On December 25, 1944, Carroll Sammetinger began his Christmas postcard to his parents, “Am Safe, A Prisoner of War in Germany; do not worry.” Thousands of Americans were captured during the Battle of the Bulge and ended up spending Christmas 1944, as prisoners of war. Lieutenant Carroll Sammetinger, from Lima, Ohio, served with the 46th Armored Infantry Battalion, 5th Armored Division. He was captured December 20, 1944, and was sent first to Stalag XIB and then to Oflag 79, where he stayed until being liberated on April 12, 1945.
In Sammetinger’s journal, he wrote about his experiences, about foods he wants to remember (ice cream with Baby Ruth bars!) and recorded addresses of fellow POWs. Sammetinger’s collection—which includes his handwritten diary, numerous telegrams and letters, two hand-carved cigarette boxes, and German insignia gathered as souvenirs—is one of many treasured collections received by The National WWII Museum in 2016.
Thank you to Sammetinger’s daughter, Sara Hammond, for sharing these pieces with the Museum and the world. They are powerful reminders of the separation, distance, and uncertainty experienced by many Americans during World War II.
Post by Assistant Director for Curatorial Services Kimberly Guise.
On April 9th, National Former POW Recognition Day, we remember the American men and women held captive during war. Over 120,000 Americans were held as POWs during WWII. 12,228 died in captivity. National Former POW Recognition Day, as designated by Congress, falls on the anniversary of the United States’ surrender on the Bataan Peninsula, beginning the Bataan Death March.
Pfc Jack W. Grady was captured in the Philippines and survived the Bataan Death March and captivity as a POW in Japan. The Museum recently received a collection of material from Grady’s daughter. This material includes over 60 postcards and letters send across North America to Grady’s parents after hearing a shortwave Radio Tokyo broadcast that Grady participated in while a prisoner. Also included are the short notes that Grady was allowed to send to his family, letting them know that he was still alive. In the postcard pictured above, Grady mentions not having received word from his family for over a year. This was all too common in the case of Pacific Theater POWs, whose average length of captivity was over three years.
On May 8, 1945, World War II ended in Europe and this year, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of V-E [Victory in Europe] Day. While jubilant celebrations took place throughout the world, others lived this moment in a more quiet and reflective way.
Yesterday we received an email from a WWII vet, blogger and former POW, James Baynham, in which he shared his own personal V-E Day experience.
James C. Baynham served in the USAAF as a B-24 pilot in the 445th Bombardment Group (H) in the European Theater of Operations. Baynham flew 11 missions before being shot down on September 27, 1944 during the raid on Kassel, Germany when hundreds of German Fw190 and Me109 fighters attacked his squadron. He was captured and spent seven months in Stalag Luft I.
Jim Baynham with his B-24 Crew. Jim is in the second row, second from the right.
The months between January and May 1945 were some of the harshest for American POWs in Europe. The severe weather, overcrowding, forced marches, and mistreatment by captors who were on the brink of defeat all took a physical and mental toll on the POW population. In Europe during WWII, 1, 121 American prisoners of war died while captive, most in the waning months of the war. By 20 May 1945, all surviving American POWs were back in US hands, some held weeks after war’s end by Soviet forces.
Baynham recollected on his whereabouts seventy years ago:
Tomorrow will be V-E day. And those days seventy years ago are surprisingly fresh in my mind. I was three weeks shy of having my 21st birthday and woke up the morning of the seventh in a soft feather bed in Wismar, Germany. It was a town that British troops had taken, and I had arrived the day before after trekking through about 60 kilometers of Russian controlled territory. Pat Murphy, a fellow POW and I had left Stalag Luft One and made our way to Wismar on our own. We weren’t sure how we were going to get home but we figured if we kept going West we would find American troops and now, lying in luxury, out of the dangerous land of Russian convoys and safely in Allied territory, we were really and truly safe and for sure would see those beautiful G.I.s later that day. About a quarter million German troops had come to this town also, fleeing capture, and certain death by the Russians. They probably felt as relieved as Pat and me, but they were camped in fields all around the town while we were snug in bed. In a few weeks we would be home, but right then, seventy years ago this morning, we were good!
In late February 1946, Colonel Jesse Thomas Traywick, Sr. visited his niece Jean’s class at the Goode Street School, an elementary school in Montgomery, Alabama. Hardly half a year had passed since Traywick had been released from over three years of imprisonment by the Japanese. Some of the children wrote Traywick thank-you letters, including his niece Jean, whose letter (pictured in the center below) stated “I appreciate you coming here very much. One little girl said I was lucky to have an uncle like you.”
Traywick had served in the Philippines as Gen. Jonathan Wainwright’s G-3, or Assistant Chief of Staff and was entrusted to deliver a handwritten letter of surrender to Maj. Gen. William Sharp. Although Wainwright had agreed to surrender, General Homma wanted assurance that the forces under Maj. Gen. William Sharp would also put down their arms. Traywick was held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese from the fall of Corregidor on 6 May 1942, until the end of hostilities in August 1945.
Those of us who work with archival collections come into contact with unique handwriting nearly every day. Although we can normally decipher the script (predominantly English in our collection), from WWII, there are times when we have to poll colleagues and guess at what is written. Does it say —? There were times when handwriting played a more central role in communication. In writing to prisoners of war, especially in the Pacific, where letters would be read by both American and Japanese censors, writers received special instruction. Most importantly, the letters were to be short (no more than 25 words) and were to be typed or block printed. Letters that did not comply with these rules, were returned.
We have examples of these failed attempts at communication from a collection of material related to the imprisonment by the Japanese of USMC Sgt. Edward A. Padbury. POWs in Japan were allowed very little, if any, correspondence with their loved ones. Mail was regularly delayed by nearly a year. General Jonathan Wainwright’s wife, Adele, reportedly sent him 300 letters over the three-plus years of his imprisonment. He received a total of six.
Catherine Faye, Edward Padbury’s sister, had some unsuccessful efforts to write to her brother. The first letter was returned on two accounts. It was longer than 25 words and written in cursive. The second letter was block printed, but also too long. We do not have any correspondence from Sgt. Padbury, but we do know that he survived the war and was liberated from Shinjoku POW Camp in the Tokyo Bay area.
Victims of the Malmedy Massacre taken on 14 January 1945. National Archives Image from the Collection of The National WWII Museum.
Seventy years ago, in the days of January 13th and 14th American troops began to uncover this gruesome scene in the snow in Belgium. The murder had occurred weeks earlier; murder, because the American victims had already surrendered to the Germans and were thus afforded the rights of POWs under the Geneva Conventions. Instead of being held captive and transported to a POW camp, on December 17th, 1944, outside of Malmedy, Belgium, 84 American POWs were murdered by their German captors, part of the 1st SS Panzer Division. The war crime now known as the “Malmedy Massacre” was part of a series of such killings in which 362 American POWs (and over 100 Belgian civilians) perished.
73 men were tried for these crimes in the War Crimes Trials held at Dachau in 1946, in which 1,672 German war criminals were charged. Of these 73, 42 received death sentences, 21 life imprisonment and the rest, long sentences. All of these sentences were eventually commuted and by 1956, all had been released from prison.
See an interview with Ted Paluch, survivor of the massacre on our Digital Collections site, recorded in October 2009 by the Museum’s Manager of Research Services Seth Paridon. And read more about Paluch in this Oral History Spotlight, previously featured on our blog. See also the entry on this tragedy in our digital exhibit on POWs in Europe, Guests of the Third Reich.
Louis Zamperini at The National WWII Museum in 2011
This week marks the release of Angelina Jolie’s film about Louis Zamperini based on Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller, Unbroken. Mr. Zamperini shared his emotional story with the Museum in the form of an oral history in 2011. It can be viewed in our Digital Collection.
Zamperini, an Olympic track runner, served as a bombardier in the 307th Bombardment Group, 7th Air Force, flying B-24 Liberators in the Pacific. Zamperini’s aircraft went down in the Pacific and he and the two other survivors from his crew were adrift for 47 days. Captured and tortured by the Japanese, he survived the war, regaining freedom on August 20, 1945. Zamperini was one of the 34,648 Americans held prisoner by the Japanese during WWII. Nearly 40% of those men died in captivity, a staggering 12,935 lives lost.
Read more about the Museum’s collection Pacific Theater POW artifacts and the story of the Ofuna Roster. Visit the Museum on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 for a Lunchbox Lecture on the Ofuna Roster and the ties to Unbroken and Zamperini’s story.
Seventy years ago, on 30 November 1944, the “Kriegies”– short for Kriegsgefangener, German for POW– in Stalag Luft IV celebrated Thanksgiving. They used the traditional date of the 30th of November (for more on this see the previous post on “Franksgiving”). Naturally, this issue of Kriegie Kronikle spotlighted the work of the “Chow Chuckers,” the men who “perform the tasks which are inevitable & necessary in unpacking, sorting, repacking & loading of the chow we all idolize (the word is a masterpiece of understatement!).”
Gift of the Family of Willard Charles Miller, 2012.388
Seventy years ago today—on 7 November 1944—47,977,063 Americans voted in the Presidential Election. For those serving away from home, it was possible to vote in elections. The first step was for the service person to apply for a state ballot before September 1, 1944. If the state ballot had not arrived by October 1, which was the case more often than not, the service member received a shortened Federal ballot (containing only President, Vice President and Congressmen), given that the state in which the service member qualified to vote in had passed legislation to authorize use of the shortened Federal ballot. Not surprisingly, given all of these restrictions, in the end, only 85,000 Federal ballots were sent to those serving overseas. Thomas Dewey, the challenger, had hoped to become the first president born in the Twentieth Century, but President Franklin Roosevelt won by 3,285,567 votes and remained in office for a fourth term.
We have several pieces related to the 1944 election. One of the most unique is a newspaper, hand-drawn and hand-lettered by American POWs in Stalag Luft IV in Gross Tychow, Pomerania, which tells of the results of the election in the POW camp. The headline reads “Straw Vote gives FDR the Lager.”
Gift of the Family of Willard Charles Miller, 2012.388
The article (in the center column of the spread) reads:
On the seventh, some of our enterprising friends in the Lager decided to tale a “Gallop” pole & attempt to find who we would elect as President of the U.S. Our opinions probably being a typical cross section of Amer. sentiment during this history making epoch. It might be pertinent to some here & now that they Keystone State (PA.) forwarded ballots to her Kreigies in Germany, & we got the info therefrom. After taking the vote which we feel will materialize into a true forecast of the actual election returns if & when we receive them from the homeland We discovered not to our amazement that the now President Franklin D. Roosevelt carried the pseudo vote by a veritable landslide. Roosevelt & Truman polled 1810 votes against Dewey & Brickers’ 277. Evidently, we had some (only a few thank the good powers that be) would be “hooch peddlers” in our midst for the Prohibition count tallied to 62 pledges.
The Socialist Party collected only 13 votes and believe it or not, we seem to have one man who expects to work when her returns as he indicated by voting for the Labor Party!!!
Looks as if somebody is expecting to return to the “Land of milk and bonuses”!!
Well, cheer up gang, maybe we’ll be home in time for 1948’s voting. Whoknows?
Many of those serving during WWII, did vote for the first time in 1948, as many who were fighting were not old enough to vote. The voting age was finally lowered to eighteen in 1972, hastened by the “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” cries during the Vietnam War. Legislation is still being enacted and expanded to protect the rights of overseas citizens, uniformed service members, and their eligible family members to vote in Federal elections. In 2009, the United States Congress expanded the 1986 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Voting Act (UOCAVA) by enacting the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act to provide greater protection for these rights.
See here for a previous post on the War Ballot of 1944. The ballot was received on December 5, 1944, nearly a full month after the election!
Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. In recognition of those who suffered as POWs in WWII, we would like to highlight a special recent addition to the Museum’s collection and the wonderful connections that the donation of this material set into motion.
We are contacted daily by families of those who served in WWII with questions about artifacts in their possession. In May 2014, Phyllis Parr reached out to the Museum about an artifact from her father’s service.
Phyllis’ father, Phil “Bo” Perabo was from Tupelo, Mississippi and served as a pilot in both the Battle of the Atlantic and in the Pacific. Perabo flew off of the Bogue, the Card and the Bennington. Perabo was captured after bailing out on a mission to Japan, after swimming eight hours to reach the shore. He was taken to Ofuna POW camp where he was reunited with his childhood friend Dave “Son” Puckett, also an aviator who had been captured months earlier.
While at Ofuna—which has received recent news attention because it also became home to Olympic runner Louis Zamperini whose story is told in the bestselling book Unbroken, soon to be a major motion picture—just after liberation, Perabo compiled a roster of all of those confined there, having each man sign in his own hand, his name, unit, and hometown. The roster lists 135 men, predominantly Naval aviators.
Phyllis said about the roster, “My family and I have always believed that the roster does not belong to us alone but to all the families of the men who were at Ofuna.” This led to some citizen archivist work. Phyllis sent out over twenty letters to any former prisoners or their descendants that she could track down. In her letter she told about her dad, about the Ofuna roster and her plans to donate the item to The National WWII Museum. Several people responded to the letter— some with their own stories of their father’s experiences.
On August 8th, having learned of the roster and its placement at the Museum, we received a visit from three grandsons of the late Ofuna POW Forrest E. McCormick. Forrest E. McCormick was a flier in the VF-17 Squadron based on the USS Hornet. It was a miracle, McCormick survived to make it to the Ofuna camp. He had bailed out over a Japanese beach having been shot and having broken his arm at the elbow. A village doctor saved him from villagers bent on beating him to death. After the ordeal in Ofuna his grandson Evan McCormick wrote, “his left arm was 3 inches shorter than his right the rest of his life and instead of the 6, 3’’ height he went to war as, he stood around 6 ft the rest of his life… The happy ending to all this is that he made it back, had four kids, and lived a good life.” It was a profound experience, and seeing the roster was the highlight of the McCormick brothers’ trip.
Phil Perabo passed away on May 18, 2014, just three days after his daughter and I visited and spoke about his experiences. We are grateful to him and to his daughter for documenting his experience and for sharing that documentation with the Museum and others.
The McCormick brothers
Curator Kim Guise and the McCormick brothers
Phil and lifelong friend Dave Puckett, Jr.
Phil Perabo, Jr.
Telegram about Phil Perabo
The Ofuna roster
Images: Gift of the Perabo Family, 2014 and Courtesy of the McCormick Family
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.