Stalag Luft III Newsletter – May, 2017
Stalag Luft III POWs, Families, and Friends,
There are many stories to report this month, one involving my co-author, Mike Eberhardt, and his recent return to Germany to his father’s crash site.
From Poland, Marek has notified me that within about ten days the new room he has constructed in the museum, a replica of a typical POW room, will be complete. He has designed special thank you cards for donors and with each he will include a picture of the finished room. Shortly after that, all the donors’ names will go on a plaque he has specially designed to hang in the new room, and POW names will go on a separate plaque.
Other News from Marek
Stalag Luft III had well-stocked libraries in each compound. Marek is in the process of collecting authentic books to simulate what was there at one time.
“We bought this book recently. It is from the No. 1 Library of POW Camp Oflag II D. The book was sent to the camp by the Polish section of the YMCA (see stamp). Oflag IID was in Gross Born (Borne Sulinowo today, Northern Poland). Many Polish officers (Army) were held there.
“Here is my personal find. I found it at the hut 137 (South Camp) Stalag Luft III. Actually, it was with the help of wild boars in the camp who disturbed the surface around hut 137. There were many POWs in Zagan wearing non-SL3 dog tags.”
M-Stammlager (Stalag) XIIIC is stamped into the dog tag, and that camp was in Hammelburg, Bavaria. Apparently, the dog tag belonged to one of the USAAF NCOs who served as orderlies in the officer’s compound at Stalag XIIIC, the camp where Gen. Patton’s son-in-law was a POW and was later injured during an attempted rescue by Patton’s forces. According to Marek, the man who owned the dog tag either volunteered or was transferred to Stalag Luft III to again serve as an orderly.
Rare Buchenwald Currency at the Museum – This 2 Reichmark banknote belonged to a Polish prisoner.
In 2004, Tunnel “Dick” in North Compound, was excavated by a British team. They found some artifacts now displayed in the replica hut #104, constructed by the British. Below is the trap door of “Dick.” The entrance of “Dick” was inside the drain of the shower room of hut #122.
American Visits Marek – Kevin Pearson – U.S.
A research friend of mine for years, Kevin, is an expert at identifying B-17 parts and has travelled to many WWII historically-significant places in Europe, sending me pictures. He has also excavated a B-17 in Germany. Recently, he visited Stalag Luft III.
Marek and Kevin at Tunnel Harry
After visiting Stalag Luft III, Kevin went on to the cemetery in Poznan to see the grave markers of the 50 murdered POWs after the Great Escape. Their ashes were moved from the camp to Poznan after the war. Below are Kevin’s pictures taken at the cemetery of the grave markers.
Remembering the 50
Stone marking the ashes of Roger Bushell,
mastermind of the Great Escape
German Town Commemorates Three B-17 Crew Members Killed in March 1944 – POW son, Mike Eberhardt
Two years ago, with the assistance of some German researchers armed with only one vague clue, Mike was able to discover and then visit the crash site of his father’s B-17 (“Little Audrey”) which crashed on March 18, 1944, outside Munich, near a small town named Aschheim. His 2015 visit included a personal meeting with a man, who as a thirteen year old, witnessed the crash, which resulted from another B-17 (out of formation) dropping a bomb on the plane in which Lt. Charles Eberhardt served as bombardier. Following the 2015 crash site visit, Mike also recovered pieces of his father’s B-17 with the help of the German researchers who scanned the site with metal detectors.
While seven of the crew parachuted and survived (three of whom, including Lt. Eberhardt, being aided by local German farmers before being turned over to SS troops), those who perished included Sgt. Vincent Mellina, Sgt. James Schmitt, and Sgt. Franklin Baier.
On April 23, 2017, at the invitation of the Aschheim Veterans Group, Mike returned to the crash site where the three deceased crew members were honored in a ceremony. The event was attended by a large number of local citizens, Mike’s researchers, the mayor of Aschheim, and the president of the Aschheim Veterans Group, both of whom delivered moving speeches. A bugler played while a canon was fired, and Mike was honored with an opportunity to be photographed standing behind makeshift crosses from which photos of the three deceased crew members hung. In the photo below, Mike is flanked by the eyewitness he met two years ago, and another eyewitness discovered since his initial visit.
Mike also visited the local Catholic Church where, in the courtyard, the three were buried by the citizens of Aschheim until their bodies were recovered and moved to national cemeteries after the war.
Mike was made a member of the Aschheim Veterans Group. The ceremony was covered by the Munich newspaper which featured a photo of the crew. A large dinner, with lots of beer, concluded the eventful day!
[Some pictures below were sent by Dr. Susanne Meinl who lives near Munich and also attended.]
Lt. Charles Eberhardt’s Stalag Luft III ID card
The Germans greet Mike (middle of photo) in front of the Town Hall.
The tree at the right is one Mike’s father would have
seen. It was the landmark the Germans used to
determine where the plane crashed.
Remembering one of the crew, KIA that day
Mike, second from right
Mike is flanked by two eyewitnesses who said they went to the
B-17 that day to steal a bag of uniforms and chocolate from the
co-pilot. Mike holds Edelweiss flowers given to him in the name
of the three crew who died.
The bugler plays for the ceremony.
The ceremonial canon
Mike presents researcher, Josef Eimannsberger with a certificate
of appreciation from the Friends of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The three lost crewmen
Attendees pose with Mike
Devon Geiger Nielsen – Douglas Bader Connection – [Kriegie daughter of William D. Geiger, Jr.]
Who tied the knots in bed sheets dropped from Douglas Bader’s hospital window in St. Omer, France, after his capture? – Mystery solved.
Devon has submitted the story below after her research on her father connected her with the story of famed RAF legless flier and SLIII POW Douglas Bader, who was eventually thrown out of Stalag Luft III for starting trouble and frequent escape attempts. Lt. Col. A.P. Clark was given Bader’s bunk in North Compound that day after he witnessed Bader’s removal from the camp as Bader walked through a gauntlet of German guards, strutting defiantly as if he was inspecting the troops.
Douglas Bader – RAF
Bill Hall Ties Sheet Rope for Douglas Bader Hospital Escape
by Devon Geiger
As a WWII history buff, the name Sir Douglas Bader was one I knew well. I had collected photos and articles about the famous “legless” Royal Air Force ace. Bader was in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain before being shot down and taken captive in the summer of 1941. Douglas became an equally famous POW for his brilliant and courageous escape attempts. My father, William Geiger, was in Stalag Luft III with him until the Germans moved Douglas to Colditz Castle, a camp for “incorrigible” Allied officers. Dad spoke of this amazing man who had lost his legs well before the war, but still became a fighter pilot ace.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that Marilyn Walton introduced me to Bader’s relative, Wendy McCleave in the UK. And this is why she did: I had been telling Marilyn about my long-overdue success in finally locating the Canadian family of William (Bill) Hall, my father’s best friend during his long stay in Stalag Luft III. I relayed to Marilyn how wonderful it was that Bill Hall’s son had sent me his father’s recollections of being an RAF Eagle Squadron pilot and prisoner of war. (Shot down on July 2, 1941, Bill Hall was the first Eagle Squadron pilot taken captive). One of Bill Hall’s stories was about his time as a hospital patient in German-occupied St. Omer, France. Bill had to have several operations on his shattered knee during the summer of 1941. In August of that year, Douglas Bader was admitted to the hospital in St. Omer, too, and became a ward-mate of Bill Hall’s. In early September, Bill assisted Douglas with an amazing, one-man escape from their hospital room by tying sheets end-to-end and hanging them outside the 4th story window.
Tied bed sheets that facilitated Bader’s escape hang from Bader and Hall’s window at St. Omer hospital.
I sent the excerpt to Wendy in February. Reading a firsthand account is a very moving and poignant experience for any family member, and I’m very glad she got this opportunity.
Wendy had known of the hospital escape, but this recounting chronicled interesting details and allowed her to realize it was the Eagle Squadron Pilot Officer Bill Hall’s knot tying that helped Bader successfully reach the ground.
Although Douglas was recaptured, this courageous escape attempt set the stage for his future activities in captivity and also inspired other POWs. Both men were freed in 1945, and continued flying.
This is an excerpt from Bill Hall’s own memoir:
Bader had been shot down near St. Omer, and there was great excitement amongst the Germans. The German officers from the squadron based nearby, came in every evening. Bader flew with artificial legs, and he had lost one when he bailed out. The Germans found it jammed in the wreckage of his aircraft and brought it to the hospital. It was all twisted to hell, so they took it away and repaired it for him. Bader persuaded the Germans to request over radio to the British, to drop a new leg for him. The RAF dropped it over St. Omer en route to a bombing mission.
Our nurse, Sister Erica, was very kind to us. She could speak only a few words of English, but she would occasionally bring us a lemon, a couple cigarettes or pieces of candy. She sewed a button on Bader’s tunic, I remember. There was also a French ward maid who had connections with the French underground. When Bader planned to escape, she plugged the sink in our room, and a French plumber who was part of The Underground came to fix it. What transpired from that meeting, I never knew. It must have been Sept. 9 that Bader made the plans to escape. I tied several bed-sheets together for him with square knots, and he secured this to a bed-stand. Sometime between midnight and one o’clock, (it would have been between guard changes), Bader threw the rope of sheets out the window, and told me there was enough and even some to spare. It was a very calm night, and the courtyard below was all cobblestones. I heard Bader slide down a sheet, step on a knot, and slide down another sheet, and step again on a knot until he reached the ground. In the quiet of the night, every step he took his legs squeaked like the devil, and I could hear him squeaking off up the cobblestones, and making quite the racket. How he got away with it I’ll never know.
The next morning when the Germans found him gone, all hell broke loose. The other English chap and the Pole were shipped off to Frankfurt en Maine. I was rushed to the operating room to have my body cast changed to a traveling one, and the next day, Sept. 11, I was shipped off to Hohemark Hospital in [near Oberursel, Germany, near the interrogation center. [ sic – Originally read near the Belgian border, but correction was made for the sake of accuracy and clarification.] Bader had been recaptured, but I didn’t see him in St. Omer. We did pass at the gates of [Stalag] Luft III in January 1943. He was moving out as I was being taken in.”
Credit: William (Bill) J. Hall’s autobiography, courtesy of Bill Hall’s son and family
Portrait of Canadian P/O William (Bill) J. Hall
German holds the box that was dropped containing the leg.
Germans inspect the newly-dropped prosthetic leg.
British military report on the mission to drop the leg
Linda Berkery – Danish Connection – [Kriegie daughter of William J. Styles Jr.]
In trying to figure out her father’s wartime history, POW daughter, Linda Berkery, knew two things. One was that on the 1945 evacuation march from Stalag Luft III that her father pushed his POW journal into the hands of a German housewife while on the long march from Stalag Luft III to Spremberg, Germany. Styles had written “forwarding” information at the front of the book, and it was returned to him by the woman in August, 1945.
Styles’ notation in German requesting return of the journal
And Linda also knew that a nice Danish fisherman saved him from drowning after his B-17 crashed into the North Sea. Co-pilot Styles was on his eighth mission to Germany and flew on Duration Plus Six that day. Unable to bomb the intended target, Warnermunde, Germany, the crew flew to heavily-defended Kiel, and was hit by intense flak. The No. 2 engine smoked and failed and another engine went out. The plane plunged into the sea about 50 miles from Denmark and 150 miles from their 100th Bomb Group base at Thorpe Abbotts, England.
Styles and his pilot, Richard Carey, got out. Two gunners, escaped the ditched fuselage through the overhead hatch, but they were severely injured. Six crew members were trapped in the radio compartment and went down with the plane. Above, a friendly bomber circled low intending to blow the rubber dinghy toward the survivors, but instead it blew the boat further away.
The skipper on a small Danish fishing boat named “Bertha,” saw Styles’ plane go down and went searching for survivors. Within the hour, he found the four Americans floating in their Mae Wests and pulled them to safety, using splints from a wooden fish crate to set broken arms and legs.
Decades later, Linda flipped through her father’s returned Wartime Log and stared at original photos showing her father and his pilot right after the rescue. She wondered who took the photos and how her father got them. She found an aged newspaper clipping with the same photo, her father’s name appearing in the headline. He was marked with an X, and the skipper was marked with XX in the newsprint.
Original newspaper article
Taped inside the journal was a handwritten letter from Denmark posted August 3, 1949, and Linda felt the need to know more and to try to locate the fisherman’s family.
After posting everything on Facebook, a translation came the following day. VESTJYDEN, the local paper in Esbjerg, reported:
“The fisherman explains that the cutter “Bertha” was fishing on Sunday
afternoon on the 25th of July  when the crew observed a large formation
of American airplanes. The last of the airplanes continued to lose altitude and
had to do a water landing some distance away from the cutter, which immediately
set course for the airplane, and saved four men of the airplane crew.
The cutter remained at the crash site until midnight since it appeared possible
that the Americans would send a floatplane to rescue the crashed crew. One of
the crew of the airplane was seriously wounded, and since the cutter during the
evening had been observed by a German fighter plane and also did not have
enough fuel…[he]decided not to set course for England but instead went
in the direction of Esbjerg…and arranged for medical help and ambulances. These
were waiting at the dock…Unfortunately the Germans had gotten wind of the activity
and demanded to have the four American fliers turned over to them once they
arrived. Despite protests and demonstrations, the Germans took them in their
custody…” [The article was torn right at the end.]
The letter dated August 1949 was from Sven Lundager Pedersen:
“I remember you very well. Also your three friends I remember well.
Parson[s] was one of them and I believe that one was named Lepper.
I forgot the name of the third one. [Carey] I am sending you a newspaper
article and have marked you with an X and myself with XX.
I am also sending you two pictures…I hope you remember me and ask
you to write to me and tell me how you have been doing in the past years.
Also please information about your three friends. I will end the letter with
the warmest greetings to you and your family.”
Soren Flensted from the site, AIRWAR OVER DENMARK agreed to contact the newspaper in Esbjerg to share Linda’s story. Finn Buch, from Denmark, sent a photo of the fishing vessel and located the address from Sven’s letter. Unfortunately, the home of the skipper was now part of the town hospital. Finn sent a declassified listing of what was taken from her father at the time of rescue: two ID tags, one crucifix, one crucifix with a chain, one watch, one pocket lighter, and two maps. Michael Faley, archivist for The100th Bomb Group Foundation, introduced Linda to Jeanne Carey, daughter of Pilot Richard Carey, telling her she now had a sister.
The Danish newspaper printed Linda’s search during last Easter week. In just hours, she and the fisherman’s family were connected. She expressed her gratitude and told them her father had lived a good life and had four daughters. Pilot Carey had nine children. The Danish family never saw the photos before but rapidly shared the story with children and grandchildren.
The Danish newspaper has run several articles about Linda’s quest
to find the family of the fisherman who rescued her father.
Bertha – the ship that rescued the downed airmen
Original picture from the day of the rescue – Linda’s
father, Bill Styles on the right
Carey and Styles
Pilot Carey with injured crew member
Linda soon located and communicated with the son of one of the fishing crew. He said he listened to the story wide-eyed as his father shared about the rescue. It is his father who took the photos and is in the photo that Linda couldn’t identify. The son told Linda that her father gave him maps, and he still has them, and agreed to send Linda one of the silk escape maps that passed from her father’s hands to his that day.
Linda will return the original letter to the Danish museum, and as all of the story had enfolded and continues to, Linda is overwhelmed to realize that the son of a Danish fisherman has something her father gave at the time of his rescue, and with its return into her hands, it is like getting a small piece of her father and his history returned to her.
Silk escape map Linda will receive from the
Danish fisherman’s son.
Photos Now Attached to U.S. Graves in Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley – POW son, Mike Woodworth – U.S.
The American Cemetery will be posting pictures of most of the Americans buried there including some children and the body of a “Red Cross Lady” turned spy. See link below:
Historic Letter Found – POW daughter, Anne Bettinger – U.S.
“I was looking at the latest issue of the newsletter (thank you for all you do!!) and wondered if you would be interested in seeing a 2-page letter my dad, George C. Bettinger, wrote to his parents after liberation at Camp Lucky Strike.
I found it buried in a box in my garage a few years ago. Pristine condition, never opened or touched since 1945 except being moved from my grandparents’ house to my folks’ house to mine at some point. I’d never seen it before. Talk about shocked!”
Letter from the Past – POW niece and author, Louise Williams – sent by POW son, Mike Netherway – Australia
“Marilyn – This was on the news a couple of days ago, and I thought you might like to see it – some interesting German images of Rusty Kierath & John Williams, shortly before their executions [after the Great Escape]. I guess the expressions on their faces say it all? The story of locating Williams’ last letter is highlighted by the story of the pilot and his ground crewman’s daughter.”
- Account of North Compound POWs’ Experiences on the March – Ed Reniere – Belgium
More on the march:
(cut and paste this link.)
With condolences to the families –
Wallace Kirkpatrick – POW daughter, Joe-Beth Kirkpatrick – Texas
Died on March 3, 2017, at the age of 96.
Wallace Kirkpatrick Postwar 1945
Kirkpatrick second from the left at Stalag Luft III
Finding his khaki blouse in a cedar chest, Wallacegrumbled when he couldn’t get it buttoned.
One is the funeral home’s obituary and the second is an article from the San Antonio Express-News because of an earlier feature story from 2015:
Arnold with Alex Jefferson at a Stalag Luft III reunion
A bright light in the Stalag Luft community has dimmed with the death of Arnold Wright, who transcribed the secret ledger from South Compound, containing over 2200 names, and put it into book form, naming it Behind the Wire. This book has been an invaluable resource for researchers, and it also helped Arnold acquire 18 Purple Hearts for Stalag Luft III POWs, including one for a dear friend of his, Tuskegee Airman, Alex Jefferson.
Arnold attended Stalag Luft III reunions for many years and counted the original Stalag Luft III Board as his best friends, including Lt. Gen. A.P. Clark. Doolittle Raider, Major General Davy Jones, was also a dear friend, as was Major General Lewis E. Lyle. Arnold knew everyone. I am one of the many who will miss his many phone calls and mailings of pictures and articles from his vast collection of material he recently donated to the A.F. Academy. Award-winning journalist, Mary Hargrove’s last article, done in cooperation with Arnold, was about the POWs at Stalag Luft III—her favorite piece she admits of her entire lifetime journalistic career. Mike Eberhardt drove to Arkansas several times just to sit and talk with Arnold. It was our joint pleasure at a Stalag Luft III Reunion to watch as Arnold was named the second recipient of the Lt. Gen. Albert P. Clark Award for Outstanding Accomplishment in Keeping the Story of Stalag Luft III Alive, presented by Lt. Gen. Clark’s daughter, Carolyn Clark Miller. Anyone who knew Arnold knew his sense of humor and love of pranks that endeared him to so many. We are all better for having known this soft-spoken and hilarious man and will miss him tremendously. Below is the text of his award that was read by Carolyn Miller for the presentation:
“I have heard a great deal about Arnold from my father and, although I had never met him in person, we have corresponded. So we have met via snail mail.
When my Dad met POW Ewell McCright, captured early in the war, he was told McCright had received some bad news in a letter from home and became despondent. As his despondency continued and grew deeper, my father recognized that he needed a meaningful diversion, so he asked Ewell to undertake the dangerous job of recording detailed information on each new American POW who entered South Compound, carefully recording each man’s name, rank, serial number, and other pertinent information, including his shoot-down history. McCright carried out this mission, scrupulously recording the information in detail for 2200 POWs. The ledgers were kept hidden from the Germans and secretly carried on the forced march in the winter of 1945, disguised as food hidden in a pair of pants draped around Ewell’s neck. He carried them 52 miles to Spremberg and onto the box cars that took him to Moosburg, Stalag VIIA, where they were nearly confiscated twice. Only a sympathetic guard in one case and a bribe to another guard in the other saved them. Eventually, the ledgers were flown back to the States, and later they were used at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.
Upon Ewell’s death, his heirs learned that he had willed this treasure trove of information to Arnold, a man whom he had never personally met, but knew by way of Arnold’s reputation and affection for WWII veterans.
Over the course of more than two and a half years, Arnold laboriously transcribed the information, and published the ledgers at his own expense, and the transcriptions became the basis of his book, “Behind the Wire.” Based on the documentation in the book describing many POWs’ injuries, this labor of love also allowed 18 former POWs to obtain well-earned Purple Hearts, including Tuskegee Airman Alex Jefferson, whom you heard earlier today, when their military records burned in a fire in the St. Louis repository. Informational books for Center, West and North Compounds followed.
The recipient of awards too numerous to name, Arnold also received the Presidential Appointment Selective Service System award in 2003, and in 2004, he received an award from VFW Post #2256 commending him on the publication of his six books, including My Country Called, which told 685 stories from Saline County, Arkansas, WWII vets, and Out of the Blue, a compilation of acts of heroism by WWII airmen.
Arnold is the first person from Arkansas to receive an Air Force Scroll of Appreciation, the highest honor given from the A.F. to civilians. As a WWII historian and author, and an honorary member of Stalag Luft III, Mr. Wright’s contribution to keeping the story of Stalag Luft III alive can only be described as outstanding.
Penn State Grant Recipient – POW daughter, Dr. Marla Okner – U.S.
This is Marla Okner, and as you can see from the “email trail” below, we briefly corresponded a couple of years ago, prior to my research trip to the Netherlands. At that time, I signed up for your Stalag Luft III newsletters, and I’ve been enjoying them ever since.
The reason I’m writing now is to thank you. It was in the March edition of your newsletter, I think, that you mentioned the Eighth AAF Archives that are housed at Penn State, and the opportunity to apply for a summer travel research grant to use those archives. I decided to apply for the grant, and I just found out yesterday that I won the award!! I’m so excited!
Thanks again for your marvelous, informative newsletter! My plans are to visit Penn State in early August, and I’ll contact you again once the trip is complete.
One Life, One Flag, One Mile – POW nephew, John Lanza – US
Book Recommendation – POW son, Mike Woodworth – US
To Kingdom Come An Epic Saga of Survival in the Air War Over Germany by Robert J. Mrazek.
Book Recommendation – POW son, Mike Eberhardt – US
I highly recommend “Given Up For Dead” by Bill Sloan. This is a riveting and exceptionally well-written account of the oft-forgotten Battle at Wake Island in the two weeks following Pearl Harbor where Americans defended this tiny atoll before finally surrendering only after inflicting enormous casualties on the Japanese invaders. Survivors then endured a POW experience worth remembrance. Bill Sloan wrote this book in 2002 when he still had personal access to many Wake Island survivors.
Corrections from last newsletter – I inadvertently left out the fact that the books being sold by Martyn Rees, son of the late RAF POW Ken Rees, are signed by Ken. So sorry.
I will need an address. Pay by PayPal using
Cost is: £20+ £5 P&P UK. Outside UK £8 P&P
Also, the second daughter of Bob Doolan, pictured with her father on his 100th birthday, is Patti Schoborg with her sister, Mary Lance
Did you Know – POW son, Mike Eberhardt – US
At one point early in the war, France had 3000 more tanks than the Germans.
As Memorial Day approaches, and we pause to pay tribute to all our wartime veterans who lost their lives, take a moment and remember the men lost on D-Day.
Remembering D-Day – 9,000 Fallen Soldiers Etched into the Sand on Normandy Beach to Commemorate Peace Day
A British artist, accompanied by numerous volunteers, has a unique way to remember those lost on D-Day. At the beaches of Normandy, with rakes and stencils in hand, the artist and volunteers etch in the sand 9,000 silhouettes representing the fallen. Titled, The Fallen 9000, the piece is meant as a stark visual reminder of those who died during the D-Day beach landings at Arromanches on June 6th, 1944, during WWII. The original team consisted of 60 volunteers, but as word spread, nearly 500 additional local residents arrived to help with the temporary installation that lasted only a few hours before being washed away by the tide.
Until next time,
Daughter of POW Thomas F. Jeffers