6:02 | The Russians were close enough that the American POW's could hear the fire in the distance. Their guards roused them all and put them on the road in a forced march, leaving their camp in Poland and heading for Germany. It was seventy nine days of freezing cold out in the open, with very little food. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
Keywords : Jack Lemonds Prisoner Of War (POW) Russian guards Stalag Luft 4 Stalag 4 death march frostbite snow cold Robert McMillan Les Eggleston watch bread
Jack Lemonds was drafted in 1943 and headed to the luckiest basic training site of the war, Miami Beach. That was the place where Army Air Corps recruits began their journey. A year later, he took his first ride in a B-24 Liberator. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
As a group of new B-24 crews readied to make the flight to England, one of them crashed into a mountain in New Hampshire. Undeterred, waist gunner Jack Lemonds and a host of others donned their heated suits and made the long, cold flight. They didn't know it yet, but their first mission would be on the the most important day of the war. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
They were anxious. The first mission for many of the B-24 crews in England was D-Day. Waist gunner Jack Lemonds was awed by the spectacle of hundreds of ships bombarding the Normandy shore as he flew towards France. Later, when the enormous cost in lives became known, he felt fortunate to have been in the air, not on the ground. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
After a three day pass to London, B-24 crew member Jack Lemonds returned to his base to find out a good friend's crew had been shot down. No one knew if they survived, but, through a twist of fate, he would see his friend again. He remembers a mission of his own that was particularly hazardous due to a swarm of German fighters. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
Jack Lemonds was over Braunschweig, Germany when his B-24 was split in two by flak. As others in the plane succumbed to flames, he managed to tumble out, attaching his parachute as he fell. In the front half of the plane, the pilot struggled in vain to control the descent until the whole thing blew. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
As he floated to the ground after bailing out, Jack Lemonds looked up and saw the B-24's make their turn to head back to England. What would happen to him, he wondered? As he gathered his chute, three German farmers tried to do him in, but he was saved by an enemy soldier. It would not be the last time. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
His German captors took care of his wounds and then Jack Lemonds was taken to Frankfurt for interrogation. The officer who questioned him was the spitting image of a post war cinema stereotype. All he got was name, rank and serial number. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
The first POW camp was near the French border, but when the Allies began to push across France, Jack Lemonds and many others were moved to another camp up in Poland. On the way, he saw the terrific devastation Allied bombing had caused all across Germany. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
After a forced march of at least 500 miles through Poland and Germany, the POW's reached the Elbe River. There, the guards made the decision to surrender when they saw the American forces on the other bank. Jack Lemonds had survived and, in a nearby office building, picked up a memento that marks his liberation day. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
What was it like coming under fire for the first time? Jim Denninghoff answers that question and describes the push into Germany that had become inevitable. The Germans had one more trick up their sleeve, though, and when the Battle of the Bulge started further north, his line was thinned out to send reinforcements. Then the battle came to him.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
Once he crossed the Rhine, his unit had to fight city to city to make it's way toward Berlin. Jim Denninghoff was in Heilbronn, where the Germans were putting up stiff resistance. Through an odd turn of events he wound up covered in molasses and it saved his life.
Times were tough when Henry Rice was a kid. He got along, though, and he had a good time hitchhiking around Texas and sneaking into Mexico. He joined the Army on a lark in 1940 with two buddies and, after the war started, they volunteered for the infantry. Wait, we're doing what?
During the push into Germany, Jim Denninghoff was assigned, with some other GI's from across the regiment, to retrieve bodies from the field. At first it wasn't too bad, since everything was still frozen, but when the spring thaw came, the job got more gruesome. Once, as he went about his task in the dark, he ran into a German patrol.
He had the points so he was heading home. Henry Rice took a train to Camp Lucky Strike, where he and his buddy ran the games of chance. Only one problem, how to get that cash back to the States. When he got there, he got out, got married, got a job, got bored and got back in the Army.
Finally it was his time to cross the English Channel. It wasn't wide, but it was still the ocean, so when Harry Scroggs climbed down that long rope ladder, the landing craft was bobbing and bumping against the ship. The Allies had pushed inland, so he didn't get shot at when he was setting up his communications equipment.
Did he ever have any close calls? Jim Denninghoff sure did and he describes the machine gun fire and the artillery barrages that he survived. Once, when the artillery shells began to fall, he dove for the nearest cover, which happened to be fairly disgusting. Then there were those tiny land mines made of wood.
He had a scholarship to the University of Georgia, but he gave it up to help his sick parents run the family farm. In 1942, his country needed him more, so Harry Scroggs was drafted and went off to basic training. Somehow he wound up going through basic again at a different camp.
Henry Rice was a soldier in a support role when the war started, but he switched to the infantry and joined the combat just as the Allies were storming into Germany itself. He was surprised when they stopped short of Berlin and then he found out why. His unit went to Bavaria, which was good duty. Just don't get caught with the local girls.
While still training stateside, Harry Scroggs was put in the communications section. His job was setting up and running telephones and switchboards in the field. He tells how he got the nickname Scrappy, and he describes how the communications section connected the spotter and the artillery battery.
After they took the town of Heilbronn, there wasn't much opposition left for Jim Denninghoff's unit. German soldiers were surrendering by the hundreds and he remembers one particular teenager who had been pressed into service by the SS.
After war maneuvers, Harry Scroggs was sent home for a leave and when he got back, his unit was gone to Europe. He continued training while D-Day was successfully executed and, eventually, he headed across the Atlantic on the RMS Queen Elizabeth. Then, in England, he prepared to cross the Channel.
There was no evasive action on a bomb run. You had to come in straight and level and stay in formation for the sake of the targeting. At least you didn't usually have to worry about the flak in transit because it was concentrated around the target. Richard Lewis remembers once, though, when the they heard the boom, boom over a forest.
Jim Denninghoff tells the story of the incident which got him a Bronze Star recommendation. His job was body retrieval, which could be very dangerous as it required him to maneuver near the enemy lines. After the war, he had occupation duty, first in a small town and then in Frankfurt at SHAEF headquarters.
At the end of his last bombing mission, Richard Lewis buzzed the tower. What could they do? He was going home. They made an instructor out of him for a while, but he had enough points for discharge, so he was out before VJ Day. He stayed in the reserve so he could still fly Uncle Sam's planes.
As a non-commissioned officer, POW Hank Freedman was not required to work. The privates and PFC's were not so lucky. Many died laboring for the Germans. He never received the Red Cross packages he was due, though they did visit the camp. Those were good days. Extra rations.
Jim Denninghoff graduated high school in 1943 and was part of the Army Specialized Training Program which put recruits in college to study engineering. Manpower was needed on the battlefields of Europe, so he was made into an infantryman and, after a miserable Atlantic crossing, he entered the fray.
As he was driving his truck full of communications gear forward into Germany, Harry Scroggs heard and felt the bullet from a sniper go right through the cab in front of his nose. He squeezed down into his seat and hit the gas. When he got to his destination, he heard devastating news about his lieutenant.
The Marseille harbor was full of scuttled French ships when Jim Denninghoff arrived to join the push on Germany. After his unit had taken several small towns and suffered it's first casualties, he came to a sobering realization about his chances of making it out alive. It was also a memorable moment when he saw his first dead German soldier.