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14 February 2011
I was cleaning up some stuff in my office today, when I came across a journal that I had written when I went on a week's trip with my mother and her (now late) husband in 1991. We went up the coast to Bandon, Oregon and ultimately met with a lot of other family to celebrate my Uncle Bill's (Kathy's father) 70th birthday. (Good lord, Walt is older than that now!) I talked about it a bit in 2002 and mentioned a conversation I had with my uncle Scotty, but also said that I hadn't been able to find the notes that I took at that time. Well, now I have and I'd like to record them.
By way of introduction, this is an uncle who had never really spoken to me before, but we found ourselves seated together at the far end of the family table and he began telling me about his experiences in a prisoner of war camp in World War II. It killed me that I had NOTHING to take note with--no paper & pen, no recorder, not even a camera that would record video. When we returned to my mother's RV after dinner, I raced into the thing, dug out my laptop and wrote as much as I could remember. Here, unedited, is what I wrote...
I think I knew he was a P.O.W., but I had never known much about it and there we sat, the two of us, oblivious to the rest of the table, and Scotty talked on and on about his experiences in Germany in WW II.
He was shot down over Germany and spent 9 months in the camp. I can't remember where he was at first (a name I couldn't pronounce and don't remember hearing before), but he was moved to Nuremberg and then marched 100 miles to (Musberg?). On the march he befriended an older German sergeant, about 55 years old, who was in no shape for a 100 mile march. The sergeant was trying to find a truck to hop aboard, and Scotty signaled to him to let him (Scotty) carry his (the sergeant's) pack, which he did.
After they got to Musberg, they 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 one, in literally months and he said "you wouldn't believe what I went through to cook that egg without anyone seeing me." The next day on the march he ate the onions, though "we weren't supposed to eat vegetables because they put human manure on the fields, but I ate them anyway."
Another tale was when one guy was going around with an empty can trying to collect a spoonful of powered milk from everyone in the camp. The deal was that there was a guy who said he would masturbate 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...and then asked if anyone wanted to bet another spoon of milk for him to do it again (nobody did).
There was a German sergeant they called "Mr. Stoop" who had, it is reported, strangled 3 American POWs with his bare hands. But Scotty ran into him one time and the guy gave Scotty a cigarette. After the camp had been liberated by Patton's troops, 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," he said. But Mr. Stoop was not to be found. Later they found his body in one fiend and his head in another some 12 miles away.
They were liberated by Patton's troops, as I said. Scotty said that this one day he and his friend 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 lined up with the officers (I am not clear on whether they were without clothes or not--they must have been because Scotty said that you couldn't really tell the officers from the enlisted men--they had to argue to get the group in because there were 2 too many and the officers weren't going to give Scotty and his friend away). Anyway, they had to cross a 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 guars 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 soldier who was roughing up a German housewife who hadn't really done anything, but who was German. His friend tossed the Englishman over the bridge, 40 feet to the water below.
He said that he weighed 174 when he went into the service and 138 when he came out of the camp, but returned home on a troop ship on which the baker had just quit. There was a sign up that there would be no bread unless someone volunteered to take on the job. Scotty said he had worked as a baker when he was about 12, so he agreed to take on the job. He was so good to the troops that he ended up with a key to all the store rooms, full run of all the ship's stores, and his own private stateroom. And when he returned to Galt, he weighed 174.
I don't know if all this reads interesting in the telling, but the best part of it was that it was fascinating, and it was just Scotty and me talking and I think that it was the first conversation I have ever had with one of my uncles about anything. I left the restaurant feeling as if I had discovered an uncle--and feeling that this was the best night of the whole trip.
NOTE FROM TODAY: Scotty and I never had another conversation and he died a few years after this incident took place. But I will treasure it always as a wonderful night.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Our yard is abuzz with blossoms and bees