A soldier's story: Part 2

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:56

    Editor's note: It will be 60 years this March when Harvey S. Horn and members of his bomber squadron were shot down and captured by the Germans in the waning days of World War II. In last week's first installment, Horn, now a Monroe resident, described the events leading up to his capture. In this week's account, Horn recounts his captivity, then liberation. It is a reminder that war, all war, is a test of the human spirit. By Harvey S. Horn It was die worst day of my life. The closet was about two feet wide by five feet long and had a very high ceiling. There was nothing but bare walls. I thought I saw a shaft of light high up at one end of the closet. I looked for a way to reach it but it was to high up. I laid down on the cold cement floor and tried to get as comfortable as I could. I recalled everything that happened to me. I thought of my parents. Would I ever see them again. I was concerned that they would not find out about what the Germans would do me. There as no toilet facilities. I called out for a toilet break, but no one answered. I did the next best thing in the corner of the space farthest from where I was curled up. Somehow I dozed off. I never thought about being captured and that being Jewish could put me in mortal danger. After much agonizing, I decided to tell them that I am Jewish. They would have known anyway as Jewish soldiers have an H on their dog tags. The German officer said that American Jews were different from European Jews. Fortunately for me, the Germans were losing the war. The Germans wanted to know everything about our Bomber group. They asked where were we based, how many planes, and so on. I maintained the standard answer, name, rank and serial number. Since they already knew our squadron number from the tail markings they didn't press further. After a day and a half, I was returned to the cell. Word had passed that American flyers were being held prisoners. We were held on the ground floor with only a window placed high on the wall. The partisans sent food down to us. The Germans fed us cabbage soup and hard black bread, twice a day. I was not treated any differently than the other crew members. The road to Udine, then Verona On April 12, we got word that President Roosevelt died. The entire prison was saddened. The Italian partisans let us know how sorry they were. The partisans were treated brutally by the Germans. We heard that some were hanged with a meat hook. A few days later we traveled by trolley, truck and foot to Udine, a city northeast, of Trieste. We were held in the barracks at Basaldella, outside of Udine. Sergeant Hasselmann was in charge of the squad that was assigned to guard us. Herb Stover recalls a B24 Liberator Bomber flying very low over the barracks. Hasselmann yelled for us to take cover. The Germans anti-aircraft guns opened fire. We were later told that the crew bailed out. From Udine, we walked and rode to a German Airfield in Verona, Italy. There, I saw the first German jets - piloted by 16-year-old cadets. From what I could tell, they had only two or three jets. The Germans did not engage our P47s, P38s or P51s. Later, when I was in Stalag 13D, I met some POWs that were shot down by German jets. We were fortunate that the war was ending as these planes could have prolonged it. We were separated - the officers in one group and the others split up into two others. We were headed for Germany to a prisoner of war camp. We went by a combination of walking, truck rides, wagons and train. We were forced to carry heavy suitcases loaded with grain for the Germans. Many times we had to take cover in the woods as our fighters were out hitting "anything that moves." The fighter pilots did not know we were American POWs. By then, all of us had very swollen feet because of the felt flying shoes, except for Loren who had held onto his GI boots. On one of the train rides, passing through the Brenner Pass, we were in a compartment with a German major. He had a scar across his right cheek and wore a monocle, just like out of a storybook. He implored us (Americans) to fight the Russians. There were almost tears in his eyes from the fear of the Russians taking over Germany. The Germans had committed atrocious acts against the Russians and had every right to fear them. Because of our policy of "hitting anything that moves," the train engines were put into the tunnels to protect them from strafing from Allied fighter planes. Once, we were stopped because there was strafing action going on. I was sitting in a train car, with Loren facing John and me when we heard the roar of plane engines. Loren looked and gasped. We all dove out of the open window and ran as fast as we could into the tunnel. Just over the top of the tunnel a P47 dipped its wings and, fortunately for us, held his fire. We passed through the Brenner Pass and into Austria. This was a major marshalling yard. Our bombers hit this target many times. The Germans were ingenious. After a bombing raid, they had a train running in 20 minutes. You could easily tell that you were in Austria. The farms had a different look to them. They were well manicured, green, orderly in Germanic style. The barn designs were different than the Italians barns. At the border area, there were few signs of the war. Life seemed to go on as it had been for centuries. By this time we had become somewhat friendly with our guards. We actually sang songs together like Lillie Marlene as we sat on the back of a cart. The guards were old enough to be our fathers. They had been fighting on the Russian front and were tired and discouraged about the war and what they were fighting for. We were happy to have them as guards as the civilian population did not like American flyers. We bombed their cities and factories into rubble. Back in Foggia, we heard stories of crews bailing out and being beaten to death by the townsfolk. Arriving in Munich We arrived in late afternoon in Munich and were taken to a large hotel. The city was almost completely destroyed by the constant bombings - the Americans by day and the British at night. As we were taken to a kitchen for dinner, sirens went off warning of another raid. We rushed down into the sub cellar. The ground shook as the bombs fell. I remember lying on the cold tile floor during the raid. A huge Arab man dressed in Mufti with a handlebar type moustache stood over me, staring down, with open hatred in his eyes. He had the blackest eyes I have ever seen. The attack lasted about 30 minutes. After the "all clear" was sounded, we went upstairs to spend the night to sleep. The next morning, we were on the road again walking north toward Nuremberg. My feet was severely blistered and I had to hobble along to keep pace with the others. We entered Nuremberg that night. The city, like Munich, was almost totally devastated from the bombing raids. When it rained, there were very few houses that had rooms that were dry. Our guards said goodbye and went to find their families and homes. We were taken to Stalag 13D. This was my home until April 27. I was given a Red Cross care package that had powdered milk, chocolate, tins of spam and beans and a can opener. I still have that can opener attached to my dog tags. Trading for food was common. I learned how to make an "energy" bar from powdered milk, cocoa and everything else. It had the effect of a "power bar" the weight lifters use. I found a Serbian doctor who cut open the "silver dollar" blisters on my feet. It was sheer agony. I stayed off my feet, letting the air and heat heal them. Someone found a pair of GI boots. It took a few days before I was able to put them on. About the 27th of April, the siege of Nuremberg started. The Third Army under General Hodges was coming south in a three pronged offensive. The only way for the Germans to retreat was south toward Munich. For some unexplained reason, the Germans decided to march 11 flying officers out of camp, guarded by a colonel, a captain and 17 enlisted men. That night we started walking down the road to Munich. We could hear the shelling of the city. American and German planes were above us in the dark. Tracer bullets were flying all over. I could distinguish the aircraft by the sound of the engine. After about two hours, I collapsed from the pain in my blistered feet. The guards prodded me to walk. A French airman told the guards "you can shoot him, or leave him, but he cannot go on." Fortunately, the colonel and the captain had left the group. The senior enlisted man decided to head for a farm close by and take cover. I was able to limp along and we shortly reached the farmhouse. The German farmer and his wife let us in and gave us food. We convinced the guards to give themselves up as the war. We said we would tell the Army that they weren't the SS and that they were only following orders. They would be fed and would be well cared for. They agreed to surrender. Liberation We could see the German Army retreating (those were the diehard SS-type soldiers). We made a dash for the barn and hid under the hay in the loft. We could hear the Germans. Several came into the barn and poked around in the hay with their bayonets. Luckily, no one was hurt. After they left, we went back to the farmhouse and went into the wine cellar. That night the 86th Blackhawk Tank Division of the Third Army shelled the nearby town and crossroads. The pounding was so severe we thought the ceiling would cave in. We put our hands over our heads in a vain attempt to support the ceiling. About 5 a.m., the shelling stopped. We came up from the cellar. We could see dust swirls approaching. Then the American tanks came over the crest of the hill. What a fantastic sight. Someone tied a white cloth to a pitchfork and ran out waving it as hard as he could. The tankers sent a squad to check us out. On April 28, 1945, I became a prisoner of war of the American Army. The German guards were turned over to the Army with a recommendation from our group that they should be cared for. We stayed with the 86th for several days until we were cleared to return to active duty. We told the intelligence officers everything we had seen in our travels into Germany. I was able to type a letter to my folks and to send them a telegram telling them that I was alive and well. The 86th was quartered in an old castle. The third and fourth floors were stocked with all kinds of artwork, silks and silverware confiscated by the Germans. I found several pairs of silk stockings that came in handy when we got to Paris. We received "open orders" and were sent to Weisbaden to catch an Army C47 to Paris. We flew at 500 feet in the worst possible weather. The birds wouldn't fly in this weather; in spite of this, we arrived safely. Paris was wonderful but I didn't fully appreciate this beautiful city. I was anxious to get home. Next stop was Dieppe where we caught a ship to Dover, then to London, where I met several POW's from Stalag 13D. They told me that the day I left, the Germans shelled the camp. Germany officially surrendered on May 8, 1945. Words cannot describe the joy and happiness of the people of London. It was a day and night to remember. We left for Southampton to board the Grisphohn and sail for home. It was the last official convoy to leave England. Into New York harbor Almost all the men and women on board were POW's or very seriously wounded. On the last night out, as we lay off the entrance to New York Bay, the ship's lights were turned on. In the morning, we sailed into the lower New York harbor. As we passed the Statue of Liberty there was a hush throughout the ship. I looked at the Lady and said, "Thank God, I'm home." As we sailed up the Hudson River, everyone started to cheer. Our ship docked at a pier somewhere in the forties. We were not allowed to go ashore so we called to the people on the pier to call our families. Later, we were taken to Fort Dix, N.J., for reassignment. During a physical examination, the ophthalmologist found a small scar in the cornea of my right eye. It may have been caused by a piece of flak. However, I was declared fit for duty and I was assigned to a B29 Bomber Group in Montana. I was given a 60-day leave. While on leave, the A Bomb was dropped. It was Aug. 6, 1945. The war in the Pacific would soon be over. Upon my return to Fort Dix, a point system was posted for separation from service. POWs received additional points. I had enough points to be discharged. I was also on the promotion list. If I accepted a promotion, I would not have enough points for discharge. It was an easy decision. I received an honorable discharge from the Army Air Corps on Aug. 11,1945. It is a tribute to the Army Air Corps training and conditioning program that I was able to survive a ditching of "Pretty Baby's Boys," walking through Italy, Austria and Germany, solitary confinement and the emotional and physical stress of being a Prisoner of War. It was an experience I would not have missed.