Paul T. Haggerty
I was on a crew that got shot down on December 16, 1944. I ended up in Stalag Luft I. The pilot, Lee Ward, co-pilot, Tom Merkouris, and navigator, Charles Mundy evaded capture for over 30 days. The Germans finally captured them when someone tipped off the Germans where they were hiding. They ended up as POWs in a camp at Nurenberg. There were eight of us (Harry Dunham was a photographer attached to us for the mission to Brux). The rest of us were Thomas Byers, nose gunner; Melvin Tenhaken, radio operator; Jesse Palmer, ball gunner; Ken Merry, bombardier; R.C. Wakefield, tail gunner; Thomas MacDonald, engineer and Paul T. Haggerty, top turret gunner. The eight of us bailed out and were captured by the Ustascha at Rovte, Slovenia. We were turned over to the Gestapo and imprisoned in the law court of Ljubljana. We later went to Oberursel, then Dulag Luft at Wetzler and finally to Stalag Luft I. We arrived there on 3 January 1945. Unfortunately I believe that Lee Ward, Harry Dunham and Tom MacDonald are deceased. I do not know about Jesse Palmer, but I have been in contact with all the others.
Harry Dunham was from Headquarters. This was the first time we met him. It was also the first time we met Lee Ward. All the rest of us were on the Merkouris crew. The regular co-pilot was R.G. Smith. He did not fly with us on that day.
Al Arrotta was a roommate in Stalag Luft I. Homer Hymbaugh and Bud Grainger were also roommates. Another roommate was Johnnie P. Barks who was also from Fall River, Mass. like myself and we knew each other from high school. He was shot down on 17 December along with Homer and Bud.
In February, our room capacity jumped from 18 to 24. Boards were nailed from one wall to the other; three high and 18 guys slept 6 to a row. Six other bunks on the outside wall corner were also put up. We slept two guys to a bunk. We slept buddy style to keep warm. When the Russians arrived around the end of April, we were allowed to go to town.
The Russians arrived and everybody was happy. We had permission to go to town so Al Arrotta, Russ MacDonald and myself decided to see what it was like to be free and do what we wanted to do. We walked into town and in all honesty, we thought about leaving and heading for the American lines. We came across a Russian soldier sitting in the driver’s seat of a Chevrolet sedan. As we approached with the usual Tavarish greeting we noticed that he was eating a fish – a raw fish. We saw him bite it and it wiggled. Anyhow, we tried talking to him and wanted him to give us the car. Naturally he didn’t know what we were talking about, but he did offer us a bite of his fish. We hemmed and hawed back and forth, but finally gave up when all he did was offer us the fish. We left him and walked on into town.
We were looking for a bank. If it was broken into or open we were going to go in and make ourselves instant millionaires. We were too late and the place was all smashed up and deserted. There were some Russians nearby so we figured we had better leave well enough alone.
There were other groups of Russians all over the place; some were in houses and others just seemingly looking for trouble. We paid them no attention and just walked around. There were other ex-POWs walking around also. The whole thing was that we were finally free again. We could do what we wanted, when we wanted and it was just great.
Oh, yeah, we turned a corner and saw three Russians even more drunk than all the others. They had machine guns and were spraying the buildings and laughing and drinking. They were really loaded. They saw us and called us over. We hesitated, but the way they looked at us told us we better go meet them. They were friendly at first. They were laughing and drinking and offered us a drink. We didn’t take any drinks and they seemed happy (more booze for them). We finally decided that we wanted to leave so we tried to tell them that we had to go back to camp. In trying to get the information across I pointed in the direction of the camp. This is when it happened. My shirt slid up my arm when I pointed and one of the Russians saw my watch (it was not a military watch, but was a gift from my parents to me for graduation from high school. It was a Helbros and cost about $75.00). The Germans never took it from me. I took it off when we were interrogated at Oberursel, the interrogation center and when we got to Barth. I held it in the palm of my hand and no one ever noticed. The Russian’s eyes gleamed. He asked me for the watch pointing at the watch and then to himself. I kept saying no, no, nyet, nyet until he finally grabbed my wrist. I tried to jerk my arm away until one of the other Russians put the end of his machine gun against my neck. Al and Russ said, "Give him the watch. Don’t get killed now that the war is over." I really didn’t move and the Russian slid the watch off my arm. I know I was mad, but there was nothing I or we could do. The Russians continued to laugh. The guy with my watch looked at me and laughed and bowed like he was saying thank you and we all separated. As soon as we got to a corner we took off because they started heading our way again. We went back to camp and stayed in the general camp area until we flew to Lyon, France, then on to Lucky Strike.
We were left in the camp for two weeks after the Russians arrived. VE Day was the 8th of May, but we were not allowed to leave – no planes, no nothing, just rumors. Well, Roger W. Armstrong wrote a book entitled "U.S.A. The Hard Way" and in it he mentions that we were actually held hostage by the Russians until the United States turned over General Andrei Vlassoc and his Russian army that were fighting for the Germans against the Russians. General Vlassoc and an army of about 60,000 were captured early in the war. Stalin had sent them no supplies and they were desperate. Vlassoc surrendered his army to keep them from being slaughtered. After Vlassoc was captured, the Germans worked on him and told him that they would need strong Russian leaders like himself to help run Russia after the war. Eventually he gave in and signed pamphlets that the Germans dropped over Russian lines. Many Russians surrendered to the Germans. As the war was drawing to a close, Vlassoc and his army fought with the Germans in Czechoslovakia and as soon as the Americans got close his army then turned and started fighting against the Germans. They helped free Prague and then surrendered to the Americans. The Russians knew this and kept us hostage until the Americans turned Vlassoc and his army over to them. Needless to say they were all shot.
I talked with Cheryl Cerbone, (Editor of the ex-POW bulletin) whose dad was a POW in Stalag Luft I. He told her that six guys in his room left with the Russians (the Russians were always trying to get us to go with them) and they were never heard from again.
I had a tent mate who flew with the 8th and one afternoon a C-47 flew in and we went up to it and talked to the pilots. We shot the breeze and they asked us if we wanted to go to England. Well, we had no orders, nobody knew who we were or where we were so we grabbed our stuff and flew to Kent. The guys took us to a pub and we had a great evening. They then took us to London and we stayed at Hans Crescent Hotel for about a month. We got a few bucks from the Red Cross and had a ball. We finally went to Plymouth and came home on an LST. Eighteen days to Norfolk.
I then went to Camp Devens and finally home for a nice long furlough. I had to go all the way from Fall River, Mass. To San Antonio, Texas to get discharged.