Seventy years ago this holiday season, some American servicemen were celebrating in POW camps across the world. They did not know it, but it was the last holiday season that they would spend in captivity.
Clair Cline, B-24 pilot from Minnesota, spent Christmas 1944 in Stalag Luft I. Cline had been shot down in February 1944. As a way to pass time and keep busy, Cline carved wood, beginning with B-24 models. In the fall of 1944, Cline took on a different project, a violin. Cline finished the project just before Christmas 1944. He later recalled the holiday (excerpted from Guideposts Magazine):
My most memorable moment was Christmas Eve. As my buddies brooded about home and families, I began playing “Silent Night.” AS the notes drifted through the barracks a voice chimed in, then others. Amid the harmony I heard a different language. “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht, alles schläft, Einsam wacht…” An eldery white-haired guard stood in the shadows , his eyes wet with tears.
This morning we were visited by artifact donors from Texas who made the trip to New Orleans to share material with the Museum. We sat and went through the collection together, looking over the service material from Albert Dean Bryant from Midland, Texas. Bryant served with the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron of the 7th Armored Division. Seventy years prior to his daughter’s visit, on 11 September 1944, Bryant wrote a letter home to his family. He describes the weariness and restlessness of battle, “There are things that happen over here which takes complete control over your mind…”
He writes of running remaining Germans out of French towns and the liberation of those towns: The aftermath was something which almost made the danger & unpleasant things we had to endure worth it—People by the hundreds standing in the streets with hands upraised & shouting & laughing & crying with appreciation for being liberated—Bottles of wine and champagne (which would cost $20.00 in the US) were freely given to us as we went through the streets (bottles which had dirt & dust on them to show they had been buried or hidden for years from the greedy Boche).
Albert Dean Bryant
Bryant's daughter, Judy, and Curator Kim Guise
Gift in Memory of Albert Dean Bryant, 2014
A little over one month later, on 27 October 1944, Bryant was captured and would spend the remainder of the war as a POW of the Germans.
Interested in learning more about donating artifacts to the Museum? See our information on how to Donate an Artifact.
Major Newton Cole was captured on 19 June 1944, D+13 near St. Lô. On 4 July 1944, he wrote his wife, Marion, back in Medford, Massachusetts, telling of his capture.
Gift of The Men of Oflag 64, 2006.130
Cole became one of 1,500 prisoners at Oflag 64, a POW camp for American officers near Szubin, Poland.
Our special exhibit, Guests of the Third Reich (a title taken from Cole’s POW journal) is in its last days; it closes on 7 July. In honor of Independence Day, visit our gallery or Guests of the Third Reich: American POWs in Europe to learn more about Newton Cole and to read his Wartime Log in its entirety.
Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author, Rick Atkinson (An Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle) offers another “sneak peek” in our series of videos for the final book in his epic “Liberation Trilogy,” The Guns at Last Light.
Speaking from the Museum’s own Guests of the Third Reich: American POWs in Europe exhibit, Atkinson tells the story of John K. Waters and his connection to General George Patton’s ill-advised raid on the Hammelburg prison camp.
Mr. & Mrs. Dan Cline in front of the violin made by his grandfather in Stalag Luft I.
Mr. & Mrs. Jimmie Kanaya.
Mr. Irwin Stovroff and his friend, Cash.
Memorial brick for Calvin Keep Benedict, sponsored by his family.
Kim Guise & Mr. Jim Baynham.
Mr. Jim Baynham & family.
The month of January was quite exciting in our special exhibit, Guests of the Third Reich: American POWs in Europe on display through July 7, 2013. We had visits from several former POWs—some featured in the exhibit—and their families. Jimmie Kanaya and James Baynham, represented in the gallery’s audio piece, visited with their families. The families of Calvin Keep Benedict and Luke McLaurine also visited and toured the exhibit. Stalag Luft I violin maker Clair Cline’s grandson, Dan visited with his wife, Jessica. Irwin Stovroff was held in Stalag Luft I and remembers Clair Cline crafting his violin. Stovroff is the founder and president of Vets Helping Heroes, an organization that helps provide veterans with dogs trained as companions and assistance dogs. He attended the Grand Opening of the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center with Cash, the mascot of his organization. We’re very grateful for the visits of these special guests. We hope to welcome more to be honored and share their stories this upcoming Memorial Day, May 27th, when we host the program “From Their Fathers”.
Calvin Benedict served with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. He was captured in Normandy on 7 June 1944 and spent the remainder of the war in Stalag IIIC. On Christmas Eve 1944, he wrote this letter to his parents in New Orleans, which they received over a month later.
Gift in Memory of Calvin Pope Benedict, 2004.405.030
Theodore “Ted” Paluch was born and raised in the “City of Brotherly Love” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a small family. Ted followed the war in Europe closely and thought that the United States might eventually get involved. “We used to gather round the radio or read the extras from the paper to follow the war. We knew what was going on.” Paluch recalls. Ted was playing pinball on Sunday December 7, 1941 when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor from a friend. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor Ted Paluch decided that he should join the United States Marine Corps. “I went downtown to join the Marines and they turned me down! I didn’t want to join the Navy so I decided that I would wait until they drafted me.” Ted didn’t have too long to wait, in January 1943 he received his draft notice and was inducted into the US Army. Paluch said, “When I was inducted into the Army I was excited. When you’re young you figure that you will do all the shooting…well it turned out a little different.”
“We had maneuvers in Louisiana and on our first maneuver my unit; Battery B 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion was captured. That was a bad omen. After that I figured that I might be captured if and when I ever went overseas. I really don’t know why I thought that, but I had a bad feeling.” Ted and the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion shipped overseas to Europe in August 1944. “My first taste of war was when one of the German U-boats sunk one of the ships in our convoy. They hit a tanker and it was ablaze. That’s when I realized that I was really at war.”
Paluch’s battalion first saw action in the Hurtgen Forest just prior to the Battle of the Bulge. As Ted explains it, “We were in the Hurtgen for a while, that was a bitch I’ll tell you. The damn trees would explode from the German artillery, and in just a matter of days it seemed that every tree within sight was stripped bare of all limbs. It was a bloodbath in there.” As bad as the Hurtgen was for Paluch, the worst was yet to come.
On December 16, 1944, the German Wehrmacht unleashed Operation WACHT AM RHEIN and attacked the US Army through a small, dark, dense forest that stretches between Belgium and Luxembourg known as the Ardennes. The surprise German Offensive, which is popularly called “The Battle of the Bulge”, rapidly gained ground and by the end of the day on the 16th many US units were in full retreat.
Shortly after being pulled out of the Hurtgen Forest and before the German attack Paluch and the 285th were sent to Schevenhutte, Germany to garrison the town. On December 16 the unit was given orders to proceed from the Seventh Corps to St. Vith and join the Eighth Corps. “We left Schevenhutte early in the morning on the 17th of December and were heading in the direction of Malmedy. I remember that it was wet, foggy, and damn cold. It wasn’t snowing yet, but I remember it being very cold.” The column of vehicles that encompassed Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion was a column of about 30 vehicles and roughly 140 men. As Paluch’s column neared Malmedy it went down a road and through the small crossroads town of Baugnez, Belgium. As the column went through the crossroads it came under fire from several German vehicles and tanks approaching from another road. These German vehicles were the lead elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper, the spearhead of the German attack in the Northern Ardennes. Paluch recalls, “The lead vehicles in our convoy were fired on. The lead vehicles were way ahead of us and the Germans were still a good bit away from them, so when they were fired on the lead vehicles had a chance to run and get out of there, which they did.”
As the lead vehicles sped away and out of harm’s way the after part of the column came under fire from the rapidly approaching SS tanks. “I saw them coming and our column stopped. I jumped out of the truck and into a ditch full of icy cold water. All I could hear was firing. I popped my head up to see and all I could see was tracers, I never saw so many tracers in my life. I pulled my head back down as a tank rolled around the corner and came towards us. I could see that the men in the tank and the troops with them were SS troopers. They had the lightning bolts on their collars. All we had was carbines and here was this tank coming down the road right at us. As it got close to us it leveled its gun at the ditch and the tank commander told us to surrender. What were we going to do? I threw my carbine down and threw my hands up.”
Immediately after surrendering Paluch was taken captive by two SS troopers who thoroughly searched him and sent him down the road with some other members of his column to the crossroads and into a field. While there the SS troopers searched them again and took anything that they could use from the prisoners. Ted says of his captors, “I had socks, gloves, and cigarettes, anything of value they took. The guys that captured us were young, they seemed like ok guys. They didn’t mishandle us or rough us up, they simply took us prisoner, searched us and then moved on. They were combat troops and didn’t have time to mess with us POWs. The guys that captured us and the tanks that were with them stayed around for about ten minutes and then disappeared. We were standing there in the field with our hands up not knowing what was coming. I could hear guys praying, maybe I was too…you know…you could hear it, all you could think of was getting away.”
As the initial SS troops pressed forward the rear echelon infantry came into view and began to pass the large group of American prisoners standing in the open field at the crossroads of Baugnez. “One of the vehicles came around the corner and started firing into our group. I don’t know who the hell it was, or why they started firing but they did. We were standing there with our hands up and I was in the front of the group nearest the crossroads. As the German tanks passed they fired into the middle of the group of us, everybody started to drop and I dropped too. I got hit in the hand as I went down. After that as each vehicle passed they fired into the group of us laying there dead or dying in the field. Anyone that was moaning they came around and finished them off. After that they went back and took off. After laying there for I guess an hour or more I heard a voice I recognized yell, ‘Let’s go!’, so I got up and ran down a little road towards a hedgerow. The Germans came out of the house on the corner and took a shot at me and I dove into a hedgerow. I had some blood on me and I lay down in the hedgerow. I heard one of them come running towards where I was laying and look me over, I could feel that guy standing above me, he could have shot me in the back and gotten it over with, but he didn’t. I knew he was waiting for me to move but I just laid there…dead still.”
Paluch lay in the hedgerow for a short while, stuck his head up and saw no one, rolled down the hedgerow and crawled along a railroad line that happened to take him to Malmedy. Ted continues, “Along the way I met a couple of other guys from my unit who had survived. We all came into Malmedy that night together.” While in Malmedy, Paluch’s wound was tended to, he was interrogated by Intelligence and within two weeks he was back with the remnants of the 285th back in action in the Ardennes.
The aftermath of the infamous Malmedy Massacre.
“I never tried to think about the Massacre too much after the war. I tried to put it behind me, but it never really has been behind me, it’s hard to forget. I don’t know if we would have done that, but I don’t really hold any animosity towards them, I wish it didn’t happen but it did. A soldier gets orders just like we do and you carry them out. It’s a hell of a thing, but its war.” When asked if the memories of the Massacre affect him today, Ted’s eyes grew misty and his chin began to quiver as he said, “I lost a lot of good friends that day, I knew almost every one of those guys who were killed that day. I’m lucky…all my friends…all those young guys, they were all my age, with their whole life ahead of them. It never should have happened, and I hope no one ever forgets that it did.”
Ted Paluch (center) and fellow survivors of the Malmedy Massacre, 1945
Word of the massacre spread rapidly through American lines and helped to strengthen the American resolve to stop the German Offensive dead in its tracks. The Battle of the Bulge officially ended on January 25, 1945 when American forces pushed the Germans back to their original pre-December 16 lines. More than 1,000,000 American servicemen fought in the Battle of the Bulge making it the single largest battle ever fought by American troops. More than 83,000 Americans were casualties of the fighting. The victims of the Malmedy Massacre lay undiscovered and frozen until January 14, 1945, when American troops recaptured the area from the Germans. After the war, Jochen Peiper and many of his men were tried for war crimes as a result of the Malmedy Massacre. The trial prosecuted more than 70 persons. Of those 70, there were 43 death sentences issued (although none were carried out) and 30 lesser sentences.
Ted Paluch was interviewed at his home in Philadelphia by Manager of Research Services Seth Paridon on October 20, 2009.
Dominic Martello was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, went to high school at Jesuit High School and upon graduation joined the New Orleans Fire Department. Martello never gave the Army much thought, as he says, “The average fella never thought he would be in a war until the draft came.” Drafted by the Army before Pearl Harbor, Dominic was assigned to the 39th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division. Shortly after joining the 9th, he was shipped overseas for the initial landings in North Africa as part of Operation Torch.
The green US troops that landed between Algiers and Oran in November of 1942 had no idea what they were about to get into. The training that they had been given in the United States was not sufficient as Dominic recalls, “We needed all the training we could get. We were fighting professional soldiers and we were mostly civilians. These guys had been fighting in the desert for years. We were going to catch hell.”
Dominic was the driver for a halftrack that had 75mm howitzers mounted inside the vehicle to act as mobile artillery. Not long after landing in North Africa, Martello’s halftrack took a direct hit from a German 88mm artillery round, rendering it useless. With the loss of his vehicle, Martello fell in with the rest of the “dogfaces” of the 39th Infantry Regiment. As the North African campaign wore on, Martello’s unit slowly whittled down to a group of men that scarcely resembled their original state upon landing in November. By February at the Kasserine Pass, the heaviest weapon that his unit possessed was his Browning Automatic Rifle (B.A.R.).
Put at the edge of the Kasserine Pass in an effort to disrupt any German infantry attempting to infiltrate American lines, Martello and the rest of his unit were pounded by German artillery. As he puts it, “Those 88s were pretty close; you could hear them go by.” After the cessation of the artillery barrage, the German infantry attacked with a force that Dominic felt he could deal with, but the tanks that supported the German infantry were something that Dominic’s unit could not stop by any means. Martello recounts, “When you have a .30 caliber rifle and a tank is coming at you…you will not survive. The rifleman has no chance against an armored vehicle. When I saw those tanks coming…it’s a hard pill to swallow. How are you going to fight against a tank with a B.A.R.? There’s no way.”
The tanks and most of the infantry cut off Martello’s group. Constant machine gun fire kept the GIs pinned down. “I was in a cactus bush when they were shooting at me. That was the only place I could go. I figured I had better jump in there because I could get those cactus needles out of my behind a lot easier than that lead that they were shooting at me.”
That night Dominic’s group pulled out of their positions and attempted to escape the encirclement that had cut them off from their own lines earlier that day. The small band of GIs marched down a desert road and followed a German unit towardwhat they assumed were the American lines. Martello remembers, “It was so dark the Germans couldn’t tell if we were Americans or some of their guys.” The next morning, out of ammunition and more importantly, water, the small band of men were betrayed by native Arabs and captured by a German tank unit. The German officer in charge of the tank unit gave instructions to his men to shoot Martello and his comrades. However, the Germans refused. Dominic says of the incident, “I thought I was going to die right then.”
Dominic was captured at the Kasserine Pass in 1943 and spent 27 months in a German Prisoner of War Camp. When he was captured he weighed 200 pounds, but when he was liberated by US troops later in the war, he weighed a mere 87 pounds. Martello remembers, “We were so malnourished we couldn’t even walk.”
The war ended in 1945 but even now, the war still rages for Dominic Martello. “I’m back there, that’s my problem. Post Traumatic Stress, I was just back there. I can be driving my car and BAM…I’m there. I can be eating supper and BAM…I’m there…24 hours a day, seven days a week…all my life. I’m controlled by memories…I don’t want to be but I am.”
Dominic Martello was interviewed by Museum Historian Thomas Lofton in Martello’s home in Metairie, LA on August 28, 2008.
History Day Coordinator Nathan Huegen will explore the experiences of Louisiana’s WWII POW camps. Learn how the labor from these prisoners affected the state and how Louisiana residents reacted to them.
Thursday, February 21, 2013, 6:00 pm Film Screening – Stalag 17
This 1953 film tells the story of a group of American airmen held in a German POW camp, who come to suspect that one of their number is a traitor. Produced and directed by Billy Wilder, it starred William Holden, Don Taylor, Robert Strauss, Neville Brand, Harvey Lembeck, and Peter Graves.
Based on the play/film Stalag 17, this TV series ran from 1965 to 1971 and focuses on the exploits of five POWs who aim to sabotage the German war effort. Select episodes will be screened and discussed.
Kevin Fontenot will discuss the war service, POW experiences and post war musical careers of three influential figures in country music: Charlie Fitch (founder of Sarge records), Cajun music pioneer Julius “Papa Cairo” Lamperez and Sidney “Hardrock” Gunter, who recorded what is widely regarded as one of the first rock and roll records.
The story of a group of more than 300 American soldiers who were captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. Because they were either Jewish or “looked” Jewish, they were sent to concentration camps instead of POW camps, where many died. Directed by Charles Guggenheim.
Moderated by Robert Miller (director of the Patton Foundation and author of Hidden Hell: Discovering My Father’s POW Diary) this panel will bring together children and grandchildren of men held as POWs during WWII.
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969) is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about an Allied soldier called Billy Pilgrim. One of Vonnegut’s most influential and popular works. Join us for a discussion on this moving book.
On 18 October 1942, the Führer himself issued the Kommandobefehl, or Commando Order. Based on previous successes of Commando-spearheaded surprise attacks such as the Raid at St. Nazaire, Hitler realized the enormous potential of British Special Forces in particular (though the ordered applied to all Allied belligerents) to cause massive disruption to German military superiority in Europe. Even with the Dieppe Raid proving a total disaster, its failure was not caused by a lack of competence of the soldiers on the ground, but more so by the inability to complete pre-invasion bombardment and other factors out of the control of those involved.
The order was justified by the Germans through rumors–the veracity of which remains unclear–that British commandos or “sabotage forces” had on more than one occasion tied up German prisoners of war, which itself went against the Geneva Conventions, and therefore legitimized the radical Commando Order. Regardless of the supposed rationality behind the order, it was treated as top secret and only to be seen by the highest command.
What the order called for went completely against the Conventions regarding the handling of prisoners of war. Hitler’s decree ordered than any commando encountered by German forces was to be turned over immediately to the Gestapo or SD, whether he surrendered or not, and regardless of if he was in uniform or plain clothes (typically, those in plain clothes were considered spies and were therefore not protected by the Conventions), or else-wise to be completely “annihilated” in battle Once turned over to the German intelligence and police units, these “prisoners” were generally sent to camps for execution. Any German officers who did not obey said order would be tried by military courts. The Nuremberg Trials would find this order, not surprisingly, a war crime and many of those who carried it out were convicted and sentenced to death.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.