Stories From a POW
"He was hit in the stomach and his intestines were hanging down to his knees..."
Contributed by Cameron Boyd
We were told that there was a small pocket of resistance. The first thing that we did was set up the mortar. The 88's were coming in like rain. I dropped a round in the mortar and it stuck. I would have taken it apart and cleared it, but then – that was it. We just dropped it down and took off. The first thing I did was get behind a big rock thinking maybe I'm safe now. But you're not when you are in an artillery barrage. I picked up a rifle. I started patching up the guys that were wounded. I did all that I could find to do. I heard someone calling “medic!” and he was a ways away. I decided that I better get over there. I told my buddy, Red Ethrington, that I was going over there. He said, “You'll probably get captured.” I told him that I didn't care; I couldn't leave that guy hollering like that. I put the rifle down and went over there. I saw a bunch of dead people, and there he was, leaning up against a pile of brush. He was hit in the stomach and his intestines were hanging down to his knees. I recognized him; it was Sergeant Waite. I said, “You're too big for me to carry, can I help you? If you'll try to walk, I can hold you up.” He said that he could do that. We got back, maybe 20 yards, and another guy came along and he took the other side of Sergeant Waite. All of a sudden we heard, “Comrade!” Three guys were standing there with guns pointed at us. One of the guys tried to get my gun off my belt. He was having trouble with the latch on it. I looked over my shoulder and there was Lt. Jenkins. He fired at the Germans and a firefight broke out. We just hit the dirt. I was sure that they would shoot me. The firefight went on for 2 or 3 minutes. When it was over, I was still held captive. I unhooked my belt and dropped it on the snow. They directed us across a field. There were stumps all over the place. We would go a few yards and then Sgt. Waite would get sick. I would set him down on a stump and let him throw up for a while. Then we would go again. We went to their company C.P. They decided that they would help me carry Sgt. Waite, so we made a stretcher. There were four guys. They took turns on the other three ends. It seemed like we went for miles. Finally we got to a place where they had a wagon with a horse and we put Sgt. Waite in there, got him a blanket, and covered him up. I gave him a pack of cigarettes and lit one for him. That is the last I ever saw of him. I always wondered what had happened to him. I never did find out.
We went back to Battalion Headquarters, then to Regimental headquarters. I think that we walked all day long. They were guarding me the whole time. When we got further back I knew we weren't fighting a pocket of resistance; we were fighting the whole German army. It must have been eleven o'clock that night and I still had not had anything to eat. They took me up to this room and this big ugly guy with a machine gun was there with another guy to interrogate me. The interrogator looked like a little Banty rooster. He knew who I was, not me personally, but he knew what outfit I was in. He wanted me to confirm that, and then he would let me go. But I couldn't do that. So I was there for 2 or 3 hours while he badgered me. Finally, he just gave up. Then they put me in this little building. There were 3 of us there. Then they put us in a German jeep and drove until they met up with another group. There must have been a dozen prisoners or so in that bunch. They marched us all day long. They marched us through a little town were there were women screaming at us and throwing things at us – tomatoes and things like that. Then we got into a big town. We were allowed to lean up against the walls of the buildings and they gave us a package of something that looked like popcorn. It turned out to be little biscuits. I only ate part of mine because by that time I had lost my appetite. Finally we went to sleep.
Then came the Americans or the British, I don't know which one. They were dropping bombs but luckily a three-foot wall saved our lives. The shrapnel came flying through but never hit anyone.
Later they put us on a train. The boxcars they have over there were called 40 and 8. That means 40 men or 8 horses. There were 80 of us in one car. We couldn't sit down and everyone had diarrhea. They locked the door. They didn't run the train in the daytime and evidently ran the engine somewhere out of sight during the day. As soon as it got dark they started the train and we ran all night long. The next day they found a place to park it and then we went all the next night again.
We ended up in Bad Orb, Germany. They let us out and we started walking. It was 5 kilometers to the prison camp. They told us we were going to get nice dishes and that sort of thing. I saw a little silver spoon in the snow and I picked it up. After we got up there they put us in the barracks. It turned out that it was an old orphanage. Two hundred and fifty kids were supposed to go in one end. There was a toilet there and the water was in the middle. They ended up putting 500 of us in one end. I was glad they did. Our body heat kept us from freezing to death. The diarrhea got to be a mess at night when they locked us in because there was only one toilet. You can imagine what we began to smell like.
I ate out of my helmet. They didn't give us any dishes or anything, but I had that silver spoon I found. We got a liter of potato water every day. No salt, no pepper, nothing for flavor, just potato water. No soap or anything to wash our helmets with. Then at night we got an eighth of a loaf of black bread. The days just seemed to drag on like you wouldn't believe. I got up every day and jogged around the quadrangle. Sometimes I made it around once. Sometimes several times, depending on how I felt.
Some of the guys thought there was some food in the kitchen, so they snuck down there one night to get some. They found that there wasn't anything, but a guard ended up finding them. One of the prisoners had a cleaver in his hand and he hit the guard 14 times with it but didn't kill him. They snuck back into the barracks they came from. The next morning all of the Americans had to go out into the snow. We stood there and stood there all morning long until someone from the barrack identified the ones who attacked the guard. Then they took those two away and we got to go back inside. It was a little bit warmer than the snow.
Before I ever got to Germany, or even Belgium, I had this dream that the war was going to be over in “M”. That was all there was to it. We decided that it was the month of March. But when the 15th of March came we gave up on that.
Later, some of us got to take a shower. We had heard about some of the other places. They took us up there and there were holes in the ceiling for the water to come out. We got undressed and noticed we were getting pretty skinny. We weren't sure we were going to get out of there before we died, so we really didn't care whether it was water or gas that came out of those holes. It was water, nice warm water, for about five minutes. Then it was cold. We didn't have any washcloths or towels and we had to go stand in a room to dry. There were heaters but no towels. Then we had to put those filthy clothes back on. It seemed kind of useless, but that's what we did.
To kill time I read the Bible from one end to the other. Someone had given me one of those little Bibles with both the Old and New Testaments in it. I really didn't understand that much of it.
Then I got with this bunch of guys – Art Exstine, Marvin McGinnis, Jack Morris and me. We got up on the top bunk, which was the warmest, and for months we played 500 Rummy. We got so we could go through a game in 3 or 4 hands. Except for being weak, I was feeling pretty good.
On the 2nd of April the Americans came and liberated us. The guy in charge dumped out our soup. He nearly had a riot on his hands. They had to go get a truckload of C-rations. We got about 2 spoonfuls down and it was cold and it would turn around and come right back up. We'd spit a few times and try again. Eventually they took us over by the trucks to where the planes, the C-47's, were parked. They cut our hair, gave us a shower, and then they deloused us. We got all new clothes from underwear out. Then we had to sit in a tent and wait. Supper was C-rations and canned salmon and stale peanut butter. We ate and ate. We thought it was delicious and my stomach started to swell up. All they had were soda pills. I took eight of those and then I went and laid down. We had to sleep on stretchers. All of a sudden I felt it coming. I couldn't even shut my mouth; the pressure was so strong. It came out of my mouth and nose and I swear it came out of my ears. I haven't been able to eat any kind of seafood since.
They put us on the C-47's and took us to Camp Lucky Strike at La Harve, France. Then I really got sick. I got deathly sick! My stomach hurt so badly, I couldn't think of anything else. I was in that condition for a week or so. They were feeding me paregoric to try to get my insides straightened out. Then they weighed me. I weighed 69 pounds.
They fed us six times a day. If you came out with an empty mess kit, they made you go through the line again. You had to throw away some food or they weren't satisfied.
A little while after that is when I found out that I had been proclaimed dead. This was a funny thing. Lt. Jenkins thought that he had saw me get killed. He identified a body as mine. My records had been put away where nobody could get them. All my records that I have now are what I remembered at Camp Lucky Strike.
Here's another funny thing. On the 5th of May the war in Europe was over. When we got to South Hampton England, it came over the radio. That is what the dream had been about. The war was over in “M”.
When I got home I was a hero for about a month. But people would rather have a dead hero than a live coward. They figured all POW's were cowards. You can't change people's minds. They still think so. I think that I have been crazy all my life. Even sitting down and talking about this stuff kind of shakes me up. I had pretty well put it out of my mind; it didn't make that much difference to me. But I have to remember that when I went back to work, I worked less than a year and I started running around and quit my job. All of my life, and I'm nearly 70 years old, I haven't been able to work at the same place for very long. I'm married to my third wife now. I didn't realize how crazy I was until I sat down to write this. Other people had years in prison camp; I only had 82 days, and that was enough. We just go along putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I wish gas had come out of that shower. But that's no way either.
Note: Cameron Boyd died in 1997. He was 75 years old.