Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Former POWs to be Honored


These men will be honored by their children in a reenactment of the forced march of POWs from Stalag Luft III that began on Jan. 27th, 1945. The 16 "Kriegie Kids" will also begin their march from Zagan, Poland to Spremberg, Germany on Jan. 27th in 2009. Stay tuned for updates on their progress! Brief bios of these brave men are included below. If you have another former Stalag Luft III POW that you would like to acknowledge, please reply to this post.

Capt. Edward M. Bender – B-17G Pilot, 457th Bomb Group, 750th Squadron, based at Glatton, England. On his 13th mission on April 25, 1944, the borrowed plane he was flying went down near La Goulafriere, Eure, France (original target Nancy-Essey, France; group commander insisted that they head for a ‘target of opportunity’ to the submarine pens at Lorient, France). Captured by a unit of Hitler’s teenaged ‘crack babies’ and interrogated at Dulag Luft, Oberursel, Germany, about three miles from where his great grandfather lived prior to coming to the U.S. in 1838. Sent to Stalag Luft III, West Compound, Block 158, Combine 13. Force marched in January, 1945 to Stalag XIII-D and then in April to Stalag VII-A, from where he was liberated by Gen. Patton’s army on April 29, 1945. He is publishing his memoirs as “Lest They Forget Freedom’s Price: Memoirs of a WWII Bomber Pilot.” Native of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Retired from the Reserves as a Lt. Col. He is very excited to watch the progress of the forced march reenactment this January. ˇ

Lt. James Arnett Gore - B-17 Navigator, 379th Bomb Group, 524th Squadron, based at Kimbolton (England). Shot down June 25, 1943, over Hamburg, Germany. SLIII South Compound, Block 139, Combine 3. James Gore lives in Durango Colorado with his wife of 63 years. He is 91 and is excited about the forced march reenactment trip to be completed by the children of SLIII POWs (a.k.a., "Kriegies"). He went back to Stalag Luft III in 2005 with his family and drove the march route. He looks forward to hearing about the adventure.

Lt. James H. Keeffe, Jr. - Seattle, WA. B-24 co-pilot with the Lt. James McArthur crew, 566th Bomb Squadron, 389th Bomb Group. Based at Hethel, East Anglia, England near Norwich. Shot down the 8th of March, 1944 on 4th mission - target Berlin. Bailed out over Papendrecht, Holland and evaded with the Dutch underground for five months in Rotterdam, Holland. While on his way to France, he was betrayed to the German Intelligence Service in Antwerp, Belgium and sent to Stalag Luft III in August, 1944, where he was put into Center Compound, Block 43, Combine 7. Evacuated with the reset of Stalag Luft III, 27th of January, 1945 and marched 52 miles and then transported in box cars to Moosburg, Bavaria, to Stalag VIIA. Liberated on the 29th of April, 1945. Currently residing in Bellevue, WA, at age 85. He thinks we are crazy to do this march in winter - but he is also quite proud and touched that we are.

2nd Lt. Thomas Conway Leary - P-51 pilot, 2nd Fighter Squadron, 52nd Fighter Group, 15th Air Force, based in Madna, Italy. Shot down over Seregeles, Hungary, October 14, 1944. Belaria Compound. Native of Kansas City, Missouri.

2nd Lt Charles W. Arnett – B-24 Pilot, 492nd Bomb Group, 857th Squadron, stationed at North Pickenham (England). Shot down on 3rd mission over Brunswick, Germany, May 19, 1944. SLIII West Compound, Block 166, Combine 13. Won the lottery which got him a seat on the very first plane evacuating the American POWs from Moosburg. Retired as a Lt. Col.

2nd Lt. Thomas F. Jeffers – Bombardier, 458th Bomb Group, 754th Squadron, flying out of Horsham St. Faith, England. He was shot down on his third mission to Fassberg, Germany, flying in a borrowed B-24 called Rhapsody in Junk. He flew out early that morning knowing that all his roommates had been killed the day before over Caen, France, flying in his crew's plane that they had borrowed. Jeffers was picked up in a farmer's field in Blick, Germany, a tiny farming community not far from the hometown of several of his wife's relatives. Nine of his crew survived, but the top turret gunner was found dead on the ground and was buried in a German cemetery. Jeffers was transported to Stalag Luft III and lived in Block 128, Combine 5. While there, his first child was born. He was later liberated at Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, Germany. He went on to be a career Air Force officer, retiring as a Lt. Col. He died June 24th, 2004. Jeffers is the subject of his daughter Marilyn Walton's book, Rhapsody in Junk: A Daughter's Return to Germany to Finish Her Father's Story.

Vernon Burda – B-24 Navigator, 781st Bomb Squadron, 15th Air Force, stationed at Pantenella (Italy). Shot down on his 30th mission over Vienna, Austria, July 16, 1944. SLIII Center Compound, Block 43, Combine 7.

Lt. Morris F. Epps - B-24 Liberator bombardier, 448th Bomb Group, 714th Squadron, served with “The Mighty Eighth” out of Seething, East Anglia, England. On his fifth mission (June 18, 1944) his plane was shot down over Hamburg, Germany. He was captured by the Luftwaffe, taken to Dulag Luft and then to Stalag Luft III where he was placed in the South Compound, Barrack 128, Combine 13. On January 27, 1945, he was in ill health when the South Compound was ordered to lead a forced evacuation of Stalag Luft III. After marching 35 miles in 27 hours, his section rested in a glass factory in Muskau and then departed, leaving the sick behind with the West Compound men. He later moved to a pottery factory, a paper factory, and finally to another pottery factory where he joined the men of Center Compound with whom he completed the fifty-two mile march and the subsequent 72-hour boxcar ride. His journey ended at Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, where he stayed until liberated on April 29, 1945. After liberation, he returned home to his wife in Knoxville, Tennessee. He sought a life of helping others and began a career in education after college, working in Virginia and New Jersey. He dearly loved teaching and spent several years in the classroom. Afterwards, he served in a number of administrative leadership positions, including superintendent of schools.

It is with a grateful heart that Epps’ daughter acknowledges the following fellow Kriegies who shared the POW experience with him and who (after Epps’ death in 1998) helped her to deepen her understanding of the experiences that molded her father into the special individual he became. Of particular help were Harold Garman (Center Compound), Chuck Conner, Bud Hinckley, Alexander Jefferson, Charles Woehrle, Chuck Yant (all of South Compound), and those who attended the 2005 POW reunion in Tucson.


7 comments:

BetweenTheClouds said...

Another former POW to be honored:
Harlan R. (Jake) Hill –
Tail Gunner, 348th Bomb Squadron, 99th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, based in Foggia, Italy. Aircrew pilot was First Lt. Harry Ernst. Their crew flew 27 missions. On July 24, 1944, on a mission to Turin, Italy, their B-17’s engines caught fire and all bailed out north of Genoa. The entire crew survived the war. Jake and 4 others of his crew spent the next three months evading capture, working their way back through the Apennine Mountains toward the German/Allied front north of Florence. The Italian Partisans helped them in many ways with food, shelter, and guides. They attempted to cross the front on Oct. 19, 1944 but three of the four were captured by the Germans. Jake entered Stalag Luft III as one of 300 enlisted men sent to the camp to assist with camp work in late 1944. He was assigned to West Camp, block 167, room eight. When the camp was evacuated, he was sent to Nuremberg. On April 12, he was among those who marched a second time to Moosburg and celebrated liberation on April 29, 1945. He came home, married and raised 3 children. He is living with his wife of 62 years in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Rhonda Phillips said...

Miriam,
I just read through this website honoring these wonderful men. I will be checking in here to see news of the reenactment. I wish I could shake hands with these men and tell them how much they are loved for their fight for freedom in this world. God bless them all and thank you for sharing important history with us.

mfcobb said...

Sgt. Fred (Itz) J. Hallabrin--of the 82nd Airborne, HQ Co. 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment--was my uncle. In dedication as Fred’s niece, I’m entering this information on behalf of Debbie—Fred’s daughter--and my self. Fred was captured on July 14, 1943 in Sicily during Operation Husky One. “Fred was captured by German heavy artillery while attempting to destroy emplacements.” This quoted info. is from Behind the Wire, South Compound, Stalag Luft III (SL3) with many thanks to 2nd Lt. Ewell McCright and Arnold Wright. Fred was a German speaker and when he was captured, the German in charge asked if any one spoke German. Fred kept silent. He wanted to see what the Germans were up to before he let them know he spoke German. The German in charge said, no prisoners, shoot them all. Fred spoke up immediately in German and told them they had to abide by the Geneva Conventions and take them prisoner. Amazingly the Germans did take Fred and his fellow captives’ prisoner. My uncle’s ability to speak German saved his life and others that day and would serve him well during his 22 months as a POW.

Everything I know about Fred’s time as a POW comes from several years of research and family history. Fred went through interrogation before being sent to SL3 Fred made friends with some of the guards and bartered for food and medicine with cigarettes. The whole family pooled their cigarette ration cards and mailed Fred cigarettes, I believe, via the Red Cross. Fred was in the South Compound but I don’t know his Barrack and Combine numbers. Before he made the march Jan. 27, 1945--a guard who knew Fred didn’t have any boots--found a pair and gave them to Fred. Since Fred was in the South Compound, he was in that first group to march out of the camp. From Spremberg Fred was taken to Stalag XIIID at NurnBerg. According to my research he never went to Moosburg. After Fred was liberated, he spent time in one of the “cigarette” camps and then came back to the USA, June 1, 1945 aboard the Admiral Benson—Port of Arrival, NY, NY. Fred worked in construction after his return to the USA and started a POW (Kriegies) Club in Mansfield, Ohio. He was killed in a car accident in Feb. 1955. His daughter was only six years old when he died and knew nothing of her father’s time as a POW and his service to America. Our thanks to all of you who are making this commemorative march today--Jan 27, 2009—the 64th Anniversary--The Road from Sagan. God bless all who served and died to protect us. We can never repay your debt of service.

mfcobb said...

HONORING ANOTHER: Sgt. Fred (Itz) J. Hallabrin--of the 82nd Airborne, HQ Co. 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment--was my uncle. As Fred’s niece I'm entering this info. on behalf of Debbie—Fred’s daughter--and my self. Fred was captured on July 14, 1943 in Sicily during Operation Husky One. “Fred was captured by German heavy artillery while attempting to destroy emplacements.” This quoted information is from Behind the Wire, South Compound, Stalag Luft III (SL3) with many thanks to 2nd Lt. Ewell McCright and Arnold Wright. Fred was a German speaker and when he was captured, the German in charge asked if any one spoke German. Fred kept silent. He wanted to see what the Germans were up to before he let them know he spoke German. The German in charge said, "no prisoners, shoot them all." Fred spoke up immediately in German and told them they had to abide by the Geneva Conventions and take them prisoner. Amazingly the Germans did take Fred and his fellow captives’ prisoner. My uncle’s ability to speak German saved his life and others that day and would serve him well during his 22 months as a POW.

Everything I know about Fred’s time as a POW comes from several years of research and family history. Fred went through interrogation before being sent to SL3. Fred made friends with some of the guards and bartered for food and medicine with cigarettes. The whole family pooled their cigarette ration cards and mailed Fred cigarettes, I believe, via the Red Cross. Fred was in the South Compound but unfortunately I don’t know his Barrack and Combine numbers. Before he made the march Jan. 27, 1945--a guard who knew Fred didn’t have any boots--found a pair and gave them to Fred. Since Fred was in the South Compound, he was in that first group to march out of the camp and make a trail through the snow for the rest of the SL3 men that followed. From Spremberg Fred was taken to Stalag XIIID at Nurnberg. According to my research he was never went to Moosburg. After Fred was liberated, he spent time in one of the “cigarette” camps and then came back to the USA, June 1, 1945 aboard the Admiral Benson—Port of Arrival, NY, NY. Fred worked in construction after his return to the USA and started a POW (Kriegies) Club in Mansfield, Ohio. He was killed in a car accident in Feb. 1955. His daughter was only six years old when he died and knew nothing of her father’s time as a POW and his service to America. Our thanks to all of you who are making this commemorative march on the 64th anniversary of The Road from Sagan. God bless all those who serve and die to protect us. We can never repay our debt for your service and sacrifice.

mfcobb said...

ONE MORE STALAG LUFT III POW TO BE HONORED: During my research I had the good fortune to meet Corbin Willis Jr. Corbin was a 21 yr old 2nd Lt, a co-pilot on a B-17E (486th Bomb Group, 832 Bomb Squad) on his 22nd mission when his plane lost two engines due to enemy fire. When the plane lost a third engine, the decision to bail out was made. Corbin’s complete story is included in the Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Corbin, his story, and his daughter Carrie were featured on the 2006 National Memorial Day Concert* in Washington, D.C. His story was told by the actor Charles Durning, also a WWII veteran.

*NOTE: While watching the concert, I discovered Corbin was a POW in Stalag Luft III, South Compound. This was the same compound as my uncle, Fred J. Hallabrin, paratrooper. I found that Corbin lived about 25 mins. from me. Corbin is a gracious man and didn’t hesitate to say yes when I asked if I might visit him. I took a photo of my uncle, and although Corbin didn’t remember my uncle, he filled me in on life in SL3. Corbin gave me permission to have him included and honored on The March From Sagan. (Forgive me, I would have entered this sooner but have been a bit under the weather.)

This is just a short, incomplete sketch of Corbin’s time as a POW. If you Google his name, it will take you to the Veterans History Project, etc., and many of the details. He was captured Nov. 2, 1944. Corbin told me that he is 6 ft, 1 inch and still weighs the same today as when he was captured. During his time as a POW, he lost between 40-50 lbs. On January 27 when the camp was evacuated, Corbin was with the first group out—South Compound. When the group was separated at Spremberg, he went to the camp at Moosberg.

April 28 1945, General Patton liberated Moosberg. But, as Corbin said, “. . .liberation didn’t come cheap, for many POWs died in the fighting to take over the Camp. . ." After Moosberg was liberated, the POWs were in a terribly starved condition. At first the military authorities thought they could let the men eat what they wanted but many of the men were killing themselves with food. Corbin along with the other POWs were relocated to a place where their diet could be controlled. There the men had a diet of rice—eggs in rice, cheese in rice, tomatoes in rice, etc. Rice was the easiest food to digest. It also began to slowly expand their stomachs.

When Corbin was returned to the States, he tried to call his wife but her phone was disconnected, and he couldn’t reach her. He then called his parents and discovered that his wife and his parents had been told he was dead. His wife had remarried and was expecting a child with her new husband. Corbin said after going through the war, being a POW, and all the awful hardships that entailed; he was not prepared for the shock of losing his wife. He went through a period of heartbreak and grief. Corbin had to divorce his wife so she could remarry the father of her child.

With that part of his life gone Corbin decided to continue flying. He went on to fly 57 combat missions in Korea. He was a Flight leader and test pilot. Later he flew B-29 bombers, KE-97 tankers, F121 Fairchild transports, and C54s. He had 3300 hours of flying training and combat. Corbin did marry again and with his new wife Margaret raised a family—one girl and three boys. Corbin retired with the rank of Major from the USAF on Feb. 28, 1961, at the age of 38 yrs.

A few years ago Corbin’s 2nd wife died. Yet, throughout his life he's been a man of great spirit and courage. He shares his story at schools with young people, etc. He keeps busy and he exercises daily. He's done some lovely paintings. He is a delightful gentleman with a keen sense of humor. I am very proud to know him.

Submitted with Corbin’s permission,

Marcia Fay Cobb
Newberg, OR

P.S. I apologize for the duplicate entry of my Uncle Fred J. Hallabrin's POW info. I had never blogged before and didn't think my first try went through.

C. Casey said...

My Great-Uncle, James Goins, [458thBG / 754th Sq (Bomb Totin' Mama)] radioman/gunner, was part of the surviving crew that was shot down on this date (Easter Sunday 4/9/44). He was first at LS III then transferred to LS XVII B. I was given some artifacts by him prior to his death and recently have been given some other materials that I will share @ the 458th website.

A Documentary Film said...

Hi, Great blog, very interesting.

I'm looking for people to submit short tributes to USAAF veterans maybe you'd like to take part? More info here http://happywarriors.co.uk/create-a-tribute

There's plenty of material here for a number of tributes. I'm aiming to gather info on 30 veterans and have nearly 20. I would be particularly interested in the story of Lt. Morris Epps as he was 448th BG. Though any would be good as i do not have any tributes to POWs.

Kind Regards,
Evan