We walked across Germany
by Bill Booth

We were shot down on September 26, 1944. Our target was Hamm, and we thought it would be a milk run. Flying at 24,500 feet the hydraulic system went out and I had to hold the bomb bay doors open. At the I.P. the bombs were released. A burst of flak hit in the bomb bay. I went up to the flight deck and saw that engines 1 and 4 had been hit. We were told to hit the silk. I was not happy about jumping. I put one foot out as you would to test the temperature of the water at the beach. The fellow behind me gave me a kick in the rear and out I went - saying a prayer. Eleven men landed - one was injured. I looked for a place to hide. Wearing a heavy flying suit, heavy boots and goggles, I was rather conspicuous. I saw a haystack and tried to hide, but found the weight of the hay would not permit me to tunnel under it.

A group of young children chased me, hitting me with sticks. I was eventually captured and taken to a convent that had a Red Cross painted on the roof. The military occupied it. In a brief interrogation, I gave my name, rank and serial number. I was then turned over to a young German soldier who threw a round in his gun, and marched me out to the convent wall. I thought I was about to be shot. However, he took me through the gate and we boarded a public bus that took us to Munster airfield. I was put in a cell, with nothing to eat. A bunk with widely separated slats was covered by a mattress filled with straw. Each man was in a separate cell with a window that was up about eight feet. We could not look out, but we yelled to find out who the other prisoners were. We finally met when they put us together to feed us... barley soup, bloodwurst that was terrible and a cup of ersatz coffee made from acorns and tree bark. Also a piece of black bread so hard that you couldn't eat it.

Eventually, I found that Stalag IV at Kiefheide was to be my home. We, as Allied prisoners of war, were to live together, but to follow the rules of a foreign government - the enemy. It's difficult to recall the happenings of 1944-45. So many stories have been written, movies have been made and TV serials produced. All of them touched a little on some experiences, but not on all.

One thing should be kept in mind ... we were all members of the US Army Air Corps and we followed orders even in a prisoner of war camp. I was there from September '44 to February '45. One day we were told to prepare to evacuate the next morning. We didn't know where we were going and we didn't have any knapsacks to carry our possessions. We didn't have much, but we had an overcoat, extra pants and a shirt, a blanket and any foodstuffs we may have saved. I took a shirt, sewed the bottom closed, sewed the sleeves to the bottom and filled it to sling over my back. On the way out, on the 2nd of February, we were given a Red Cross parcel which weighed ten pounds. It didn't seem like much, but in our condition it felt mighty heavy. We started on our march with no idea of where we were going. We just plodded along. The first day we walked approximately 32 kilometers and ended up at a barn where we were given a hatful of potatoes. We didn't have any mess gear, so managed as best we could. After a while, we wised up and used an empty KLIM can both for food and water when it was available. After having the potatoes we were directed to a barn where there was a mad dash for sleeping space in the hay, both in the loft and below. A slit trench was dug outside for our convenience, but to get to it necessitated crawling over your fellow POWs and since they weren't very pleasant about it, we just made a hole in the hay, relieved ourselves, covered it and went back to sleep. Each day was worse than the day before. We had dysentery and scabies.

The lice were horrendous. We drank water from ditches and any other source available. We received three potatoes a day. No morning coffee, no afternoon beverage, but a great many anxious moments. We tried to dry out horse manure hoping we could smoke it.

We slept in fields in the snow and rain. We weren't permitted to build fires. Imagine walking along with wet pants chafing your legs, a water-soaked Army overcoat, a water-soaked blanket and wet feet in shoes and socks that had not been removed since you couldn't remember when. We picked lice from our clothing for days. As for the scabies, we brought them home with us. We walked back and forth across Germany not knowing what day it was.

At times we were given small farm wagons to carry our sick. The most ever accommodated was thirty-five men, but we had hundreds of men on the verge of collapse. It was our practice to load the wagon. As a man collapsed, he would be put on the wagon and a sick man would be taken off to make way for his exhausted comrade. When our column would near a permanent POW camp we were allowed to send our sickest men there and the rest of our column marched on. It was common, despite the hardship, for the men to drag themselves along in spite of pain and intense suffering.

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