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William Couch History

In December l94l I was like many other 21-year olds of that time. My job at the Atlanta Quartermaster Depot was well-paying – $l20 a month. I was driving a new Ford Super de Luxe (top of the line) sedan and didn’t have a worry in the world, single, footloose and fancy-free.

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were just two faraway characters I read about in the newspapers (no TV yet). I should have been going to college, but I couldn’t afford it, my parents couldn’t afford it, and scholarships in those days were hard to come by, and besides that could be deferred till a later time. My main interest was girls and having a good time.

The good times came to a screeching halt December 7,1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Of course I was thoroughly outraged against Japan and everything Japanese. My outrage was even greater later when I learned a high school buddy was killed in the attack.

I remember that day as plainly as if were yesterday. A news bulletin came on my car radio as I was driving to my parents’ home for a weekend trip. I thought to myself this is not good, but I wasn’t overly worried as I thought it would be over in six months. I still think that if Hitler had not made a stupid mistake two days later and declared war on the U.S. we could have defeated Japan in six months. But of course the powers-that-be decided differently, to focus on Europe first.

Now we were in a two-front war and I become more than a little depressed as that changed everything. Of course I wasn’t too depressed. When you’re 21 you don’t let very much stand in the your way of having a good time.

I was accepted by the Air Corps (Later Air Force) as an aviation Cadet in January, l942 I was elated at this, because the Air Corps had done a superb job of glamorizing itself. In those days there were movies, such as “I wanted Wings”, starring Veronica Lake (a real knockout blonde bombshell). There were the songs such as Kate Smith’s beautiful rendition of “He wears a pair of Silver Wings”. All this hype had utterly dazzled me. Imagine my letdown when I discovered, instead of glamour, there was endless marching and drilling, long tedious classes in ground school, and sweaty sessions at the firing ranges, instructors who barked at you like you were an idiot when you made a mistake. And there was more disappointment when I failed to make the cut for pilot training and was assigned Bombardier School instead.

My time at Bombardier School passed uneventfully. I thought it was nice to be a 2nd Lt., and wear those coveted silver wings, although they were bombardier’s wings, not pilot’s. I thought at least I will be flying in a fast aircraft over the dirty, muddy foot-slogging combat on the ground. Upon arriving in England in May, l943, we learned from the crews already there that the horrors of air combat were just as real as those on the ground. The 8th Air Force was taking heavy losses. And this was BEFORE the Deep Penetration missions with no fighter escort beyond mid-Belgium.

Upon arriving in England our crew commanded by Lt Glen Van Noy was assigned to the 349th Squadron of the l00thBomb Group. The l00dth had a hard luck history, People commonly referred to it as the “bloody l00dth”.

Our first mission was a relatively easy one. Easy ones were referred to as “milk runs” The target was the submarine pens at St Nazaire on the southwestern French coast. We took a circuitous route over water and since this was the first time that this target was bombed, the flak was light and inaccurate. We might as well have dropped ping-pong balls on the pens, though, for all the damage we did. In 2002 I revisited St Nazaire with my son Bill and I looked over these pens a whole lot more up close and personal. These structures are so massive the French made no effort to demolish them, although I’m sure they would like to. Since they couldn’t demolish these lemons, they made lemonade of them: They converted them into a very attractive shopping mall complex and museum. As Bill an I strode among the shops, I couldn’t help thinking about the day 61 years before when my airmen friends and I were doing our best to destroy this place and everything around it

Now rewind back to the attack on the sub pens. Glen was having problems with the engines, but he kept us in the formation and we got our bomb load off on the target area. After turning to go home he could no longer keep up, and he was faced with a difficult decision. He knew that German fighters were in the vicinity, and we, a lone crippled B-17 would be easy pickings. It didn’t take long for Glen to decide what to do next.

He put the ship into a nosedive heading almost straight down, heading for “the deck.” This was a very scary moment, as four engine heavy bombers were not designed for this sort of aerobatics. Glen was a “cowboy” flier at heart, and I think he was enjoying this hazardous maneuver. In short order our ship was just above treetop level and I breathed a sigh of relief. At this low level our ship would be very difficult to track on the Germans’ radar. No longer having a bomb load and having light fuel load was very nice, too. But best of all, we were now in much better position vis-à-vis the German fighters. They could not attack us without getting in the crosshairs of our top turret guns, which had state of the art fire control equipment, and were by far the most accurate guns on the ship. I rather enjoyed the remainder of the trip, traveling over the scenic Brittany peninsula to the Channel, with a good view of the white cliffs as we neared home.

After this experience plus a couple of hair-breadth escapes during training flights, I thought I knew what it was like to experience pure raw terror, not knowing the worst was yet to come.

The next five missions were not very rough for us, but other crews were not so lucky. Losses were suffered, but low enough that the top brass would probably call them “sustainable”. They were high enough that nobody I knew entertained much hope of completing the required 25 missions needed for rotation to the States.

On the morning of August l7, l943 we entered the briefing room for our seventh and last mission. All we knew was that this was going to be a Maximum Effort, according to the scuttlebutt. Our crew was up at 3:30 that morning. Needless to say, nobody was in a very good humor.

Presently a self-important S-2 (Intelligence) officer pulled back the curtain over the big map on the wall, to reveal a long red line going all the way to Regensburg. At first, dead silence. Low whistles. Groans. Irreverent remarks like “Holy —–“. Now I learned what fear is really like. I thought to myself “what the hell am I doing here?”

Of course, everyone after recovering from the initial shock, soldiered on, doing our jobs as best we could. After briefing we clambered on jeeps for the ride to our waiting bombers.

At about sunrise we finally got the order for takeoff. The aircraft was so heavily overloaded, and the takeoff roll was so long, it was amazing we made it off the ground. This trip was already getting off to a bad start; it just wasn’t anything like Hollywood had it cracked up to be.

Shortly after our fighter escorts left us to go home the trouble started. The Focke-Wolfe and Messerschmitt fighters came up in swarms to greet us. Their leading edges would light up like sparklers kids use at Christmas time. Only these “sparklers” were from 20millimeter machine guns fired by guys who were determined to kill us. True, there are no atheists in foxholes. I’m here to tell you there are no atheists in bombers under fighter attack, either.

The defensive armament of B-l7’s totaled ten fifty-caliber machine guns. They are very loud when they are being fired, so loud that one can hear them firing in aircraft around you in the formation. When fired they put out a lot of smoke, which has a very acrid smell, and not very pleasant to breathe. The spent cartridges fell to the floor of our “greenhouse” (nose cabin occupied by navigator and bombardier). They made things difficult by the way they rolled under your feet as we moved around the cabin. Things weren’t improved any by the lack of sleep we had endured having been up since 3:30A.M

It was quite disconcerting to see other aircraft going down in flames, some exploding, guys bailing out in parachutes and some of the parachutes were burning. Then there was the chatter on the intercom; you had to pay attention to it as best you could because everyone in the crew needed to watch out for everyone else, and work together as a team for survival.

Flak was not a big worry as we could easily dodge the flak zones on the way in.. We sustained some flak damage in the vicinity of the target, but it was the fighters that inflicted the most serious damage.

Glen managed to keep us in formation till we reached the target. We got our bomb load off successfully but the damage to our Fort was pretty extensive and he could no longer hold formation. After conferring with the copilot, Glen decided to head for Switzerland, which was not very far away, since he believed we could never make it back to base.

Suddenly we had something to be very happy about. Switzerland was neutral, and it was a rather common occurrence for crippled aircraft to go to Switzerland; the crews would be interned to sit out the war in relative luxury, and our feelings of terror were turning rapidly to elation; Our pay would go right on; and we already knew through the grapevine that the Swiss girls were very, very friendly.

However, our elation quickly turned to disappointment when our navigator K.G. (Cagey Coach) Allen, said he had not bothered to bring along any maps of Switzerland. We had maps of Germany, which has a border with Switzerland, so I suggested why don’t we guess our way in to Swiss airport somewhere. It seemed to me it shouldn’t take a genius to manage that. I was summarily overruled; heck, I was just the bombardier.

Now, Glen was intent on pursuing the original flight plan, which was to go to an Air Corps base in North Africa. I never understood the reasoning behind this so-called alternate base mission. It turned out not to be a very good idea and it was never tried again, except on a limited basis a couple of times when small forces went to alternate bases in Soviet controlled territory. That didn’t work so well either.

So in the course of a very few hours we had gone from cold fear to elation, to disappointment and were on our merry way to North Africa. We looked down at the scenic Brenner Pass, southbound, approaching Northern Italy.

Somewhere over Italy, I don’t know exactly where, we lost another engine. All the while we were losing altitude and by this time we were down to an altitude of about 7000feet. Glen ordered us to start dumping everything overboard we could and we did, including guns, the bombsight, all those pesky empty shell casings, books of bombing and navigational data, handguns, everything not tied down, even our shoes.

By this time we had passed over the Italian coast heading SE, over the Med, it looked like we might with just a little luck just make it to Sicily, which had fallen to the Allies a couple of days before. After about two hours of flying over the Med, Bill Stewart the Flight Engineer came in our compartment an said “Boys, we may have to get out and walk pretty soon. Glen says prepare for ditching.”

We went into the radio compartment. I had the honor – being the tallest man in the crew – of sitting with my back to the radio compartment bulkhead, my legs spread so the next tallest man had his back to me, and so on until all members of the crew except the pilots were sitting in this position, facing backward. All we could do now was wait.

We didn’t have long to wait. We hit the water, wheels up, so the aircraft would float, we hoped. It hit with quite a jolt, and in a few seconds it quit skidding, and all was now eerily quiet. Everybody congratulated himself on still being alive. I was a little shook up and my back was never quite the same again, but was otherwise OK.

Upon impact, two rubber life rafts automatically deployed. We quickly clambered into them. Now we were no longer airmen, we were mariners. The water was warm and the weather was nice. We just sat there, speculating when we would be picked up in response to a little hand-operated radio, commonly called a “coffee-grinder” which put out an SOS in Morse code. What a way to spend a balmy afternoon on the beautiful Med – watching our trusty B-l7slowly sinking, and dining on emergency rations we found in the raft. Lucky us. We were alive, and after all that scary aerial combat, not a scratch on the whole crew.

We were amazed that the aircraft stayed afloat two hours. The night passed very uneventfully, I slept like a baby all night, the first good night’s sleep I’d had in some time. Now the question in all our minds was: when do we get rescued? Rescue was about to come but not in the way we hoped.

About 8 O’clock we heard an aircraft approaching. Somebody said, “looks like a fighter, like maybe a P-51”. “P-51, Hell,” “with a swastika on it’s tail?” It was A ME-l09. He made a pass at us, straight at us, and I thought “if I see those “sparklers” again, its all over.” We were sitting ducks, helpless as babies. The ME left and we knew now that the Germans had us spotted, and it was just a matter of a short time till they would be back to pick us up.

In about an hour another German aircraft arrived, this time an amphibious type, and landed nearby. One of the German crewmen asked in perfect English “Do you have weapons?” We all answered no to that because we had been briefed back in England to not let ourselves get caught with handguns, as the Germans shot airmen they caught with them. Another of the crewmen said to me with a mixture of joviality and envy, “For you, der wahr ist ofer.”

We were taken to some sort of Naval facility on a small island. We later figured it was about 60 to 90 miles southwest of Naples.. We were escorted into what must have been a recreation room as it had a piano in it.

Our radio operator decided he would try to get everybody relaxed a little bit and he asked the guards if he could play the piano. They said sure and he proceeded to play popular tunes of the day. We were amazed to find that the guards were as crazy about the pop music as we were.

Presently we were put on a small craft that took us to Naples. Our new quarters were some sort of villa and must have been a luxurious place before being taken over for military use. My room had a view of Vesuvius., no less.

While at Naples we were treated quite well. I thought the Germans were buttering us up a bit for the interrogation we knew was coming. But the interrogation was very perfunctory. The interrogating officer struck me as having had little experience in questioning air crews. After the questioning we were issued new shoes. The German supply officer said to me “Couch, you have such big feet, I doubt there are any shoes in Germany big enough to fit you.” He finally found a pair my size, a very luxurious pair, which later I had to give back for a much cheaper pair.

After a couple of days at Naples, the Germans gathered us together to tell us we were going to march to the railway station, and there to board a train to Frankfurt. As we arrived at the plaza in front of the railway station, a mob of Italians quickly formed. It was obvious that they were planning a lynching party in our honor. The guards very quickly dissuaded them, however with a few well directed swings of their pistol butts. Now this is getting a little surreal, I thought. Three days ago the Germans were doing their very best to kill us, and now they saved our hides.

After boarding the train, the journey to Frankfurt proceeded uneventfully. During the night we passed through the Brenner Pass again, this time on a train instead of a bomber.

Entering Germany as morning broke, we were amazed at the beauty of the Bavarian countryside. Everything seemed to be so manicured. We chatted amiably with the guards who spoke passable English. They seemed delighted to show us pictures of their sweethearts and family members. We couldn’t reciprocate because aircrews were not supposed to carry pictures, wallets, or other personal things because they could have intelligence value to the enemy.

As the train entered Munich, we saw scenes of devastation from the RAF bombing of the city. Of course, at this point in time, the war had become unwinnable for Germany, but Germany still had the capability of putting up a good defense. The war was a lost cause for the Axis, and most people, in the Third Reich and elsewhere knew it, but there was little they could do about it. They were learning to their sorrow that it is a lot easier to opt into a dictatorship than it is to opt out.

Upon arriving in Frankfurt we were taken to Dulag Luft (Aircrew Interrogation Center), just North of the city. There we were subjected to more interrogation by their S-2 guys who were much more professional and skilled than those at Naples. Because of our recent heavy losses, at this point in time Dulag Luft was processing downed airmen in droves, so again the questioning was rather perfunctory. The German S-2 guy apparently didn’t want to take up a lot of time with a 2nd Lt bombardier when there were lots of officers of higher rank demanding attention. He didn’t push me very hard because he already knew almost as much as I did, on such matters as organization, base, and type of bomb load on last mission. I asked him how did he know so much. In a moment of startling candor he told me that the Germans had a very efficient espionage network operating on English bases. Most of its members were Irish civilian workers, he said, doing jobs such as clerical helpers, food service workers and laborers. Apparently, then as now, there were many Irish who just don’t like Brits.

After staying about a day and a half at Dulag Luft, we were marched to Oberuersel, a nearby suburb. On the way, we occasionally saw civilians staring at us. If looks could kill we’d all have been dead as doornails, then and there. This was 20 months before the War’s end, but they were already beginning to feel the effects of she Allied bombing.

After about a twenty-minute march, we reached the train station. We weren’t expecting accommodations like the Orient Express but this was ridiculous. These were actual, slatted cattle cars. No nothing. Just a bare floor with a little straw. I thought to myself if this is any indication we’re in for some hard times ahead.

The train ride to Sagan took about three bone-jarring days in our grossly overcrowded “Pullmans”. The train made occasional stops so we could go to the bathroom alongside the tracks. Not a happy excursion but airmen are the sort of guys who can always see the brighter side of things. We consoled ourselves by noting that it could be a whole lot worse, with observations like “would you rather be here or on a train to a Japanese prison camp?” and “what do you want? An egg in your beer?”

Upon arriving at Sagan, we got off the train and marched about a half mile to our new home away from home where we would stay for the next l6 months. Stalag Luft 3 featured double barbed wire fences and guard towers. The film “The Great Escape” had a fairly accurate replication of the camp as to such things as architecture, equipment and uniforms. It was filmed in Bavaria where the terrain is rather hilly, and since the terrain at Sagan is mostly a flat sandy plain, the film was slightly inaccurate in that respect.

At least it was nice to be reunited with other crewmen who went down before us. Being officers we did not have to work. Neither did German officers who were PW’s in our American camps under the terms of the Geneva Convention, which were, in general, well observed by both sides.

We settled down for a future behind barbed wire and learned to adjust to the hardships. At first the food was not so bad. The Germans claimed that we had the same rations as their own troops, which was probably not too far from the truth. Additionally, our rations were supplemented by Red Cross food parcels which came once a week. The food parcels were an operation carried out by the Swiss Red Cross. The SRC also furnished us with sports equipment, a fairly good library, and musical instruments for an orchestra of PW musicians. Occasionally there was entertainment by “Kriegies” (short for the German phrase for PW’s, KRIEGSGEFANGENE), who as civilians were actors, dancers, and others who had experience in the field of entertainment. The German commander and staff insisted on front-row seats to these affairs.

The Camp Commander was a Luftwaffe Oberst (Colonel) von Lindeiner who had previously served on the staff of the Luftwaffe High Command under Hermann Goering. Before the war he worked for an Export-Import business and spoke excellent English. He was a very fair but firm administrator who got along very well with his American counterpart, Colonel Delmar T. Spivey, a West Point graduate, the Senior American Officer. Colonel Spivey, like his German counterpart was a no-nonsense fair but firm administrator.

Colonel von Lindeiner’s assistant was Oberfeldwebel (First Sergeant) Schultz. Sgt Schultz didn’t have the polish of Colonel von Lindeiner, but he was a very competent administrator, and was also firm but fair.

In “Hogan’s Heroes”, a TV series made several decades ago and based upon life in Stalag Luft 3, the TV Counterparts of von Lindeiner and Sgt) Schultz were portrayed as bumbling, clueless individuals, which they very definitely were not. Both were well respected and were invited in the 70’s to attend PW reunions, and Colonel von Lindeiner did attend.

Although under the terms of the Geneva Convention we didn’t have to work, we still stayed busy. Colonel Spivey made sure of that. Before the food situation deteriorated I even took weightlifting. Colonel S insisted we stay fit. He encouraged us to take walks around the Camp perimeter, which I did, being careful not to get into the “dead zone”, between a warning wire and the inner barbed wire fence. The library had several books on the German language and I set about learning it. There were moments when I felt utterly useless but I was gratified by the knowledge that I was living a very unusual experience.

Occasionally we would see Gestapo officers in the camp, apparently to make sure Colonel von Lindeiner wasn’t coddling us too much. When these people were on the premises, the tension was palpable. These were people you didn’t fool around with; It would be hard to say who feared and detested the Gestapo (short for GEHEIMESTAATSPOLIZEI the Secret Police) the most, us or the Luftwaffe camp personnel.

We were kept thoroughly abreast on what was going in the world by means of clandestine communications. The “Johnny Walker” came around every afternoon around 5PM with news from the BBC. After supper each evening there were card games, but mostly evenings were spent in bull sessions. When the usual “there I was, upside down at 30,000 feet and on fire” stories began to get a little boring the subject would turn to sexual conquests, real or imagined, or maybe there would be dialogue about “Dear John letters” (letters breaking off relationships) such as:

Kriegie A: Have you heard about old Joe—–? He got a “dear John” letter.

Kriegie B: Really? He’s the third guy this week I know of who got a “dear John” letter. Some “feather merchant” (draft dodger) must have shot him out of the saddle.”

Most evening bull sessions would inevitably end on the subject of food, with sub-topics on the great dishes their mothers made, the great restaurants they had been to, and the great restaurants they were going to try if they were ever lucky enough to get home again. Looking back, it seems a bit ludicrous that mature men in their twenties should be so obsessed on the subject of food, but it was understandable since our rations were deteriorating as the war went on and we were beginning to lose weight.

After lights out (at 9:30, I think) we’d go to bed and lie awake for a while listening to the trains rumbling through Sagan less than half a mile away. We got to where we could tell by their sound which were going NW to Berlin and which were going SE toward Poland and on to the Eastern front. Shivers.

Some of the Kriegies were engaged in escape activities. The people selected for this activity were very carefully chosen. Colonel Spivey insisted that security for these activities was strict, and it was. The GOONS (guards) were very observant and were not fools. Unless you were directly involved you didn’t talk about it and you didn’t ask about it. Of course, everybody knew that this was going on but only a select few knew the details.

Stalag Luft 3 was divided into 6 separate compounds, namely North, Center, East, South, West and Belaria, named for a nearby village. Each Kriegie stayed in his own compound and he never left it except for showers in the shower building, (One shower a month, the rest of the time you took sponge baths with a pan of sometimes hot water, sometimes cold water) or for exercise walks. A few exceptions were made for certain people, such as interpreters.

Tunnels were being dug in our compound, the Center compound. As best as I can determine, they were never used. They were shored up with bedslats and other scrounged lumber. In 2002, when I revisited the campsite, the routes they took to the outside were very clearly discernible, the shoring having rotted in the intervening 58 years, and the tunnels collapsed.

The most elaborate escape attempts were made by the British in the North compound, the most notable being the mass escape of March l944, made famous by it’s dramatization in the movie “The Great Escape” starring Steve McQueen. The morning after the escape the Germans were clearly agitated. Colonel von Lindeiner had practically begged us not to attempt escape; in the behind the scenes power plays going on between the Luftwaffe and the Gestapo von Lindeiner was being squeezed more and more as the Gestapo encroached upon his turf. He had warned us that the Gestapo now had near-complete jurisdiction over us once we were outside the confines of Stalag Luft 3. We therefore knew that repercussions would soon be coming. And they did. The Gestapo was by no means satisfied with their latest victories in the turf war. Clearly, they wanted complete control of the Stalags.

In the mass escape of March l944, about 68 men got out. Fifty-four were executed. A collective funk settled over the Kriegie population.

Of course, it did not help our peace of mind as the Gestapo prescence quickly increased in the camp. They were now in the camp looking over the shoulders of the camp staffs every move and micromanaging every detail of camp administration. They were so inexperienced and inept at their new duties that they made a complete mess of things. After a couple of weeks their presence began to fade, and several months later they gave up in frustration, but their sway over us on the outside was undiminished.

During these times we had plenty to think about. All sorts of rumors were circulating, including one that Hitler had ordered the execution of all captured Allied airmen. After the war I learned that the rumor was, indeed, based on fact. The order was ignored. No one confronted Hitler directly about it, but the order was countermanded, never the less, through the means of nods, winks, and shrugs. This wasn’t the only one of Hitler’s orders that were ignored in this manner; another famous one being his order to burn Paris to the ground, dramatized in the movie ‘Is Paris burning?”

Our concerns over the Gestapo and survival made us sort of queasy. Did I mention that I no longer received mail from my sweetheart back in the states? I didn’t even get a “Dear John” letter. There were times when I felt real sorry for myself.

As the Soviet advances moved the Eastern front closer to Germany, and to Sagan, a decision was made by the Germans to move us out of Stalag Luft 3 to Stalag 7A at Moosburg in Bavaria. I was rather happy to go as I didn’t care to get caught up in the vicious fighting raging between the German and Soviet forces even though the snow was six inches deep and the temperature was 20 degrees on the morning of January 28, l945,almost exactly three months before our liberation.

By this time travel in Germany was in a state of near-complete chaos. We left at about 3:00AM.and traveled about a day and a half on foot. It was so cold it was a miracle that my feet didn’t get frostbite. I couldn’t help ask but ask myself, “Is this hell ever going to end?” Then we arrived at Spremberg, I think the name of town was. The Germans found us temporary shelter in a ceramics factory with ovens going, and the place was toasty warm. Oh, that felt ever so good, and I thought it was a heavenly place to spend the night.

The next morning we boarded a train again. We got reacquainted with those cattle cars again. With the war so close to ending, very few entertained any thought of escape even though discipline among the German guards was breaking down. It was a common occurrence for a guard to give his rifle to a Kriegie to hold for him while he clambered down from a boxcar to take a break. What a far cry from those pleasant, but thoroughly disciplined troops who guarded us on the train from Italy. This time the guards rode in the cattle cars with us. By this time I was becoming used to being tired, miserable and cold, and it helped a whole lot knowing that the war was almost over. Besides, the weather was moderating. Things were definitely looking up.

We arrived in Moosberg about a week after leaving Sagan. My son Bill Jr. and I retraced the route in 2002. The same trip today could be made in a fast car like a Mercedes in about eight hours if you really pushed it.

A rude shock awaited us Moosburg. Conditions at Stalag 7A were so miserable and filthy; they made Stalag Luft 3 look like a country club. The place was grossly overcrowded; ticks and lice were all over. At Stalag 7A the Red Cross parcel deliveries became more and more erratic. We were now seeing bomber formations going overhead which added a bit to our nervousness but neither Stalag Luft 3 nor Stalag 7A was ever hit by bombers.

Our clandestine communications channels were still intact, and we had the usual precise knowledge of activity on the fighting fronts. We went to bed on April 28, knowing tomorrow would be the big day. The morning of April 29, l945 was bright and sunny, typical of most spring mornings in Bavaria. At last the day of liberation had arrived

Stalag 7A was about quarter mile from Moosburg. Everyone was up early to greet the liberators. Shortly after daybreak we heard fighter-bombers doing their work on strafing runs. A few minutes later we heard the crackle of small arms fire and in less than half an hour it was all over. It was the thrill of a lifetime to see those GI’s come rolling in. I asked the first one I saw what outfit he was with. He said “3rad Armored Division”. I asked him about the assault coming into Moosburg. He said it wasn’t much of a fight. The defenders were mostly a few SS die-hards. I asked him about casualties. He said “we lost about l5 guys, the Germans lost about 65or 70.”

So now we were free at last. For me the war was finally over, but my exhilaration over being free was tinged with sadness. Much of Europe and practically all of Germany lay in ruins, one big debris field. The term “mixed emotions” is such a cliché, so overused, but it is the only way to describe how I felt at this time: Rejoicing for being well and sound in mind and body; resentment at being cooped up the best years of my life in military bases and Kriegie camps while civilian guys at home were living large; sorrow at the scenes of devastation all around me; and hatred of the Allied leaders after the World War I Era who were so eager to wreak vengeance on Germany that they imposed a humiliating peace treaty and paved the way for a megalomaniac like Adolf Hitler to bring the world into the Apocalypse that was World War II.

My fondest hope is that people will resist the siren songs of future would-be dictators who make promises of the wonderful things they will do for us while not mentioning the things they will do to us, like taking our rights and liberty away from us a little bit at a time until we are in the abyss with no way out. We must bear in mind that given the extraordinary military technology of today, the next time might well be the last time.