SLIII Newsletter – August 2015
Greetings SLIII POWs, Family and Friends,
Hope you had a delightful 4th of July. Below is a remembrance of that day in the camp decades ago.
4th of July at SLIII – 1943 – Peter Mayo
From Australia, Peter Mayo, son of POW FO Tim Mayo, sends a clipping from his collection. It mentions some of the activities from the classic celebration still talked about seven decades later. The day began with American POWs singing and marching through the blocks to wake up the British. They were led by Uncle Sam and Paul Revere on a “horse,” made up of two POWs. The Germans joined in the amusement. Baseball was played in the afternoon. The inebriated horse showed up at appel and good-natured Hauptman Hans Pieber went along with the prank. After counting the assembled block, he shouted to his recorder, “Zwei und achtig und ein pferd.” (82 men and one horse.)
Reunion Agenda – For planning purposes, below is the early agenda for the reunion in New Orleans – Oct. 21-25, 2015. The final agenda will be included in the attendees’ packets with more information and surprises. Banquet and trips to the museum and air show are individually priced for those who cannot do all. Parking is free. There is no free airport shuttle. Cab is about $22.00 and can be shared by four.
Hotel rooms are starting to fill quickly. All rooms have a microwave and refrigerator. The Café serves breakfast, lunch & dinner – Monday- Saturday. Directly across the street there is an Outback Steakhouse, Buffalo Wild Wings, Voodoo BBQ, and TGIFs. Lakeside Mall is one block away with a food court, Cheesecake Factory, PF Chang’s & Bravo’s restaurant onsite. There is a Whole Foods across the street and another small market a few blocks away.
Registration forms will soon be out. In the meantime attendees can make their hotel reservations if they wish.
Best Western Plus Landmark Hotel & Suites, Metairie, Louisiana
Reservations: Local – 504 888 9500 for reservations. Ask for Stalag Luft III rate. Reservations can be cancelled if necessary within their guidelines. 12.75% local and state sales tax on rooms. Rooms this time of year are normally $200.00, but we got them for $115.99 plus tax, plus a full hot breakfast every day, which normally is not included at any rate.
I have heard back from the museum and the air show people that they are delighted we are bringing our POWs and families. More plans are in the works with them now.
I’m soliciting from our POWs, one of their favorite stories from the camp, their training, or their liberation, told briefly if possible. It can just be emailed to me. One thing that so many POW “kids” say in regard to their father’s wartime experiences is, “My father never told me anything.” Then we all lament that we could kick ourselves for not asking more! So for POWs who did talk more, please send me that special story. In addition, I’d like to hear from POW relatives – “The Best Story My Father (uncles, husbands, and brothers too!) Ever Told Me.” These can be funny, poignant, or whatever they need to be. Would love to hear them.
69th Stalag Luft III Reunion
New Orleans, Louisiana
Oct. 21-26, 2015
Reunion Registration will be open several times outside meeting room, Mardi Gras I
4:30pm – 5:00pm – Official Welcome – Mardi Gras I
5:00pm – Complimentary Dinner Buffet – Pontchartrain Suite
7:00pm – 8:00pm – Video – Over-Sexed, Over-Paid, and Over Here (50 minutes) – This film, as the name suggests, chronicles the invasion of two million American men sent to England to fly the dangerous war-torn skies during WWII. This massive influx of men presented an interesting dynamic –– two groups of people of quite different cultures brought into close contact for over three years. This entertaining film explores that unique situation while highlighting the sacrifices made by the men who flew.
Pontchartrain Suite – Share memorabilia – Book sales – Snacks
6:30am (starts serving) – Complimentary Breakfast
9:00am – Board bus – The National WWII Museum – http://nationalww2museum.org/
9:30am-12:30pm – Visit the museum
12:30pm – Optional shuttle over to the French Quarter – Jax Brewery for lunch/shopping – See: http://jacksonbrewery.com/
Others can stay/tour/eat at the museum.
1:15pm – Bus departs museum for hotel, then returns to pick up at Jax Brewery.
2:30pm – Bus departs Jax Brewery for hotel.
Dinner on your own
7:00pm – 8:15pm – Presentation – A Fortress and a Legacy – Ross Greene
How does one find a relative’s crash site in Europe? Ross Greene takes us on his six-year journey to locate his uncle’s crash site near Mannheim, Germany. His research culminated in a new and unique book , A Fortress And A Legacy, that realistically recreates the love story of a former Miss America contestant and her B-17 bombardier husband who was killed in action. In re-telling their story, Ross reveals interesting discoveries and historical facts throughout as we follow his investigative research and eventual return to Mannheim, thus enhancing the memories of the uncle he worshiped as a young boy.
9:00pm – Night Owl Video – Great Escape—The Untold Story – 50 min – This 2001 documentary tells the story of Canadian POW Dennis Cochran, one of “The Fifty,” who flew with the RAF only to be murdered by the Gestapo after the Great Escape. Poignant and factual, the film compels us to once more remember these brave men as we learn of the relentless effort by the Royal Air Force, post war, to pursue the Gestapo killers and bring them to what the English called “Exemplary Justice.”
Pontchartrain Suite – Share memorabilia – Book sales
6:30am – Complimentary Breakfast
9:00 am – Airpower Expo 2015 – Air Show – Lakefront Airport’s tarmac will be covered with a fleet of legendary WWII aircraft—fully restored and ready to fly. Visitors can touch the planes, climb inside the cockpits, and even strap in for a chance-of-a-lifetime ride-along flight (fee applies for flights). Guests can also view ground vehicles from the museum’s collection, meet WWII veterans, and experience history hands-on with WWII uniforms and gear.
Lunch on your own
3:30pm – 4:30pm – Video – Going Underground – The Great Escape – In this charming 1994 video, RAF POWs Andy Wiseman, Ken Rees, and Sydney Dowse, return to Stalag Luft III. Welshman, Ken, was the author of Lie in the Dark and Listen, and he had the misfortune of being the man who was just approaching Tunnel Harry’s exit when the Germans discovered it. Sydney escaped through the tunnel and survived the aftermath of the Gestapo murders 50 of the POWs. Follow them around the old camp on their sentimental return visit to Zagan, this time as free men.
4:30pm- 6:45pm – Dinner on your own
7:00pm – 8:00pm – Presentation – “Update on the Recovery of Lt. Ewart T. Sconiers – Stalag Luft III’s Last Man Out”’– Pamela Sconiers Whitelock
The niece of Lt. Sconiers provides an update on the recovery of her uncle, the only deceased SLIII POW not brought home after the war, who was buried outside the camp in 1944. She will discuss recovery efforts in Lubin, Poland, highlighting the years of research, the process, the extensive international effort, and the poignant story of family hope renewed.
8:00 – Pontchartrain Suite – Share memorabilia – Book sales
6:30am – Complimentary Breakfast
10:00am – 11:00am – Tracing Your POW’s Wartime Footsteps – KU#s, MACRs, & IDPFs – Deciphering Military Acronyms
For those just who want to trace their POW’s wartime history, including crash sites, learn how to research and get important documents. There will also be information given on the status of the German files containing confiscated dog tags and other artifacts taken from the crews the day they were shot down and recently discovered at the National Archives in College Park, MD. Audience questions welcome. (Brief WWII Trivia Contest to follow)
11:00am – 1:15pm – Lunch on your own.
1:30pm – 2:30pm – “Bomber Pilot, Evader, POW – The Story of Lt. James Keeffe Jr.“
Jim Keeffe III – The author of Two Gold Coins and a Prayer, Jim Keeffe III, recreates the story of his B-24 pilot father who evaded in Holland after being shot down. Jim retraced his father’s footsteps last year, visiting the places where his father hid. Paying tribute to his father, his remarkable research and journey of discovery and gratitude led him to the families who helped with the evasion that saved his father’s life.
2:45pm – 3:45pm – “Growing Up “Kriegie Kid” — The Influence of Our Fathers
Our fathers, shot down and held at Stalag Luft III, later liberated at Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Germany, knew fear, deprivation, violent trauma, and personal, devastating, losses. In the prime of their youth, they were separated from their families, lives interrupted, to experience the perils of war. How did their experiences affect our lives? A panel will examine the Greatest Generation’s affect on their Baby Boomers. Audience participation encouraged.
6:00pm – Cash bar
7:00pm – Banquet
10:00 – Pontchartrain Suite – Share memorabilia – Book sales
Sun. 25th – Hugs and Farewells
News from Marek
When our group of POW Kriegie Kids met in Berlin and went to Zagan in May, we stayed at this formerly German hotel, a renovated palace, where Napoleon had once stayed. Marek recently took his tank (T-34/85 produced in Poland under the USSR license in the late 50s) there when the owner, Zbigniew, (“Ziggy” to us,) recently organized a barbecue party for some children from an orphanage, complete with a band, free ice cream, games etc. There was also a wedding party that day, that got to take a look at the tank.
NATO forces, mentioned in the last newsletter, have left Zagan. Marek now awaits some of the tanks that the U.S. is sending to Eastern Europe. The place chosen to receive the tanks sent to Poland is Zagan.
POW William D. Geiger
Marek has just designed a plaque for POW daughter, Devon Geiger Nielsen, which will hang in the museum to honor her father, William Geiger, who flew with the RAF in the Eagle Squadron early in the war. Devon has been a dedicated supporter of the museum, enabling many improvements to be made there.
The Video Tuskegee Airman, Alex Jefferson, Mentioned in the Last Newsletter
Alex recommends everyone watch this video that sends a powerful message:
SLIII POW Receives Prestigious Honor from Sen. John McCain – John R. Pedevillano – William Vucci
“On April 24, 1944, 2nd Lt. John R. Pedevillano later a POW in West Compound, was flying in a B-17 over Nazi territory when the fighters escorting his formation were drawn away in combat, leaving the bombers defenseless against air and ground fire for an hour. Sixteen U.S. planes went down, and John R. Pedevillano, the youngest B-17 bombardier in the 306th Bomb Group, was hit. But he and his crew managed to keep flying, going down behind enemy lines only after dropping their payload on Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle recommended a unit citation in 1944, but John never received it. He finally received the WWII Presidential Citation July 7, 2015.”
Congratulations to John for this extraordinary honor!
Below is a prophetic poem John wrote the night before he was shot down. He left it in his footlocker. After he went down and was reported MIA, Thurleigh Air Base thought he was KIA, and those cleaning out his quarters found the poem. They liked it so much they sent it to the media whose use of it nationally publicized John’s thoughts before his last mission, titling it, “The Last Thoughts of a Pilot Before Battle.” The War Department liked it so much that they then used John’s poem to muster Americans to buy U.S. War Bonds during the Military Bond Drive Campaign. With publicity for John’s poem gaining momentum, additional money was collected for the war effort. While John was evading enemy capture, and while he was a POW at SLIII, his personal and inspiring words saved soldiers’ lives, helping to bring the war to a faster end.
“Pilot’s Last Thoughts Before his Final Battle” April 23, 1944
Listen you I would like to tell,
Of a 17 crew on its way to hell.
Sure it was easier spending money on that Blonde,
Instead of just buying another Bond.
It was about the month of June, I’d say,
Even then these boys were young and gay.
They didn’t know you hadn’t bought a Bond?
And that they would probably end up in a ditch or a pond.
It was three that morn, they were called out of bed.
It only took five minutes to get dressed and fed.
Then to the briefing room they went.
For a mission of doom, they were to be sent.
Down in the front were pilots, navigators, and bombardiers.
In the back were gunners, radiomen, and engineers.
Worrying about that Bond already mister?
Forget it, probably was more fun to go on that twister.
Then before them, the “Old Man” came, with a warning,
That death would ride the skies this morning.
He told them the target would be tough, and
Enemy fighters would make it rough.
Already the squadron was in the blue.
That morning like birds to death he flew.
Fighter escort they had half way,
But one 17 had none that day.
But wait, maybe one Bond could have had the fighter off the line?
Too late, she would fly the target alone, this time!
All we can do is pray and hope.
For with situations like this, we cannot cope.
The target was destroyed that day.
There would also be a telegram for a girl named Kay.
Nine others that day were sent.
If only to the government $18.75 you had lent.
These boys are lying in some foreign pond.
Didn’t you know you forgot to buy your Bond?
By chance you may meet these boys someday…then you can tell them that One Bond wouldn’t have meant so much that day?
Request for Information – Jeanne Kibler – firstname.lastname@example.org – telephone: 434-566-1158 “I would love to find someone who knew my uncle, Lt. Daniel (Danny) Finley, stationed at Leiston Air Field. He was a P-51 Mustang pilot. He was assigned to the 357th FG, 364th FS. He shot down his first German aircraft on June 14, 1944, on a mission to drop supplies to the French Resistance. On June 29, 1944, he participated in a mission to Leipzig for which the 357th received a commendation. July 29, 1944, was his last mission. The target was an oil refinery at Merseburg, Germany, and an oil target near Bremen, Germany, led by Lt. Col Dregne. He bailed out 5 miles south of Bad Oeynhausen due to mechanical trouble. As a POW, he was taken to Stalag Luft III, North Compound. He survived the march to Nurnberg where he slept in Bay #5, Barracks 116. On the march to Moosburg, he fell into a coma and died on April 14, 1945, at Moosburg.
Request from Down Under – Kristen Alexander
Australian author, Kristen Alexander, ( www.kristenalexander.com.au) is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales (Canberra) researching the experiences of Australian airmen in Stalag Luft III. She would like to make contact with the families of former Australian Stalag Luft III prisoners who would be willing to provide her with access to their family records including letters and diaries written in Stalag Luft III and published and unpublished memoirs. Kristen’s contact details are: Kristen.Alexander@student.adfa.edu.au; PO Box 746, MAWSON, ACT, 2607, Australia
POW ID Cards and Telegram – Fred Bobbitt
For anyone who has not see the SLIII POW I.D. card issued and kept by the Germans for appels, POW son, Fred Bobbitt, has sent his father, Aubrey’s, card. After liberation at Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Germany, many POWs broke into the German administration office and took their cards. The Germans had taken the ID cards along when Stalag Luft III was evacuated in January 1945. The cards and the telegrams, saved by the POWs’ families, became souvenirs of war.
Interview With POW Donald Sjaardema – 2014
Donald attended the Dayton reunion.
POW Crawford Hicks’s Shootdown Story – Crawford Hicks
My B-17 was hit May 30, 1944, and crashed near Neinburg, (near the Belgian border). ME 109s hit us on the return from bombing Oscherscheleben, and the bombardier, Wilbur Kunz, was killed by a direct hit from the fighter. The three officers went to Stalag Luft III and the other crewmembers went to other camps. Two crewmembers received broken bones when we bailed out, but all of us came back to the U.S. after Germany capitulated.
“The Griefswald Seven” – Another Scharff Story
Griefswald was an ancient university town on the Baltic seacoast in Northeastern Germany hit hard by strafing–Mustang and Lighting groups. First, P-51 fighters appeared flying low over the town firing into the streets, raising havoc among the fleeing inhabitants. Reichsmarschal Goering was informed. Interrogator, Hanns Scharff, was ordered to report in detail about the activities of the flyers taken POW after the raid. The Mustang group and the P-38 group, branded with ill repute, had about a dozen losses that day. Seven of the captured pilots reported to Auswertestelle West, the interrogation center, the remainder of the pilots from the raid who were shot down having been killed in the crash of their aircraft. All the original captives were interrogated. The Germans held the gun film from the cameras in the fighters. 1st Lt. Weisel stated that one of his guns jammed on the way in, and all he did was fire some test shots into the ground at small bushes on the outskirts of town. He claimed he had not fired at either soldiers or civilians.
All the stories of the pilots were corroborated. Scharff’s completed investigation determined that none of the seven captured pilots could be held responsible for the deeds perpetrated at Griefswald. Not one of the seven had fired at civilians. Scharff wrote his report and released all seven to their permanent camp. They left for Dulag Luft the next morning.
Four days passed, and Scharff was called to the camp deputy commander’s office and told his report had been received and had been deemed to be completely unsatisfactory at headquarters. The POWs would be recalled from Dulag Luft. The highest office of the Luftwaffe had ordered a new, more lucid, investigation. Without explanation, a liaison office of the Gestapo was sent to Auswertestelle West to participate in the re-investigation. In no short order, the Gestapo representative made it clear he wanted a conviction of the seven fighter pilots whether they were guilty or not. From their recall on, the pilots were constantly watched, and all their conversations monitored. Scharff, himself, listened in one night as POW Weisel read from his bible in an unsteady voice to his comrades. Once more, the men were asked to defend themselves against the charge of strafing and killing women and other civilians.
A terrified Weisel explained he had forgotten to tell Scharff that as he fired into a clump of bushes on the outskirts of town, he held the trigger down a little too long and with the speed of his P-38, the bullet trail went into town, and he saw the bullets hit the stairway of a big yellow building on the main square– perhaps a city hall building or one similar. There was no one near it he swore. He leaned against the wall for support. “I should have told you, but my life did not depend on it then. “
The Gestapo representative was gleeful and jumped to his feet convinced he had his man. Questioning continued. When repeatedly asked, Weisel swore he hit no one. The Gestapo representative stomped his foot on the floor and shook his fist. “Why the hell did this gangster forget to tell you about this in the first place? Guilty! That’s why. He’s guilty! Look at him!” Based on findings, Scharff wrote his second report. Everyone anxiously waited.
Since gun cameras in fighter planes were synchronized with the machine guns, when the pilot pressed the gun trigger the camera started to operate to show what the guns were firing at. Gun camera film from one of the crashed Mustangs was recovered, and it showed four German women in the middle of a small country road being mercilessly and needlessly mowed down by the Mustang’s 50 caliber machine guns. That pilot was found dead in the cockpit of the fighter plane. Scharff had new evidence. The Greifswald Seven were innocent. He hastily wrote an addendum to his last report, enclosed prints of the combat film, and forwarded it to headquarters, hoping the new evidence would prevent the seven from going before a firing squad. A week passed. One night, at 1:30 a.m., he had just fallen asleep but was rousted by the charge of quarters for him to come answer the phone. The deputy commander was on the line.
“Gefreiter Scharff?” he said, “I have just received a priority message concerning the Greifswald bunch. Very Important! Come to my private quarters immediately.”
Heart thumping, Scharff entered the office. The deputy commander shook his hand vigorously and with a big smile said, “Herr Scharff! The Reichsmarschal decided this afternoon that the Greifswald Seven should be regarded as honorable combat soldiers and should proceed to a permanent camp!”
Scharff ran through the misty night in the early morning hours to wake up the Seven. Each reacted differently, one offering to Scharff in thanksgiving a cigarette butt he had hidden, as it was the most precious thing he owned at the time. But, it was POW Weisel’s reaction that Scharff always remembered. He asked the interrogator to sit by his side on the cot, and he reached for his bible. His hands shook and he spoke hesitatingly as he ran his fingers along the lines:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”
First Lt. Weisel had just reaffirmed his faith in God.
Scharff had known that he would not have much time to build a defense for his American fighter pilots. Some of the gun camera film had been destroyed when the planes burned. Some of the film was still good, yet he had been unable to tie the damning portion of film to an aircraft flown by one of the seven accused. Finally, the technical men at Auswertestelle West were able to positively identify the plane number to which the film had belonged, thereby exonerating the Greifswald Seven.
In 1977, after a correspondent for the Bakersfield Californian newspaper wrote a story about Scharff, he was contacted by Lt. Weisel who lived in Bakersfield. Scharff and the author of The Interrogator, Ray Toliver, visited Weisel, then a victim of Parkinson’s disease. He lived alone with a beautiful dog and his memories. Speech difficulties prevented him from expressing his memories as they flooded back, but he talked as much and as fast as he could.
Weisel threw his arms around his wartime interrogator that day. A few years later, he called saying “You saved my life in WWII. Can you do it again? It was too late. Weisel passed away in 1984.
A Gathering of Eagles
The following picture was taken at POW Camp XIII-D in Nuremberg and shows American men from SLIII who flew in the RAF Eagle Squadron early in the war. Devon Geiger found her father, POW Bill Geiger, in the picture, the first man on the left in the first picture below. Second from the left is POW Aubrey Stanhope. Third from the left, the tall man, is POW Seldon Edner. The picture was taken in Nuremberg in the spring of 1945 of the men, most formerly from West Compound, who were marched from Nuremberg to Moosburg, Stalag VIIA, where they were later liberated. Devon decided to find out more about the men in the picture. She found the daughter of Aubrey Stanhope and was able to exchange information with her. I was able to tell her that Edner flew after the war in the Greek Civil war, and, unfortunately, he was hanged by the Greek Communists there when he was shot down. We speculated as to whether he had any children. Devon did some investigating and not only did she find that he had a son and daughter, after losing an infant daughter earlier in WWII, but his children were living in Devon’s own town in California! His son has visited with her already and knew little of his father’s time at Stalag Luft III, so Devon was able to fill in the gaps in his father’s history. His daughter has also been in contact. They will all attend the reunion but before that Edner’s son will visit SLIII. New bonds have been forged with these three families that will continue as they seek more information about their fathers.
New Book on Padre Mac – Marek Lazarz
New Book on Eagle Squadron – Marek Lazarz http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3109647/The-Americans-fight-Nazis-revealed-unlikely-band-including-taxi-driver-make-artist-risked-arrest-authorities-join-Britain-s-air-force-1939-end-150-years-frosty-relations.html
Manfred von Richthofen – If you’re interested in history or aviation, you cannot miss this footage. It was just posted online. It’s from 1917, and it’s an up-close and personal look at the most legendary combat pilot who ever lived, the infamous Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen. – POW Leonard Spivey/Ross Greene
9/11: Operation Yellow Ribbon (Gander, Newfoundland) – Not SLIII but very uplifting
P-38 Doing Acrobatics – Barry Schoen
Sixteen Spitfires Flying in Formation Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain! – Barry Schoen
Video of POW Frank Clemons – Karl Duggin
B-17 in Glacier for 70 Years Yields a Treasure – Barry Schoen
Until next time,
Daughter of POW Thomas F. Jeffers