T/Sgt Lawrence Lee Witt

 

 

 

Lawrence Lee Witt was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He attended the Henry Ford Trade School and was working as an apprentice at the Ford Motor Company when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

 

Witt’s job was to assist Ford researchers in finding ways to use dolomite to produce strong, lightweight, magnesium metal. This project was vital to the war effort, and Witt was given a military service exemption.

 

In December of 1942, Witt gave up his deferment and enlisted in the United States Army Air Force.

 

Lawrence Witt was a member of

Harold Tucker’s Crew

 

2/Lt. Harold Tucker                Pilot

2/Lt. Robert A. Greenwood    Co-pilot

2/Lt. Walter Slemensky         Bombardier

2/Lt. Samuel R. Detwiler Jr.  Navigator

T/Sgt. James A. Davis Jr.      Radio Operator

T/Sgt. Lawrence L. Witt        Engineer/Gunner              S/Sgt. Lloyd D. Stoller           Top Turret Gunner

S/Sgt. Willis D. Boatright      Ball Turret Gunner S/Sgt. Jennings C. Greuter     Tail Gunner

S/Sgt. Robert L. Maisak                  Wing Gunner

 

 

Tucker’s Crew Assignment

 

Eighth Air Force

96th Bomb Group

Snetterton-Heath England

 

 

Lawrence Witt’s Final Mission

 

On May 12, 1944, Tucker’s plane was shot down by fighters over Usingen, Germany. This was Lawrence Witt’s seventh mission.

 

Tucker, Greenwood, Slemensky, Detwiler, and Greuter were Killed in Action.

 

Boatright, Davis, Maisak, Stoller, and Witt becaome Prisoners of War.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Dulag Luft

 

Lawrence Witt and his surviving crewmates were taken by truck to Dulag Luft, the Luftwaffe intelligence and evaluation center at Obersural.

 

Three days were spent in solitary confinement. Witt’s interrogation took place in his cell and afterwards he was released to a neighboring section of the camp that was bound by a double barbed wire fence and three sentry towers.

 

He quickly found his crewmates, Stoller, Boatright, and Maisak, and they stayed as close together as possible. They did not know what happened to the others.

 

 

 

 

 

Stalag Luft IV

 

Some indeterminant days went by when Witt, Stoller, Boatright, and Maisak were put on a train bound for Stalag Luft IV in Kiefheide, Pomerania.

 

Stalag Luft IV, a camp for non-commissioned Army Air Corps officers, was a new prison camp when Witt and his crewmates arrived in May of 1944. The German high command chose this isolated, forested, region, as a POW site in order to render escape attempts futile. The environment was harsh as the weather is greatly influenced by the Baltic Sea located approximately thirty miles to the north.

 

Lawrence Witt was first billeted in “A” Compound, then was moved to “B” Compound, and finally to “C”. He had fond memories of Padre Jackson, a British POW and chaplain. Witt became an active member of the church choir led by prisoner John Anderson and also found strength by attending Bible studies. He enjoyed reading books from the lending library that was begun with books sent by the YMCA.

 

Like all the POWs held in Luft IV, Witt was hungry and cold and did not have adequate clothing. Red Cross parcels were not regularly distributed, and this contributed greatly to the hunger. Witt received only one letter during his eight month stay at Stalag Luft IV, and he worried about what was happening at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Evacuation of Stalag Luft IV

The Death March: February 1945

 

Witt was a participant on the forced march from Stalag Luft IV and left the camp on February 6, 1945.

 

Conditions were horrendous on this death march. The prisoners marched on and on, day after day, carrying all their belongings on their back. Many developed severe frostbite.

They had very little food. Every now and then a German soup wagon might find them. But, most often they were left to their own devices and searched farmer’s fields in hopes of finding a potato or onion left over from the last harvest. At night they were locked in dark barns, packed in tight, side-by-side. There was no ability for the men to keep themselves clean. All became infested with lice and fleas. No clean water was provided and almost all developed dysentery.

 

Incredibly, some men endured these conditions for 86 days, covering over 500 miles: a true feat of courage and endurance.

 

 

 

Stalag 357

 

Near the end of February, Lawrence Witt became too sick and weak to continue walking. He was placed on a wagon and taken to a farm where the sick were housed in several small barns. Next, Witt was among the invalid POWs who were transported to Stalag IIA, Neubrandenburg, but admission to this camp was not granted. The sick wagons filled with POWs returned to the small farm hospital. On Saturday, March 17, the invalids were taken to Briggow, and put on a train bound for Fallingbostel. On March 20, 1945, they reached their destination.  Witt was marched from the train station to Stalag 357. Here he was again faced with inadequate food, insufficient shelter, and nonexistent medical supplies.

 

Except for the large warm overcoat he somehow misplaced along the way, T/Sgt. Lawrence Witt walked through the gates of Stalag 357 wearing the same clothing he wore when walking out the gate at Gross Tychow forty-two days earlier.  The shoes and socks that he wore day after day, night after night, and step-after-step barely held together. His clothes were soaked in sweat, encrusted with mud, stained with filth, and crawling with vermin.  Cleanliness was a forgotten experience.

 

Delousing Building at Stalag 357

(only building still standing)

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Liberation of Stalag 357

 

In the early morning of April 6, 1945, the guards roused the Stalag 357 prisoners, told them to pack their belongings, and report to roll call. The prisoners realized that they were going to be marched away from the approaching Allied front and any hope of an imminent liberation was dashed. Lawrence Witt was feeling desperate. He knew he could not survive another forced march. He decided to walk away from the formation and went to rest on the steps of a nearby barrack. He was surprised that no one seemed to notice him and watched in disbelief as the other prisoners were marched out of the Stalag. For ten days Witt hid in the camp. Two other evaders helped him survive by sharing their food.

 

On April 16, 1945, Stalag 357 was liberated by the British 7th Division, “The Desert Rats.”

 

On April 24, eight days after liberation, Stalag 357 was completely vacated. The remaining men, including Lawrence Witt, were loaded onto trucks and taken to a nearby airfield and flown to Brussels, Belgium.  

 

 

Etterbeek Barracks

Brussels, Belgium

Repatriation Center No. 1

 

The newly liberated POWs were conveyed from the airport to a reception center near the city limits. This British-manned facility had been set up to quickly move the former prisoners towards home. The men were given food, a blanket, soap, toilet articles, and assigned a dormitory room. They all enjoyed a very long hot shower. After 24 hours at the repatriation center, Witt was on his way to camp Lucky Strike, one of the American cigarette camps near the harbor of LeHavre. These camps were used as assembly areas for U.S, troops entering or leaving the European Theater of Operations.

 

T/Sgt Lawrence Witt traveled across the Atlantic Ocean on the merchant marine ship, Sea Tiger, and arrived in New York Harbor on May 20, 1945.

 

He was home!

 

Photo of Lawrence Witt taken in Brussels, Belgium.