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29 December 2005

I knocked some books on the floor yesterday and in putting them back together, came across the notes I made of a very special conversation I held back in 1991.  I alluded to it in a journal entry I wrote back in 2002. 

I mentioned that I had gone on a camping trip with my mother and her husband and that while on that trip, we spent a night in Shady Cove, Oregon, where my uncle Roger and his wife lived.  Roger (who was always called "Scotty") was a quiet man, who died of lung cancer a couple of years later, and whom I never really knew.  Until this particular trip, I don't think we had ever had a conversation.

We all went to a restaurant on this night, my mother and Fred, Scotty and his wife, and some other people from Shady Cove who were neighbors.  Because I am left handed, I sat myself at the far end of the table.  My mother was at the opposite end, and I found myself seated across the table from Scotty and his wife.  Somehow his wife started talking about how she felt that Scotty should write a book because of his war experiences.  I vaguely remembered that Scotty had been a prisoner of war in WW II, but other than that, I knew nothing of his experiences...or really of his life.

scotty.jpg (5574 bytes)Somehow he started talking.  And talking and talking.  I was both fascinated and frustrated because this was such good stuff and I had nothing to record it with.  I hurriedly copied down one or two word phrases in the hope that I could remember what he had talked about when we got back to the trailer and I could get my computer up and running and type it all up.

This afternoon, I read back over what I'd written that night and decided I wanted to get it into more permanent print.  This is more or less what I remember from our conversation:

Scotty was shot down over Germany and spent 9 months in the POW camp.   I wasn't able to remember the name of his first camp, but they were moved from there to Nuremberg and then marched 100 miles to what I believe was Musberg.

On the march, he befriended an older German sergeant, about 55 years old and in no shape for a 100 mile march.  Scotty volunteered to carry the sergeant's pack for him.  When they arrived at Musberg, the prisoners were sitting around, cooking C-rations when this sergeant and another officer walked by.  The sergeant shoved his hand in Scotty's pocket and walked on.  Scotty put his hand in and found an egg and 2 onions.  Nobody in the camp had even seen an egg, much less eaten one, in literally months.  He said "you wouldn't believe what I went through to cook that egg without anyone seeing me."  He added, "the next day on the march, I ate the onions, though we weren't supposed to eat vegetables because they put human manure on the fields--but I ate it anyway."

Another of his tales concerned a guy who was going around with an empty can trying to collect a spoonful of powdered milk from everyone in the camp.   The deal was that there was a guy who said he would masturbate to climax in 3 minutes, and if he was unsuccessful, he would contribute a whole can of powdered milk.   The whole camp gathered in the bathroom to watch, and the guy did masturbate in 3 minutes.

There was a German sergeant they called "Mr. Stoop" who had, it is reported, strangled 3 American POWs with his bare hands.  Scotty ran into him one time and the guy gave Scotty a cigarette.  After the camp had been liberated they lined up all the German officers and paraded the POWs past them to indicate which were the ones who had done them wrong.  The sergeant who had given Scotty the egg, "I think was taken into another room and given a medal; everyone liked him," Scotty said.  But Mr. Stoop was not to be found.  Later they found his body in one fiend and his head in another field, some 12 miles away.

The camp was liberated by Patton's troops.  Scotty said that on liberation day he and his friend had decided to take a shower.  It was the day for officers to shower, but he and his buddy had not showered in something like 6 weeks, so they lined up with the officers (you can't tell the officers from the enlisted men without their clothes anyway!).  They had to cross the courtyard beneath a guard tower to get to the shower, and as they were making their way across the area, Patton's troops in tanks arrived and opened fire on the guards in the tower.  Scotty said "if you've ever seen men trying to dig instant foxholes in concrete this was it."

After the liberation, Scotty's friend came across an English officer who was roughing up a German housewife who hadn't done anything, but who was German.   Scotty's friend tossed the Englishman over the bridge, 40 feet to the water below.

Scotty weighed 174 lbs when he entered the service and 138 when he came out of the camp, but he returned home on a troop ship on which the baker had just quit.  There was a sign posted that said there would be no bread unless someone volunteered to take on the job.  Scotty had worked as a baker when he was about 12, so he volunteered.  He ended up with a key to all the storerooms, full run of all the ship's stores, and with his own private stateroom.  By the time he got back home again, his weight was 174.

I concluded my notes with "I don't know if all this reads interesting but the best part was that it was just Scotty and me talking.  I left the restaurant feeling as if I had discovered an uncle--and feeling this was the best night of the whole trip."

Unfortunately, that was also the last conversation we ever had, as the wall of silence that had been between us for most of my life returned the next day.  But I certainly treasure the memory of that one night.


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