Fred Salemme Interview by G. Hatton

I was shot down over Frankfort, Germany on February 4, 1944. I was taken prisoner near Aachen, then sent to Frankfort for interrogation. We were put on freight cars and shipped to Stalag 17. It was too full there so the cars were routed through Berlin to Hydekrug. They had us crammed into these cars like sardines, and after a while things got a bit salty. One of my crew members, Kelly, was bored and decided to amuse himself with one of the guards. He smiled at the guy and said in his southern drawl:" Why, Hello you old son of a bitch!" The guard swung his machine gun down from his shoulder and said, in perfect English: " I'm not a son of a bitch!". I remember it took me 30 minutes to convince the guard that we called each other SOB's. "Dammit, that's a fond expression ...we call each other that all the time!"

That first train brought eighty of us up to Heydekrug. We spent a month or so with the British, until they opened up K lager. There were four rows of barracks (E,F,G,and H), thirteen to a row. I became the barracks leader for F-2, and we formed a camp council. When new guys came into camp, they filled up the barracks in order. As leaders, our job was to make sure things ran smoothly in our room, and we got what was coming to us. The council of barracks leaders became involved in a whole range of things, including escape activities. Guys were always trying to figure how to get out of the camp. You really have to give Frank Paules a lot of credit for keeping a lid on things.

There was a time at Hydekrug when we got a shipment of baseballs and softballs. We gave them out to the guys and they started playing ball. The next thing you know, an airman came to Paules with letter from his sister. He said:" Frank, this is the first letter I ever got, but it's in code". We had been trying to build a radio, and it said that we would find some of the parts in the softballs and bats. Certain individuals were briefed in code, and if they were shot down, the government could communicate with them through letters from the family. We called in the equipment and found the parts; the guys called Paules all kind of names, but we couldn't talk...we couldn't tell them the reason. The irony is, the German Major used to sit on that radio everyday. We had a wooden chair in Paules' office that the major would sit on. Hidden in the seat of that chair was the radio!

In the spring, we had a visitor from the International Red Cross named Christiansen. Dixie Deans was the original camp leader and he was a real son of a Gun. As the leader of the British and Canadian prisoners, all the Red Cross parcels, sporting equipment and musical instruments from the YMCA were consigned to him. The food parcels were distributed fairly, but the English got first pick of the recreational items. The Canadians and Americans got the leftovers. The thing is, more and more guys were coming into camp each day, and we numbered in the thousands.

One afternoon, Paules and I were walking around the perimeter of the compound with this Red Cross representative, and we brought this to his attention: " You know, you send stuff up here and Dixie Deans picks out what he wants, then gives us what's left. Those guys have an orchestra, they put on plays... We're coming up short here!".

Mr. Christiansen turned to Paules and said:" You have the greatest number of prisoners now. If you request it, I can send everything consigned to you." Frank says:" OK." The next shipment arrived and Dixie Deans comes over to our compound, quite disturbed: " They must have made a mistake... this shipment is consigned to you!" So Paules says:" Oh yeah?... Well,I'll sign it! I guess we outnumber you now, huh?" Things changed. We had a 14 piece band, built a theater and put on musicals... until the Russians drove us out of Stalag Luft 6.

We had an Austrian guard named Otto, who used to come to our barracks every day. Austria had thrown in with the Germans and we had a lot of them around. I got along well with him and gave him cigarettes, from time to time. I trusted him. He came in one day and I turned around and asked him:" You know Otto, we need a small resistor. Would you get it for us?" He said: " Do you want me to get killed?" I said "No. I mean it,can you get it for me?" He replied:" No, I couldn't do that. In fact, it's my duty to turn you in."

I waited a week and no one came for me. I'll never forget the day he came back over and handed me a package of sweet onions. He said to me in German: " These onions are special. I got them just for you." So I said, "Here, have this carton of cigarettes" ... He replied in English: "No, I will never take cigarettes for these onions!", and left. In the bag was the part I had asked him for!

When you put so many men together, you find all kinds of characters. Huntzinger was a short, ball turret gunner and parachuted over France. He said it took him forty-five minutes to land. He was helped by the french underground and they put him in a whorehouse in Paris. Every once in a while, they would send guys towards the Pyranees, but he'd refuse to go.

Finally, Huntzinger was caught and ended up in a forced labor camp, making paper bags. His job was to bundle them and glue a wrapper around them. His idea of making it tough on the enemy was to glue all the bags together. In camp, he carved a forty-five out of wood, then made it black with soot. Now, we had a goon named Crowbar Pete, who was always digging around the compound with a metal bar, looking for tunnels. Any time he showed up, we'd holler: Goon's Up!"

Huntzinger waited for him to come along, then let him catch a glimpse of the .45. Crowbar Pete would follow and watch as Huntzinger buried it, then ran off. Old Crowbar Pete hurried over and got so excited, like he was ready to pounce on the fake gun. As the guard started digging, Huntzinger would be hiding behind some corner, peeking at him and laughing like hell!

We had a tunnel going from the latrine, across the parade ground to the roadway and gate that crossed the moat around the camp. We chiseled under 12 inches of concrete under the latrine and had worked our way to the roadway. Of course, the tunnel needed shoring. We had five slats on our bunks, so we told everybody they had to give up a couple of slats. If you took the straw pallet and wrapped it around the sides of the bunk, it became a hammock; you could almost do without the slats.

We used Prince Albert cans to get rid of the dirt. We must have raise that field about two inches, scattering the dirt we got out of that tunnel. Everything was going fine, and then our luck went sour. We had this heavy rain in March and one day as we were being counted, a guard sunk into the tunnel. They kept us on parade for three days as punishment.