It was the
second of February, when 80 of us completed a long cold ride in boxcars up to
Luft VI in Heydekrug, East Prussia. There was a contingent of British already
there, led by a fellow named Dixie Dean. He welcomed us and brought us into
It was colder than hell and everybody was hungry. I asked around if anybody
could speak German and Bill Krebs stood up. He was a railroad engineer from
Pennsylvania, whose folks were German. He answered that he spoke both high
and low German... that's Austrian and Prussian.
We banged on the bars, got a guard to come over and said:" According to
the Geneva Convention, you're supposed to give us blankets and food!"
They hadn't given us anything and it was the dead of winter on the Baltic
coast. A little while later, they came back with two blankets for each guy
and some food. So, the guys said to me: " OK. You're the camp
leader." In May, there got to be about a thousand of us and we had an
election. I said: "If 90 percent of you vote for me, then I'll continue
to do it... if not,then to hell with it." Well, I got the vote.
When we got down to Kiefeheide, Richard Chapman was the camp leader. They
elected me again, but at that camp, it was a dubious distinction. The first
night we got there, after they beat me up, a guard came into my cell. He had
a message for me: "If you continue to be camp leader, you'll be turned
over to the Gestapo!" I thought about that, believe me.
Up there in the northern Baltic region, it was night two thirds of the time
and plenty cold. We were penned up with lots of time on our hands. You'd lie
awake in your bunk and just listen in the dark to the wind blowing... trying
to interpret what you heard outside. Only five wooden slats to lie on, so we
couldn't sleep all that well anyway. The slightest sound would distract you;
it took a while to overcome this stuff.
In that first month up at Heydekrug, all we got was a bowl of thin soup per
man, per day. The British shared their Canadian Food Parcels, until we got
our own. That's how we made out! At some point, in May, Mr. Berg, the Red
Cross representative and the Swede, Mr. Soderberg, got into camp. Then we
started getting some parcels. Those food parcels were our life line; without
them we would have starved. The protecting powers were supposed to see that
thearticles of the Geneva convention were carried out, and that was supposed
to keep the Germans in check.
According to the Geneva Convention, the German Commander and his staff would
only deal with one person; the Senior American Officer or the Vertraunsmann (
man of Confidence). Anytime there was a problem, or I had a problem, I took
it directly to the Commandant; or he would send it directly to me.
We had a camp council that consisted of all the barracks leaders and myself.
It was agreed that I would put something up for discussion; then, we'd talk
about it. But, as the M.O.C. the ultimate decision rested with me. The
reality of World War Two in the U.S. Army, was that we had a lot of 90 day
wonders; but the tech sergeants had been in for a whileand sweated things
through. As a result, the non-com's had a wealth of talented and able men,
who were perfectly capable. They were in some ways, more mature in terms of
discipline and the way command things worked. Another thing was that we were
raised in the depression years and had worked our butts off for five dollars
a week to help the family out. We weren't used to a lot of luxury. Maybe
wegained a lot by growing up at that time.
We were set up on a military basis for interrogation, security and so on. We
had a chain of command with elected barracks leaders. One of their very
important jobs was to distribute food, clothing and cigarettes. Smokes were
the medium of exchange. The English had shown us how to organize a lot of
these things, so the camp would be run smoothly. Bill Krebs was our
interpreter, Joe Harrison was camp secretary and Doc Nordstrom handled
security. Carter Lunsford was my adjutant.
I remember that Carter Lunsford and I were in a small building apart from the
barracks at Six. He was a proper Bostonian and everything had to be just
right; proper speech, proper dress. At the end of the lager, we had a slit
trench, where the guys would crap. Carter would say to me: "Now Frank,
I'm going to the bathroom." I put up with this for a little while, until
finally one day, I said: "Damn it Carter, it's not a bathroom, it's a
stinkin' slit trench". He paused for a moment and said again: "
Frank, I'm going up to the bathroom".
It was colder than hell up there and the Germans gave us four lumps of coal
per day per man. They put it out in a big pile, in front of each lager. I
assigned Carter to see that the Kriegies didn't take any more than four each.
So, he goes out, climbs on top of the pile; the guys come over, grab as many
as they can and then run like hell! Pretty soon the pile shrinks down
andthere's Carter, just standing on the ground.
We were allowed one letter and two postcards a month. That's how we got
messages to the United States; and how the military intelligence got messages
to us. There were two guys in each squadron in the U.S. Air Corps, who were
trained in code. They were ordered to report to the camp leaders. If we
wanted to send something back to the United States, I'd tell one of these
guys and they'd put it in a letter, in a secret code. They'd write to their
mother or wife or whoever. Before it reached home, it would be intercepted by
military intelligence; There it would be deciphered and sent on. When a
letter came back to these code men, a message might have been added before it
reached camp. By the time we got to Luft IV, there were forty or fifty of
The other way they got messages in to us, was by radio. Up at Luft VI, we had
a secret radio. Every night, at midnight, there was a broadcast out of London
in three parts. The first part was messages to the underground: "The
silver fox will run tonight"; the second part was music. In the music
was a code that told you if, in the following straight news broadcast, there
would be messages for P.O.W.'s. So, our guys would be listening to pick up
these messages. For instance, in June of 1944, we knew that the invasion had
been successful! The Germans had broadcast on the loudspeaker, how they had
hurled the allies back into the sea; but we knew more than they did.
Once, I had to lean on Tom Mchale, who ran the Barbed Wire News. He was a
real newspaperman, and he was sending guys around to the barracks to tell
everybody it was D-day... like we were CBS or something! We're good friends,
but I got hold of him and told him: "Damn it, you can't do this! We're
at war here!" Back in Dulag Luft or out in the camps, the biggest thing
a prisoner had to do was learn to keep his mouth shut.
At Luft VI, the Commandant was Oberst Von Hoerbach, an old line Prussian
officer, who was very strict, but did not commit any cruel acts. Our morning
ritual was always the same: "Guten Morgen, Herr Oberst"..."
Guten Morgen, Herr Pau-les!" It seemed to give him a little kick to say
it that way, because one of the commanders on the Russian front was Field
Marshall Von Paulus. As Commandant of the camp, he did everything he could to
treat us as soldiers, according to the rules and regulations of the Geneva
Convention. I believe Von Hoermann treated us well to the best of his
In the beginning, Luft VI wasn't so bad for us. The events of April at Luft
3, kind of put the kaibosch on POW's trying to escape. The S.S. shot 50
officers and then came up to visit us. We were called out and they made an
announcement about those events. Before that, trying to escape was a kind of
pastime...digging tunnels and so forth. The Germans knew we were out there,
but figured:" What the Hell, if it keeps them busy!"
The situation grew worse for us when we were evacuated down to Luft IV. The
place was run by no good, cruel bastards - real Nazis! I think one of the
explanations for the change had to do with the attempt on Hitler's life, by
someone in the high Command. At that point, the camps were taken over by the
Gestapo and S.S. What they were saying was, "There's no more of this
crap where you guys run things...we're going to run it all!"
Between the guards and us it was always a game of one-upmanship. We just
wanted them to know we were alert, so we assigned two guys to dog every
guard; to get to know them and psych them out a bit. Then we'd ask them for
something and trade for food or cigarettes. If they'd trade, we would go back
again and ask for something more important, until we had enough on the guard
to blackmail him. One time, just for fun, we had this Austrian guard and we
swore him into the American Army!
The Germans would put plants in among us; they spoke English and tried to
pass as airmen. There was a system by which we interrogated everyone as he
came in: "Where were you born? Where did you train? What was your
station? and so on. If we had some suspicion, we'd pass that information back
to the U.S. and they'd check it out. We found several phonies and I'd send a
couple of guys from security, to give them the message: "If you're not
out of here by dark, you're dead!" Of course, once we knew them, they
were of no use to the Germans, so they'd go.
Up at Luft 6, the guards distributed anti-Jewish hate literature to all the
barracks. They were trying to separate the Jewish fellows. So, I sent out a
crew to collect all that stuff. We took it out into the middle of the lager
and put it in a pile, in plain sight of the guards. I lit a match to it,
burned it down and that was the end of it.
While at the camp, there were two incidents in which two Americans were
killed. Duringthe last week of April, on the 29th, Sgt. George Walker was
killed. Walker, along with Sgt. Jurist ... got from the American inner lager
to the vorlagar, which was within the confines of the camp area ... They both
surrendered, in German, and Walker stood up ... his hands up in the air.
Several guards entered the vorlagar and one walked up to ten feet of Walker
...shot him through the heart with a pistol. I think he was a member of the
Abwehr under the commandof Major Gruber.
I personally checked and found that the body of Walker had been taken inside
a building in the vorlagar. In the morning, I went out to see him... (along
with) the British Medical officer, Capt. Pollack. The Germans claimed to me
that Walker had attacked the guard who had come Frank paulesinto the lager;
But the testimony of the eye-witness stated that Walker had stood up and
remained motionless until he was shot.
The German officer in charge of the security inside of Stalag Luft 6 was
Major Gruber. Hewas 5 feet-eight inches, stocky, blind in one eye, with a
patch over his left eye. He weighed about 170 pounds with thin straight blond
hair. As officer in charge of security (called the Abwehr) he had a great
deal of authority; particularly concerning placement of guards, instructions
issued to them, searching of PW's, (also) the detection and punishment of any
attempted escapes...Also stationed at the camp, was the Gestapo man in
civilian clothes, who was closely allied with the security. The Commandant's
job was to act as the coordinator of the activities of the Abwehr and the
administrative officers of the camp. Depending on the type of individual the
commandant was, he allied himself with either the Abwehr or the administration
officers. When the Abwehr took action, as they did in the case of the
shooting of these two men... Col Von Hoermann apparently had to tolerate such
actions...it was extremely likely that these officers would receive their
orders from a higher command.
We had a really well developed sports program, at Heydekrug; thanks in part
to the YMCA. We had a kid from the University of Kentucky Basketball team,
boxers from all over America and the U.K.; and regular baseball games as
well. In wartime, whether you're in a prison camp or wherever... men and
women will try to conquer their environment. I'm not sure that any of the
guys at Six or Four had a chance to become great lovers, but there were times
when we did have spirits. You know, in those food parcels, there were raisins
and prunes and sugar. You steal a light globe or bucket, fill it with water
and dried fruit; then when the lid blows off...kickapoo joy juice!
I distinctly remember putting a lot of effort into a patriotic speech for the
Fourth of July, that summer of 1944...just before we left Heydekrug. We had a
big crowd out on the field, watching fights and playing ball. Well, I got up
on the platform to give this beautiful speech, and by God,... to tell you the
truth, I don't think one person heard me out there. It seemed to me, they
were all drunk. You get a group like that all together and they can make do
with the damndest things... especially when you've got time hanging on your
hands. You've got to cook up something!