|Stalag VII A: Oral history|
Conversation with Bodeen Green, 72 years old
Residing at the Nettleton Hunting &
Fishing Club, Amory, Miss.
(Q) How old were you when you joined the Army?
(A) I was just 4 months short of eighteen years old. I lied about my age to get in the army.
(Q) What caused you decide to join?
(A) I wanted to get away from home and the farm. I wanted to see the world. I was sent to Camp Shelby, Miss. and stayed there 10 days and then was shipped out to Camp Gruber, Oklahoma.
(Q) Did you first sign up and join the Army at Camp Shelby?
(A) No, I signed up in Amory, Miss. I signed up and one day they called and said to be down there the next Wednesday morning. They said they were sending me to Camp Shelby for my physical. I went to Camp Shelby and passed my physical with "Flying Colors". Curtis Hester's son (a friend) was going to join at the same time that I did. We volunteered to go and our plan was to join together and to stay together. He did not pass his physical. He went back home and I was now by myself.
I was then sent from Camp Shelby to Camp Gruber. I went through my Basic Military Training there. The wind was blowing every day of the week during my training. I remember that one of our tasks was to learn to dig Fox Holes. When we were trying to dig we would get about 6 inches into the ground and hit solid rock, so we did not have to dig any more Fox Holes because it was impossible. Every Thursday night, to prepare us for marching, we would have to march together for a distance of 30 miles. We would have to wear our full field packs during these marches and they were heavy. We would march out for 15 miles and then return the same 15 miles back to camp. They would let us off for a couple of hours the next morning before they threw us back into training. I finally finished my Basic Training and they gave me a 13-day furlough to go home. I went home for the 13 days and then returned to Camp Gruber. I was then sent from there to Camp Shanks, New York. While there I went through some more training in preparation to go to war. I stayed at Camp Shanks for three months. At the end of this training they came to us and told us that we were shipping over seas.
(Q) What was the length of time from joining until you were to leave to go overseas?
(A) I had 13 weeks of Basic Training and after the 13-day furlough I spent 3 months in Camp Shanks. At the end of this time we loaded on a ship and headed overseas.
(Q) Did the traveling on the ship make you sick?
(A) I did not get sick because I would not eat in the ship's mess hall. What I did eat came from the PX back at Camp Shanks. I bought snacks, fruits, etc to eat while on the ship.
(Q) Were a lot of the troops getting sick on the ship?
(A) Almost everyone was getting sick all of the time. I did decide to risk it one morning and built up my courage to go the mess hall for breakfast. When I arrived in the mess hall the floor was covered where the troops had gotten sick and had thrown up on the floor. It was sloshing around as the ship tossed in the waves. I was still determined to tough it out. I was going to get some bacon and something else. There was a boy in front of me in the line. He turned around, got sick, and threw up on my meal tray. I threw the tray in the floor and. ran to the top deck of the ship. That was the only time I got sick on the ocean trip.
We arrived and landed at Scotland. There we boarded a troop train and traveled to just about 20 miles outside of London, England. We stayed at a camp approximately 12 to 13 miles outside of London. The night before D-Day we loaded up on another ship. We headed for the Normandy Invasion. We were to land just after the first wave of troops had gone ashore. We were the second wave of the attack. We could not get into the harbor due to all of the sunken boats left from the first wave of the attack. Our landing craft could only get close to shore. We jumped out of the boat and the water was up over our chest. We had to wade through the water with our rifles held over our heads. As we were pushing through the water and making our way around the sunken boats the enemy was shooting at us repeatedly from all angles. We waded through the sunken boats and the dead bodies were floating all around us. All the time trying to dodge the machine guns firing at us.
As we made it to shore at the port of Cherbourg, France we discovered that the first wave of troops had only made it inland approximately one half mile. The beaches were solid with land mines and they had to clear us a pathway through these mines. They accomplished this with a minesweeper unloaded from one of the landing boats. It was designed to clear these types of mine fields. This path had to be cleared for the troops to advance and for the tanks and other equipment to be able to carry on the invasion. We had to stay here and hold up for three days so that fresh supplies could make it to our position.
After the supplies caught up with us we advanced forward and headed to Cherbourg, France from the landing site on the beach. When we arrived at Cherbourg we discovered that it was a total loss. It had been completely destroyed. From Cherbourg we advanced to Montagne, France. During this advance our company was split up and divided. General Patton had forged a gap up to Montagne. He had pushed the Germans back at this point. We heard the reason that Patton went there was to liberate his son in law from a prison camp in that area. After this push Patton stopped and backed out of Montagne. General Patton sent us into Montagne to hold the city. As soon as Patton backed out the Germans closed off the gap he had forged and then they surrounded the city. We held off the Germans for three days until we ran out of food, supplies, and ammunition. At that point we were sitting ducks unable to defend ourselves.
When we were unable to hold them off the Germans took over the city and captured us. They seized all of our jeeps and trucks and loaded us on our own vehicles and began the march carrying us to the prison camp. The Germans did not know how to operate the American vehicles. They would find any gear they could to get the trucks moving. They moved us approximately 100 miles behind enemy lines. At that point they would not let us ride but made us walk. They made us walk all night and hide in the woods during the daytime. This was to aroid being spotted by American airplanes. After we began walking we marched over 120 miles and only at night. During this time after capture we were given no food, only water.
At the end of this long march the Germans then loaded us on railroad trains. The boxcars were marked for 60 men or 40 cows. They packed us into these boxcars and we had standing room only. It was so cramped in these cars that we would have to sleep in relays. Some men could lie down for a little while and sleep while the others only had just enough room to stand up. We would usually change sleeping shifts on the floor every hour or two. This was the way we rode all the way into Munich, Germany. We were then sent from Munich out to Moosburg just outside of Munich.
Moosburg is where our prison camp was. It was named Stalag VII A. I spent 9 months in this prison camp. Every day we were loaded on a train and sent into Munich to work on repairing bomb damage to the city and to the railroad. We would fill the bomb craters and lay down new rails. It appears that the Americans had a spy there because every time we would repair the railroad the American airplanes would bomb the railroad again. We repeated this repair work over and over again. After many repairs the Germans gave up and quit making the repairs on the railroad. Then the airplanes began bombing the town. Our planes would use delayed fuse bombs on the town. These bombs would drop through the roof of a building and go down to the ground level before exploding. On one of these bombing runs it appears that the primary target was missed and the bomb hit a civilian air raid shelter. This killed a lot of Germans. After these deaths the Germans made it extremely hard on us. We were often knocked around and beaten.
When I first entered the prison camp the Germans would beat us. They also would line us up in a room and stand us up against a wall. Then German soldiers would come in with machine guns. We were threatened to talk or be shot and killed with the guns. We all knew that according to the Geneva Convention we only had to give our name, rank and serial number. After we would give this information they would push us to give them information on our military divisions. I only knew of one boy that offered to talk. He messed up. The Germans carried him away and we never saw him again. We were sure that he had been killed. The next tactic that the Germans used to try to get us to talk was to try and starve us to the point we would talk. Nobody talked even under these conditions. During this torture we stayed locked up in a boxcar for six days and nights without food or water and were not let out. Some of the soldiers got very sick and had diarrhea. There were five-gallon cans in the cars that had to be used as bathrooms. The Germans left two to three guards for each boxcar. Eventually they would empty the five-gallon cans and set them back in the car. The condition of the inside of these boxcars was just as bad as a hog pen.
We finally were put in Munich and stayed there until the war was over. We were working in Munich one day before General Patton's army was to come and free us. American airplanes flew over Munich, which was approximately the size of Memphis TN, on a Sunday morning and dropped pamphlets. The pamphlets were written in German on one side and English on the other side. The pamphlets stated that Patton's army would be there the next afternoon at 4 o'clock. At this point we could hear the rumbling of the tanks off in a distance. Sure enough the next afternoon at 4 o'clock we heard the tanks coming even closer to town. At this point white surrender flags were visible from every building in town. It appeared the German commanders did not believe that the army was coming in as stated because we were not sent back to the prison camp, but we stayed in Munich.
We could hear the tanks getting closer & closer. We were all extremely nervous. We could hear freedom so close but we knew we were still under the control of the Germans and they might kill us. Just as we were about to be liberated a group of the hand picked German SS troops was in town also. This was a very mean group of Hitler's killing squads. At this point all prisoners were directed by the Germans to hiding places. We were put in an air raid shelter. It was simply a trench that had been dug and logs and dirt were placed over the opening. The German officer in charge of us told us the surrender was to happen according to the Geneva Convention guidelines. He said they would protect us using the air raid shelter. We were to stay in the shelter until the American troops arrived. He said he would go and meet the American troops and remove his gun and give it to the American commander. We still were nervous and thought the German officer was tricking us. Also the SS troops came through before our troops could free us. We just knew the SS troopers were coming to kill us before we could be freed. The SS troops left us and went on into Munich to an above ground compound where British prisoners were being held. The SS troops set up a machine gun there and killed all of those prisoners. There were 10,000 prisoners in that compound and all were killed. We were lucky to have that German officer that kept the SS troops from killing us.
Our American troops finally arrived in Munich. They arrived to find not many buildings still standing. Almost all buildings had been destroyed. When the tank battalion arrived, the German officer went out to meet the American commander, saluted him, and surrendered his weapon. Also at this site of surrender was a truck from the Germans that had all of our records in the truck. Our soldiers came in and said "well boys you all are free now". They pointed to Munich and told us there it was for us to go and do with it as we pleased. Anything we wanted was ours. We found a big fancy hotel that only rich civilian Germans were living in. Our soldiers went inside and threw the Germans out and gave the hotel to us. At that point we were given some medical attention. They put us in a pit to get the lice off of us. After that they gave us clean clothes. They then gave us rooms with only two people to a room in the hotel. We thought we were in a palace after where we had been. I believe the hotel was eighteen floors high. I did not understand German but you could tell that the German civilians thrown out of the hotel were cussing us. We got settled in our rooms and our cooks fixed us a big meal that night. We almost ate too much. Earlier when the troops freed us they were handing out chocolate bars to us. One boy got three of them to eat all at once. We tried to stop him but he went off to eat them all at once. The shock of all this chocolate to his system at once caused him to die.
The next day they told us if we found any vehicle that would run to bring it by the fuel storage dump and they would give us all the gas we wanted. My buddy from Illinois and I went searching for a vehicle. He weighed 220 pounds and was three feet taller than me. We found a car at this fancy home in town. When we opened the garage we found lumber stacked up to the ceiling in front of a car. He told me to get up on his shoulders and look behind the lumber to see what was there. What I saw was a little red Opel (car). We began to get the car out so we could use it. As we began getting the car someone came running out of the house shouting at us. My buddy who had a pistol just pulled out the gun and began waving it around. The people then ran back into the house. We then tried to get the car to run. It would not start and was out of gas (benzene). We knew we had to find some gas. Together we pushed the car out into the street. An Army vehicle stopped and pulled us over to the fuel storage dump. They filled the car with gas and helped us to get it started. We felt great now. We drove that car all over the city of Munich just enjoying the ride. They told us to come back by and get gas whenever we needed it. They did tell us not to run out because they could not come and pull us in. I think we went through the first tank by noon that day. We went back and filled up and kept on touring the city.
We stayed there for about three or four days. We were then loaded onto transport airplanes to travel back to England so to get new clothes along with medical check ups and get ready for the journey home. During this time the war had ended. The airplanes would normally only have to fly 350 miles to our destination. This would mean flying over Russia who had been our ally in the war. Russia decided to not let us fly over their territory. This caused us to fly around Russia and not over it. This caused us to have to fly 700 miles instead of 350. Our plane was like a flying boxcar. It was a C-47 that was used to haul freight. We loaded 25 men per plane. The planes also had 5-gallon drums in the center. These were used for if we got sick during flight. I asked the crew chief what the drum was for and he said to "just hang on" I would understand its purpose when we got in the air. It was obvious when we got in the air. That plane ride was very rough as the plane rocked bade and forth. Just like on my first ride to war so was this plane ride. Almost everyone got sick and used the drum.
We stopped in Frankfurt, Germany and refueled. From there we flew into Le Havre, France. This flight was 750 miles. We arrived there at night. In Le Havre we slept in 10 man tents. If we wanted to smoke we had to do so inside the tent. They were still protecting against air raids. There was just barely enough room to walk between the cots in these tents. I threw my duffel bag on my bed and was enjoying a cigarette. I began to talk to a soldier on the cot next to mine. I asked him were be was from. He said Amory, Miss. (My hometown). I asked his name. He said, Dick Pennington, and I said I was Bodeen Green. Obviously being from the same hometown we became instant friends.
After our stay they put us on a ship that was to travel in a convoy for protection. We were on a small ship that could only travel 7 knots per hour (less than 7 miles per hour), but the rest of the ships had to stay with us and not split up the convoy. It took us 18 days to travel from France to New York and the ride was extremely rough. We arrived and were sent to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey where we stayed overnight. The next day we were put on a passenger train and we felt good. At one of the stops Dick jumped off the train to go and get himself some whiskey. He came back with his arms full. Everyone in that car then celebrated with Dick and enjoyed the ride. After some time we arrived in Birmingham, Alabama. The next morning Dick and I began walking around Birmingham. We looked rough since we had not cleaned up nor did we have on our complete uniform and tie. We walked all around because we had no money for a taxi. We walked so far that we got lost and did not remember our way back to the depot. A military captain saw us and stopped his jeep. He immediately began to ask us what we were doing that far away and out of uniform. We fumbled around and finally told him we had been prisoners of war and were just out getting some exercise. He told us to get in his jeep and he would drive us back to the depot and be meant for us to stay there this time. He said that we looked terrible. They put us on the train and made us sit there and not move.
We left Birmingham on the train and traveled to Camp Shelby, Miss. When there we were paid all of our back pay from when we had been prisoners. Dick and I just knew we were rich with all that money. We stayed there 3 days and caught a bus that carried us to Amory, Miss. - home. We ran into a man that we knew when we arrived in Amory. He told us to come with him to a Lion's Club meeting. We went with him, Dick was drinking. They asked us to get up and give a speech to the meeting. All we could tell them that it was very rough. I told them one thing that made it even worse was that we were given bread that had been baked in 1933 and we were eating it in 1943. The bread was so old that it was black and hard as a rock. You had to soak the bread to soften it up to eat it. We also would get two potatoes for one day. We also would get the left over cabbage soup from when the Germans cooked their cabbage. So our meal was cabbage soup and molded bread.
After the Lions Club meeting, Frank Wiygul with the Miss. Highway Patrol took us home. When I got home I saw my grandfather. He was 91 or 92 years old and could almost not see. My family had no idea where I was. I walked up to him and asked him if he knew me. He did not recognize me. I told him who I was and he jumped straight up and began to squeeze and hug me. I asked where daddy was and he said that he was in the cornfield plowing. I walked into the field and hid so daddy could not see me. When he got to the end of a row and was about to turn and start down another row I walked up to him. I came up behind him and surprised him by asking, "Do you know how to plow?" This startled him. We both began to cry and hug each other. We unhooked the mules and went back to the house.
I only had 30 days on my furlough before I had to return to duty. After my furlough I went to Miami, Florida. This was one of the most fun times of my life. The war was Just Doer and everyone was excited and just hauling fun in the streets. It was just like one big party. The army has made arrangements with the restaurants and all we had to do was just walk up and be served all you wanted. I spent 18 days there.
During this time was when the two bombs were dropped in Japan and the war was really over. That was when the parties really broke out in the streets of Miami. Everyone was in a happy mood. People would walk up to me and just want to celebrate. I t was a very festive time. From Miami I was shipped to Fort Louis, Washington - from one end of the United States to the other. It took 6 days on a train to get there. They had just finished building this camp. I was a truck driver at this camp. I stayed there 4 months and then got another 30 day furlough. I went back to the same camp in Washington. One day while driving on icy roads I bumped into a car in Tacoma, Washington driven by an older lady. While we were trying to take care of the wreck a sergeant drove up and said he was looking for Bodeen Green. I told him that was me. I thought that I was in trouble and was about to go to jail. He told me that I had a discharge from the army waiting on me at the main office. They tried to get me to reenlist in the army. I asked the officer where the building was to reenlist. He showed me and I told him that I just wanted to know so that I could walk the other way as far away from that building as possible. I wanted to make dam sure not to get close to that building. I went to get my discharge and get out of there on a train going home for good. They gave me money to ride in the coach car. I instead rode in the chair car and saved the extra $300 or $400. This was December 24, 1944. While on the train, I met a couple who were from Amory, Miss. They gave me food all the way to Memphis and even offered me a job, but I just wanted to go home and farm.
© Bodeen Green
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