To Hell with this Place, I'm Out of Here!

His story.....
as told by his children.

May 1, 1945 was Art's first day as a free man.

Actually, this status was to become questionable. There had been news for over a week that the Russians were close. There had been speculation that the Germans might force march the camp to another location (as they had done at Stalag Luft 3) or make a stand, and fight the Russians where they were. The Germans had been packing their things all the previous day, and had given the POW's permission to dig foxholes. Art said that it looked like the "Gold Rush of '49 was back on." The rest of the day (May 1st) was spent watching the "Goons" pack. Around 2200 hours, after listening to the sounds of the Germans leaving, the American senior officers took over the camp. They took five Germans who chose to stay and surrender to the Americans as prisoners, including "Joe Bananas."

The Germans had been blowing up military installations all day prior to their departure. Art volunteered for a detail to get some Red Cross parcels that were discovered in a nearby hangar. There were thousands of parcels that had been kept from the POWs by the Germans. While Art's detail was unloading parcels at one end of the hangar, civilian refugees were grabbing all they could from the other end. Before trouble could develop, some of the Germans who had chosen to stay behind chased the civilians away.

They now had plenty of food. The Germans had left a radio and there was news of other camps being overrun by Allies forces. Everyone was ordered to remain in the compound, and MPs were stationed in the watchtowers.

Then came the news over the camp PA system: The Russians were here. They were Free!

Then came the news from a German broadcast that Hitler was dead!

Most of the now ex-POWs, including Art, went into the nearby town of Barth. He tried to find a sailboat that he'd seen from the camp, but it was gone. A German housefrau gave him some eggs, which he cooked back at camp.

Barth Tower

The Russians he encountered looked pretty rough to him. A large Russian tank rolled down the main street of Barth. The Russians were equipped with U.S. lend lease equipment. Convoys of G.I. trucks rolled in. They were passing out vodka and cigars, and the Americans were giving them cigarettes. At one point, Art met a Russian, and pointed to the American machine gun the Russian was carrying. "Amerikanish, Amerikanish," said Art. The Russian said, "Da, Da", and with that, cleared away some bystanders, and emptied the machine gun into a row of houses. Art couldn't believe it. Surely someone had been killed, but it was clear the Russian, who couldn't care less, was through talking as he readied himself to shoot anyone crazy enough to come out of the houses.

The Russians, upon hearing that the camp was short on beef, herded some dairy cattle into the camp. Art remembers a chaotic scene with half-starved Kriegies trying to catch, butcher, and milk these cows all at the same time.

A Kriegie, venturing outside the camp, was blown up by a land mine. Afterwards some fights broke out between some Americans and the Russian troops resulting in some 10 known American deaths. After that, orders were issued for the Kriegies to stay in camp.

The Russians were an unpredictable lot with little regard for life. They were bent on revenge, and were as hard as they could be on any Germans they encountered. Atrocities were commonplace.

The Russians were part of General Zhukov's army, and they had orders to send American POWs to Odessa. They would then be sent home, supposedly, through Moscow. Colonel Zemke, the senior American officer, refused to follow the Russians' orders and was negotiating for additional time so the Eight Air Force could evacuate the camp. Art heard that the Russians had given Zemke ten days to pull this off.

A number of Kriegies were disobeying orders by slipping out of camp, mostly in small groups, in an attempt to try to make it back on their own, mostly in small groups. Art knew that arrangements had been made to fly the men out of the camp in B-17s, but he didn't know when. He knew he wanted to get home as soon as possible. He decided he would leave, but he would do it on his own. He told no one of his plans. He signed up for one of the organized tours of Barth, and while the loosely guarded column turned a corner, he slipped into a doorway.

He had packed his shirt with as many packs of cigarettes as he could carry. His plan was to get to Wismar, roughly 50 kilometers from Barth, and the Allied lines. There was a stack of bicycles guarded by a Russian in Barth. He traded some of his cigarettes for a bike, and headed out for Wismar. As he started out, he noticed two dead horses by the road and a bombed out German train that was still burning. The atmosphere was chaotic, and he questioned his decision to leave.

Many of the Russians he encountered were wearing black armbands in honor of Roosevelt's death. Art had learned the word for comrade, "tavarish", but this alone was not working. One Russian he encountered was not entirely convinced he was American. Art said "Roosevelt", and the Russian gave him a bear hug and let him pass.

Then another Russian stopped him. He was also not convinced that Art was an American, but more importantly, wasn't interested in listening to any more of his story. He had his machine gun leveled at Art, and was motioning for him to go over a hill to see the "Commandant," which was the only word the Russian would say. Art could hear short bursts of machine gun fire from over the hill. He knew he was getting nowhere with this Russian, and truly felt that he would be shot any minute. Just then, a truck with a Russian driver and three Kriegies, all drunk, drove up. The Kriegies vouched for Art, and the Russian soldier let him go. Art loaded his bike on the truck, and off they went.

Art felt this was the closest he had come to being killed in the war.

The truck was headed in the wrong direction for Art, so he soon unloaded his bike, and headed for Wismar. Before leaving, he asked the Kriegies in the truck where they were finding food. They said they were buying or taking it from any Germans they found along the way.

It was now early afternoon. Art came to a farmhouse, and knocked on the door. He had brought along some Nescafe coffee from the camp and a tin can for water. Two women answered the door. Art said he was an American officer, and wanted some food. The women let him in. All he knew to ask for were eggs. They started cooking some eggs for him, and Art gave them some cigarettes. He then produced the coffee, which the women prepared. When they drank the coffee, they surprised Art with loud exclamations of "Prima! Prima!" Evidently, even Kriegie coffee was better that the ersatz coffee these women had been drinking.

Two young German men, obviously of military age, appeared (from the attic), and joined the group. One of them gave Art a German canteen to replace his tin can. They tried to convince Art to stay knowing they would fare better with the Russians if an American was about, but Art was ready to move on.

He was stopped again by some Russians, but they let him pass. It was getting late, and more than just a little eerie. He was now in a "no-man's land", and it was too quiet. When it got dark, Art decided to light up a cigarette, and sing "Roll out the Barrel" as he peddled along. He chain smoked cigarette after cigarette making as bright an ember as possible and as much noise as he could.

Then he heard the word, "Halt!"

A British soldier stopped him, and asked him, "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" Art just about collapsed as he told him his story. The soldier told Art he had no idea how lucky he was to have made it to the lines without being shot. A British soldier had been killed the night before by their own troops when he ventured in front of their lines.

Art was taken back to British headquarters, a large house, and given a room. Art must have passed out somewhere along the line. He couldn't remember getting to bed, but when he woke up, he realized he was on an actual mattress for the first time in 15 months. He had to get out of bed, and check to see if it was real. Art then took his first real bath since he'd been shot down. The British gave him some clothes, and Art spent the day going through the chow line as many times as he could. His system was unaccustomed to rich food and, at first, he would throw up after each meal. Art had dropped from 155 lbs. to roughly 115 lbs.

Food was now an obsession, and Art couldn't get enough.

Just as Art was settling in for a little R & R, a British soldier came to his room, and told him they had a plane waiting to take him to Le Harve. He was surprised to see an empty transport plane waiting on the runway, and that he would be its only passenger. The British pilots gave Art the grand tour of the Ruhr Valley and what was left of most of the towns in it. They landed at Le Harve, and Art was taken to the tent city dubbed, "Camp Lucky Strike." This was a huge assembly point for all U.S. personnel headed back to the States. Art was given new uniforms, and was debriefed. He learned then that the Air Corps had some captured German pictures of his crashed B-17. Art said if it were possible, he would appreciate a copy. About ten months later, they arrived in the mail.

Camp Lucky Strike was total confusion. Again, Art was making the rounds in as many chow lines as possible. There was a troop ship, the SS Rex, which was ready to leave. Art noticed that personnel boarding the Rex had been processed, and were carrying papers. So he packed up his things, got in line, and when it came time to give the Sergeant his papers, put on the act of his life. He wailed on and on about how he had his papers, but had lost them; and, after all he'd been through, he just needed to get home.

The Sergeant finally let him pass.

Art was never confused about his priorities. He wanted a home and family with Priscilla, and he wanted to get back to her as soon as possible. He was now on his way to be with her and their son, Peter.