It was now late afternoon. A large panel truck arrived and we were loaded into the rear where we noticed several canvas stretchers and shovels, all of which were stained with dried blood. It entered my mind that we were going to be forced to dig our own graves. I am sure that the rest of the crew were not very optimistic about what was going to happen. We were taken to a field where a B-24 had crashed. We had about 5 German soldiers guarding us. One of them made me think of Napoleon. He was dressed in a very impressive uniform. Later in prison camp, I drew a picture of him from memory and still have it. We were required to gather up what was left of the bodies and carry them to a corner of the field where we covered them with the remains of a burnt parachute.
We were then driven through the farmland and stopped in front of a farmhouse where we were joined by an American officer who was determined to tell us nothing more than his name, rank and serial number. After we informed him of what we had been forced to do, he volunteered that he was a crew member on a B-24 that had crashed nearby and while in the farmhouse he had heard bombs exploding. He was the bombardier on that plane and knew that there were delayed fuses on those bombs. Even the Germans were not anxious to go near the crash site. Finally, the Napoleon decided that the bombs had all exploded and we could get on with the clean up. Upon arrival at the crash site, it was obvious that some of the bodies had been blown apart and others had been burned. It was not a pleasant smell nor was it a pleasant sight.
Being the officer in charge, I decided it was time to invoke the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Surprisingly enough, Napoleon understood the words "Geneva Convention" because he repeated them and laughed. He kept shouting a word "arbutin". I threw my shovel to the ground and said "No". He undid the flap on the gun holster and glared at me. I said "No" again. He removed the gun from the holster, cocked it, and pointed it at me. I wisely picked up the shovel, turned to the crew members, and told them to stay there while I went into the wreckage and looked over the situation. I then turned to Napoleon and requested that one of his guards go with me. He understood what I wanted and turned to one of the guards and gave him instructions. The guard did not like that at all. I walked into the center of the wreckage and was unable to determine whether or not all the bombs had exploded. From what the bombardier had told us, it had been well over two hours since the last bomb had exploded. I figured the sooner we got the job done, the better our chances of getting away from the possible danger. The crew started to work but as time went by, more and more of them got actively sick. Eventually I was alone in the center of the wreckage with my guard.
The bomber had gone in at 30 degree angle. The pilot and copilot were in their seats and the engineer was standing directly behind them. It appeared that they might have been trying to pull out of a dive. All three were badly burnt. As I tried to remove the body of one of the men, I found that I could not extract his arm. It was entangled in some metal, and without getting that person out, there was no way to get the others out. It became apparent to me and the guard at the same moment that the arm would have to be severed. He gave me a look that said "You wouldn't dare". I raised the shovel high in the air and jabbed it sharply into the arm just below the shoulder. My guard then joined the actively sick. I followed him out of the field and Napoleon decided there was no use in continuing. I don't know why I did not get sick. It might have been that I had already seen a sight similar to this. (In about 1936, an interurban train had crashed into a freight train in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Some 50 people were killed in the resulting fire. The scene and smell were very similar. I was 15 then and was very upset viewing that wreckage.)
We were then taken to an airfield where we were put into cells very much like a small jail facility. About ten o'clock in the evening, we were allowed into the center hall where the Germans had placed a table with dark bread and a jam made with beet sugar. I think I was the only one who ate an appreciable amount. Most of the crew ate nothing. I really think I was in a state of shock that continued well into the first month of prison camp.
The next morning we were joined by an American Air Force pilot. He had been shot down while on a low level strafing mission. He was captured by civilians who were very angry and accused him of killing a small child. He was very frightened because they had threatened to kill him. He was actually rescued by soldiers who eventually brought him to join us. I later tried to compare his frightening experience with my own. He was white and shaking and I had gone into shock. The circumstances where not quite the same.
We were put on a train and taken to a small town where we were allowed to leave the train and stand on the passenger loading platform. I heard someone shout "Hey Tuck". About 40 yards away was another large group of prisoners. I saw my other four crew members waving at me. I knew then that we were all alive. We reboarded the train and eventually arrived at Frankfurt where the interrogation center was located. We were herded into an open area in front of a barracks. Every few minutes, a German soldier would appear at the door and call out a name. That name was usually that of an American pilot. Very shortly after the pilot entered the barracks, the German would reappear and call the names of the crew members of that pilot. It appeared that they were using a very effective method of gaining that information. I whispered to my copilot that I would not give them any information other than my name, rank, and serial number. Soon my name was called and I entered the barracks. I was taken to a cell and locked in. There was no interrogation on that day. Later my crew informed me that shortly after I entered the barracks, the names of all my crew members were called. There did not seem to be any way that the Germans could know that we were a crew. My crew wondered how the Germans had gotten me to talk so quickly. As it was I was not even asked who I was.
Late that afternoon, I heard some German commands outside my small window. I looked out to see a squad of German soldiers with rifles, leading a blindfolded American prisoner to the far end of the building where they disappeared behind a row of bushes. There was a volley of shots. The Germans reappeared this time carrying a stretcher on which there was a covered body. Later I learned that I had witnessed a little show that was seen by many other prisoners at Dulagluft. I doubt if anyone had ever been shot there.
On the morning of the 15th of April, I was interrogated. A young German officer who, spoke very good English, asked me several questions which I answered by saying that I could not give him any information other than my name, rank, and serial number. Midway during the interrogation, he pulled out a book that looked very much like a large picture album. In that book was an aerial picture of our airbase. Sections were numbered and by the legend one could determine what was at each location. They knew right where the bomb dump was. I was surprised at how much information they had on me. They knew where I had gone to high school. They knew the number of my airplane that I flew regularly. They knew where I had trained in the United States. There were several pictures in the book. One was a picture of my commander but the caption said he was a Major. The German officer said "You might notice that he has been promoted". I had the impression that there was nothing I could tell them that they did not already know. But I also knew that they were trying to give that impression. It was a very pleasant interrogation and I was not required to give anything more than the name, rank, and serial number.
The officers and the enlisted men were then separated and sent to the various prison camps. My crewmen went to the famous Stalagluft 17B. The officers in my shipment went to Barth, Germany where Stalagluft 1 was located. We traveled north in a boxcar. Four German guards had one end of the boxcar and about 40 of us were in the other end.
There was straw on the floor and no facilities. We traveled both day and night. We arrived at Berlin one night and were taken below ground during an air raid. We must have gone 5 floors below ground to a room where there was a pot bellied stove. We huddled around that stove turning so that our front sides and back sides were warmed. You can imagine forty men trying to stay warm around one stove. No one slept that night. The next morning we were put back on the train which continued north. In order to sleep, we had to lie like sardines. If one man turned, all the rest of us turned. I was still wearing my flight slippers but some of the prisoners had shoes. One very tall American had shoes and very big feet. After being pummeled several times by those big shoes, I decided to give him a hint that I did not like it. I kicked him in the shins and woke him from a sound sleep. He sat up and tried to determine who had done it. But of course we were all asleep. It seemed to make a difference because he was more careful about where he put his feet. In order to relieve ourselves, we went to the door of the boxcar and performed.
On April 20th, we arrived at Barth only to find that the houses were decorated and the townspeople were out to meet us. It struck me as odd that they would greet us by decorating the houses but when they started to throw rotten tomatoes and eggs at us, we knew that we were not the cause of the celebration. April 20th happened to be Hitler's birthday.
At the camp, we were taken into a holding area where we were divested of our clothes and run through a debugging process. From there we were taken to an entrance area where we were greeted by the prisoners who now lived in the camp. They hollered at us and asked what the latest news was. Several of them recognized friends among our group. Suddenly a fight broke out among the group inside the fence. Two guys were really going at each other. Then we realized that it was all put on. Those two comedians put on many a show for the entire camp. Our fenced area was called North Compound 1. The south compound was primarily British some of whom had been there two or more years. My copilot who had the damaged knee was put in the South compound. My bombardier, navigator, and I were assigned to North 1. I went to a 16 man room in barracks nine. One of the first things I did was to take a shower. Nine days without a bath or a shower is just a little too long. I started my 13 month stay as a clean prisoner.