Private Charles Raney
Unit : 1st Platoon, "D" Troop, 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 9th Armoured Division
Served : North-West Europe (captured).
Service No. : 17164759
POW No. : 160950
Camps : Stalags IIA and IVB.
I joined the Army on Oct. 5, 1942 at Ft. Crook, Nebraska, then went to Leavenworth, Kansas for basic training. Assigned to the newly-formed 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, with 9th Armoured Division at Camp Funston, Kansas, made up of Cadre of old 2nd Cavalry horse soldiers of Ft. Riley, Kansas.
My father, Charles Hannibal Raney, 1st Sgt in WW1 was stationed at Camp Funston. I was placed in "D" Troop, 1st Platoon. We trained the winter in Kansas in tanks, M8, then to Mohave Desert near Needles, California for summer desert maneuvers in half-tracks, then on to Camp Polk, Louisiana for more maneuvers in the pines and swamps all winter in Jeeps. I qualified as a radio operator, voice, swimming and combat village instructor, rank of Corporal. Trained to use efficiently, the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns, 45 caliber Tommy Gun and automatic pistol, 37mm German small arms and grenades. Learned map reading and orientation, fire direction and demolition.
We left Camp Polk Aug. 5, 1944 for Camp Kilmore, Maryland, our Port of Embarkation. On Aug. 19th we boarded the Queen Mary and left the States the next morning. Arrived in Scotland Aug. 22, and from there went to Salisbury, England by train. Stayed in a tent camp near Druids Lodge till crossing the English Channel on an L.S.T. landing craft to Utah Beach. There was plenty of evidence of the first landing still on the beach and inland as we had to clear our own bivouac areas of mines and booby traps.
My job was finding the mines with a mine detector and others removed them. This was around St. Lo, France. We went through Paris, and Verdun, where memories of WW I were enshrined battle grounds and trenches of bayonets, then to Belgium and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, where we were brought to a standstill by mobs of people welcoming us liberators with wine, flowers, bread and apples. This was much the same all along the road through France to Belgium. Large banners and flags in every window. The Nazis had not taken all from these people but living with them for a few months told us much of what was taken. Young girls from many towns were loaded into the trucks with retreating German troops and carried away - who knows whether they ever got back to their families.
We made patrols almost daily for reconnaissance purposes. We scouted towns for reported enemy activity; did night patrols to intercept and capture prisoners from enemy patrols for interrogation; and acted as observation and fire direction posts for artillery units. We were not a fighting troop, as such, but scouts for other outfits of the 9th Armoured Division. We were not to engage, purposefully, in any fighting or action but to get back with information. This we did except for a few times when forced into firefights to get out of a tight spot after being detected.
On about Dec. 15th, we were ordered to relieve a company on the line near St. Vith, Belgium, which was pinned down at a crossroad by a tank with an 88mm gun throwing tree bursts. While in our foxhole a couple of engineers came by and asked for a bazooka and shells. They were instructed on how to load and fire it and they started creeping down the ditch toward the tank about 100 yards away. When about in position they were spotted and the tank's turret swung around toward them. By this time the two were loaded and aiming at the tank. Both guns fired simultaneously, the engineer was hit and blown up and the bazooka shell hit the tank track. The remaining engineer came running back screaming. I yelled for guys in another foxhole near him to grab him and send him back with medics. The tank was immobilized but still had firing capability.
We were pushed back and had to leave my jeep with all the goodies (wine, boned turkey, and fruitcake) in it. We found the Lt. to go back with us to get it but he backed out, but we continued. The jeep was mired down in the field and we had to bypass a string of German tanks to get it. We decided to get behind it and push as soon as the driver started it up. It worked and we pulled up onto the blacktop road and drove straight through the German tank line. We found our outfit and were sent into another break in the line at a RR depot and stream just a few miles from St. Vith, Belgium, that was a main funnel through the German bulge, or breakthrough. This was a period in which there had been little actual action of any large scale and many outfits on the line had taken advantage of it as a rest period and had relaxed their defenses. This seemed evident on both sides giving us a sense of false security. These men were having breakfast as casually as they had for probably the last few weeks, sitting at tables in an abandoned RR station to fresh hot food, mail bags and personal duffel bags stacked in neat rows outside, ammunition and other supplies stored orderly in adjoining buildings as if the war was a hundred miles away. Why this attitude, when nearly all the reports we brought back indicated a buildup of men and supplies, and the last three or four days of heavy equipment and tanks. Whether the information was passed down or not or if it was, the units gave no grave through to it, we may never know.
Here we fought a long-range battle, 500 to 5000 yards, with the Germans. One of our platoons to our left, a ways up the tracks, was entrenched and overrun, losing more than half their number, dead, wounded or captured. The rest escaped by going into the timber. Two of my best buddies were of these - spending three days and nights in hiding and moving only at night. One, Bob Trail, of Central City, NE, suffered an attack of appendicitis during this escape and was sent back to a hospital for an operation. Both were victims of trench foot and exposure.
We had been firing mortars all morning, as there was quite a stockpile of mortar shells left by the company that was broken up and scattered the day before. Around noon we set up a machine gun on the hillside directly behind the station building. From there we could see what we were shooting at and give better protection to the armoured cars below us with their 37mm guns. About three o'clock one of my crew was hit in the head and we carried him down into the building for first aid, sending a Corporal to find the medics. We set up our machine gun and bazooka in the windows of the building's upper story. Soon after, all the vehicles pulled out while we were on the hill. We couldn't cross the road to where our jeep was parked, as there was a direct line of fire down this road at the retreating vehicles.
A year later at a reunion we found out what happened. Our troop was put into this hole in the line as "sacrifice troops" to hold till the last man. The object was to hold the advance at this road to St. Vith as long as possible giving the rest of the Battalion time to move back and set up new defenses, dig in and get all the commands working together again after being surprised and scattered. This we did till our Troop Commander, Capt. Dow, found that the enemy had broken through on our left and was surrounding us. Thinking, I suppose, that we were of no more use where we were, he gave orders over the radios to pull out as we could. This is when the vehicles all pulled out forgetting us on the hill. They had to fight a running battle for about two miles and some vehicles were lost and three men were shot off the armoured cars. Someone said that Capt. Dow lost his rank because of this action, as this road was the narrow part of the funnel through which the main part of the enemy armor was coming.
I felt we had better clear out if we hoped to make it so we started back through the forest, keeping near the road. We soon ran into three men from the platoon to our left, one, a Lieutenant, was shot in the back and was being helped to walk by the others. Further on we saw two flares shoot up at a curve in the road. The Lieutenant was sure it was our troops and gave me orders to run ahead and have them wait for us. I was very dubious of showing ourselves and suspicious of the flares, but whenever a ranking officer is present, his orders are the ones you obey. I didn't realize, at the time, that he was not capable of giving orders in his shape. As soon as we had shown ourselves and were in the open, Germans came out of the trees along the road and there was nothing to do but surrender. I had one grenade left and no ammunition for my carbine. They searched us taking all money and watches. They somehow left me with a pocket full of wrapped butterscotch candy and I had a pocketknife and a silk map of the area I had put inside my undershirt. We had been taught that if we were ever captured to foul up our captors and cause them trouble whenever we could. Up until this time I had been scared only once. This was on a line patrol one rainy night. Our telephone lines were being cut every night and we were to patrol this line. The night was miserable and we were tired and not too much concerned about finding anything wrong, so we three hid our jeep and crawled into our sleeping bags with our guns and zippered them closed to keep warm. Later on, five Germans walked up to within 30 feet of us and chattered about two or three minutes before moving on. We could see them against the skyline but if we had unzipped our bags they would surely have heard us so we lay there as quiet as possible till they were gone and I can assure you that we were scared and stayed out and alert the rest of that night.
I had been covered in dirt earlier in the day by a shell that exploded not five feet in front of me but that didn't scare me so I was not a bit afraid when we were captured. We had practiced this so often it seemed like more maneuvers and not real at all. When they told us to lie down on the ground the others did but I thought I'd act dumb and not understand what they wanted. This disturbed my buddies and soon angered the Germans to the point where one pulled out a grenade and they backed away. At this action I hit the ground and stayed there. I figured they were not in the mood to be fooled with. I wasn't even scared then, just playing it safe. About this time one of our ambulances came around the corner and was stopped. It had the Corporal I had sent back and two aid men in it. They were ordered out and the ambulance was driven away by some German officers. I really felt sorry for getting these boys mixed up in this, but too late. We were marched back and put into a stable for the night. All along the way back we could see many enemy along the road, their, or our, cigarettes glowing in the early darkness. Next morning we watched as they went through our jeep and ate our Christmas dinner.
We saw our wounded buddy and the Lieutenant loaded into a vehicle and driven away. They marched us back along the road we had shelled the day before. There were very many dead men (ours, theirs) cattle and horses that had been used to pull the artillery and vehicles because of the lack of gasoline. We were put into a subbasement coal room under a house that we had shelled heavily suspecting it to be an observation post. It was now enemy headquarters. Three times during the day and night they came down and shined a light in our eyes asking us questions and threatening us with guns. We wouldn't tell them anything but our name, rank and serial number and answered their questions with "I'm sorry, Sir, I can't answer that." It made them very mad to not get answers to even the very simple and obvious questions, and many of which they answered for us. We were taught to respect an officer, even an enemy, but to say no more than this. One question we never answered and they got pretty worked up about was the route we took across France. The next day we were taken into the house one at a time, and a few minutes or so later, after each went in, a shot was heard the other side of the house. I was about fifth and was ushered into a room and left alone with a German officer at a desk. He offered me a cigarette and started asking questions about the same as before. A pistol was lying on the desk in front of him. Finally, he picked up the pistol and pointed it at my face, saying, "The war is over for you, you know that, don't you?" I said, "I suppose it is." He called and a man came in to take me out the back door to my other buddies who had gone in before me. The shots were only fired for effect, I guess, but they didn't work as all said they told them nothing and answered no questions. This made us feel pretty good and bolstered our spirits.
We were again put into another stable with other prisoners. We were given about three pounds of cheese for the eighteen of us that day. Two of us decided to escape that night as we had only one guard and we thought a couple of us could get away easily, and with my map, would have no trouble getting to our lines. We decided to take into our confidence a likely looking Lieutenant, so told him of our plan at which he balked and told all the rest that if they let us escape, they would be punished and to watch us and keep us there. We couldn't get away then but would watch for a chance later. One guy did get away later but was found at a farmhouse being fed by the farmer and his wife.
We were taken out to dig potatoes and bury their dead. We weren't allowed to touch ours. We hoped to find some rations on them but were watched too closely. We also tried to eat a small potato while we were digging but were hit with a rifle butt. We never got any of the potatoes for ourselves. We were also marched around about a square mile for three days for no reason unless they hoped we would try to escape and could be killed, or to weaken us to the point of not trying to escape. It was at this time, and very near there, that they slaughtered hundreds of American prisoners in a field, with tanks and machine guns for target practice. This was known as the "Malmedy Massacre." We were very fortunate, I guess.
Soon there were about 600 of us and we were marched back into Germany. The day before Christmas, we were put into a three-story box factory at Gillestein, Germany, with hundreds of other American prisoners. Hundreds came in every day and as many were marched out or put on trains. The town was a rail center. From the time we were captured, Dec. 17th until Christmas, we had to eat as follows - 19th, one loaf of bread and three pounds of cheese for 18 men; the 21st, one pint of millet soup, two apples; and Christmas eve we were given one loaf of bread for each 20 men to divide and two spoons of molasses each. That night a Chaplain asked permission for us to sing Christmas carols and hold services and it was granted, but during the services, our own planes bombed the town rail yard hitting an unmarked train full of American prisoners and dropping and incendiary bomb through the roof and all floors of the building without going off, although some men fell through the floor with it to the basement, one of which, I found later, was the wounded Lieutenant captured with us. He didn't die as far as I know we all got home safely, except my driver, who died from the wound in the head. This put a stop, by orders, to our services and we were ordered to stop singing. The wounded from the bombed train were put into the basement and we could hear their moaning and crying all night.
We were moved out the next day on foot, 600 again, with about a dozen guards with machine guns. This is when I first really was scared. Four times we hit a town, as we followed a railway that was being bombed by our planes. We could look up and see the open bomb-bay doors and watch the bombs fall out and hear them "whoosh" down upon us. We would all hit for a ditch or any cover we could find along with our guards. It was my most terrifying experience and the only other time I experienced fear of any sort overseas. After the planes left we all gathered on the road and waited anxiously for the guards to come and march us out of there, we were that shook up. Along the road, many times, our own planes would dive upon us but we would wave anything white that we had to show we were Americans. They would shell and strafe enemy vehicles and troops in front and back of us, which we were afraid might anger the guards into doing away with us but they must have had their orders and never bothered us.
On the 27th we had a pint of millet soup; the 29th, one-sixth of a loaf of bread and one inch of bologna, marching all this time resting ten minutes every hour and three or four hours each night in a barn or rail yard house. There was never any heat and each time we stopped for a rest, and especially the night rest, our feet would freeze and it would take a couple of miles or more of walking to get feeling back into them. I would take off my jacket and wrap it around them thinking that would help. I lost all but one of my toenails from freezing. They had taken our overshoes except those we cut up with my knife. What water we got was only from icicles and snow and whenever we would break rank for a helmet of water from a river at threat of being shot. We all had dysentery very bad, probably from this river water. We weren't allowed to stop for relief so we would run to the head of the line and hope we would be finished and buttoned up by the time the end of the line would come by.
We stopped one time during the day in the middle of a square in a town. The civilians gathered around and pummeled us with rocks and clods while the guards ignored us. They had been bombed pretty regularly by our planes and I couldn't blame them for a chance to get back at us. One other time as we were marching through a large city over a large river bridge that was full of bomb craters and the streets were nearly blocked with rubble from bombed buildings, the guards seemed to be lost so that if you dropped back, and behind, you were likely to be shot they were so angry. They did find their way through, though.
On December 31st, we were given one loaf of bread and two pounds of meat for each six men and boarded a boxcar, sixty of us in a car smaller than an American boxcar. During WW I they had hauled 40 men and eight horses. The doors were locked and never opened for ten days and eleven nights. Moisture, as frost, was scraped from the walls with our fingernails for the only drink we had during this time. All of those that still had a ring or wrist watch left, traded them for a piece of bread through one of the two ten-inch round windows in the car. The dysentery made the close quarters even more miserable as there was no way to dispose of the refuse except to use one of the few steel helmets with a little straw in it, and pass it to one of the windows. Finally, this even seemed a useless chore and was eventually quit and a toilet was established in one corner. We took turns lying down to sleep, at first, and sang to keep up our spirits, but also this gave up. There was little movement or sound the last two or three days. We all survived which shows the condition we were in when captured and what the human body can endure if necessary. I didn't think it was possible.
Arrived at Stalag 2A and we were given one pint of soup and 1/6 loaf of bread and a cigarette each. We were stripped of our clothing and it was fumigated for lice while we were allowed the pleasure of a hot shower with soap. It was here they found my knife and map. I had quite a time explaining why I still had them in my possession.
From this time to January 16th, we had a total of two pints of soup, coffee, 1/6 loaf of bread, six boiled potatoes, a piece of margarine each, and one Red Cross box for 20 men, from which we got a little chocolate and a couple of cigarettes. Some traded their food for cigarettes. I traded my cigs for food every time. This compound was made up of wood buildings with double bunks with burlap and straw mattresses and a cover. There was little heat but the number of men in there kept the temperature tolerable.
On January 16th, we were issued with 5/6 of a loaf of bread and one pound of meat (rations for six days) and put on another boxcar, 55 men in a car. We got coffee once and soup once and no water. Arrived at Stalag 4B, and were issued with one pint of soup about five days later. This was a large compound enclosed with charged barbed wire fences and guard posts with machine guns. These buildings were one story wooden structures with no beds or furniture except one stove fired once a day for about two hours. The sleeping pads of burlap and straw, with one cover stretched out on the wooden floor so crowded that one had to go very easy to find a place to put your foot down when getting up at night to go out. There were men dying every night here, from pneumonia or starvation or something. We were issued bread and potatoes every day and if you were too sick to eat it you put it under your side of the bed you shared and it was usually not touched as you were lying on it most of the time. One man who shared my bed, finally died during the night and the bread under his side of the pallet was stolen almost before he was dead. Stealing was not too great considering to hunger there, but a few times it happened in our building and the thief was caught, he was treated as in civilian life and was ostracized by the rest.
We were issued a slice of bread and two small potatoes, or one large one, for each man. A detail of three or four men was sent to a central kitchen for this ration from each building. The British, French, and the Americans, each had their own areas aside from each other. The Poles and Russians and all the rest were together. Whenever I went on ration detail there were always some Poles trying to break through the lines to grab something to eat and had to be beaten back with gun butts. They would keep coming back to try again. I don't know whether they got as much rations as we did. I suppose if I were that hungry I might have endured the beatings to grab a potato. I don't think I ever got that hungry or thought things would not eventually get better. I never, ever, gave up hope.
There was a market place where cigarettes were the medium of exchange and as long as there was some tobacco in them, they had value. Where the goods came from, I never figured out. Many nationalities were in this camp and we all had the run of the camp as long as we were back for roll call each night and morning. We never ventured out after dark except to go to the latrine. We did little, as far as I could see, for morale, but the British, some of whom had been prisoners since Dunkirk, four years or so, played soccer and chess, had their teas, and debated, lectured, and planned their country's future every day. They had learned to live with it, so to speak. Also, during the stay at this camp, I shared one Red Cross parcel, which contained a pack of cigarettes, usually Lucky Strikes, a bar of chocolate, some crackers, some cheese, marmalade, etc., probably amounting to about 20 pounds, maybe less, I can't remember, with six other men. I also shared a British Medical parcel with seven other men. It contained biscuits, tea, sugar, dehydrated bananas, etc., about the same size as the Red Cross parcel.
On January 29th, I volunteered and left on Komando, or work group. Some went to work on railroads and such. I was lucky and ended up in a wood working shop in Ettlebruick, near Chemnitz, near the Czech border. There were seven of us American prisoners in this town and we worked on the power tools while the civilians did all of the hand forming. We built cabinets, wardrobes and lots of pine coffins for the dead from every day, and sometimes night, bombing of Chemnitz. We were not bombed much but many nights we would hear the air raid sirens and were herded down into a basement with the civilians. If it happened while we were in our billets we were not bothered. A few times I shouldered a harness type of contraption and pulled a small cart with a corpse wrapped in a sheet on it, through town and up a steep hill to a church. A young boy accompanied me and we laid the corpse on the floor in the church. Sometimes I would get to go to a house in town or maybe into the countryside to do some repair. If I met an old man I would ask for tobacco, and once, when returning from the countryside, I met a couple of French prisoners and asked them for tobacco and one of them gave me a couple of leaves about the size of elm leaves. That night I crushed and rolled them in a piece of paper and we smoked them. We all got quite a buzz out of it.
We worked 14 to 16 hours a day, every day for the first few weeks, then they gave us half a day off on Sunday, and later, all day Sunday off. We were fed coffee at 6:00 a.m. and a sandwich; at noon we had turnips with two boiled potatoes; and at night, tea, flour and water or turnip soup and two sandwiches. On Sunday, we were given a large bowl of potato salad and each of us a bottle of pop. We were allowed, also on Sunday, to heat water outside, over a wood fire, and take a bath with soap. This would take up a lot of our day but sometimes we were allowed, with the old guard, to go to the next town to visit the British prisoners there for services and hot tea with milk and sugar.
They would feed the chickens every morning just outside the room where we worked, and I started to sneak out to fill my pockets with trimmings from cabbage, turnips and potatoes. That night I would trim off the good stuff and boil it in water, salt and pepper which we could get, and make a pretty tasty soup for us. One day they started feeding the chickens late at night after we went home. I guess they found out I was doing it. One of the guys went up to the attic and found some millet feed for pigeons and filled his pockets. The next morning we were waiting for him and put him in the basement of a private house for two days with no food or water. When he came back he told us that the lady of the house sneaked him some bread and soup. He thought he'd try it again but thought better of it after we convinced him that he may not be so lucky next time. We would injure ourselves sometimes and take care of it the best we could. Once I jammed my finger into a machine. I wrapped it with a cloth and tied it at the base then stuck it into the hot glue pot that was kept on the stove. I then rub sawdust on it and when it dried up and set up I could untie the cloth and pull it off to look at it, just like a cast. Another guy ran his finger into a table saw and tended it the same way. We got along fine.
Every night before dark we would draw large blackout curtains and when we were through working we would have to clean up all the sawdust and shavings to feed the furnace. We ate mostly cabbage and turnips so you can imagine what our gas smelled like. One of us would tarry in a corner too long and the young guard would come over to hurry him and he would have stunk up the corner pretty bad. The guard would only take so much and tell the older guard to take us home for the night.
We had two guards, one, a snappy, hotshot young soldier and the other an old man of about 70 or better, who would march us home every night. We would many times be passing the RR station when the train was there and the German officers were out smoking cigarettes. The old guard would give them the "Heil Hitler" salute then when we were out of sight and hearing he would spit and say "Ptooie." He said he didn't want to go to the Russian front. The young guard would sometimes run us out in the middle of the night to take a cold shower in a lean-to of a shed. I guess that was the only way he could get to us without getting into trouble with the guy that owned the woodworking shop.
On March 15th, boils broke out under each armpit, seven under one arm and nine under the other. I'd soak them with water each morning until I could move my arms to run the machines. They ran puss all the time and burned like fire. This I kept up until the 27th, then I quit. I couldn't work any more. A doctor was called in and he said I had Pneumonia, a bad case of malnutrition, and the boils, and sent me to a hospital near the town of Hohenstein, still in Germany. Here they operated and put tubes in my armpits to drain the boils and I went to bed. I asked this medical doctor, who was a French Foreign Legion prisoner, whether, when he prepared to lance my boils, if it was going to hurt very much. There was a man on each of my arms and on my legs, and he said I wouldn't feel a thing, and I didn't, because I passed out at the first cut. He had no antiseptic, nor medicine, but amputated a thumb, a leg, and did an appendectomy while I was there without any setbacks or consequences. We washed out the gauze bandages and after drying them wrapped them in paper toweling for bandages.
There was a guy from Clinton, Iowa, who had been in a tank when his with a Panzer Faust, or bazooka, and it exploded inside splattering his face and eyes with white-hot splashes, blinding him. The French doctor told him he might regain his sight when he got back to an American Hospital. Anyway, I had to sleep sitting up with my arms on my knees as I couldn't put them down, so when either of us had to go to the bathroom we would call the other and I would lead him there and we would call the other and I would lead him there and he would unbutton my trousers and we helped each other that way. We had lice and one guy was paranoid about them so when someone woke in the night and yelled, "Those damn lice," this guy would jump out of his bunk and shake out his blanket and sleep on the floor. Although it was funny, I felt sorry for him, but it was something to take our minds off our situation some.
While I was there, President Roosevelt died, and the guards came in and told us that we were now whipped because we had lost our leader. We knew different because the British had hidden a radio and we got updates on the progress of the war. The fighting was getting close. While there, we received a Red Cross parcel to split and I traded my cigarettes for the whole chocolate bar. When I mentioned it and was overheard by a civilian worker, he said would I trade it for something as his 8-year old son had never seen or tasted of chocolate. I asked if he could get me some potatoes, butter or margarine, and salt and pepper. We made a trade for eight potatoes. I boiled them and mashed them with the margarine and salt and ate it all at one setting just about getting sick, but it was worth it to feel full. Another time I ate all of the dehydrated bananas from a British parcel and did get sick and couldn't eat a banana for quite a while after that and still don't crave them, or turnips, even today. We had one American flag and were allowed only to display it at a burial of one of our own men.
Finally, we could hear artillery in the distance and our spirits rose. About this time the Germans evacuated the women prisoners from another town closer to the fighting. Two hundred or more and many without shoes or sufficient clothing, and some pregnant, were marched by on the road just past our windows. They seemed in good spirits, though. I suppose they felt they would soon be free, as would we.
On April 13th, we were herded into a subbasement and locked into small rooms with iron-barred doors and left. Toward morning, we thought we could hear shooting so someone found a bar they could reach and broke open the doors and we went upstairs. Going out into the daylight, we found the Americans had overrun the Hospital, chasing all personnel ahead of them. It was the 4th Armoured Division of the 3rd Army. The GIs would stop and talk and toss us some food and reporters also came in and interviewed us. In the five days of liberation before being sent back, we had no food but that which the GIs would throw from their vehicles as they drove by. The Army brought in no food or medical supplies.
On April 19th, I was loaded into a truck and rode about 100 miles to the 58th Field Hospital and to the first good food in four months. Before we left the German Hospital, some tankers brought back a few German prisoners to ask if they were our guards and told us we could take them out into the woods to interrogate them. I think a few were and never brought back. I had no desire to get back at them.
We arrived about breakfast time and had a ball. The personnel ate only toast and coffee usually, while we would pile our tray with all we could get on it. Eggs, toast, oatmeal, coffee, milk and bacon and go back for more. We might lose some of it out back but went back for another tray full. I don't know whether we enjoyed the food more than the personnel of the hospital enjoyed and marveled at the amounts of food we put away. A few bloated and couldn't eat but I was lucky, I could eat as long as there was food and never quit till the last of May when I suddenly filled up at breakfast one morning - just that fast.
One April 20th, we flew three hours in a C-47 to an Evacuation Hospital. That was the most miserable ride I hope to ever take. The engines would get out of sync and vibrate something fierce. We would complain to the nurses and the pilot would try to even them out but before long the vibration would start again. With the tubes under my arms, it felt as if they were being pulled out. On the 21st, we rode a train 14 hours to a Hospital at Vittel, France. April 23rd, I was operated on again and started on penicillin every three hours for two or three weeks for malnutrition. When they operated on me they gave me laughing gas and when I came out of it I could hear the nurse ask, "Can you feel that?" I thought they were punching me in the armpits and I was told that I was cussing them out pretty profusely. They were really asking if I could hear them. I felt pretty embarrassed.
Here I could have all I could eat and all the juices and milk I could drink, which was about as often as they could bring it to us. The nurses even fried eggs and meat at 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning for us. They finally said we could fix our own whenever we felt like it. I was put into isolation for a week or so, thinking I had Tuberculosis but decided I had an old pneumonia scar. We would sit in the open window and flirt with the French girls riding by on bicycles. One asked us to come to a kind of outdoor carnival and dance in town. Two of us sneaked out, in our pajamas and robes, and went. I thought I was impotent from the saltpeter we were fed in prison camp, or thought we got it, but awoke in the middle of the night in this hospital with an erection. I yelled "whoopie!" or something loud enough to raise a nurse who asked what my trouble was. I answered that I had NO trouble at all and that, after four months, I was a MAN again. She just laughed at me and left. I would have thought she could have at least checked me out.
When the tankers liberated us they brought back a blanket full of souvenirs from the next town down the road and dumped them on the floor of our hospital room and told us to help ourselves. I picked out a Fireman's knife in a metal sheath and a set of beautiful monogrammed silverware in a wooden case. In the Vittel hospital, some orderly stole it from under my bed while I was at X-ray. Never did get it back although I reported it. I checked the roster here at the hospital and found that I missed Doc Palmer from Henderson, Iowa, by just a day. He had just checked out.
On the 24th of May I was flown to a hospital at Manchester, New Hampshire on a C-54. Here I called, or wrote, my future wife, Betty Jane Allensworth, in Washington D.C. where she was employed by the F.B.I. She came up to see me and we made our wedding plans. At this time I weighed about 180 pounds and was pretty chubby.
On the 1st of June I was flown to General Hospital at McKinney, Texas. There I put in many hours every day to turn that fat I'd accumulated into hard muscle. I worked out with bar bells and on the bar and ran a lot in the gym. I received a 90-day convalescent leave from there after having 15 cavities in my teeth filled and a few other repair jobs finished up.
I went to Lake Charles, LA, to visit my sister, Frances, and her husband, Herb LeRette, stationed there in the Air Force. He took me to mess one day and there were German POWs working the counter. He asked me if I would like to take one of them out back and beat the tar out of him. I said I didn't know any of them and held no grudge against them.
From there I went home to Carson, Iowa and married Betty on July 15, 1945 and helped her father, Arthur, handpick corn. I was sent to Leavenworth, Kansas for my discharge on December 19, 1945.
Most all of the dates and amounts of food, etc. were written down on a pad of paper about three or four inches and a stub of pencil that my captors let me keep along with a small Bible of about the same size that was given to me by Mrs. Charles Roe, my Sunday school teacher, at the age of about ten. We read out of it most nights in our billet while captive in Ettlebriuck and quite a few other times, also, I'm sure. Seemed to help at the time.
I sent one letter through to my parents while captive but don't recall receiving any mail in return. Postal service wasn't very good even through the Red Cross.
My thanks to Charles Raney for contributing this story.
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