John R. Modrovsky
Both my parents, Anton and Amera Modrovsky were born and raised in the town of Drahovce, Czechoslovakia. My parents immigrated to America in 1915 and settled in Coatesville, Pennsylvania where many more of our people immigrated before them. Coatesville was a small town and most of the people worked at the steel mill. My sister, Elizabeth, brother, Joseph, and I were all born in Coatesville. Because of the depression, the mill had to cut the amount of hours my father and others could work so much so that we had difficulty paying the rent on the house we lived in and to be able to purchase enough food to live on. Because of the shortage of work my father on his days off worked on a neighboring farm for a very little money, but he was provided with a good supply of eggs, butter and milk, a chicken once a week and some meat when a pig was slaughtered. Knowing that things were not getting any better, he wrote to a good friend from the old country who lived in New York City. In the letter he got back from his friend he was told to move to New York. There were jobs available and the pay, although not great, was steady and it was enough to live on modestly. It was a big decision to make for a man with a family, so in 1925 he decided to make the move. During the years ahead things were tough, but we managed to survive. In 1931 my second sister, Josephine was born. This made it more difficult, but when you are poor another mouth to feed isn’t a crisis, we managed. By this time my older sister and brother were old enough, 15 and 14, to work after school to help out. I was 8 then and made a few pennies from time to time running errands and occasionally sweeping out stores. Everybody helped. In June of 1942 I graduated high school and I was inducted into the service on January 14, 1943. I took some tests and the results were good and it got me into the Air Force. After basic training, I was sent to aerial gunnery school, then to aircraft armament school and then I was sent to a crewing area where air crews are assembled. Once the crew (10 men) was assembled we were sent to a combat training area where we picked up our own brand new B-24J named “Arsenic and Lace.” We all fell in love with her immediately and she now had ten lovers who would risk their lives to protect her. Unlike many previous combat crews who went over to Europe by boat we became part of a new idea whereby both plane and crew flew over together. This way one didn’t have to wait for the other to arrive at the Processing and Replacement Center. Replacement crews and planes were in great demand and the squadrons got their replacements faster and thus could maintain maximum efforts in bombing enemy targets. We were lucky our first ten missions, but on December 17, 1944, our 11th mission, our luck ran out and we were shot down by the Luftwaffe JG-300 Squadron. Out “Miss Lace” was badly damaged and she blew up and her remains came down in Czechoslovakia near Olomoue-Neredin. Five members of the crew perished and five were lucky enough to survive. I am one of the survivors and although I was captured by the Germans and was interned in a Prisoner of War camp Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany. Thank God I am still alive today to tell my story.
When I became a civilian again after my discharge, I even made a joke about my experience. Every Sunday after Mass we would usually gather at one relative’s house or another for a Sunday visit and dinner. It was only natural that I would be asked this question, “Johnny, you fought in Europe, didn’t you?” I answered yes. “While there did you ever get a chance to visit the old country, Czechoslovakia?” And my answer was, “Yes, I dropped in once.” I never mentioned to them that I had to parachute to save my life. I always got a little chuckle out of my answer. It’s easy to make jokes about ones experiences after the fact because if you don’t let go, you will become a grumpy vindictive person. Ending the suffering and trying to forget the bad memories as soon as humanly possible and just look ahead to a better life in the future. The past is history; the future is hope and happiness. I hope that when you read about my misadventure, bad as it was, that I survived because of pride in my ethnic background and that I was an American fighting for freedom for all oppressed people of the world.
It’s 3:00 AM on Sunday, December 17, 1944 when we were awaken by our nemesis, a sergeant whose duty it was to wake up the crews who were scheduled to fly a mission. After throwing half a dozen items at him we rubbed our eyes clear and looked around at each other. Our tent, our home away from home, was occupied by six enlisted members of the crew. Since we knew the routine, having done it so often, we sauntered out of our tent and headed for the crown jewel of bath houses. Here we washed our faces to wake up and brushed our teeth to get rid of the bad taste in our mouth. After taking care of the important necessities, we went over to the mess hall for breakfast. Breakfast sounds good, but when we have to fly high altitude missions, it’s usually dry cereal, toast no butter and coffee. Anything that contains any form of fat, butter, etc., could make one uncomfortable when flying at a high altitude. If you eat heavily and are airborne and you start to feel queasy, you are in trouble. We usually have a bucket for such emergencies, but sometimes you fail to reach it in time and you wind up redecorating the interior of the aircraft. At high altitude except for the one who released his breakfast suddenly and openly it doesn’t have an immediate affect because we are on oxygen and our masks cover our faces including our noses. However, once we are returning to our base and flying below 10,000 feet, our oxygen masks come off and the after effect of a previously ejected breakfast becomes quite evident. Thank God for the two waist gun windows where fresh cold air rushes in steadily and helps dilute the nauseous aroma from the earlier accidental mishap. Once we landed and after the briefing of the mission, our generous donor has the privilege, although unwanted, to clean up his earlier donation. While at the briefing, our ground crew supplied several buckets of treated water, a brush and mop for our donor to clean up his earlier mistake.
Now a flash back to the mess hall. Most of those having breakfast this early are the crews flying the missions. There is a lot of laughter and joviality, but actually it’s a ploy to hide the fact that they are worried and/or scared, but don’t want to show it. It’s no sin to be scared when you know that you are going out to face possible death. However, scared or not, they still go out and do their job the best they can. Who can expect more than that? It’s the job they are trained to do, so they take a deep breath and go on with it.
After a short briefing, each man gets his blessing from the man who represents their fate and/or religion. We then mount trucks with all our flying gear and wait at the planes tarmac for the officers each of who have separate briefings. During our wait, we smoke a couple of cigarettes and also check over our equipment. Being the armorer gunner it was my duty to check the bombays and make sure that the bombs were installed properly. Finally the officers arrive and we receive a quick briefing of what is expected of us. Once we are airborne we find out what the target is. Then it’s too late to complain that you are not feeling so good and would like to go on sick call.
After takeoff and we are flying over the water, we test fire our guns several short bursts. As soon as we reach 10,000 feet, we go on oxygen and remain on oxygen for most of the mission. As a ball turret gunner, I do not remain in my turret after test firing my guns. I raise my turret back up into the plane. I do not get back into my turret until we are about a half hour from the target. On most lengthy missions this is required because if the ball turret is in the slipstream under the belly of the plane it causes a drag which then requires the pilot to use more fuel to compensate for this. Since the ball turret is inside the plane, I have been trained to lower it, enter it and be ready to protect the plane in case of an attack by fighters within a minute or so.
The mission by the Fifteenth Air Force on December 17, 1944 can be written up as perhaps one of the biggest and most fiercely fought air combat battles of World War II in Europe.
General Adolf Galland, head of the Luftwaffe Fighter Command, sensing that the war was soon to come to an end and that Germany would lose, decided to hoard petrol and save his best pilots, planes and ammunition for what he called Der Grosse Schlag, “The Big Blow.” This big blow was delivered on December 17, 1944 over the skies of Czechoslovakia and Poland when 100 of his best fighter planes pounced on the 461st Bomb Group. Heavy losses encountered on both sides.
From our standpoint we were told at the briefing before the mission that the Germans would not be able to send up any fighters because they did not have the fuel. They said that this would be a “milk run” (a mission where there would be very little or no fighter opposition and minimal anti-aircraft action). Our own intelligence must have been asleep at the switch on this one and/or the Germans kept General Galland’s Der Gross Schlag the best kept secret of the war. It became an aerial bloodbath and the Germans threw everything at us but the kitchen sink.
On this mission the fighters attacked 3 and 4 abreast and came directly at us from the rear. They were only about 100 to 150 yards behind us and this is unheard of based on their previous tactics. Previously they would dive at us from above and out of the sun which made it hard for the gunners to pick them up quickly. They would dive out of the sun and rake the planes with 20 mm cannon fire and keep on diving. Once they were out of range of our gunfire, they would go back up above the bomber formation and make a similar attack and then head for their air field. Flying abreast and at the same level is almost like a suicide mission because more guns can zero in on you much easier and do more damage. Plus it is much easier to hit a target coming directly at you than one that is diving at you from the sun at 400 miles per hour. As for them, they would also be able to do more damage coming straight and level with the target. There is no doubt in my mind that their orders were to shoot down as many planes as possible regardless of personal risk to themselves.
The next two days, December 18th and 19th, the 461st Bomb Group bombed the same target and encountered only minimal anti-aircraft fire and no fighter opposition. It seems that Der Grosse Schlag was one big all-out effort and the end of the mighty Luftwaffe.
This particular mission was to the Blechhammer Oil Refineries, Odertal, Poland. We were attacked by 100 Luftwaffe Fighter planes before we got to the target. The reason was to destroy as many bombers as they could before they could reach the target. During these attacks, our B-24, ‘Arsenic and Lace,’ was badly damaged by the enemy fighters and never did reach the target. Thank God our pilot, Lt. Gerald Smith, who knew how badly damaged we were and that we couldn’t reach the target area, jettisoned our bomb load. If we still had our bombs when the plane blew up, it would have been a much more powerful explosion and we all would have perished. Thanks to his quick thinking 5 members of the crew were able to survive the blast. The survivors were pilot Gerald Smith, co-pilot Vro Francisco, navigator Milton Klarsfeld, tail gunner Clifton Stewart, and yours truly John R. Modrovsky. Eventually we were all captured and spent the remainder of the war as prisoners of war in a German prison camp. The five members of the crew who perished were bombardier Arthur Carlson, engineer and waist gunner Elston Howard, top turret gunner Morris Goldman, nose turret gunner David Brewer, radio operator and waist gunner Abraham Abramson. By the grace of God I am only alive today because my guns jammed forcing me to come out of my turret while we were being attacked. As I reached the deck, both waist gunners were lying in a heap. So I took over both waist gun positions and fired at the enemy planes as they came within range on either side. Suddenly I saw the red flashing light, the signal to bail out. Our tail gunner left his position and was coming forth to bail out of the waist window. He leaped out, but I waited just a moment to check and be sure that both waist gunners were dead. I started to turn one over by pulling his arm and it came off in my hands. He had been hit in the chest with a 20 mm shell. Both were definitely dead. Under normal conditions seeing a sight like this, I might have freaked out, but in all the excitement I was lucky enough to keep my wits about me. Amen for that. Stopping to check my comrades to make sure that they were dead almost cost me my own life, but I had to be sure before I left the plane. So I approached the waist window and dove out head first. Just about the time my feet cleared the window, the ship blew up and the force of the blast partially dazed me. I was free falling (descending without an open chute) end over end feeling like I was on a soft cloud. I saw the rip cord ring in my hand, but because I was dazed, I couldn’t bring my mind to communicate with my hand to pull the ring all the way out so that the parachute could open. We bailed out at approximately 27,000 feet give or take and I just kept free falling not realizing what was happening. Then somehow my rip cord came free and my parachute opened. When a parachute fully opens after you have fallen some distance, just for a brief moment you suddenly stop in midair and your body is jolted. This jolting action brought me out of my dazed condition and I looked around wondering what happened. Within a minute or so the whole picture of what had happened became clear to me. The clouds were still below me and once I break through, what will I find waiting for me – a forest where I could land in some trees which is always dangerous; a lake or river etc. which can also be very dangerous; a town or hopefully an open field which would be safest. After breaking through the clouds at about 5,000 feet I was heading toward a forest with a nice big flat open area. By manipulating my shroud lines I was able to maneuver the parachute toward an open field. I landed safely with no problem. I gathered up my parachute and ran into the nearby forest. Luckily no one saw me descend. Once out of sight I rolled up my white parachute and covered it with snow – a perfect camouflage. Since it was just past noon, I looked around the forest area for a safe place to hide temporarily. Luckily I found a pheasant blind and hid under it. I gave myself about a half hour to let my heart which was pounding a mile a minute to get back to a normal beat and permit me to appreciate a sigh of relief. I was still shaking a little because I never had an experience like this in all my young life and honestly I wasn’t prepared for it.
After I composed myself I took the compass and the maps of Europe printed on large silk handkerchief from my escape kit which was in a leg pocket of my flying suit. I had a general idea where I was because I heard our navigator telling the pilot that we were approaching the target area just before the Luftwaffe attacked our formation. I found this on the map and assumed that this was the general area I was in. From there I had no other choice but to head east toward the Russian lines which were still far away, but you have to start someplace. Unless I was lucky enough to be picked up by a partisan group, I seriously doubted that I would make it, but I had to try. When it got dark I came out of the woods ever so cautiously and began heading east. I don’t know how many miles I had traveled before the dawn was upon me so I had to find a place where I could hide during the daylight hours. I located a small treed area and proceeded to enter it and find a spot where I could hide. Shortly after entering the area I heard several dogs barking as if they were hunting some prey. Little did I know that I was the prey and since they were much faster than I, it was no contest. They forced me to back up against a large tree and they kept snapping at me. I took off one of my flying boots and kept swinging it at them. Within minutes two policemen with shotguns came along and my earlier doubt about being able to make it out was now a reality. At first I hated to be captured, but now for the first time I knew how a hunted animal felt when it was being stalked. The police took me to their station and had me sit on a chair in the corner of a big room. When they looked at my dog tags, my identification and saw my name, Modrovsky, they immediately asked me if I was Czechoslovakian. The chief policeman spoke some broken English. At this point I pretended that I did not know how to speak the language which I did, but decided to play dumb. They finally accepted the fact that I couldn’t and left me alone. They were speaking freely believing that I could not understand what they were saying so I just listened and knew exactly what their plans were for me. The police chief got on the phone and called the Germans informing them that they had captured an American airman. Early that afternoon they came and picked me up. There was an officer, two riflemen and a driver. We drove for about 2 hours and stopped in an open area. I got out of the ambulance, the pickup vehicle, and stood wondering what was going to happen. One of the riflemen took out a shovel and handed it to me. Immediately this horrible thought flashed in my mind that they were going to take me out in the field and have me dig my own grave before shooting me. Then I became confused because they also took out a stretcher and two large brown paper bags. We then began to walk deeper into this open area like we were going nowhere. I knew that I was really scared when I kept asking questions and then more questions. The German officer just told me to keep walking and to stop asking so many questions. We walked about another quarter mile and I saw a huge hole in the ground almost like a crater. There was wreckage in the middle about 15 feet deep. It turned out to be a German fighter aircraft which had been shot down on my mission the day before. It seems the pilot never got out of the aircraft and we were there to pick up his body. We finally found it a short distance from where the plane crashed. We placed it into two brown bags and put it on the stretcher and tied it down with the straps attacked to the stretcher. We carried it back to the ambulance and placed it inside and I had to sit inside with it. The body was pretty stiff from the cold, but began to thaw slowly once it was placed inside the ambulance.
After an hour or so it had thawed enough to start emitting an odor. The odor began to get stronger and I began to feel ill. I threw up several times then started banging and kicking the door because I wanted out to get some fresh air. With all the noise and screaming I was doing they finally stopped the ambulance and let me out. Once the odor from within the ambulance started coming out they all started backing away. I asked the officer to please let me stand between the two riflemen on the rear platform which was on the outside of the ambulance. When he saw the multi-colored look on my face he agreed and we went on our way. I, for one, was breathing a lot better. We finally arrived at our destination and no one could be happier than me. I was taken to a building and given a small bowl of soup, a piece of brown bread and a horrible cup of coffee which tasted like varnish. I was then taken to a small cold and damp room in the basement. Sometime during midafternoon they came and took me outside the building where an automobile was waiting. This was my transportation to where I would be taken next. I waited outside with the chauffer, a soldier. Shortly a tall distinguished officer approached and entered the vehicle spreading himself out across the back seat. There was a small wooden box on the floor which I occupied. It was directly across from the officer who turned out to be a colonel. While we were riding he began to question me about what I did before the war. The answer was easy. I told him that I was a student. Then I asked him what he did before the war and he said, ”Ach, I was an engineer.” With this answer I made my first stupid mistake because not realizing where I was and the position I was in, I said, “When we get through with you, you will have plenty of work rebuilding.” I hardly got the last word out of my mouth when his arm came up from his lap and hit me right across the mouth splitting my lip which was caused by a big ring he was wearing. I began to bleed and the driver had to stop the car to get out and pick up a hand full of snow which he gave me to hold against my mouth to try and help stop the bleeding. It was then that I got the message, speak only when asked to speak, you’re on the other side of the fence now. The freedom you have enjoyed and taken for granted has just been taken away from you. Simply put you are a prisoner of war and don’t you forget it. After riding for a couple of hours we arrived at a Luftwaffe base where I was dropped off. That evening I was taken to the officer’s mess and was told to help out in the kitchen. As a non-commissioned officer and according to the Geneva Convention I am not supposed to do any manual labor. I was cold and hungry so I did what they told me to do for two reasons. 1. So that they don’t take it upon themselves to start beating me. 2. Being hungry I thought they might feed me and/or I might be able to steal food if the opportunity should present itself. I was given the dirty job of cleaning out the grease pits. I would take two pails with greasy slimy water and then carry them outside and dump them into a ditch outside the building area. At one point while carrying two pails of dirty water, I slipped on a greasy spot on the floor and crashed into a German officer who was walking by knocking him down and spilling some of the slimy water over him. He got up and started to scream and began beating me around the head and face and kicked me when I was down on the floor. Because he was an officer, the kitchen staff continued to make my life miserable. They then returned me to my cell without having given me any food or drink. After several hours had elapsed since the incident, an interpreter came and told me that because I attacked a German officer that, at a trial which was held (without me being present) that I was found guilty and it was decreed that I would be executed by a firing squad in the morning. The shock of that statement hit me like a bolt of lightning. I began to tremble, partially lost my voice and at the moment I never felt so alone in all my life.
They say when you think you are going to die your mind does tricks on you. After being told that I would be executed in the morning, I kept pacing back and forth, back and forth. At one point I suddenly had a vision, a flash back in my life which I cannot answer to this day. There was my mother pointing her finger at me like she was scolding me for something that I had done. I was about 4 years old then. What really puzzled me is that of all the things which I have done in my life to this point and if I were to digress about my life, this single uneventful moment would never even be remembered. After going over this in my mind a thousand times I can only assume that when we are in trouble, the one person who really protected us whenever the need was our mother. So I guess that’s what I was really looking for – her protection at this critical time. God bless mothers.
Needless to say I couldn’t sleep all that night and the next morning felt so weak, cold and totally exhausted from the events which took place in the kitchen that I had to be helped to walk to the place of execution. They had me stand in front of a stone wall with my hands tied behind my back and tied to a post facing 6 riflemen and they didn’t even bother to offer me a blindfold. The officer in charge called out the orders to proceed with the execution. The riflemen raised their weapons and on command pulled the triggers. Simultaneously I was gripped with the worst feeling that I have ever experienced. Lucky for me, their guns were loaded with blanks because this was a mock execution just to see how I would react. They were all laughing – it was just a big joke. I was so exhausted from this horrifying experience that I just collapsed to the ground, my body trembling, my heart was beating a mile a minute, and I was scared and confused, but very thankful that I was still alive. It took quite a while for me to stop shaking. Mostly I had witnessed fear as I could never imagine so much so that I began to tremble whenever a soldier came in my direction and/or raised their voices. Needless to say I have had many, many nightmares from then on. Even to this day, I still have bad dreams about this dire event and wake up in a big sweat. I can only say in all honesty, that I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone because it was a very, very sordid and inhuman joke.
The next day after the mock execution incident I was taken by a rifleman through the town on the way to the railway station. En route to the station townspeople noticed that I was an American airman prisoner and began to call me names. Then one hit me with his fist and within a minute or so about half a dozen began hitting me, spitting on me, cursing me and throwing stones and sticks at me. The guard just backed off and let the people do as they pleased. It was the first time I had witnessed mob violence and/or been the target. It was scary to say the least. Suddenly I was hit in the head with an object and I fell to the ground face down. I wasn’t hurt, but since I was down I was going to stay down. I laid as motionless as possible making it look like I was unconscious. I guess the people didn’t think it made sense to beat a dead horse. They disbursed and then the guard turned me over and tried to revive me. I made it look good and appeared to still be groggy from the beating. When I appeared to be able to walk we proceeded to the station and shortly after boarded a train and went to our next destination. Here I was put into a small room at the station. Several hours later another rifleman came and we boarded another train to our next destination. Here I had to walk through the town so he could lock me up for the night. In passing through the town the mob scene started all over again. After the revival scene we reached the lockup for the night. I asked him for something to eat and he just ignored me like I was not there. Early the next morning while it was still dark the rifleman came and got me up and we proceeded to walk towards the station. Luck was on my side for a change because it was only about 4:00 AM and there were very few people on the street and those that were seemed to be heading home or going to work.
Thank God no one really noticed me nor cared and we reached the station without another incident. While on the train and about noon time the rifleman pulled out a piece of sausage, bread and wine. As he cut into the sausage the smell of garlic almost drove me crazy. It was criminal to do this to another human being knowing that I had not eaten for several days. I begged him for just a little piece and maybe a sip of his wine, but he just ignored my plea. He said that these were his rations for two days and he would not share them with anyone especially a prisoner. He kept on eating and the garlic smell kept getting stronger and stronger so much so that I actually considered attacking him just like a wild animal would do. Later on I realized how my animalistic instincts took over and I never thought that a civilized human being could succumb to this. Later that day we reached the town of Wetzler, Germany which had a prisoner of war camp, Dulag Luft I. Actually it was an interrogation and relocation center for this area. Here I was actually given something to eat and drink without having to beg for it. I almost forgot what food tasted like. It was very simple – soup, bread and coffee, but to me it tasted like a banquet. The next day I was brought to a major’s office for interrogation. He questioned me about my squadron, where it was located and other data most of which only the officers of the crew knew about. I just kept giving him my name, rank and serial number. After asking the same questions about three times and getting the same answers three times, he began to lose patience and said that for the last time answer the questions because if you don’t, I will have you taken out and shot. When I heard this, I flashed back to the firing squad incident and totally lost control of myself. I jumped up out of my chair screaming at the top of my lungs, “MY GOD NOT AGAIN.” There were two riflemen in the room and when they saw this outburst they began hitting me with their rifle butts, knocking me down and then dragging me out of the office by my feet. I was dragged to a cell and left on the floor. It took me several hours to gather my wits about me. I was never called back for another session. Simply put, I must have scared the hell out of the German officer. The next time they came to get me they put me with a large group of prisoners and we were taken to the railroad station and put in boxcars and our destination was Stalag Luft I located in the town of Barth, Germany. This became my permanent camp and final destination.
I was assigned to barracks No. 18. The compound had about 30 such barracks. There were 24 men assigned to each room. The rooms did not have beds. Instead we slept side by side on large shelves. One half of the room had three such shelves from floor to ceiling. Six men slept on each shelf. The other six slept on three small shelves in another corner of the room. The room also contained a table about 10 feet long with two benches. There was a small stove in one corner of the room which could be used to burn coal and/or wood if you could get any. Actually we were allowed two briskets of pressed coal dust. This, when lit, would burn for about a half hour or so. We had to use it sparingly just to heat water for coffee, tea or powdered soup which we received whenever we got Red Cross parcels. The rest of the time you had to look around for anything that could burn or improvise. With these kinds of conditions we were always cold and hungry. It is strange how a body can get acclimated to such cold conditions and still survive over a period of time. I guess when you have no other choice you make do with what you have and what you have to put up with. Let’s face it, we did not have a choice. Since Stalag Luft I is right off the Baltic Sea the winters were extremely cold and windy. The only time you would go outside was roll call and/or when you have to go to the latrine. Otherwise you stayed inside. Someone in my room was able to get hold of a deck of cards and they were in constant use as long as anyone was awake. Most of the time we tried to sleep because if you were able to do so it took our minds off our present situation.
Mostly our main concern was what time we would be fed. The menu was one sided, potatoes, rutabaga, beets and anything else that was lying around. Most of these came in the form of a soup, and black bread which was half sawdust, but when you are hungry you will eat anything that is filling. The one real cruel thing they did is that once a month they would give us oatmeal to cook about the equivalent of a small bowl. The cruel part was that they mixed ground glass in with it, some of it was powder fine and almost impossible to separate from the oatmeal itself. So now you had two choices. 1. Throw it away which, believe me, was very, very difficult under the circumstances. 2. Take a chance, cook and eat it and possibly develop internal bleeding if the small glass should start to cut up your inner stomach. Since medical attention and service was practically nonexistent and internal bleeding would require a possible transfusion or two you would be in real trouble. Our big moment was when we received Red Cross parcels. They contained real food including some vitamins. Unfortunately, even here we were cheated by the Germans. According to the rules of the Geneva Convention each prisoner was to receive one parcel per week. If we were given a parcel per week life would have been much easier. Instead, we received 4 Red Cross parcels per room and with 24 men in each room this came out to one parcel for six men per week. There would be arguments about how to divide the parcel 6 ways. Also once the food was divided equally most of the men would gulp it down in minutes and the feast was over for another week and complaining would go on for another week. Friendships were difficult to establish. It seemed to come to every man for himself, attitude. Time seemed to pass slowly and I found it helpful to recite nursery rhymes under my breath to myself. Most are happy and make you recall better days. Finally on May 13, 1945, I walked out of my barracks for roll call and found the compound empty, the gates were open and the guard towers deserted. The Russians were only a couple hours away and faced no resistance and the Germans abandoned the camp because they probably feared what the Russians would do to them for the cruel and inhuman treatment they used on the Russian prisoners at the camp. Within the hour word got around that the Germans had abandoned the camp. Almost immediately groups were formed by some to go to the town and raid it for food and/or anything else they could find. This happened before the allied officers now in charge could put out a set of rules to follow in order to maintain civility. Some groups located the warehouse where the Red Cross parcels were stored and it was almost full. The Germans had been cheating by withholding the proper distribution of the parcels. The groups that initially located the warehouse were out of control and each one would take as many parcels as he could carry back to his barracks, not to share, but to stuff themselves. If a roommate asked for something out of the parcel, the rude answer was, go get your own; the typical every man for himself attitude. Hunger does strange things to the human mind, but it is still hard to fathom after the fact. The above statements do not represent the majority of the prisoners, but rather the minority. Several days later planes were sent in to pick us up and fly us to St. Valerie, France to a camp called Lucky Strike, named after a popular American Cigarette. Here we got the medical attention we sorely needed and plenty of good food to eat. We were told to eat slowly and not to over stuff ourselves and that there is plenty of food. Because we were prisoners and they knew what we went through so they kept the mess tent open 24 hours. This way we didn’t have to try to over stuff ourselves. We could eat, digest the food and then go back and eat again. Naturally everyone was anxious to go home as soon as possible, however, some of us had lost a lot of weight and looked like zombies and had to be kept back until they could put on enough weight to look human again. Those who were in pretty good shape were the first ones to be sent home.
After being honorably discharged from the service I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Having entered the service only months after I graduated from high school I really had no idea what I was best suited to do for a living. I tried several different types of jobs never kept them very long. I finally took a job with an Army Audit Agency where I met a lovely young girl who also worked there in the same office and we began to date. After keeping company for a period of time, I asked her to marry me. She agreed on one condition and that was only if I went to college (which I was entitled to because of my military service). She said that I needed a good education to be able to make a good living for our future family. We married in May 1948 and I started college in September. She agreed to work for the four years until my graduation. I graduated four years later with a degree in money and banking. I started to work in a bank as a clerk and after a number of changes to different banks each time for a better position, I finally settled for one bank and retired 25 years later as a vice president in 1986. We have three grown sons and all are successful at their jobs. We also have three wonderful grandchildren. This past May 2001 we also celebrated our 53rd wedding anniversary in Florida where we have lived since retirement.
One of the most pleasant memories which I cherish dearly was when I was privileged with four other veterans who were part of the air battle over Czechoslovakia on December 17, 1944 to visit the Czech Republic as their guests this past September 2000. Being of Czechoslovakian parentage I was elated when informed that I was chosen along with four other for this wonderful visit. The Czech people showered us with love and respect. Who could ask for anything more. America is still talking about putting up a monument honoring the veterans of World War II, 56 years after the war and it’s still just talk, not action. The Czech people have already put up numerous monuments honoring American airmen. It’s true that their monuments may be smaller than the one America is contemplating building, but by the time it is financed and completed most of us will be dead. Also there is a saying that it doesn’t matter how big or expensive a gift is. It’s the thought behind it. Amen to that.