Saturday, February 07, 2009

Side Trip to Lubin - One POW Left Behind

The January, 1944 burial of Lt. Sconiers. Gen. Clark is in the foreground on the right.
An hour away from Stalag Luft III is the small town of Lubin, Poland. Besides accompanying my fellow Kriegie Kids on the march and trip through Germany and Poland, I had one other “mission.” After some years of research, I became aware of one POW left behind. This POW was Lt. Ewart Sconiers, formerly of South Compound, where my own father had resided. Ewart has a fascinating, yet poignant, story. He washed out of pilot training during the war because he could not manage to land the big bombers. After he washed out, he became, like my father, a bombardier. On one of his missions, his co-pilot was killed and his pilot was very badly burned. Ewart was called up to the cockpit, and he soon realized that the only way the rest of the crew would be saved was if he took over and flew the crippled B-24 back across the English Channel and landed it. That is exactly what he did, landing at my father’s base at Horsham St. Faith. For that bravery, Ewart was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and he also received a purple heart. FDR mentioned Ewart in one of his Fireside Chats.

On a later mission, Ewart’s plane was shot down, and he became a POW at Stalag Luft III. One day while walking on the icy circuit, he fell and hit his ear on a jagged tree stump. Infection set in, and because his ear problem was left untreated, he experienced more serious medical problems that eventually led to him displaying symptoms of mental illness. His fellow kriegies tried to protect him from the guards, but one day when the men were outside, the guards came into his barrack and took him away. The Germans, rather than repatriating him, removed him from the camp and sent him to a mental hospital in Lubin. The next day, Ewart was dead. Some Germans said he had a heart attack, and other Germans said he died of pneumonia. The kriegies did not believe either was the cause of his death.

On Jan. 29th,1944, a contingent of Senior American Officers, including then Col. A.P. Clark, “Padre Mac,” the well-loved Scottish chaplain, Col. “Rojo”Goodrich, and Lt. Stenstrom who had been on Sconiers’ crew, road on the train with their deceased friend to Lubin and buried him in a small cemetery there. The Germans encased his wooden casket in an elaborate metal covering that the SAOs carried to the cemetery. The wooden casket, which had been covered with an American flag, was then lowered into the ground. German wreaths adorned the grave but bore swastikas on the ribbons. The SAOs then sadly returned to Stalag Luft III.

The long evacuation march followed for the POWs of Stalag Luft III a year later, and soon they were liberated in Moosburg at Stalag VIIA. For 65 years, Lt. Gen. Clark has felt the pain of leaving Ewart behind. He drew me a map of what he remembered of that burial day, and I took it with me for the sake of comparison. Everything matched up as I walked the pathways to the cemetery that he and the other officers walked that day. Only recently have the wheels been set in motion by a team of researchers and friends to bring Ewart home.

For those few hours, on the 65th anniversary of Ewart’s burial, when I left my fellow Kriegie Kids and went to Lubin, I visited with those there that knew his story, including Mr. Stephen Marks, an American working in Lubin. His office is in the former mental hospital where Sconiers had been taken. Having recently become acquainted with Ewart’s niece, Pamela Whitelock, I represented her at the grave and memorial. I placed an American flag at the grave alongside a bouquet of purple irises. As I promised Pamela, I whispered to Ewart that she would come soon to bring him home. I was interviewed by the press in Lubin and before leaving the area, I took many pictures, some of which I will attach. A catalpa tree, with heart-shaped leaves, was planted at the gravesite by a “friend” of Ewart’s over 65 years ago. To this day, we still do not know who planted that tree.

When the Communists took over in that area of Poland immediately after the war, the U.S. was severely limited in its attempts to reclaim its fallen airmen. A team was allowed in in 1947, but it failed to find the grave. At one time, years later, Ewart’s sister went to Poland searching for her brother, but she could never find his grave. Not long ago, Mr. StanisÅ‚aw Tokarczuk, a history teacher in Lubin, arranged for a memorial for Lt. Sconiers, and the people of Lubin have taken great interest in the bombardier’s story. Hopefully, updates will follow on the progress of his return to his native Florida where his niece has already arranged for a catalpa tree to be placed at his new burial site. And to his family’s delight and to the great relief of now 95-year-old Lt. General Clark, at the Air Force Academy, his fellow POW and friend will finally come home.

The pictures below illustrate the following:
1) Marilyn standing at Lt. Sconiers' gravesite.
2) The memorial for Sconiers, provided by the people of Lubin, Poland.
3) The former mental hospital where Sconiers was taken. It is now a Polish copper company.
4) Mr. Tokarczuk holds a pictures of Lt. Sconiers.
5) The chapel where Sconiers' body was held.
6) Pathway by the Memorial into the cemetary.
7) From the house in the distance, a German history teacher watched Sconiers' funeral in 1944.
8) Catalpa tree and lantern mark Sconiers' grave.
9) Large stork's nest on the way to Lubin, Poland. Storks migrate through Poland.


Anonymous said...

I would be most appreciative of any information I can use to verify Mr. Ewart's Distinguished Service Cross. I currently do not have him listed in my database. Could his award have possibly been a DFC instead of a DSC?
Doug Sterner Email

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Marilyn for this moving story. It must have taken much research and work to bring it to us. Bravo, Lt. Sconiers... We are proud of you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to every one of the Kriegie Kids who contributed to the documentation of your journey through time. It is touching to remember all these POWs went through. I have shared your story with three friends of mine who are Kriegies of SL III and they too have been touched.

Barry Schoen