Who was George Walker ?
Written by Greg Hatton 1994
April of 1944, T/sgt. George
" In a little burial plot on the edge of a grove of young birch trees, six of his comrades laid to rest the body of T/Sgt George B. Walker. Thousands of miles from his native Carolina, the only touch of home was the simple American flag that draped his bier; and the sharp notes of Taps, that drifted across his grave in a chill wind, under the clear blue Baltic sky... just a stones throw from one of the guard towers of Stalag Luft 6."
comes late to the Baltic coast of
April of 1994, Claude Watkins left
"Fifty years ago that I was a twenty two year old prisoner in Stalag Luft 6. When I returned on April 16th, I was 72. For almost two years, I had been trying to organize a nostalgia trip back to the area of our captivity. I wrote to the mayor of Silute, asking him about accommodations. I recieved a detailed reply from a journalist, Stasys Melinauskas, the local authority on the history of the prison camp.
drove about 4 hours on the divided highway that stretches from
after I heard from the journalist,
I got a call from the Consul at the
We evacuated the camp in July 1944 and in 1945, the Russians converted the camp into a Gulag to hold Lithuanian political prisoners. They continued the operation until 1954, at which time they almost completely destroyed the camp.
indicated that George Walker had been shot on April 29th, 1944, while
attempting to escape. Sgt.Walter Nies was shot by a guard on the morning of 28
May. A third man, T/Sgt. William Teaff, died of illness, on 10 July. The facts
and the fates of these men were never in question and the Germans sent pictures
of their funerals to the Red Cross. In the years following the War, the Soviets
were asked to return the remains of two dozen Americans. They could not locate nine men,
including the airmen from Luft 6. In 1953, the remains of these men were
declared non-recoverable. Their names were memorialized in American Military
"In the months prior to my trip, I had located several of the men who were on the burial details. Charles Whetstone and Armand Cournoyer were air crewmen with George Walker. Based on their recollections, they provided me with a diagram and general description of the site. I knew that the location was 100 yards from the northwest corner of the camp and the guard tower. The general location had been pointed out to me from where I worked in the German part of the camp, and my memory tracked with their information. Practically all that is left of the place today is what was the road in through the main gate and the perimeter road on the northeast side. The perimeter road turns to the left at the northwest corner, and that was the clue we needed, to get us into the area of the three graves. With a compass and a steel tape, my son and I worked our way, right to the edge of a copse of birch and oak trees.
There are many grave mounds, going in all directions, so it's uncomfortable to walk over. The Lithuanians have fenced of a good deal of it, erected monuments and adopted unmarked graves, which they care for. The place where our guys are buried is outside the fenced area; but the actual limits of the area would be difficult to determine. For the locals, it's not a memory that will just go away. There is a small, fast moving river at the back end of all this. The townspeople told me, that if the river rises a little, and cuts into its banks and it exposes bones."
Armand Cournoyer, of Yarmouthport,
“I’m not gung ho about my PW memories, the way a lot of fellows are; but certain things do come back as you discuss it. I do remember some of the details about George Walker, because I was responsible for overseeing his burial. I acted as undertaker.
was with the 306th Bomb Group and flying as waist gunner. Our crew landed in
had several replacements on our crew that day, and we had never seen one
another before the mission. Of course, I didn't know what the new crew members
looked like, because you are flying with those goggles and helmets on, and all
the rest of the outfit. Whetstone and
The circumstances of his death were, that he was trying to escape during the night, and it was obvious, that he had been shot with his hands over his head. He had a flight jacket on and the bottom was unbuttoned. If he had his hands up, this would open the jacket. It was obvious he was shot without the bullet going through the jacket."
Whetstone is a retired machinist living in a suburb of
“I was flying with Lt. Wong's crew as a replacement gunner, because my crew had been shot down previously. I had an accident and while I was in the hospital, they didn't come back. Then the next mission I went on, I didn’t come back. I have the Purple Heart for being killed in action... they made a mistake! Actually, I believe the Germans reported my death deliberately so as to stir things up back home.
were hit by anti aircraft fire and had to bail out over the
kept us in a civilian jail for a day or so, and then they shipped us out to
you get out, they interrogate you; except they ended up telling us more things
than we knew. Anyway, after about a week, the enlisted men were sent up to
Stalag Luft 6, on a long
train ride through
The main thing with the Germans was, they'd have to count us a couple of times a day. Generally, there'd be an error, so they'd do it over and over again. They called it Appell, and that's how we used to hide the fact that someone was missing. Guys would scoot in and out of the barracks to keep the count right.
Most of us took the escape business lightly, because if you think about it, we were a long way from home. The conditions were pretty rough, and those Germans were all real good friends. If they saw a stranger, they'd turn him in, right quick. If they watched you eat with a knife and fork, or saw you smoke a cigarette, it would be a dead giveaway.
job on a tunnel project, that
we had been on the same crew, we were new friends and
Some of the guys took burlap bags and sewed together a flag. They made water colors from vegetable dyes and ink, and painted up a flag. That's what we used to cover him up with, because the Germans wouldn't give us a box. I was given information that he had escape maps and money, sewn into the lining of his britches. All that stuff was gone; I guess the Germans found it.
When I got to Camp Lucky Strike in 1945, I wrote these things down, before they slipped away from my memory. It seems like you'll never forget something like that, but as time goes by, you do. Right now, I can see it in my mind, just like it happened."
is the essence of youth to think that stamina and courage can accomplish
fantastic ends. There's no thought of compromise with the forces of history.
Only one man can tell what drove George Walker to plan his daring escape, from
the barbed wire of Luft 6. Even in his mid seventies, Ed Jurist was burly,
dark-haired and dapper. A successful entrepreneur, his showroom in
been shot down on the March 6 raid to
I remember it, George first approached me. To get away from the rest of the
crowd, we'd meet on the edge of the "Playing field". Sitting there in
the scrub grass and looking out over the field, we'd start talking about
escapes: How? When? Where? I spoke some Russian and some French, so we decided to head up North
The escape committee figured that the Germans would never expect an attempt to go through the barbed wire near the front gate, ten feet from their barracks. The plan to was to do something bold and unexpected. Each day six prisoners were allowed to go through the gates from the American lager into the supply area and over to the Red Cross parcel building. They would pull out a wooden flatbed cart loaded with empty boxes, dump them and return with fresh supplies. A deliberate accumulation of empty boxes was stacked up.
seemed that six guys went out, but there were actually seven. A little guy
named Robinson, who was a ball turret gunner, got into one of the boxes, inside
the compound. When we arrived at the Red Cross shack, the guards were
deliberately distracted. While their attention was on this commotion,
On the second run from camp, I was up front, pulling the wagon. Robinson was in a box. We went over to the shed, created another distraction and I hopped behind the empty crates. Again Robinson leapt off the wagon, and he took my place. The Krauts counted six prisoners and they returned to the compound.
left George and me hidden in the Vorlager. We wore what was left of our GI
issue; our leather flight jackets and some pants, a sweater and a homemade cap,
some kriegie had knit. We were not
really covered...just standing behind the shed, surrounded by those empty
boxes. There were guards all around us and occasionally I would nudge him and
point at them. During
the afternoon we stayed in absolute stillness. It was devastating to feel each
minute go by, and be trapped within your own thoughts. Late in the afternoon it
started to get chilly and the sun
slipped away. As the searchlights came on, the guys in camp returned to their
barracks, for evening meals. Then we really felt alone out there.
say we were behind that shed from two or three in the afternoon, until late
that night, well after midnight. We were bidding our time, but you couldn't
sleep under those conditions. It's not so much the cold, but the fact that
you're alert to the point where it's painful. Every
sound is a nerve -wracking, horrifying possibility of being discovered and
maybe being shot. When the time came for us to make our move, away from the
By this time I was all tensed up and ready. Any change in plans would have been disastrous. There was no way to get back into the compound. We would have had to wait until the morning to surrender, in broad daylight, and hope the Germans would take us back in. I wouldn't hear of it. “We’re here, we can't go back. We have the wire cutters with us and the maps; it's all right. We can make it!"
Timing is a critical element of success. On April 29th, the forces of history converged on the open sandy stretch before Jurist and Walker. During the first two weeks of April, Adolph Hitler shattered the long standing tradition that "honored" escape attempts as the "duty" of a captured soldier. The Great Escape had taken place on March 24, at Stalag Luft 3, another Airmen's camp. Hitler's reaction was: “We must set an example". Fifty British officers were recaptured and executed. The entire German system was on alert and the Nazi mechanisms for state terror were extended to Allied prisoners.
at the moment that Jurist and Walker were waiting for their chance to break
out, the Abwehr was rounding up the British Escape Committee in the next
compound. They had set up an incredible network; with men operating outside of
camp... a British Sergeant had even
made it home to
"We pushed the boxes aside, got down and started crawling. I went out and George was right behind me. We headed towards the first line of barbed wire. It was grueling work, but we kept going until we were about 25 feet from the trench in front of the main gate. The Red Cross sheds were just dark shapes behind us. A guard was pacing back and forth, just outside the fence, and the lights were sweeping the area. By this time the sentry was very familiar with, and attuned to the rhythm of the night.
he passed by, he looked in. He looked right at us; it was a sandy area, so we
had very little cover. Suddenly he
tensed and spun around, as if to say " Ah -Ha". We just froze. He got
upset, the way all the krauts did, screaming and shouting: Raus, Raus, and
Raus!" The minute he started
shouting, I told
That son of a bitch fires. Shot right at us, not over out heads. At that point, I got up on my knees and in mixed German, I said: Schiesen nichts!!! Kameraden...don't Shoot! Don't Shoot!" George was behind me, laying flat. The bastard shot again, so we hugged the ground. "Where can we go...What's he shooting for?” We asked ourselves. It was pure panic. Sure enough, the main gate opens up and the dogs come in. They found us and started tearing at us. After some time, a guard comes up on us. I could only see his boots and legs standing beside us... nothing more. All around was screaming and barking and more soldiers coming into the Vorlager?
pulled the dogs away, and
Standing in that grove of birches, Claude Watkins was certain he was in the same spot that Whetstone and Cournoyer had stood, fifty years earlier.
“It occurred to me that something of a line existed from my first experiences as a PW to that moment. I did twenty years active duty with the Air Force and 18 more as a civilian with HQ Air Force. All but a few of those years, were devoted to matters of avoiding or surviving captivity. Returning to look for some of my fellow prisoners seemed like another natural step on that line; but it was really a tough call. In my judgment, it would be impossible to segregate only the American graves, from all the others.”
WW II there were 78,000 individuals whose remains were not recovered (and 8500
"Unknown Soldiers"). During the five year period between 1946 and
1951, Graves Registration and Mortuary Affairs made an extraordinary effort to
locate and identify all those who died in the War. Attempts were made to go
That is the dilemma in the case of George Walker. It is possible to re-open a file, if new facts warrant it. With Claude Watkins' trip back to Heydekrug and inquiries by concerned parties, Mortuary Affairs will informally review the file. The resolution does not seem promising, but a Memorial Ceremony at the site is planned for September 18, 1993. Representatives of the Lithuanian and U.S. Air force, former PW’s, and the townspeople will participate.
Half a world away from his home, the Baltic wind still rustles the birches over three Americans. Perhaps the placing of a wreath will show that, although the men are out of sight, they're not yet, out of mind.