval warships and ammunitions were deployed along with millions of men and women to fight the war against Germany and Italy in Europe and against Japan in the Pacific. Food, clothing and medicines were also delivered around the world in tremendous quantities and this was another big part of the war effort on the part of the civilian population of the United States. The entire country had buckled down and become deeply involved in the war effort.
As I went into active duty with the Army Air Force in March of 1943, I had the goal of becoming a pilot. It was not the only possibility for me but it seemed to me to be the most exciting. I spent a few weeks at Keesler Field near Biloxi, Mississippi in basic training. The entire group that I was with came together through similar circumstances. Most all had been students in mid-western colleges and had joined the Army Air Corps Reserve and then the reserve units had been called to active duty. After basic training at Keesler Field, we were sent in groups of a few hundred men to various colleges around the country for a college training period of a few months. My group went to Spring Hill College near Mobile, Alabama. While there we had rigorous physical training and more military training that expanded on the basic trailing that we had had at Keesler Field. Our academic training was provided through the teaching staff of the college. While at Spring Hill we had ten hours of dual pilot instruction in small single engine planes. The instructors were civilian flyers that had done many years of barnstorming around the United States prior to the start of the war. Most were probably too old to have been accepted as flyers in the Air Corps, but they were admired by the young cadets. Hardly any of the cadets had even been in an airplane before so it was quite exciting for us. After a shortened three months at Spring Hill, we were sent to the Air Corps classification center near San Antonio, Texas. Here we went through the physical, psychological and academic testing to determine if we were qualified to continue with training to become pilots, bombardiers or navigators. Most cadets wanted to go to pilot training and hoped for that. Some had learned during the ten hours of dual pilot instruction at Spring Hill that they just did not have the coordination necessary to be pilots. Some cadets washed out of the program at this point and of those that were successful, most were classified for pilot training. I was part of this group but then was offered the opportunity to switch to bombardiering if our tests showed that we were qualified. Among my group of close friends who had opted for the change, I was the only one to be changed over. As a result, I went to pre-flight school for bombardiers and navigators and my buddied went on to pilot pre-flight training. My pre-flight school was at Ellington Field near Houston, Texas. Again we had rigorous physical training along with academic training and schooling in military sciences that was aimed at training cadets to become competent officers in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Pre-flight school ended in November of 1943 and our next step was training in aerial gunnery. We were sent to the gunnery school near Harlingen, Texas for the six weeks of gunnery training. We did practice firing of many kinds of weapons but concentrated mostly on .50 caliber machine guns that were becoming standard equipment on U.S. bombers. Although the weather was not good, we did fly several practice missions where we fired at targets that were being towed by other planes. We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1943 at Harlingen.
After a short leave my group of cadets reported to Big Spring, Texas for advanced bombardier school. This program lasted for about four and one-half months. We spent many hours each week in classrooms studying the intricacies of bombing and navigation. Bomb trainers were used in big hangars for practice bombing runs. They provided practice bomb runs that were quite realistic to the real thing. Bombing ranges had been constructed around Big Spring and we did a lot of practice bombing from twin engine AT-11 trainers. Our bombs were 100 pound practice bombs that had a small charge that gave off smoke at detonation. A pilot and two cadets was the usual crew for a practice mission. One cadet took pictures of the bomb hits of the cadet that was using the bombsight. Occasionally an instructor bombardier would also be along on the mission to give first-hand tips to the cadets. The Norden bombsight was the instrument that we trained with and the bombsight that was considered best and the one that was becoming standard equipment on all U.S. bombers. Along with bombardiering we also had navigational training. We flew various missions around west Texas going from one city to another doing our dead reckoning and other navigation exercises. In May of 1944 the Big Spring class of 44-7 graduated and the cadets got their bombardier wings and the gold bars of a second lieutenant.
The next step was to be assigned to a crew on either B-17s or B-24s for heavy bombardment. A small number of the new bombardiers were assigned to medium size bombers such as the B-25 Mitchell bomber. Our crew formed in Lincoln, Nebraska and was assigned to fly B-24s. The pilot and co-pilot had just completed their training in flying B-24s at four engine training schools. The crews consisted of ten men. The pilot, co-pilot, bombardier and navigator were the four officers on the crew and the engineer, radio operator, nose gunner, tail gunner, Sperry ball gunner and the upper turret gunner were the six enlisted men on the crew. The engineer and radio operator had also been trained in aerial gunnery. Most of the enlisted men on the crew were sergeants or corporals in rank. All had been trained in aerial gunnery and some had additional skills such as radio operator or engineer.
For our flight training as a crew we were sent to the air base at Pueblo, Colorado. We began our flight training there in June of 1944. While there, we flew many practice missions. Again we dropped 100 pound practice bombs on bombing range targets that were set up in the uninhabited areas around Pueblo. We also flew practice navigation missions both in daylight and at night time and many hours were spent flying in formations to get us ready for what we would encounter when we got overseas.
A big event in my personal life occurred while I was in Pueblo. My high school sweetheart, Mary Jo Weimer, came out to see me and we were married on August 9, 1944. My pilot, 1st Lt. Robert Galvan, was my best man and his wife, Gloria, was my bride’s matron of honor. Our parents came to Colorado for the wedding and the crew came to the ceremony and reception. In August of 2001, Mary Jo and I celebrated our 57th wedding anniversary. However, I had a rather short married life before our crew was sent overseas. After a short leave from Pueblo, we reassembled in Topeka, Kansas with the plan to accept a new B-24 and fly to our overseas destination. A shortage of planes changed our plans and instead of flying we were sent to Hampton Roads, Virginia by train. From there we shipped overseas on Liberty ships. They were used extensively during World War II for transporting troops and material. We sailed as part of a large convoy and as we neared Europe part of the convoy split off to go to England and the rest of us went into the Mediterranean. We went past Sicily and then moved into the Adriatic Sea and went into the harbor at Bari, Italy. The trip had taken nearly one month and we arrived in Italy during the first week in October of 1944.
Our crew was promptly assigned to the 767th Bomb Squadron of the 461st Bomb Group in the Fifteenth Air Force. At that time the bomb groups were deployed at various airfields around Foggia and Cerignola in southeastern Italy. Some of the airfields had been used by German air squadrons earlier in the war. After joining the 461st Bomb Group we did some practice flying during October and then flew our first combat mission to Milan, Italy to bomb a machine tool works on October 20, 1944. It turned out to be an uneventful mission but we still were plenty anxious about going on our first mission. During November of 1944 we had a fair amount of bad weather and mission flying was greatly curtailed. During the month our crew flew six combat missions.
On November 1st we went to the Graz, Austria marshalling yards. This was mission 123 that was flown by the 461st Group. This was an alternate target that was selected because of inclement weather at the primary target. The bombing was not great but our bombers developed a healthy respect for the anti-aircraft gunners in the Graz area.
On November 5th our crew was part of the raid on the Florisdorf Oil Refining plant near Vienna. Bombing was done by pathfinder radar because of cloud coverage. Results were unobserved and the flak damage was extremely light for the Vienna area.
On November 7th, our crew went to the Ali Pasin Most marshalling yard near Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. We had heavy flak and sixteen planes were hit by flak. Our crew chief later reported 27 holes in our B-24. Bombing results were reported as both good and poor.
On the November 17th mission to the Blechhammer South Synthetic oil refining works our crew left the formation after developing engine trouble and returned to base. We had put in 2:40 minutes of flying time for naught.
On November 18th we went to the Villafranca Airdrome in northern Italy. Three concentrated patterns hit at least 12 enemy airplanes and also fires were started in several revetments around the field. It was a visual bombing run and results were good.
On November 20th our group flew another mission to Blechhammer South. It was the fifth mission there by the group and for the first time visual bombing was permitted by the weather. Results were good. The first attack unit dropped bombs too early and was off the target but the rest of the formation was in the center of the target area and a lot of destruction was observed. Flak was heavy over the target and two crews were bailed out over Yugoslavia on the way home and one crew ditched in the Adriatic near the Italian coast with loss of several lives.
In the last ten days of November of 1944 several missions were grounded because of bad weather.
The first mission in December of 1944 was again to Blechhammer South. Some cloud cover and the effective use of smudge pots by the Germans baffled the navigators and bombardiers and results were not good.
On December 6th our crew went to the Maribor South marshalling yard in Yugoslavia. Weather was horrendous again and bombs were dropped in a hit or miss pattern and our crew were fortunate not to hit another plane in the poor visibility over the target area. We ended up returning to base as a single plane after flying a long way south over Yugoslavia before we crossed the Adriatic to our Torretta Field base near Cerignola.
The next evening, of December 6th and 7th, our crew was again called to fly a mission. It was to be a two plane pathfinder raid on the Main Railroad Station in Innsbruck, Austria. The other plane aborted the mission after an engine caught fire and we went alone to the target. Our plane, piloted by 1st Lt. Robert A. Galvan hit the primary target but it took two passes over the target to release the bombs. We had turned off the autopilot on the first pass because visibility was so good we thought that a manual bomb run would be more successful. The bombs were not released on the first pass because the autopilot had been shut down. We did a 360° turn and came over the target the second time. If we had had a Norden bombsight in the plane we could have synchronized on the target and made a visual bomb run because the visibility was so good even though it was the middle of the night. The pathfinder equipment on this plane was configured to operate with the Sperry bombsight. I had never see a Sperry bombsight prior to the briefing given me by the squadron bombardier prior to take off for this mission. Group records show that the primary target was hit on this mission.
During the week of December 11 to 15 of 1944, I was in a training class for bombardiers in Bari, Italy and missed flying two missions with my crew.
On December 16th I had returned to the squadron area and took off with my crew to the Brux Oil Refinery in Czechoslovakia. We were forced to abort the mission because of a malfunction of the oxygen equipment. The mission bombed through heavy undercast and because of this cloud coverage the flak was light and only one plane was lost.
Our crew was again scheduled to fly on December 17th because we had aborted the day before. The 461st took off with 31 airplanes for the Odertal Synthetic Oil Works that was located in what now is southern Poland. There were five early returns and of the 26 remaining planes only 15 reached the target. Upwards of 50 ME-109s and FW-190s attacked the Fifteenth Air Force formations and ten B-24 bombers of the 461st were shot down and five planes were damaged. Three men were killed, two were wounded and ninety-three mission in action. Our crew of ten men was one of the missing crews. We were able to stay in the air for about 45 minutes as we flew on a heading that was taking us toward Russian held territory in Hungary. We salvoed our bombs and three out some equipment to lighten our load. Our engineer, Purvis Lee Stacks, and our tail gunner, Arthur Piccoli, were the two wounded men on our plane. Because of their injuries, our pilot, 1st Lt. Robert Galvan, decided to make a crash landing if at all possible. We descended through the clouds while flying over the Carpathian Mountains and fortunately found a snow covered plowed field for the attempted landing. The injured men had been given first aid and made as comfortable as possible for the crash landing. Although our electrical systems and the hydraulic systems and two engines were completely inoperable our pilot made a superb crash landing with the wheels down for the attempt. Our co-pilot for this mission was Lt. Eldred Helton who was flying his first combat mission and he did a great job in helping Galvan with the landing. Our regular co-pilot was Oliver Maggard and he was flying with Helton’s crew in another B-24. They were also hit and were forced to bail out. 1st Lt. Charles Lang was the first pilot on that crew and the nose gunner was Sergeant Hjalmar Johansson. I later met Hjalmar in September of 2000 on a trip to the Czech Republic.
Our first concern after the crash landing was to evacuate the airplane and then get medical help for our two injured crewmen. We did not know whether we had landed in German held or Russian held territory. It turned out that we were near the town of Roznava in Slovakia and were very close to the Hungarian border. Hungarian troops were fighting with the Germans and were in control of the area that we had landed in. Hungarian soldiers took us prisoners and provided transportation into Roznava where the two wounded men were taken to a Catholic hospital where they were given medical attention. It proved necessary for Piccoli to have his foot amputated because of the wounds to his foot. Stacks had a machine gun bullet wound through the mid-section of his body. I do not know what medical treatment he received here. Russian troops liberated the two injured men in late January of 1945 and they were both returned to an army hospital in Italy to begin their recuperation.
The balance of our eight crew members stayed with the Hungarian soldiers. After two nights in Roznava the Hungarian soldiers marched to Dobsina which was located approximately twenty kilometers to the north of Roznava and they took us along. The soldiers took up residence in a house near the center of town and kept the eight of us their prisoners. We had meager food rations but the room we were kept in did have a wood burning fireplace for warmth. We slept on the floor and had fairly good relations with the Hungarian soldiers. There were German troops in Dobsina but for some reason that we did not understand they did not turn us over to the Germans but instead kept us as their prisoners. Various other people were held in the room with us periodically. There was a White Russian than was with us the whole time that we were with the Hungarians. We also had a Serb with us for a few days and then a group of Hungarian Jews were with us for a few days. It seemed to us that the Hungarian soldiers were hiding the Hungarian Jews from the Germans and were helping them move on through the area to avoid captivity by the Germans. We spent Christmas of 1944 as prisoners of the Hungarians in that first house that they had moved into in Dobsina after our hike from Roznava. Two or three days after Christmas we all moved to another house that was located near the edge of town in a more rural setting.
As we could hear artillery fire that seemed to be coming ever closer we planned and escape from the Hungarians. Our plan was to leave at night after an outdoor latrine stop. We would wait until the guard fell asleep and then make our exits. In the room with the eight of us were four Romanian officers who were being held by the Hungarians and the White Russian. I think Boris suspected that we had something planned as we had been looking at maps that he had in his possession.
Tom Stevenson, nose gunner, and Tome Lyon, upper turret gunner was the first pair to leave the room. They got away and were free for several days. They got some help from some people who hid them out in an abandoned mine. Eventually they were caught, however, and became prisoners of the Germans.
Roy Wilhite, radio operator, and Albert Jones, ball gunner, left next and also got away. They were recaptured by German soldiers on the second day and returned to a jail in Dobsina.
Fred Smythe navigator and I, Ed Kussler, bombardier, left together and got away before the guard awoke. We stumbled over the Romanians in the ante-room and got outside and then up into the hills. It was extremely cold and there was a lot of snow on the ground. Smythe was from Victoria, Texas and had hardly ever seen snow before. Also, he had only his felt shoes from his heated flying suit and the heavy fleece lined boots that went over the felt shoes. This was not too great for walking but he managed to keep up. Fortunately I had my G.I. shoes and they were much better for walking in the snow. Smythe and I came very close to finding Russians on this Eastern front. We slept in a hayloft of a Slovakian family on the second night. We watched the house for a while in the morning hours and then approached the house to seek some food and other help. The head of this family was a railroad man and he was helping the Germans run the railroads in this part of Czechoslovakia. We spent most of the day there and left the house as it was getting dark. They had given us some food to eat and some to take with us. We also got some directions for avoiding where more Germans were and this was very helpful. The lady of the house and her daughter had been baking and preparing for an evening meal while we were there. There were German officers coming to their house for dinner that evening. So we, of course, had to clear out and we did so. We moved fairly well that night as we kept away from villages and barking dogs and got ever closer to the Russian lines. We actually had little idea what to do if we had met some Russians but decided to worry about that later. As daylight approached, we moved to higher ground and away from roads and houses. That afternoon we observed a house for a while and decided to approach the people there for some food and perhaps some overnight lodging. The people were Hungarians and they wanted us to leave right away because German soldiers were billeted in their home and would be returning soon. The lady did give us some food and the man gave us some directions for heading toward where the Russians were coming from. We left their house just as it was getting dark and then circled back and got in their hayloft. This was New Year’s Eve and it was surely the coldest one I had ever experienced. The hayloft had big openings to the elements but we burrowed down into the hay and slept for several hours. Before we fell asleep someone came out to the barn for something but did not discover us as we held our breaths until the person left. We left the hayloft around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and walked for several kilometers before it started getting light. It seemed to us that we had gone as far as the Hungarian had indicated but still had not run into any Russians. With daylight we again got away from roads and open spaces and moved on in more secluded areas. We came to a stream that we walked along to find a place to cross. We made it across and as we climbed the bank away from the stream, we were hailed by two soldiers who had their weapons trained on us. We stopped and as they approached we could see that they were German soldiers. They were amazed to find two American airmen on New Year’s Day on the eastern front where German and Russian troops were lobbing mortars at each other. They took us back to their mortar encampment and we realized that we were now prisoners of the Germans.
After a day or two with the German troops where we were interrogated many times we were returned to Dobsina and placed in the local jail. After a couple of days in the jail we were reunited with Wilhite and Jones and the four of us were taken by bus to Popgrad. From here we were taken by train to Bratislava. We had two old German guards that escorted us on our way to Germany. We were taken to an interrogation center that was located a few miles from Bratislava and again went through some intensive interrogation. We felt that the Germans knew more about us than we knew about ourselves so giving only our name, rank and serial number did not bother them too much. The same two guards then escorted us to Vienna where we became a part of a larger detachment of American flyers who had either bailed out of their planes or had crashed landed as our crew had done. All were POWs and all were on our way into Germany as guests of the Third Reich. The same two German guards were with us on the train as we moved through Linz, Regensburg, Wurtzburg and Nurenburg on our way to Frankfurt. From there we were taken to Wetzlar, Germany where nearby was located Dulag Luft.
Most all Air Corps prisoners were processed through Dulag Luft. We again had more interrogation with some time in solitary confinement. After Dulag Luft, Smythe and I were part of a large group of flying officers that were put on boxcars for transport to a permanent prison camp for captured flying personnel. Enlisted men were in other boxcars on the same train. We were headed to Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany which was located in north Germany along the Baltic Sea. The train got as far as Berlin where we spent three days and nights in the boxcars in a Berlin marshalling yard. During these three days the RAF heavy bombers came and bombed Berlin on two of the three nights. The boxcars shook from the concussions of the bombing but none of the boxcars were hit. As the air raid sirens went off prior to the raids, the guards left for bomb shelters after locking us in the boxcars. After a total of ten days in the boxcars we were taken to Stalag III A in Luckenwalde, Germany instead of Stalag Luft I. This camp was approximately 40 kilometers south of Berlin. It had, at one time, been a concentration camp for political prisoners. Now it was a prisoner-of-war camp with nearly 17,000 prisoners. Russian, French, Poles, Norwegian, Italian, American, Balkan people and men from all parts of the British Empire were being held at Luckenwalde. The contingent of American flying officers that I was with were moved into a compound with British Empire personnel and a good size group of Polish officers who had been prisoners of the Germans since 1939 or 1940. Nearby was a compound of Norwegian captives that we could see but could not communicate with to any great extent. The commanding officer of the Norwegians was Major General Otto Ruge. Shortly after we arrived at Luckenwalde many American ground force officers were moved into our barracks. They had come from Oflag 64 near Schubin, Poland and been marched through terrible winter conditions to get to Luckenwalde. They had very little shelter on the trip and their food rations were also very meager. It was around the first of February of 1945 as we settled into our barracks at Stalag III A.
For the next month and a half our food rations were only what was given us by the Germans. Each day we had a couple of cups of hot ersatz tea, three or four small potatoes, a ration of soup or gruel and a chunk of dark bread that was approximately 1 ¼” thick. Each cubicle of 18 men received a loaf and a half to split 18 ways. Much care was taken by the carver to assure 18 equal size pieces. During the second week of March the Germans began issuing Red Cross parcels to the prisoners. One parcel per two men per week was the issue that we received. We received the Red Cross parcels until nearly the end of April. We hoped that liberation would come before the parcels ran out.
Our barracks were made of wood and brick and had brick floors. The walls had a series of small windows and there were two or three briquette burning stoves in the center aisles but there were no briquettes. A washroom area with some cold running water separated the barracks into two halves. The washroom had one inoperative toilet so we used out door outhouses for toilet facilities. There were 180 men in each half of the barracks and that group was split into 10 cubicles of 18 men. Each cubicle was formed by shaping three triple deck side by side bunks with an open sitting area in the middle of the formed space. This area was the social center of the cubicle for card playing, cooking, eating and talking. Cubicle 1 of our barracks had the ranking American officer, Lt. Colonel Roy J. Herte, and his second in command, Lt. Colonel Walter M. Oaks. Herte was in poor health and Oaks performed most of the duties of the commanding American officer. There were approximately 525 American officers in our compound and another 4,500 enlisted men in another part of the camp that were living in more primitive conditions. Herte and Oaks were not permitted to have official contact with the enlisted men. A Catholic chaplain, Captain Charles Glennon was not permitted to hold mass in the enlisted men’s section. Also in Cubicle 1, we had Edward W. Beattie, Jr., an United Press correspondent who had been captured in France in September of 1944. He had lived in Germany prior to the war and had performed foreign correspondent duties for United Press. He was the chief interpreter for us in our contacts and negotiations with our German captors. His book, “Diary of a Kriegie”, is one of the best books for describing life in a German prisoner of war camp. The illustrations in the book were sketches that were made by Beattie while in the camp and they add immensely to the book.
As Luckenwalde was quite close to Berlin, we were treated to several air raids on Berlin by the American daylight bombers and by the RAF at night. Our German guards were annoyed when we cheered and they would finally herd us back into the barracks.
As April of 1945 progressed, we realized that the war would not last very much longer. We received BBC radio broadcasts on hidden radios and passed the news around among us. We also had and maintained a large war map in the vestibule of our building. It was quite accurate as to the positions of the allied armies and of the German defenders. The senior allied officers in camp developed plans to take control of the camp when the German guards eventually pulled out. Russian tanks and troops approached our camp on April 22, 1945 and POWs at Luckenwalde considered this as our liberation day. The German guards left and we set in motion the plan for governing the camp. The Russian troops that liberated us had been fighting and chasing Germans since the battle of Stalingrad. Allied leaders wanted POWs to stay in the camp so that there could be an orderly transfer and exchange of prisoners. After several days of waiting and with nothing happening to get POWs moving toward home, a lot of POWs in our camp started out on their own to reach American troops. The Americans had stopped at the Elbe River and Wittenburg was the closest point from Luckenwalde on the Elbe so that is the direction we headed for. The group that I was with spent one night with Russians on our way to Wittenburg and then met up with a group of GIs that had crossed the Elbe. They had some vehicles and we climbed on board and crossed over the river in the hands of the Americans. It was a great feeling to put it mildly.
From here we were moved quickly to Hildesheim, Germany and then flown to France. I landed in Reims on May 6, 1945 and was there for two days. The German surrender took place there while we were there but I was not in on the festivities. From Reims we went by train to Camp Lucky Strike in Le Havre. Here we were deloused and given fresh clothes and, of course some good GI food. We embarked on a troop ship for return to the United States and the view of the Statue of Liberty as we passed into the New York City harbor was the most welcome and thrilling sight imaginable to me and all the other returnees on the ship.
At Camp Shanks, New York we were separated into various contingents for shipment to army bases around the country which were nearest to our home destinations. Fort Sheridan, just north of Chicago, was my destination and the two day train ride provided time for my coming-home-anxiety to build. I had only been away from my wife and family for nine months but I had packed a lot of activity and excitement into that period of time. In passing through Fort Sheridan, I did notice German POWs working in the mess halls. They were certainly well fed and appeared to be content with being prisoners under those circumstances. Rather different than what was endured by American prisoners in German prison camps.
All members of my B-24 crew were retuned alive to the United States. The two injured crewmen received medical rehabilitation in this country and became productive citizens. Lt. Galvan stayed in the military but, unfortunately, died in an Air Force plane accident in the mid-1950s.
Post World War II Period
The war in Europe was over and the war in the Pacific against Japan was also nearing its end during the summer of 1945. During August I was on recuperation stay in Atlantic City, New Jersey when the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Japanese surrender was very imminent and it became evident that large numbers of flyers could and would be discharged from the military. By early October of 1945, I had received my discharge from the Army Air Corps and was looking forward to resuming my civilian life with my wife. One of the very good benefits for returning veterans was the G.I. Bill of Rights that our Congress had passed into law before the war ended. For me the chief benefit was financial aid for college enrollment and study. I chose Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and enrolled in their school of engineering and began study there in November of 1945. The financial benefits included tuition for the university’s courses and money for books and other necessary supplies. We also received a living allowance that paid the rent for our housing while we were in school.
I graduated from Purdue in February of 1949 with a degree in the Production Management option of Mechanical Engineering. Our first daughter, Valerie, had been born in July of 1947 so she was a year and a half old when I entered the job market. I was hired by Rand McNally and Co., the map making and publishing firm, whose headquarters were in Chicago, Illinois. I spent eleven years with Rand McNally during which time our second daughter, Bobette, was born in 1949 and then a son, Thomas, came along in 1954. We lived in Chicago during my first few years with Rand McNally and then moved to Deerfield in 1952 when Rand McNally moved their headquarters to Skokie, Illinois. Both Skokie and Deerfield are northern suburbs of Chicago. As this is being written, Mary Jo and I are approaching our 50th year in Deerfield. When we moved here in 1952, Deerfield had a population of around 4,000 people and as we approach 2002 the town has grown to just about 20,000 people. It has been a fine place to raise our family and still our children and our grandchildren enjoy coming back here for visits.
Our daughter, Valerie, married John Rohrbaugh who had grown up in Ohio and attended schools in Ohio. He attended Heidleburg College for his under graduate degree and then went to the University of Illinois for his PhD in psychology. That is where Valerie met John and they were later married at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Deerfield. After their wedding they moved to Los Angeles where John did post doctorate study at U.C.L.A. They then spent several years at the University of Nebraska in Omaha after which they moved on to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. From there they moved to St. Louis where John is affiliated with the Medical School of Washington University. That is where they reside in the summer of 2001 as this is being written. In Los Angeles, Omaha and Bethesda, Valerie did business librarian work. In St. Louis, Valerie is employed by the Arthur Anderson Company as a business information retrieval specialist. Their oldest son, James, has finished under graduate college with a degree in Political Science and Economics from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. He is employed in St. Louis by the World Affairs Council. Their younger son, Thomas is about to begin his sophomore year at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois. He loves chess and been successful in accumulating grand master points in competitions that he has participated in. In the 8th grade and in the 12th grade he was the junior champion of the state of Missouri.
Our daughter, Bobette, met Charles Dobson while they were students at the University of Tennessee. They married and the ceremony was held at St. Gregory’s in Deerfield. They currently live in St. Charles, Illinois and Charles is employed by the Pactiv Corporation. He works on national accounts and is able to work out of his home but as a result has to do a fair amount of traveling. Bobette works as a reading specialist in a West Chicago grammar school. Their oldest son, Casey, has just graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York and is now beginning a five year commitment in the army service. He will be in the Air Artillery arm of the U.S. Army. Their son, Eric is about to begin his senior year at St. Xavier University which is located on the far side of Chicago. He is majoring in business and he has pursued his passion for basketball during his college years. He probably will be the point guard on the 2001-2002 St. Xavier squad. Their daughter, Brooke, is a sophomore at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. This is the same school I entered after high school and spent two quarters there prior to entering military service. Brooke did her freshman year at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY. She is an avid volleyball player and thought that Northern Illinois would be a better situation for her so she made the switch from Kentucky to Northern.
Our son, Thomas, lives in Cedarburg, Wisconsin with his wife, Karen, and family. Tom and Karen have a very active five year old son named Eric who will be starting kindergarten as this next school year begins in the fall of 2001. Tom has two other children, Alex – age 13 and Hannah- age 12, who live in Greendale, Wisconsin with their mother. Tom and Karen have Alex and Hannah regularly for weekend visits.
It has been very rewarding to Mary Jo and me to share in the growing up experience of our eight grandchildren.
I continued working for Rand McNally until the spring of 1960. After eleven years with them, I was offered a position with the Monarch Printing Corporation. After serious debate, I decided to make the switch to Monarch. It was a small commercial printer located near the original Rand McNally building in the south loop area of Chicago. Monarch grew over the years by acquiring several small printing companies. We became a good size company with about 150 employees and operated at 1130 West Adams Street until 1982. During my years at Monarch I went back to school in the evenings to work for a MBA at Roosevelt University in Chicago. I received my degree from Roosevelt in January of 1976. I had become a vice president at Monarch and was a part of the management team. In October 1982, Monarch merged into the Bradley Printing Company. A three was merger took place where Monarch Printing and Imperial Printing merged into Bradley Printing and we became the Bradley Printing Corporation and were located in the Imperial building on Mannheim Road in Del Plaines, Illinois. After being at Bradley for about a year I moved into printing sales. One of the salesmen from Monarch days retired from Bradley and I received some of his accounts to service. This worked out well for me and within a year my commissions were enough to cover my monthly draws of salary. I enjoyed my selling career as it got me out of the office for my calls on clients and prospective clients. I continued selling until my retirement in January of 1995. I had been in sales for twelve years and overall had spent nearly forty-five years in the graphic arts industry. It was a rewarding industry to have been a part of and would choose the same business if I had to do it all over again.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s Mary Jo and I traveled to Europe several times. We visited Holland, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. We still enjoy the trips as we reminisce with the albums we put together after each trip. In June of 1994 we spent two weeks in Hawaii in celebration of our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Valerie and John and their two boys joined us on Maui for the second week and overall it was a very memorable vacation. At about the time of my retirement from Bradley Printing, we had the opportunity to buy a condominium apartment in Sarasota, Florida. It is a small two-bedroom apartment that is in a beautiful location on the shores of Sarasota Bay. We started the routine of living approximately eight months in Deerfield and four months in Sarasota each year with the months in Florida being January, February, March and April. In 1998 we sold our home on Rosemary Terrace in Deerfield. We had designed our home with an architect and moved into the house in 1958. We had spent forty years in the house when we sold it in 1998 and moved to an apartment in the Coromandel development in Deerfield. The arrangement of having two apartments makes it easier for us to pack up for our trips back and forth to Florida. We have friends at both ends and always look forward to our next trip going one way or the other.
In September of 2000, I was invited to accompany a small group of veterans of my 461st Bomb Group on a trip to the Czech Republic. Those that made the trip were survivors of the December 17, 1944 air battle over Moravia in the northeastern part of the Czech Republic. Our 461st Bomb Group along with several bomb groups of the Fifteenth Air Force were on our way to bomb the Odertal Synthetic Oil Works in what is now southern Poland. We were attacked by German fighter planes as we approached our target and a huge air battle took place. Twenty Fifteenth Air Force bombers were shot down and nearly fifty German fighters were lost to machine gun fire from the bombers and from the American fighter escorts. Two hundred American airmen were killed or missing in action. The Czech Airmen’s Society was instrumental in arranging the trip to Prerov in the eastern part of the Czech Republic. The Czech Airmen’s Society enlisted the help of the Czech Military, Czech Airlines and other interested parties to sponsor this wonderful trip for the American survivors of the air battle which took place over their homeland. The six men that made the trip are as follows:
Hjalmar Johansson of Montville, New Jersey
John R. Modrovsky of Spring Hill, Florida
Orville Hommert of Granite City, Illinois
Thomas Qualman of Winter Haven, Florida
Rob Hoskins of Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Edward A, Kussler of Deerfield, Illinois
The Czech people were tremendous hosts and their generous hospitality was well received by the American veterans. The Czechs showed their appreciation for what the American flyers had done over fifty-five years ago. Liberation from the German oppressors was most important to the Czech people and they still wanted to and did show how much they appreciated our efforts. I feel very pleased to have been a part of this trip.
However, it was unfortunate that Mary Jo did not make the trip to the Czech Republic with me. We have shared so much together that I regret her missing the emotions and thrills of the trip to Prerov. She has some health problems and the trip would have been difficult for her. I realize that I have been very fortunate to have good health through the years since World War II. Hernia surgery is the most difficult health problem that I have had to suffer through. I do realize that so many of my World War II contemporaries have passed on and that the remaining survivors are thinning rather quickly. However, I still enjoy life immensely and hope to continue on for many more years. The Czech trip brought back many hazy and nearly forgotten memories that have helped put my entire lifetime into greater perspective. Mary Jo and I want to stay around for a long time to see all of our grandchildren reach adulthood and begin having families of their own. We can’t hope for much more, so that will be our goal as we move along in the new Twenty-first century.