The POW camp

Veterans’ Voices is directed toward veterans and their families who have given so much to ensure our freedom in this country. This is an area where you may share your experiences, or read of other veterans’ experiences. We thank you for your service, and hope that you know how much you are loved and appreciated.

 

Jim was at the ripe age of 18 when WWII broke out. He was eager to see the world and experience its adventures. He quickly joined the Air Force, thinking and knowing it would be his ticket to the adventure he wanted.


He soon learned life as a recruit was far from glamorous. It was hard work. The young recruit decided to train as a tail-gunner and was assigned to a mighty B-17 Flying Fortress. The crew was formed, and the bond of a lifetime was made. After months of training, the tight-knit company was sent to Framingham England as part of the 390th Bombardment Group flying missions over Europe.


The last part of 1943, Jim was sent out on a mission targeting a ball-bearing plant in Schweinfurt, Germany. The raid, later known as “Black Thursday,” was the worst day for American strategic bombing in the war. Jim and his crew were some of the casualties. What followed was 19 months of anguish, strife, and pain. The crew was ordered to jump from the aircraft — a first for all of them. As Joe exited the tail door of the aircraft, his parachute disengaged prematurely, jerking him literally out of his boots. The only instruction he had been given, was to find the ground with his eyes and prepare for impact. Nothing could have prepared him for his particular landing. He plummeted through a tiled roof of an old church only to be pulled back out again by the straps of his parachute, breaking his leg, and knocking him unconscious. Upon regaining consciousness, he realized where he was. Germany. With an angry crowd of villagers and Hitler Youth surrounding him and a gun held to his head, he surrendered. Encouraged by the Hitler Youth, one man swung a heavy cane across his nose, breaking it. The crowd began to pummel the young staff sergeant until he passed out.


After days of solitary confinement and interrogation, the reunited crew boarded a train bound for Krems, Austria, then forced to walk to Stalag 17B, the infamous Prisoner of War Camp. Life there held its own horror stories, but times best remembered were that crew. During this time, the men grew closer than a family. A bond that spans 50 years. They had to be resourceful and innovative to maintain their own well being and peace of mind. Harsh treatment was a common occurrence, but the men held on and made the best of their days.


Finally in May of 1945, the POWs were liberated by General Patton’s Third US Army. After hospitalization and process, he at last boarded a ship bound for the states. A train brought him back to his home.


He came back home to start his life to start a family. He was blessed with 3 children. He and his wife together instilled in their family love, laughter, contentment, hard work and an appreciation for all that life had given them.


He rarely discussed the trauma of war with his family… a memory too painful to revisit, but through his silence, he taught them freedom is a rare and wonderful thing.


Now, lets think about this a minute. How lucky we are to live in a free country. At times, I take driving a car to the grocery store for granted. I looked up the word “Granted” in the dictionary. It means fail to appreciate (Someone or something), especially as a result of overfamiliarity. “The comforts that people take for granted. To never think about something because you believe it will always be available or stay exactly the same.”


I have found out the hard way to never expect that. The only thing (hopefully) that is constant is our American Flag. I mentioned before that I volunteer at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Museum on Wednesdays. Every time I walk in there, I feel different. There are so many memories or spirits or maybe just a feeling that I feel every time I walk in there. At times, it seems to overcome me. The different wars represented there, all of the medals and ribbons that were not just given out but earned. The stories behind all of the heroes represented. The real-life letters that were written, the actual telegrams sent, letting family members know that their hero is missing in action or worse, added to the long list of the fallen. Some of the mannequins dressed in uniform with their bio next to them. What history!


If anybody reading this wants to find out about history, or to learn about true heroes, then visit the Veterans Memorial Museum. You will not be sorry. It would be impossible to see everything in one day there. We have many Docents there that are true American Heroes who would love to show you around or go by yourself. Bring your entire family. You will be presently surprised. See you there.


Email me at AboutVets@yahoo.com.


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— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army/Vietnam,


1st Cav/9th Infantry