Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Memorial Day [A tad bit late]

 So, a few of you might remember the story I posted a while back about my paternal grandfather and his experiences in WWII. You can read the story of being shot down in Africa and captured here. Here are a few more tidbits to add to the tale. My cousin Sarah scanned these photos of our grandfather as a POW at Stalag Luft III [My best guess for a date on this photo is just that - a guess - but I'd place it around the summer of 1943].  [Anybody seen the movie The Great Escape? Chicken Run? It was at Stalag Luft III that POWs tunneled under the gates and into the forest.]

It wasn't until two years later, on April  29th, 1945, and after a transfer to Moosburg [Stalag VIII], that he was freed. This letter, written to his parents and his sister, was likely written a few days after the Allies liberated the camp.
 Dear Mother, Dad, and Louise,

This being my first letter home written as a more or less free individual, I feel as if it ought to be absolutely crammed with everything you want to know, but, I just don't know where to begin. I'm so dazed and happy about it all being finished that it's about all I can concentrate on at one time, except for one thing - how soon I can get back to see you! Apparently it may not be long. In the meantime I'm still sitting in the same dingy hole as before, but with a much more tolerant attitude, since there is now lots of food and lots to look forward to, putting it mildly! Also it was almost worth two years of Germany to go through the experience of being recaptured by our own forces. Seeing our flag go up over Moosburg was something I'll never forget - It was so incredible to us - and pending swift departure the army is certainly doing their best to improve a few things around here. As you may have gathered they can stand a bit of improvement, but DON'T worry, I'm in perfectly good shape and ready for some tennis except for a slight touch of lumbago or something in my left knee which might take about twenty four hours of home living to cure. I think it's a small souvenir of some extended walking we did in January which I'll tell you about when I see you. If I ever start writing you about all I want to mull over I won't have time for anything else - and after all, I've got to get ready to leave! Certainly if all goes well I ought to be greeting you before the first of June or thereabouts. In the meantime all goes swimmingly, and we're almost too lucky.

All my love, 


I'm guessing a bit here, but I'm fairly certain that the 'extended walking we did in January' bit refers to The Great March West when thousands of POWs endured during the bitterly cold winter months in early 1945. As the Russians advanced, the Germans instigated forced marches of the captured men west to POW camps deeper within Germany.

My Grandfather's story ends happily: he made it home to Connecticut after nearly two years in POW camps. But for many, many thousands of others of course, there wasn't a joyous return or celebration.  And today is a good day to remember that.

I feel, as never before, how justly, from the dawn of history to the present time, men have paid the homage of their gratitude and admiration to the memory of those who nobly sacrifice their lives, that their fellow-men may live in safety and in honor.
Edward Everett