Frank C. McGinley's Last Mission in B-17 Aircraft Number 23380
From His Journal
THE LAST MISSION: Wiener Neustadt, November 2nd 1943 in B-17 bomber number 23380, attacked by fighters and crashed. Crew: (P) Charles E. Mason, (CP) Frank C. McGinley, (N) Marcus S. Baker, (B) Anthony W. Rossi, (E) James P. Crockett Jr., (RO) Thomas W. Saucier, (BTG) Arthur H.Gillespie, (WG) Harold C. Roush, (TG) Edward R. Golebiewski. (Saucier, Gillespie and Golebiewski were killed in action and the rest became Prisoners of War). This was the 32nd mission for Bomber Number 23380 of the 32nd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group (H) Frank McGinley wrote the following while a POW (Prisoner of War) at Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany from November 1943 until liberation by Russian troops at the end of the war in 1945.In the prolog to his journal, Frank McGinley dedicated his recollections to fallen comrades.He wrote, "This book and everything in it, it's memories, it's dreams, it's laughs, it's tears; is dedicated to my friends, my buddies in arms who have given their lives that me and mine may live...in peace!"
"PURPLE HEART CORNER"
IT ALL BEGAN ON NOVEMBER 2nd 1943 on a lonely pitch black morning at 4:00 AM and I realized then, if never before, why they called it 'Darkest Africa'. The P.A. system was blaring forth the happy news, "breakfast is now being served for combat personnel briefing in 30 minutes", while in the more antiquated Squadron adjoining ours, the OD (Officer of the day) was feverishly blowing a whistle, in lieu of the P.A. system, at each tent whose occupants were slated for the day's festivities. I hastily got my equipment together, and I say hastily, because as usual, it was always the late Mr. McGinley. With the aid of my feeble flashlight, I groped my way to the Mess Tent to stuff myself on what the mad friends preceding me had left (two biscuits, jelly and coffee). And so to briefing which of necessity, and out of deference to the German Intelligence Officers, I must leave untouched. Suffice it to say it was an interesting and informative hour we put in before leaving on our little pleasure jaunt to Jerry land.
AND SO, UP INTO THE WILD BLUE YONDER, and the big day, little did I know, was started! Everything went smoothly with the exception of the supercharger on the No.1 engine, but we figured with three other engines, we would have no trouble whatsoever getting there. I was having a final cigarette and singing "Oh, what a beautiful morning, Oh, what a beautiful day", prior to putting on my oxygen mask, when I noticed that my chute had popped open. I never gave a thought then to any serious developments on account of this, but I remember thinking what a ribbing I would take from the boys at the base when they heard about it. However, soon after I made this interesting discovery, the Navigator informed us that we were approaching our IP and my thoughts quickly turned to the more serious business ahead. We were flying in "Purple Heart Corner" so we had a pretty good view of the boys ahead going through the flak, or I should say, disappearing in the flak. The whole sky ahead was black, just as it was the last time we were up there. It seemed funny to see and yet satisfying, too, watching what appeared to be toy airplanes in a cloudless sky plunge headlong into that black mass, disappear for a time, and then to reappear on their "rally". It seemed to radiate confidence back to us exhibiting a modest pride in a good job well done.
ALMOST SIMULTANEOUS WITH REACHING THE IP 'tracking flak' picked us up and began working its way toward us. Pilot Charles Mason had asked me at briefing earlier in the day to grab a couple of snapshots of anything worthwhile and with a start I remembered this and grabbed the camera. At almost the same moment, we spotted enemy fighters maneuvering into position, and hardly had I begun my call to the crew, when the Tail Gunner reported fighters attacking from 6 o'clock low and almost immediately he and the Ball turret opened fire, and the pounding of their guns sounded way up in the cockpit even over the roar of our engines, giving as good as was sent, as evidenced by the exultant crow of victory as one of the fighters began smoking and started haphazardly spiraling down, out of the fight for keeps. Finishing their pass at the tail as is the custom of the Foche-Wolfe 190's, they channeled to the right, peeling down to make another pass and exposing only their heavily armored belly to the waist gunner in passing. His tracers were cutting a path to one of these fighters, so I lined him up in the camera sights all set to snap what would have been a swell shot, but at that instant, the ship on our right wing received a direct flak burst and almost immediately burst into flames and started down. I guess none of them ever knew what hit them, and I took the camera down and watched them for a moment with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I realized they were gone. I knew them all and now they were gone with nothing to mark the spot except a trail of oily smoke! I was jarred out of these thoughts, but definitely, when a flak shell burst below our right wing, throwing the ship violently upwards. The main point of damage was in the wing, directly behind No. 3 engine; as though some giant hand had torn a jagged section from the wing, and not satisfied with that, had furthered the destructive work by setting fire to it as well. No. 3 engine was completely knocked out and I remember thinking what a job we would have getting home with all the damage, while with half of my mind I realized it was only a question of time before the ship would blow up. I kept watching the fire, attempting to figure out how long we would last. Could we reach our target to drop our bombs, and would we be able to clear the target before we had to leave her?
DURING THESE MOMENTS WHILE MY THOUGHTS WERE RACING ALL OVER THE PLACE, all hell was breaking loose in the surrounding skies, and I found I was still automatically carrying out my job, setting the prop speed higher, giving our remaining engines all the juice they could take. Four fighters were still coming in, so I grabbed the camera and got a sweet shot as I had planned before, a Foche-Wolfe peeling away and down followed by the tracers from the Waist Gunner, only in the foreground I had focused on our own burning wing. I got one other shot of three Foche-Wolfe coming in from 4 o'clock high, when the Pilot called my attention from the business of calling out the fighters and taking pictures of the same. Our intercom phone had been shot out, so by gestures he informed me that these continued fighter attacks had destroyed our elevator controls and it took our combined strength to hold the ship straight and level for the bomb run. It was now more than ever a race with death to see if we could hang on until our bombs were away and we had gotten clear of the burning target areas before we bailed out.
THE FIGHTERS WERE CHANGING THEIR TACTICS NOW, varying their attack front and rear. The Tail Gunner was killed on one fighter pass and the quiet that settled over the ship told its own tragic story. Our Ball Turret Gunner had also gone to "Airman's Heaven", apparently killed instantly by the flak burst that so damaged our wing. Another flak burst, quite close, destroyed what was left of our aileron control and the A.F.C.E. mechanism too was not functioning. The cry of "Bombs Away" gave us mingled feelings of satisfaction, relief and regret. Relief that we had done our job well, but regret for at that clarion call, our last connection with our buddies was severed.
THE GROUP RALLIED ON THEIR WAY HOME, while we had no choice but to continue straight ahead, hoping to reach a safe place to bail out before the fire reached our gas tank. Almost as though a part of a pre-arranged plan, our exit cue was given by an off stage prompter in the personage of an unknown German fighter pilot. Our top turret gunner was very short in stature and to that fact alone, can he attribute his prolongation of life at that particular moment. One of his guns jammed, and being small, he had to duck down out of the turret to clear the jam. While thus engaged, a spray of lead perforated the cockpit, and a 20mm cannon shell burst in the turret, blowing it completely off the ship. It was almost laughable to see his eyes bulge out in surprise as he stuck his head out of what was left of his gun mount into the slipstream. Then, to add insult to injury, for the first time he noticed the wing burning; a tribute to his concentration on protecting the ship from the fighters. When he spotted the fire he crawled out of his turret again and forcibly called the pilots' attention to the fire. Up to that time I firmly believe the fire was known only to the Bombardier and myself. He had noticed it while following the erratic flight of an Me109 he had shot down.
THE ALARM BELL RANG and the top turret gunner started toward the bomb bay preparatory to leaving the ship. By the time I got my chute picked up (or, so I thought) he had already attempted to open the bomb bay doors, and failed. He jumped into the bomb bay just as I came though the door and partially sprang it, and by kicking and squirming he got out, almost.The door slammed shut on him, just as he fell out, catching his left arm and part of his chute inside. Don't ask me why, but I automatically used my old bean for a change and jumped into the bomb bay and sprung the Engineer clear. It is fortunate for him that I did, for he told us later that the slipstream was banging him against the fuselage and seemed to be tearing his arm out of the socket as well as ripping his shroud lines. However, he was out now and that's what was the important thing. It was then, however, that I started to sweat because when I went back to again try to open the bomb bay doors, through the door came good old Lt. Mason with the rest of my chute. I hadn't known till then how badly caught my pilot chute was in the turret and seats. He very nicely handed me my chute, signaled 'thumbs up', pulled the bomb bay release (this time it worked), and out I went, the chute ballooning right in the bomb bay. What a feeling of relief when I swung clear of the ship. I then looked up at my pretty little chute and started my sweating all over again, because two complete panels of the chute were torn out, either in all that jumping around the bomb bay, or when the chute opened in the ship. I said my favorite little prayer, although I didn't do too good a job of it at the time. As I looked, the chute made an ominous ripping sound just once, and after that is was the most pleasant, peaceful grandstand seat any man could ever have for a real view of combat at its best or worst, depending on your point of view.
I COULD SEE OUR SHIP, SMOKE AND FLAME STREAMING FROM IT, majestically descending and Mason's chute billowing behind it. I could spot other chutes below me, and see fighters still attacking old "Pistol Packin Mama". One of them buzzed me, but did nothing more than start my chute gently oscillating. Off in the distance I could see our boys going home silhouetted against a sky darkened by the rolling clouds of smoke and flame emanating from the target area.
I HIT THE GROUND AND HEADED FOR THE HILLS, despite the fact that one of my boots dropped off when I bailed out. I climbed up and down hills for quite a while until the sounds of my pursuers increased. I burrowed in on the side of one of the hills in a nice thick protective screen of trees, covering up with dead leaves and branches to camouflage myself. I still had my Mae West with me figuring I could make some kind of covering out of it for my foot. I knew I couldn't go far with only one flying boot. While laying there sweating out detection, I opened my escape kit and distributed the various articles into my pockets for future use. The nearest I could figure out I was some 70 miles from Yugoslavia and about 150 miles from Tito's forces who were our Guerrilla Allies. Just then something happened that temporarily drove hope from me. The searching parties had narrowed their search down to my little hill and I could see them quite plainly from where I lay. Apparently my covering was working for they passed within 10 or 15 feet and it seemed they looked right through me. One of them had a dog that spotted me and came right up sniffing at my boot. His master thought he was after rabbits and, to my relief, called him and off they went on their way. I figured now I was all set and as soon as the sun went down I could start my trek to freedom.
DESPITE THE COLD I FELT PRETTY GOOD. Around 6 PM the sun disappeared over the hill and I prepared to shove off. Little did I know then that the twilight would be my undoing. My place of concealment was OK in the sunlight, but with the sun's rays no longer glancing off my leafy covering, I stood out like a sore thumb. Halfway down the hill, three German or Austrian soldiers were still searching when one of them looked my way, and that was that! He leveled his gun at me, shouting at the top of his lungs in what sounded like double-talk. As though by magic, forms seemed to spring up all around me; old men with Nazi arm bands, Youth Movement kids and even two young girls with guns bigger than they were. I don't know what worried me most, the thought of capture or those nervous kids with guns. They were a lot more nervous than I was however, I thought at any minute they would let go at me. It sounds funny now even to me, but believe me, at the time, I wondered! I rose to my feet and tried to explain to them I was 'waiting for a streetcar' and if they would go away they would make me very happy. They apparently didn't understand the language, and all I could get out of them was a light for my cigarette. They wouldn't come close to me. They just threw the matches at my feet. After looking me over like a "Man from Mars", they finally marched me off to a flak battery nearby where they tried to explain they had a comrade of mine. It didn't feel too near with my bare feet. As we approached, I recognized Sgt. Crockett, the good soldier he was, greeted me with a snappy salute which I returned. I was sorry to see he had been captured, but was glad to see him looking okay. I had been wondering how badly he was hurt when he was caught in the bomb bay. His left arm was pretty badly banged up, but I couldn't tell if it was broken or not! He wondered who it was that released him from the ship and was profuse with his thanks when I told him I was the lucky boy.
I THEN TRIED TO COMMUNICATE TO OUR GERMAN HOST that I wanted a Doctor to look after Crockett's arm and they ran off and returned in a moment with a cup of weak hot chocolate. Apparently they misunderstood me slightly. By reverting to sign language and a soft-shoe dance, I finally got it across to them that I didn't usually appear in public with only one shoe on! They took the hint and dug up a boot for my left foot and then, by motions and a gentle prodding with the muzzle of their rifles, we got the idea that another tour of Austria was to begin. We walked, limped or what have you, lugging our chutes with us through the hills and vales and little villages for what seemed an eternity. At each village or farm settlement, we picked up a following of civilians, all anxious to see the vaunted American Terrorfliegers. Although I couldn't understand what they said, I gathered that they didn't exactly like us nor our bombs. C'est La Guerre! Knowing as we did that some of our boys had met with rough handling at the hands of irate citizens whose homes had been destroyed, this little gathering didn't make us feel any too good about the whole situation. We finally arrived at our destination, the headquarters of the flak batteries stationed in that area. Here we met another American Sergeant with a badly wounded leg. He was waiting patiently for assistance, but there didn't seem to be much being done about it. One of the Jerrys understood English slightly, and through him I made my demands for medical attention for these two injured men. They got a medic for them, and I was then taken into the inner sanctum to be interrogated by a Major who was their Commanding Officer.
IT WAS HERE I FIRST MET LT. DICK EGGERS. The four of us were finally moved out to the airfield in the town of Wiener Neustadt for safe keeping. We were put in the back of an open truck accompanied by soldiers with machine guns to guard us. They started the 'cold treatment' that I was to feel so much in the days to come. We weren't exactly dressed for the occasion and had only our parachutes for protection from the bitter cold wind. At one of the towns we picked up a flock of young Jerry soldiers, Luftwaffe ground crew, who were also heading for the airport. Again, we were subjected to the suspicious and curious scrutiny of German eyes. They soon turned from this unprofitable pleasure to skylarking. I imagine, for our benefit, like a bunch of good old G.I's with half a load on! Any passing person, male or female, was in for a chorus of catcalls and whistling. But every time we passed a demolished or semi-demolished building or area they quieted down and bestowed looks of hate in our direction. We finally arrived at the airfield, and before we were taken in we had the opportunity of seeing the German night defenses practicing their deadly work. A simulated attacking bomber was "coned" with their searchlights, and various night fighters made pass after pass at it. We thought it might be the real thing for a while, but the markings on all the planes became clear as they approached and we saw they all had the German Cross on them. The same German Cross that we had seen earlier that day going down in flames.
A FORETASTE OF WHAT WAS TO COME. A death-knell for a nation doomed to final and definite destruction. Maybe not in a day, nor a month, but coming inexorably closer with each passing day, each mission completed, with each battle won. We found out later that our thoughts would not always be this high, but deep inside we always knew and believed in the inevitability of Germany's end and with this rested our future hopes. We were finally taken inside what appeared to be a Luftwaffe guardhouse and the four of us were taken into a room about 20 feet by 7 feet. By sign language we were told to make ourselves comfortable, ha, ha! Eventually they brought in some live coals and started a fire in our little stove. Boy did that warmth feel good. Eggers understood a few, a very few, words in German, the most important of which at the time was 'essen' (to eat) and 'wasser' (water). They got the idea finally, and brought us coffee, a loaf of black bread and a piece of bacon. It was actually 90% fat. They kept pointing at the food, saying "Gut!, Gut!", indicating that this was a very special treat in Germany. That's what we needed to really warm us we thought, but when we tasted it, brother, all I can say is it shouldn't happen to a dog! If there is anything in this whole world that tastes worse than "Ersatz Coffee" it's "Ersatz Tea", and I hadn't encountered that as yet. Our German chums didn't like our refusing to drink their 'devils brew' and thought we were crazy when we expressed a desire for just plain "wasser". However, they brought us some and we attempted to satisfy the "inner man" with these choice morsels. As in our previous encounters with them, we were again the center of a curiosity bitten throng. After eating and warming up a little at the fire, we realized we had a pretty long eventful day, and a little sleep wouldn't hurt. We stretched out as best we could on our "Simmons mattress", boards to you and they took the hint, while putting out the lights as they left. Tired as I was, sleep didn't come easily, and midnight found me still just dozing and reviewing the day's happenings. Then I heard quite a commotion in the hall. I lay for a minute wondering 'now what'? Then above the noise I heard a familiar voice ask 'who's got a light?'. It was Dick Moon's voice, the last man I talked to outside of the crew before taking off. We had ridden out to the line on the same truck and as each group of men jumped off and went to their ships, the usual remarks were passed; "Good luck gang, see you at mess" or "Have a nice time, boys". That wasn't the way Dick saw it. As he jumped out he turned and laughingly said, "See you in Chetnik Headquarters, Mac". And now here we were 18 hours later, both Prisoners of War, and nary a chance of getting to Yugoslavia "Chetnik Headquarters". I waited a couple of minutes and then walked out into the hall and greeted the boys. I came out into the lighted hall, rubbing my eyes and growled, "Say, can't a guy get any sleep in this joint?!" Boy, did that give them a jolt! Talking it over later, I found out that they had been wondering what happened to me, and my sudden appearance had kind of a ghostly tinge to it. With Dick were the other boys from our ship; Mason, Rossi, Baker and our waist gunner Rauch, and also Dick's ball gunner and Engineer.
IT WAS PRACTICALLY A GATHERING OF THE CLAN. We were chased back into our 'boudoir' where we woke Crockett and the other boys and made the necessary introductions. The Germans brought in some bread and coffee for the new arrivals and we sat back to watch their reaction to Germany's contribution to the coffee industry. We got quite a laugh from the hurt look on their faces! The old bull was thrown, while they ate, about our varied experiences of that day and as the saying goes, "The first liar didn't have a chance". We finally retired once more to our not so soft bed and I wound up firmly wedged between Rossi and Dick. Came the dawn and I pried my way out of Rossi's embrace and woke him with a punch in the ribs. He woke up and seemed disappointed to find me there instead of who he was dreaming about. Finally all of the boys came out of it and we started jabbering where we left off the night before. About 8:00 AM our German chums brought in our morning taste thrill. We managed to polish it off and then one by one we were taken in and searched and questioned. Some of the Jerrys were sullen and grim, but some of them were just young happy go lucky kids. We found out later that the airport we were at was not only a fighter field, but an advanced training base for their pilots. This explained the hoards of kids around the place. It was funny to try and talk to them as they were pretty impressed by our "Bombers" and tried to demonstrate how they in their fighters would attack us. We tried to talk them out of the flying game, telling them that while they might knock a few of us down, we got our bombs on target regardless and most of us went home to fly again the next day and there were plenty more to take our place. Meanwhile they (the Jerrys) were getting fewer and fewer after each battle. For example, just the day before, their losses outnumbered ours, 3 to 1, despite the fact that they had thrown their best men, Goering's crack "Yellow Nose Squadron" against us. It was sort of a revival of an old feud. During the battle of Africa, our Squadron had tangled with Goering's boys and cleaned house.
AS A BADGE OF VICTORY, FROM THEN ON OUR WHEELS WERE PAINTED YELLOW, as a constant reminder to Jerry of that meeting. We sustained the heaviest losses of anyone the day before for this very reason. Our wheels stood out like sore thumbs and boy did they lay for us! However, we took a lot more of them down than they did us and by holding their attention, so to speak, we saved the other boys a lot of trouble. Even so, 3 out of the 4 ships of our Squadron that went down managed to fight them off until we dropped our bombs on the target. Not a bad record when we took the brunt of the attack. However we couldn't convince these kids that it was all over but the shouting, despite the fact that for the moment they were the victors and we the vanquished! Along about 10:00, a Jerry came in all excited about something and despite the cold opened our only window. We immediately set up a howl, but he kept hollering 'boom!' and shaking the windows, so we finally got the idea that someone's bombs hadn't gone off yesterday and they were going to set them off now and he wanted the window open so the concussion wouldn't break it. This was something new as we had dropped plenty but had never heard or felt them go off before. We were still talking when "Broooom!", went the first one. What a blast! The window slammed shut and the noise was deafening. This was repeated at intervals until all six were set off. Boy, what an experience! We knew they were being set off at a distance and individually, but it was still terrific. What must it be when hundreds or thousands of these babies go off almost at once. No wonder Jerry is on his way out. This turned the discussion to the effects of our bombing yesterday. We know from what we saw that we did a good job. But when one of the Jerrys slipped and told us that we had put 90% of the plant completely out of commission, we were as excited and pleased as schoolboys after a big meet. The questioning took up most of the day, and during the course, we discovered we weren't the only new captives. Dick Egger's Bombardier, Charlie Major, was in another room with some enlisted men from a B-24 crew. At about 7:00 we were told we were to be moved out that evening. At 8:30 all 20 of us piled out and got into the bus they had waiting. Moon and I went way to the back where there was an emergency exit that we thought might prove interesting. We had 4 or 5 Jerry guards armed with Tommy guns, but they all sat up front, so as soon as we got clear of the field, we went to work on the door. Unfortunately, it was double-barred on the outside and the windows too were locked. Before we had much success with the hinges on the door, we pulled into the railroad station, and that was that.
WE WERE HERDED INTO A WAITING RAILROAD CAR and were joined by 20 other boys who had been captured the day before and had been kept in storage at another point. The car was faintly reminiscent of our own streetcars at home with wooden seats and windows that naturally wouldn't open. Our supplement of guards was increased to about 20 and they brought along our food for the trip. It was more of the black bread and cheese. We felt the cold and the drafts from the broken floor boards of the car, so we huddled together as best we could with our feet on the opposite seat to get away from the drafts. But that didn't last long, as a Jerry came back and knocked my feet to the floor with his bayonet. I knew then how those comic tramps felt in the movies when the "Copper" banged their feet to keep them from sleeping on the park benches. We had quite an audience of civilians on hand, eager to view 'those Terrorfleighers' and we amused ourselves until the train pulled out by making horrible faces at them and growling like hungry animals. Finally the train pulled out and to keep our spirits up and also for Jerry's benefit, we started a songfest. "I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo", "The Air Corps Song", "I've Been Working on the Railroad", etc .The time passed quickly despite the cold and we soon found ourselves pulling into Vienna. It was a totally different Vienna from the one we knew in the movies. It was just another darkened, scared, war torn town. We pulled into a small station just on the outskirts of town and, picking up our allotted food ration, we staggered off the train. The word "staggered" is an exaggeration, of course, but I sure wish you could feel the weight of one of those loaves of bread. A man has to be in damn good shape to carry one of them, much less thrust it into his unsuspecting and unconditioned stomach! We had to walk about two blocks from the station to a trolley stop. The first car that came by was commandeered for our private use. I don't imagine the civilian population liked the idea of getting off, but you know how it is, nothing too good for the Americans and we couldn't associate with just anyone ha!, ha!. After about 15 minutes ride out we went again.
THIS TIME WE WERE IN THE CENTER OF TOWN and had another short walk through a fairly decent looking park and arrived at the main station. The inside of the station was brilliantly lit and it took a moment to accustom our eyes to the glare. My first impression was eye staring eyes all over the place! Everyone in the place stopped still for a minute and once again, we were the center of attraction. Our guards herded us off to a corner of the concourse and the silence was broken only by the angrily ominous mutterings of the bystanders interspersed with a few typical American wisecracks. We had about half and hour until train time and in that time we got quite a view of the cross section of the German people. Few and far between were smiling faces. For the most part, tears and bitterness were the predominant emotion. Soldier after soldier with full pack was taking leave of his loved ones while a few, a very few were coming home on leave. What caused us the most surprise was the age and in some cases, the lack of it in their fighting men. They were all very old or very young, the bottom of the barrel so to speak. Finally our train pulled in and we trotted off to embark again for points unknown. Our guards had little trouble clearing a path for us and even more trouble explaining to the other passengers that we must have seats together so they could keep an eagle eye on us. We got hold of a map from their timetable and were able to trace our course through Nuremburg, Lilz, Regensburg, etc. In all of them we could see evidence of where the 'stone termites' and been at work with good effective bombing where it was needed.
WE FINALLY PULLED INTO THE TOWN OF FRANKFURT. We looked hard all around us, but could see no evidence of any bombing. We found out we were going to Oberusel, a few miles out of town, where we would be interrogated. On our arrival there we had the alternative of waiting two hours in the cold for a bus or hiking about two miles to the "cooler" as our new home was affectionately to be known. Putting it to the wounded men in the party, we decided to do it on foot. When we got to the "cooler" we were all packed into a very small room and then called out individually and assigned to a private room for each man. Of course, at Sing-sing it is known as solitary confinement and 'that ain't good'. My room was 8 ft by 4 ft, with one barred window, a steel bed with an excelsior mattress encased in burlap. It had 8 boards to support my weight, two thin blankets to cover me, a chair, a water pitcher and a radiator. I found out later to my great discomfort that it didn't work. Despite the cold, I had to strip down while my clothing was searched. Everything of value was confiscated, my lucky silver dollar went, my pencils, notebook, cigarettes, candy, and they even took my prayer book. I had to talk like the devil to keep my Rosary. I spent a very restless night and as a result of my unsuccessful interrogation, I spent a very uncomfortable one. The next day was a repetition of the previous one. At 8 AM I had my two slices of bread and tea and at noon hot potato soup (it sure tasted good, then) and at 6 PM I got two more slices of bread and tea. I managed to fill up the days by counting the nails on the walls, the boards in the floor, etc. I exercised, prayed, and waited. It is hard to describe these days now as time crawled by. With the end of the interrogation phase of our journey, we were transported by train to our POW camp. We had arrived at our final destination, Stalag Luft 1, our new home for the duration of the war. (Ed. note: Stalag Luft 1 was liberated by Russian ground troops at the conclusion of the war in Europe.)
POW CAMP-Stalag Luft 1
November 11, 1943
FINALLY AFTER 52 HOURS OF INTERMITTENT TRAVEL the train stopped. Our private cars were unhooked and we had reached Barth, Germany. It was to be our home until such time as we were officially relieved by a detachment of U.S. Marines, G.I.s, Paratroops, or some such outfit. Here in this little, lonely station we got our first taste of German efficiency and an idea of what life was to be like in the long, long months to come. It was 10 PM so the Jerries in charge decided we would spend the night in the cars and move to the prison camp in the morning. We just got ourselves as comfortably situated as possible when they suddenly told us to move out immediately. We got our meager belongings together and out we went into the black night, and I do mean black. It was raining and cold but that didn't disturb our German chums. It seems they were dressed for it but we didn't happen to be as well prepared. We lined up in a column of fours while Jerries 'mit' dogs 'und' flashlights 'und' schmeisers 'und' lugers 'und' so forth lined up on all sides of us. They counted us and counted us and then counted us again. Fine! All present and accounted for. So now it was permissible for the wounded and sick men to fall out and board the ambulance. Thoughtful of them, eh? The rest of us were marched off after being warned not to talk or sing going through the town as it might provoke the local citizens. Naturally all we needed were these kindly words and we were in the proper mood to sing. We sang everything in the book. American tunes, Limey tunes, old ones and new; we even sang one for the Marines! It wasn't much of a town but it was the last bit of civilization we were to see for quite a while and we tried to make the most of it. The camp was situated about 2 miles from the town and by wallowing over a couple of dirt roads and a field we managed to get pretty well soaked, dirty and tired. The camp itself was black as pitch with the exception of the Guard towers whose search lights coned us as though we were enemy aircraft. After a short chat with the guard at the main gate, the 'superman' at the head of our column finally convinced him we were legally entitled to enter these sacred portals and we passed through. It wasn't exactly like the movies where the iron door clanks shut with a grim finality, but the barbed wire gate did sort of creak as it swung shut and brother it sure sounded final when they turned the key in the lock. We were allowed to stand out in the cool evening air and rain while one by one we were taken in and searched. Seems like all they do here in Deutschland is search people. Guess they don't trust us. We thought it very inhospitable of them and the English fellows with us took what they called a 'dim view' of the proceedings. They didn't take too long however (an hour) and then we were marched through another gate, then another, and finally into a long barracks. Home for the duration. Our little group-Dick Moon, Rossi, Baker, Mason, Eggers, Major, Peacock and Williams made a concerted rush for a room together and so for the first time we passed through the door of good old Room 10, Barracks 3 and we met the pleasantest sight we had yet seen in old Germany. There were 16 beds (8 double ones actually) and they were all made, blankets neatly tucked in and a white (coarse) sheet peeping our at the top and, wonder of wonders, there stood a British Sergeant presiding at a steaming pot of tea. Get the picture. Here we had been battered from pillar to post for 9 days; been in solitary confinement; ridden 52 hours in a boxcar that wasn't fit for cattle; marched through rainstorms over hill and dale; stood for an hour in this same rain while submitting again to the ignominy of a personal search; and now we were alone in our own room among friends, the beds inviting us and a hot drink ready for us. I don't think any of us will ever appreciate anything any more than we appreciated these simple items. We polished off the tea in record time, scrambled for the beds (Moon and I shared one and we've been in it ever since) and as the lights went out I began my rosary, a habit I'm proud to say I continued every night of my Kriegie career. When I finished it I felt a lot better about the whole thing, and with the thought in my mind, "Boy things are going to be rough in the "G.T.O." I drifted off into the arms of Morpheus and perhaps my honey.
November 12, 1943
WOKE UP AROUND 8 AM and made sort of a hasty breakfast and then we all dashed madly out to see what the place looked like in the daylight-only to find that we couldn't get out of our compound until the Germans had counted us. There were 87 of us and 20 sergeants so they only had to count "twice" and chat for a few minutes before we were dismissed. The highlight of the formation came when the German Captain Eilers said that in the past he had presented himself before the prisoners at each formation, formally saluted them, and bade the "Good Morning" or "Good Evening" as the case might be. And then the entire group would in chorus return the greeting and he desired us to continue this practice. Anyway, Eilers after issuing this startling statement saluted us and said his little "Good Morning" and received as you can easily imagine a rousing response, "Good Morning, Teacher" was our cry that morning and "Sleep Tight Hughie" our rejoinder that evening. Suffice to say that a couple of days of this and Hughie Eilers no longer said "Good Morning" or Good Evening" to his problem children.
AFTER MORNING FORMATION we were allowed to look over the extent of the camp open to us. We wandered around a while but the Chapel and Theatre were locked up and a light drizzle finally drove us back inside. We finally got around to introducing ourselves to our roomates-mostly Canadians and darn good boys they turned our to be. Pappy Bryan, Bill Coleman, Larry Aspinall, Harry Meyer, "Old timer" MacCullough and another one our our boys from Africa, John Cashore. We spent the rest of the day telling and retelling our terror stores, etc. The only break came when a little Englishman popped in to bid us a very hearty welcome. He had a RAF uniform on with no rank showing and he talked so fast we couldn't make head nor tail out of it, except the word "Padre". When he left we compared notes but it wasn't until later that day that we found our that he was Father Hall who was to be the best friend we had in camp and the hardest working man I ever met. He was captured in Rotterdam in 1940 as a civilian internee and had volunteered to come up here as our Catholic Chaplain. We had an organizational meeting that evening and got the ball rolling as far as camp activities went. Sports representatives, cooking, clothing, coal supply, rationing etc. etc. were all appointed and with a feeling of contentment that things were under way we turned in. Of course, the fact that all the lights were extinguised at 10 PM may have had something to do with our new 'early to bed-early to rise' routine.
November 13, 1943
DAY CAME, DARK AND DREARY as were many days to come, and we struggled out of our sacks, We hurried through breakfast and out to morning formation. Jerry is getting better with his counting. Now he counts all 107 of us in just under 10 minutes. Remarkable feat, eh? Got to talking with some of the old prisoner fellows who have been here since the first of the war, 4 years. My gosh, how can they stand it? They gave Dick Moon and Larry Aspenall (our volunteer cooks) some of their tried and true recipies for cakes, spuds, spam etc, and these should come in pretty handy to us. Looked for Father Hall but he is living in the hospital at present and we can't get to see him. Managed to borrow a razor, blades and stuff and we all shaved in cold water, for the first time in 11 days. Sure wish we could get some tooth brushes; tastes lousy in the morning! We try using salt and soap on our fingers but that ain't so hot. Boy its going to take a lot of time for us to get used to these Jerry rations. The spuds, what there are of them, are O.K. although somewhat rotten. The bread is nothing but compresed sawdust. They serve live barley-and I do mean its alive. Never thought I would see the day that I would calmly take maggots and worms out of my food. and go on eating just like the Statler (ed note. Statler Hilton in Buffalo, New York). These outside latrines and washrooms are really something, it would be a pleasure to be constipated till summer comes. DeLurg, a paratrooper and swell guy, has been in charge of sports so we all helped him take stock today. Didn't take long; 2 soccer balls, some cards, dart games and a volley ball is all we've got and we expect the camp to hold about 3500 men, Dee is having one of the shoe repair boys cut the soccer ball down to where it is something like a foot ball-we hope. Got a deck of cards for the 16 of us in our room-big deal!
WHAT A FINE BUNCH OF CATHOLICS we turned out to be. Here its been 13 days since we've had a chance to go to Mass and on our first Sunday in Prison Camp we missed Mass 100% We have formation on Sundays at 9:45 AM and we found out then that Mass had taken place at 8AM. We saw Father Hall later that morning and he forgave us our sins! Getting so we can understand him now, but he still takes quite a lot of kidding. Played a little pinnoccle this afternoon and Dick made our first cake. Prima!
THE DAYS GET SHORTER, the nights get longer and the items to write down become fewer. Went to Mass and Communion this morning, then breakfast, then pinnocle, then lunch, then pinnocle, then supper and more pinnocle. Made some cooking tins out of Klim cans, what a mess. Dick and I had quite a talk today about the future. He has some good ideas and connections which may work out to our mutural advantage.Time will tell.
November 18, 1943
GOT THE CUT down sized football back today. It resembles a squash more that it does a football! We had quite a game anyway. It is so damn unweildy that only two guys in camp can throw a decent pass with it. Quite a large time was had by all.
November 21, 1943
FATHER HALL said from now on we'd have daily Mass at 8 AM, good deal! Had a little football game this afternoon and got a 'charlie-horse' in both legs from running on frozen ground with these steel soled shoes we've got. Getting old and out of condition! Got a monopoly game in the barracks now, some fun!
November 23, 1943
SAME OLD GRIND. So damn cold and wet all the time you can't do anything but stay in bed to get warm then get up to eat. Got some paper bound books in poor selection-but better than nothing.
November 25, 1943
THANKSGIVING! On the surface its a helluva day but we do have a lot to be thankful for. We are alive, have all our arms, legs, etc., and we get enough food to live on. Father Hall was our guest of honor and Dick and Larry did a sweet job as cooks. Plenty of spam, spuds and a huge cake. Played a little football and spent the rest of the day dreaming of home. Maybe I'll give up this diary business. The stuff I want to say I don't dare put down, in fact, I don't even want to remember it!So that's it until something BIG happens. (Ed. note: the next diary entry is dated 4 months later.)
April 9, 1944
EASTER SUNDAY and what a day. The camp has grown quite a bit now and we had a big outdoor High Mass on the sports field. John Malik and I served at the Mass. After this they held a big Protestant service for the rest of the camp. Colonel Byerly was to say a few words, but right in the middle of it, for the first time since we've been here, the air raid siren sounded 15 blasts which meant the bombers were coming right overhead. Sure enough in a few minutes we could hear the drone of planes and then we spotted them out over the Baltic turning in. All told there must have been 1000 of 'em. They came right overhead and we nearly went wild. All the Jerries except the guards in the towers hit for thier foxholes. After a short while we could see them dropping target markers over Rostock and a hush fell over the whole camp. We could hear the bombs going off. The whole raid lasted about an hour and a half in which time there bombers overhead all the time. It was a sight to strike terror into the hearts of the Jerries and bring joy to a Kriege. Where is the Luftwaffa now?! Best Easter Parade I dare say I'll ever see.
May 2, 1943
ANOTHER FINE DAY. I was in the washroom scrubbing out a towel when I heard the sound of gunfire. I didn't know what to make of it so I started to walk outside to see what is was when somebody screamed "They're strafing the airfield!" Amidst 154 mad Krieges I ran like hell outside just in time to see two Mosquitos making a pass at the field. This time they strafed and dropped some delayed action bombs. Boy, what a sight! An hour later fires were still burning over there and the payoff was they never did blow the sirens. What an air raid system! Went to see the play "Dangerous Corners" in the afternoon, but it was anticlimactic after the big air show we had just seen.
May 6, 1944
FIRST PACKAGE of clothing for Dick and me and boy did I need it.
May 9, 1944
FIRST LETTER FROM HOME and, wonder of wonders, a picture of my honey and baby. The boys decided that inasmuch as the kid was born at 11:30 AM and that is the same time we get our hot water for coffee handed out to the cry of "Brewwater up"....that we would nickname the little gal that! Hello, "Brewwater".
May 12, 1944
TWO MOSQUITOES ON THEIR WAY HOME from bombing oil refineries at Stettin caught a FW-190 with his pants down and shot him down in sight of the camp.
May 13, 1944
THE 8TH WAS OVER AGAIN, with about 500 bombers and fighters on their way to Berlin. The fighters that took the bombers in were relieved by others at the target so they peeled off and headed for home. Four P-51's strafed the nearby airfield but good.
May 21, 1944
P-51'S AGAIN, 5 of them and no opposition except scattered light flak. The Jerries have put out a new order that during air raids we must stay in the barracks or get shot. We are lucky in that from our window we have a swell view. The boys strafed both of the airfields South of here-made 4 passes and then went after a transport train. How can these Jerries keep taking it!?
June 5, 1944
INVASION AT LAST, won't be long now, we hope! (Ed note. I would imagine that "high hopes" helped these brave men survive. It would be yet another year until the POW's were freed.)
June 20, 1944
THE 8TH OVER AGAIN. The alarm blew at the Sanctus of the Mass. Planes were overhead when Mass ended and nobody bothering them. Planes were coming and going until noon. Two B-24's apparently hit by flak and all alone seen heading for Sweden at about 20,000 feet and not a Jerry near them. What a change from a few short months ago! Then, if you just slipped out of formation a litttle, you were a dead duck like us for example. One of the Jerries chased us back into the barracks saying "Don't you know there is a war on!" Who knows it better than we?
July 18, 1944
THE 8TH WAS OVER IN FORCE today. The radio said the main bunch were down South hitting Hanover and Brunswick, and smaller formations were coming in over Pomerania from the Baltic. The sky was overcast but we heard 11 waves of bombs hit in the Baltic arrea and then we could hear our fighters going in to pick up the bombers and take them home. The clouds blew off in time for us to see them coming out on their way home. They were coming over, scattered all over the place, a wing here, a group there, even squadrons floating around by themselves. P-38's just playing around all over the place. 'Phase Training' in the heart of Gemany! Where the hell is the Luftwaffe now. They don't even shoot flak at 'em around here, although we know they have batteries about. The all clear blew at noon. Nice four hour raid and this was the 'smaller fromation' according to the radio. Wonder what they had at the other spots.
August 4, 1944
JONES, ONE OF THE BOYS from the 32nd Squadron came in with a lot of good news on my crew and our friends. Finally got the good news that Sully (Lt. Edward Sullivan) and Harky (Sgt. Elmer Hartenstein) got back from that Regensburg massacre. Thank God for that. Wonder what they'd say if they knew we had given them up for lost and were having Masses said for them? At 2:15 the air raid siren blew and after a short wait in the boys came. We could see 11 wings over the Baltic going East and soon afterwards they came back out, some of them right overhead and with plenty of fighter escort covering them. For the first time we saw our own boys in trouble. We first spotted him due south of here coming down all alone pretty fast. The ship leveled out about 8,000 feet and we saw at least 6 men bail out and then the ship dove straight down and blew up not far from here. One of the boys landed right outside of town. We saw another ship come down but it looked as if he still had control of it and crash landed just south of here. About 10 minutes later a big puff of flame and smoke came up from the spot where they landed so we assume the boys blew her up before the Jerries got there. Still another one went down south of here in flames and one of the fighter boys had to bail our after strafing the airfield. We had two strafing attacks. Three P-47's flew first from the SW to the NE and this pass carried them right over the heart of the town but they stopped shooting the minute they left the airfield. I don't imagine they hit any civilians because they would probably take it out on those boys who had just bailed out and landed near the town. Later, four P-51's strafed it again from W to E and hit it but good. On their way out the bombers dropped smoke bombs over airfields and similar targets as markers for the fighters, as much as to say "we're O.K. now, boys go on down and have some fun", and they did. After the show was over three ME109's came over. Too little...too late!
August 6, 1944
ANOTHER AIR RAID and we all had to go inside. One of the boys in the tents had left something on one of their open air stoves and he went over to move it now that the bombers were out of sight. As he did the Jerry in the tower nearest us started screaming 'bloody murder', but what he was saying nobody knew. When the guy got his stuff off the stove and started back, the big brave guard behind the gun let one go at him and kicked up the dirt at his heals and the bullet richochetted into the Chapel. No sooner had the excitment died down and we had settled down to eat lunch when we hard another sharp report at the end of the hall. We ran out en-masse to see what happened and there was plenty to see. One of the guards had fired at one of the boys in the barracks next to us who had stuck his head out of the door. He missed him, but the bullet richochetted off the steps, went through both walls of our kitchen, through the door (the splinters cut a nice gash in Chesnuts leg), then through Kelly's pants leg just at the knee, through the wall of room 12 just an inch over Tanner's bed and then passed between Gene Schierburg and Schlossberg, finally winding up its wild career in the wall under their window. Boy, it's awful lucky Tanner was'nt logging a little sack time or he'd have had it. By now we were pretty excited and sore. Oh baby, were we sore! We heard three more shots before the all clear blew and we were allowed out of the barracks to see what else had happened. We traced the other shots down. One was a pop shot at a fellow going from the tents to Block 4 to use the washroom. The shot was high and went through the side of Block 4 into Col. Malstrom's room a foot over his bed and right through a bunk in the next room, finally lodging in the wall. Two other shots went into Block 12 but were pretty well spent and did no damage. Brave boys these Jerries-shooting and defenseles men behind barbed wire!
August 25, 1944
HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Had a big cake and the whole 8th Air Force came over for the party. There were literally hundreds of them. They stayed about 3 hours then had to go home. We could hear the bombs very clearly and we saw a "fort" blow up out over the sea, two men bailed out, hope they are O.K. Somebody salvoed a load of bombs just behind the Flak School, too close for comfort! That night the R.A.F. blew the hell out of Stettin and Rostock. We could see flak and search lights all over. Flares were dropping and the whole sky lit up and the bomb flashes were terrific.
August 26, 1944
R.A.F. OVER AGAIN-plenty of action. Mining the Baltic.
August 27, 1944
8TH AGAIN. Could see fighters aplenty, but no opposition.
September 30, 1944
LARGE QUANTITIES OF THE 8TH overhead going and coming from Stettin. Very, very loose formation going home-lots of stragglers-but our fighters were with them all the way. One guy salvoed his load in the Baltic very near here. The biggest casualty, of all things, was a huge sugar refinery in Stettin-also the oil plants. The smoke was plainly visible and grew in proportions all day. Reached a height of 10,000 feet at least.
October 2, 1944
STRASLUND GOT IT TODAY, but good. Not a bit of opposition but we saw one plane heading for Sweden and flak got him. It's funny to see and hear 5,000 Kriegies sweating a guy out who appears to be in trouble. A couple of times this guy's engines started smoking and the "Ohs and Ahs" were reminiscent of a crowd watching a high trapeze act.
October 3, 1944
R.A.F. on Stettin again.
October 4, 1944
8TH ON STETTIN. That's just about all for that little 'burg' I guess. What a pasting they've taken in the last couple days.
October 17, 1944
JAMIE'S BIRTHDAY and one of the Mosquitoes came over for the party. About 3:00 PM the 3-alert siren blew indicating enemy aircraft within a 100 miles area of here. We were sitting around and kind of hoping we'd have a little excitement when Ike screamed "plane over Barth". Sure enough it was a Mosquito coming in low and fast off the Baltic. He made a 90 degree bank, roared down with all guns ablazing at the train in the station in Barth. Hope no new Kriegies were on board, or they would have had it. He leveled out on a course for home and not a shot was fired at him. Our Jerry chums were too busy ducking into foxholes to bother him. They never did get around to blowing the 15-blast alarm to indicate he was coming into our area. Bet somebody gets a royal chewing out for that slip-up. They were sure caught flat-footed and the best part was they didn't have time to chase us indoors and so we had a beautiful view of it.
(Ed. note: The diary ends here. Surely there was more, but that information unfortunately is lost. Stalag Luft I, Barth, Germany, Barracks # 3, Room # 10: Frank C. McGinley, L.R. Moon, R. J. Eichenlaub, M.S. Baker, H.N. Mullaney, J. E. Peacock, D. G. Naughton, A. O. Williams, R. C. Howard, E. R. Chesmore, R. F. Eggers, B. J. Fuller, K. D. Haines, A. N. Rossi, W. C. Coleman, C. E. Mason, R. S. Macauley, D. A. Reagan, Ed Fennessey, W. C. Thompson and J. A. Graham occupied Room 10 in Barracks 3.)
ONE OF THE POEMS written by Frank McGinley while a prisoner in Stalag 1. It was sung by the prisoners in Room 10, Barracks number 3. to the tune of Bob Hope's theme song, "Thanks for the Memories."
"Thanks for the Memories"
Thanks for the memories, of
flights to Germany
Across the Northern Sea, with blazing guns
We fought the Hun, for air supremacy.
How lucky we were!
Thanks for the memories, of
And Flak guns on the Rhine
They did their bit and we were hit
So ended our good times...we miss them so much!
We drifted far out of
We jumped-and what a sensation
And now we sweat out the duration
Our job is done, we had our fun.
So thanks for the memory
Of days we had to stay, at Stalag Luft 1A
The cabbage raw which had to do
Till Red Cross Parcels came
How thankful we were.
So thanks for the memory
When "D" Day came along
We changed our marching song
From "Forever and a Day" to "War ain't Here to Stay"
We thank God for that!
Frank McGinley, far right; Tony Rossi, center back
It is with great personal pride that I share these memories from my father's wartime journal. Frank McGinley remained in Stalag Luft I, until the end of the war and was liberated by Russian ground forces. He returned home to Buffalo, New York to rejoin his family and continue his civilian life. Frank C. McGinley died in 1951 due to injuries sustained in an automobile accident. He is remembered by his family and friends as a man of courage, conviction and faith.
For more information contact
Chuck McGinley, 6913 SW 167th
Place, Beaverton, OR 97007.