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G. Vince Howell oral history interview, October 22, 1974

Date: Oct. 22 1974 | Identifier: OH0020
In this interview Howell relates his experiences at Stalag 17-B. Descriptions of camp life include cooking facilities, bath and toilet facilities, German food rations, and general conditions. Of particular interest are contents of Red Cross parcels, trade rings between Russian and American prisoners, activities for prisoners, and radio reception by inmates. Mentioned are attempts to escape, means of communicating with friends and family in the States, and methods of punishment. Interviewer: Donald R. Lennon. more...



EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
G. Vince Howell
1974
Interview #1

G. Vince Howell:

I am G. V. Howell, Jr., and I was born in Waynesville, North Carolina, Haywood County. After a very nice childhood, grew up on a farm, I went to State College in Raleigh, 1939-1940. In 1941 along came the war, and the draft was behind me. I never did volunteer for service, but in 1942 I was called into active service. My point of induction was in Camp Kraft in Spartanburg, South Carolina; and after a few days there, I was transferred to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In Fort Jackson, we went our separate ways; I was assigned to the Air Force and sent to St. Petersburg, Florida for basic training. After a month or so of very easy living in a plush hotel, we finished our basic training; and from there, we were sent to an Aircraft Mechanics School in Gulfport, Mississippi. After three or four months at Gulfport, we were called aircraft mechanics and sent on to a gunnery school down in Loredo, Texas, right on the Texas-Mexico border. After a sojourn in this place, we received our wings and were sent to Salt Lake City for redistribution to various crews that we might be needed on. This was in 1943 that we were ready to get ready for combat training. After a few days in Salt Lake City, we went to Boise, Idaho, and I was to become a crew member on a B-17. After a month or so of training here, one day they told us that we were no longer on B-17s, that we were about to become part of a new group of B-24s. So ours was made a model crew, and we



were sent to Florida for a month's stay, learning the various things about living in the jungles and so forth. After a rather pointless stay here, we . . . I say pointless because we never did experience much jungle living in Florida, and we finally ended up in England which was far from any jungle. Anyway, we next were sent to Salt Lake City, Utah, again and then back to Windover, Utah; at which time we received several planes in our outfit and became a full-fledged squadron within the group itself. After awhile here, we went to Sioux City, Iowa, and finished our training. I might add that in Sioux City, Iowa, Jimmy Stewart of motion pictures was one of our pilots. I've flown several practice missions with him, and he was a real nice fellow. He knew most all the people in his squadron, and almost everyone he would call by name.

Anyway, we went to England. After flying a few missions, in fact, to be exact, for twenty-two missions, we flew over Germany and occupied France and the lowlands of Western Europe. We went on one mission that rather backfired on us. This was our twenty-fourth mission, and we were going to Berlin that day. We got over our target, dropped our bombs, and got back to what we thought was Holland; but we were still in Germany. Fighters shot our plane down, and we had to bail out. I never thought that I would end up like that, but that was the way it was. It was a rather funny feeling . . . I should not say funny, it was a rather strange feeling to realize that here you are at a point in your life where you are either going to die or you are going to keep on living; but that is about the way I felt, really as if I had nothing much to live for; but I went on. Anyway, I was the last out of the plane, alive I should say, or I was the last one out period. The pilot was right behind me, ready to leave; and he apparently, something happened which I do not know, but he did not get out of the plane. From where I landed; I jumped out of



the plane; the parachute opened; and just in a very short time, I was on the ground. I could see the plane burning over in the field, but the pilot was nowhere between me and the plane. It was a perfectly flat field, and you could see the entire distance between where I landed and the plane itself; the plane was burning.

All this leads up to our story here. In the next very few minutes, I learned what it was to be a prisoner of war. In a short few minutes after touching the ground, the German Home Guards surrounded us, and I had nowhere to turn. They were coming from all sides, there were no trees, no woods to get in. It was one of these peat fields where they have to dig up for fuel. We just went down perhaps in a bad place as far as escaping is concerned. Anyway, the guard finally arrived, and they did not harm me or anything like that. They kept asking questions, where was my pistola, meaning the pistol. They found in my little escape bag the clip of ammunition for a 45 caliber pistol. Well, I had the pistol in my bag; but before they got to me, I knew what was going to happen, I knew I could not shoot it out with them, it would be suicidal to do such, so I just buried it in the ground, covered it up; and I guess that it is still there today. Anyway, they said not much more about the ammunition, and took all of my belongings. We were taken to a little guard hut nearby, maybe a mile away. We walked there one Saturday afternoon, April 29, 1944. They rounded up the rest of the crew, and we were taken that night into a little jail, a little room about, I would say six by eight feet, and about six of us slept in that room that night. It was barely room for everybody to lay down. The next day, we were transferred to a camp at a city nearby, I don't remember the name of the city. We stayed there a day or two, and then next they sent us down to Frankfurt. Frankfurt on the Main, which was more or less an interrogation center. They took you there, and asked you



various questions about what kind of an outfit you were in; what did you do; and so forth like that. And we, of course, were instructed under no conditions to devulge anything other than your name, rank, and serial number, which we stuck to. But the Germans were not persistent, they did not threaten us with anything to tell them any more. I rather assumed that they probably knew more about our outfit than we knew ourselves. Next we were put on a train, and for about four days, we rode the train from Frankfurt to Krems, Austria. Krems is a small town on the Danube, around forty kilometers up the river from Vienna. And we, of course, were not traveling for four days, we were traveling only intermittently. We would ride awhile, and then they would sidetrack the train for awhile. But anyway, the duration of the trip was four days.

When we finally arrived in the camp, which as Stalag 17-B, we arrived one Sunday morning about two or three o'clock in the morning. I had a two-week growth of beard. I was wearing a heated flying suit, and I had a leather jacket that normally I wore. But anyway, the clothing I had was sufficient for our needs. It was not too cold, a little on the chilly side, but not too bad. Anyway, they took us in, and one of the first things they did was to give you a bath and took clippers and cut all of your hair off your head. They didn't shave it, but they clipped it down as short as a set of clippers will cut it. So after a day or two, I was well aware that I was somewhere that I did not want to be, but there was not very much that I could do about it. In the ensuing months, I found that one probably could not live a more boring life; but at the same time, you had to do for the sake of sanity; you had to find something to do. So, I began to play cards. I did a lot of gambling, very profitably of course. When we went in this camp, we were the last contingent to be placed in this particular camp. It was about four thousand Americans,



and about four thousand Russians, but they were separated, of course, within the camp itself.

We soon learned that there was definitely a need for supplies in the camp that were not present and that a source of supply could be made through the Russians themselves. Back in those days, the Russians were our friends, and relations with the Russians in that particular year were very good, and they were considered our allies. Myself and about a dozen other Americans, due to the location that we were in the camp, we were in an end barracks adjacent to the end barracks in the Russian camp, which was a counter part of our camp, but separated by only about a hundred feet of barbed wire with a guard path between the two fences. We finally decided that we should make use of our strategic location within the camp, so we organized a joint trading syndicate. All the fellows around me were prisoners of war that had been shot down like myself; and they came from various states throughout the country -- Texas, California; New York, and whatnot. There was one other fellow from North Carolina up in Mt. Airys that was with me. We finally found that what we had to do was to establish a medium of exchange, and that ended up being a pack of cigarettes. A pack of cigarettes had an inflated value of approximately one hundred and thirty-five dollars in those days in our particular camp. We received Red Cross parcels, and in each Red Cross parcel there was five packs of cigarettes. At the time, I did not smoke, and I used my cigarettes for food or whatever I wished to buy that cigarettes would secure for me. There was a group of Russians that were exactly opposite from the Americans in the camp, and each one of us aligned ourselves with one of the Russians and would trade only with him. We would carry on our barter so to speak at night because it was strictly prohibited for the Germans to do any



trading. We soon found out that if a person wanted a crystal radio set, or if he wanted a watch, or if he wanted an extra ration of bread, that it could be had by trading with the Russians. If you had extra cigarettes, you could by about anything you wanted except your freedom. The Russian that I traded with was named Uragi. He was a Russian Lieutenant in the Red Air Force, and he, of course, had been shot down, and his plight was the same as ours. He was confined by the Germans. But he and I carried on. Of course I could speak no Russian, he could speak no English. There was an interpreter in the Russian compound, though, that for a small fee, that was of course paid by the Russians, did all of our interpreting for us. Suppose I wanted to but a roll of wire to make a crystal radio set. All I had to do was in the afternoon during the daylight hours write a note, tie it to a rock with an old rag or string, throw the rock across into the Russian compound to the interpreter who could separate himself if you would give him signal; and he would get the message, give it to my particular co-trader, shall we say in the Russian compound; and the Russian would obtain for me the next day what I needed; and I would pay him with cigarettes. We had to hurl our trading material approximately one hundred feet. And sometimes to throw five packs of cigarettes, one must weight them down properly with rocks, tie them in rags, and get it where you can throw it the desired distance to where it would clear one fence and go across the other one. Anything that would land between the two fences, of course the Germans would confiscate. We carried this on for quite sometime, and we soon found that we had to charge two hundred percent profit on everything in order continue our efforts. I had a crystal radio set, a set of German army earphones. Where the Russian got his hands on those, I don't know, but they were very functional for me and served the purpose very nicely. I could pick up on



the little radio I had BBC at London almost five hundred miles away three or four nights a week. Any night we could pick up Vienna, the nice music that was played from one of the radio stations there. Throughout the day, I had various Americans coming to me, as did the other friends of mine who were in the end of the barracks next to me, various Americans who wanted you to get them first one thing and then another. It might be a spoon. When the Germans would give you a bowl and a spoon, they gave you an aluminum spoon which only lasted a week. So you could imagine what a spoon would be with no handle. Some people improvised and would piece them together with wire; but that's really not too sanitary in a way; and if you could get your hands on a better spoon, that's what we were there for. So with the trading efforts, we would get nice spoons and forks and even a knife or a full setting of silver if they needed it. I guess the majority of my time in the prisoner of war camp was devoted to my trading efforts. Maybe I should have spent some time learning Spanish through the library, or some other . . . Well, maybe I was in a rut, I don't know, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It helped me pass the time of day, and I think I rendered a good service because none of this trading could have been done on a mass basis. It had to be very controlled, and everything had to be very secretive as far as the Germans were concerned. We did it as we best were able to do under the conditions that we had to operate under. We were continually harassed by the Germans. We were continually searched by the Germans. We had to conceal and hide, of course, any radio material, or we were never allowed to have over five packs of cigarettes in our possession at one time. I at one time had as many as nine hundred packs in my possession, and how I ever hid that many, I'll never know.



I'll never forget one incident. I had always planned to escape from the place, and I thought that I'd be prepared for it whenever the time came. Anyway, I found a heavy box that our Red Cross parcels came in; it was, I would say, a box that would hold about a two bushel box to give you an idea of size. There were about eight or ten of these Red Cross parcels that were packed in this one box that had water proof paper on it and everything like that. But anyway, I got my hands on one of those boxes. I don't remember how I got it, but I did. And after accumulating some food stuffs, some d-bars, which was concentrated chocolate, and occasionally we would have cans of food that the Germans did not puncture when they gave it to us. Any kind of canned food that was perishable they would always puncture so you could not keep it as a safeguard against people trying to escape and so on. But anyway, they would hit a can and occasionally miss it, and if I found a can like that, I always bought it. Then I accumulated enough to where I had a good escape pack lined up ready to go if the time presented itself. Time went along, and no escape opportunity ever came about. Some of the boys tried to escape and of course they were shot right dead on the spot. There was a time when . . . of course the Swiss had distribution rights to the Red Cross parcel or supervised it rather, and there for awhile the Americans were shooting up all the trains even carrying the Red Cross parcels. So, sometimes, by mistake of course. But nevertheless, there were Red Cross parcels not coming through. We went about six weeks one time and did not get any parcels. We almost starved. But anyway, I had all of my escape material and things like that and a lot of my cigarettes, too, buried underneath the house. I thought one time about going down under the house and getting that, but no, I wasn't going to do that; I was going to be ready. But, finally I couldn't go any farther. So I thought, well, I'm going



down and get my box. So I went down under the house one night, underneath the barracks after the lights were out and everything like that. It was underpinned with posts, and you could get underneath fairly well, partially underpinned where nobody could see you unless they just happened to shine a light under there, of course. I picked a dark night and went under there about nine o'clock to where I had buried my box, and I couldn't find it. I dug for about three hours, and no box. I couldn't find it. So, I knew that someone must have seen me bury that box, because I had not told anyone at all that that box was under there, not even my closest friends or anyone. It was a complete secret that I had just not devulged in anyway. I finally gave up after three hours of digging. I could not find it; it was not there; and all was gone. Life was not worth living any longer. So I go back up, and I don't think I slept any that night. The next day, I worried all day about it, and I finally told one of my friends what had happened. So, he says, “Well, I'll go under there with you tonight, and we'll find it if it is under there.” So that night as soon as the lights went off, we were able to slip out of the barracks. We went under there and started digging. We dug and dug and dug until midnight again, and still no box, so I knew somebody had seen me put it under there. In a final fit of rage, I made one final deep stab within the earth itself, and lo and behold, I guess I hit the corner of that box. I'll never forget it. So, that was one of the happiest moments of my life, besides getting home. But anyway, we brought the food up; of course with four thousand Americans you can . . . with what was in the box, it would not go far; and we had to more or less limit it to our close circle of friends. For a few days, we lived very nicely and probably ate so much we were almost sick, not having eaten anything for a long time.



The Germans gave us very little to eat. They gave us one ration of bread a day, something of a sort of weed soup seasoned with some horse meat, two or three potatoes, and that was it. They did give you a ration of hot water out of a tub once a day that you could either make coffee with, or you could shave with, which ever one you preferred. So after this incident, I never did put any of my things back in the box, and we were getting along towards the end of the war.

At night we could hear the Russian guns closing in on Vienna, and we knew the end was near. The Germans then decided to move us, rather the German officials there did not want the German guards to fall into Russian hands. So they decided to evacuate us from the camp, knowing that the Russians would shortly be there to take over. So one day, they took us out of the camp, and said, this is it, you're going west. So we went out on a march, four thousand Americans. They did not take the Russians, though; the Russians were left at the camp. The four thousand Americans were set on foot and told to march from one end of Austria to the other. So we marched for about twenty some days, doing about twenty-five miles a day. At night we would camp out in some meadow, orchard, or maybe in some farmer's barn or something like that, depending on how the weather was. The days were rather warm, the nights were quite chilly. This was in April of 1945. We finally ended up in the town of Braunau, which was Hitler's birthplace. We were taken into this forest, and the German guards more or less told us we were free to do what we wanted to do. We could go or come at random. So we went of course; nobody stayed there. Three or four of my friends and myself went down to his family's house and just moved in with them. Moved them out, and we moved in. We, of course, were close by to the place where our base camp was and where a lot of the boys stayed; but some of



the more of the adventurous of the people did go out and confiscate automobiles or trucks or mules or whatever they could find to get around on, and just make out as best they could. One group even commandeered a train with its freight cars and everything like that . . . were out playing with it. It was strictly inoperative as far as the Germans were concerned because they were no longer interested in carrying goods or doing anything whatsoever. For them, the war was over. Anyway, on day some Americans . . . an Army Captain and two or three soldiers came in on a jeep and told us that we were free, not to do anything but the next morning, they could be in to take over, which they did. So, we were then of course taken by truck up to Passau, and from Passau we were flown into France. In France, we stayed a few days in what was known as Camp Lucky Strike near Leltavre, and from there we sailed on the ship to New York, and I was back in the United States again. With that, my prisoner of war days ended.

Donald R. Lennon:

You were talking about the trading system that you had with the Russians and the fact that you overcame the language barrier through an interpreter. How did you make initial contact with the Russians on this to get across the idea that you wanted to trade with them? Was this initiated by the Americans or by the Russians?

G. Vince Howell:

I could not answer that question because I am not sure how that came about. I think that what happened, and it was not me that started it, it was one of the boys. The end of our barracks projected down . . . you had what they called an A and B barracks, and you have a wash room in between. The last barracks which connected with the American compound was the one we were put in because it was the last one filled up. The same way with the Russians. I don't know . . . they were filled up when we got there, so I think that they were filled up before we ever got there. But anyway, I think that



somebody . . . there were twelve people, twelve Americans of which I was one, and that being in the end of this barracks, we actually controlled them. We weren't about to let anybody else come in and do trading from our point of strategic location. We realized the potential, the gain that this thing could be for us; so we capitalized on it and exploited the whole thing to its best advantage for ourselves. But at the same time, we were serving a very good service, because the Germans would have probably shot us all if we had gone out in the open daylight to try to trade with the Russians. It just could not have been done.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, was there any time that you were able to come in direct contact with the Russians as far as talking?

G. Vince Howell:

I eventually did. When were were evacuated out of the camp, he escaped from the Russian camp, jumped the fence, and came over with us when we were marched out of the camp.

Donald R. Lennon:

But while you were in prison, there was no means of communication except by throwing your rock across the . . .

G. Vince Howell:

We would talk to him and if we wanted bread, we could converse back and forth across the fence with him if we told him what we wanted, if we knew the Russians word for it, or the Germans word for it. I mean they knew enough German, and we knew enough German to where we could kind of carry on our conversation in German.

Donald R. Lennon:

There were no German guards standing by?

G. Vince Howell:

Oh yes, but you just wait until they got out of the way, you see. You could say about anything you wanted to. We were always telling the German guard that the war was capoot and everything else and called him names and everything like that, they



wouldn't do anything to you, I mean they were just a bunch of flunkies that knew that they were going to be harassed, and they would do nothing as far as shooting you for that. You had to actually perform some act of escaping before they had any authority to shoot you, or anything like that and we had enough sense to know that . . . we'd say about anything we wanted to say. But the Germans knew we were trading. There's no point in denying that. They knew it because periodically we would lose cigarettes that would fall in between the two fences. The Germans walked up and down between, and a little narrow fence that was further fenced off inside of dead zone in between. Even outside the fence they had barbed wire which you were not allowed to go to that barbed wire. If you got in that area, you were to be shot, and they would shoot you if you got in that area. But we knew better than to get in there. If they were far enough away, we might drop something, and we might run out there and get it. I've seen the Russians run out there and get stuff, and they were daring than we were. If they had cigarettes out there, they'd just about take the risk of getting shot. If a man had a piece of bread out there or something for me, if he didn't clear the fence, I wouldn't worry a whole lot about it. I'd just let it lie there, and the Germans would eventually get it, of course. I wasn't going to take the chance of getting shot. But we had it hooked up to where the Russians had to deliver the stuff to us first, and then we would pay them with the cigarettes. So, if he threw the stuff over and it didn't get to us, it was his tough luck. He'd just have to go out the next day and get more stuff all over again and make his delivery. If he threw things to us and he failed to get it to me, I was not obligated to pay him for it. The rules were sort of set in the very beginning, and that is the way we operated.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did the Germans search contraband goods very frequently or very thoroughly?



G. Vince Howell:

Very frequently. They would take you outside and they would to into the barracks and have dogs sniffing out for anything that they could find. They were trying to find, of course, if you had any guns or . . . they didn't want you to have radios for some reason, but we had beaucoup of radios, we were loaded with radios in the barracks, but I had this crystal radio set that was factory made in Vienna, and I even got home with that set. I don't know . . . I lost it. I don't have it anymore. Somewhere along the line, it got lost at home, but I had a set of brand new German Army earphones.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, how did the Russians manage to throw things like that over the fence?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, it could be done, I mean they could disassemble the earphones, for instance, and go ahead and didn't have to throw the whole complete thing at one time. He could disassemble it to throw one head piece and then his little cross piece over the other and perhaps he might do that . . . I don't remember exactly how he did it, but I know I got it. They were trading with the Germans. They were going out on work details in the countryside during the day. We did not go out on any work details, but the Russians did. So, that's how they had access to the various things. I don't know who they were getting them from, but they were sure getting them from somewhere, and they could get you about anything that you wanted. If you happened to have a craving for an onion, they could get you an onion. If you wanted a tomato, they'd get you a tomato, in season of course.

Donald R. Lennon:

When the Germans found contraband goods, was there any kind of punishment?

G. Vince Howell:

Oh no, that was just a lucrative find for him; and he'd put it in his pocket, be it cigarettes, or onions, or bread, or what not that the Russians had thrown us. He just took it and what he did with it, I don't know.



Donald R. Lennon:

It was never reported at all?

G. Vince Howell:

No, I'm sure it wasn't. He might have turned it in if he were real eager beaver German soldier, he might have turned it in, but I seriously doubt if he did. I don't know what disposition was made of his confiscations there, but I would imagine it didn't go any further.

Donald R. Lennon:

You speak of the radios. How were these radios rigged to prevent detection by the Germans?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, that's a good question. The little crystal set was about the size of a soap box, and in a straw mattress, it was very easy to hide. Of course, there were always boards on the wall that you could pull apart that you'd know about the Germans wouldn't know about. You could pull them up and hide something like that, and that is where I kept mine, normally hid up in the wall. Of course, for a crystal radio set, it is necessary that you have an antenna of, we'll say, at least a minimum of fifty to a hundred feet or something like that. So what I did there was in the barracks itself you had a line, your power line for your electricity, that ran down the center of the barracks, that was exposed from the ceiling, not inside the ceiling, but it was exposed, nailed, and tacked on with staples to the ceiling itself. And around this power line was a copper tube that the power line, the wires, were inserted in, and that ran down the length of the barracks to keep it protected and all. What we would do was go to the extremes of the barracks and cut the copper tubing, sever a place about the thickness of a knife blade, whereas it would not be grounded from either end. It would be a complete extension of copper that you could not have found a more perfect antenna, it being up on the ceiling, giving it that necessary height which was better than being down on the side of the barracks, or on the floor, or



something like that. So having a place severed at either end of the barracks gave you a hundred and fifty feet there of perfect antenna. All you had to do was to wrap a fine piece of wire around that, then take this fine piece of wire and in the boards coming off of the ceiling, take a knife blade and just take about a quarter of an inch hash. After you had taken this fine piece of wire and you had concealed it well in the wood, you could take your thumb nail and come back across it and close it up to where it could not be seen at all. Bring this terminal wire down to a place close to your bed and wrap it around the nail several times--drive this nail into the wall and it is just an unnoticed nail there to hang your coat on. But in reality, it's nothing but the terminal end for the antenna itself; and then you just take your little clip when you want to get your crystal radio set out, take the little clip and hook it on to that nail, and your antenna is complete. As far as getting a ground, there's nothing to that. All you need to do is drive a little pipe through a hole in the floor, and you've got a ground automatically, no problem. I don't know why the Germans did not--they found a lot of sets, but I guess that's the way they did it. That's the way I did mine, and how some of the other boys did theirs, I don't know. They never did find mine, I know that.

Donald R. Lennon:

They never discovered that their copper tubing had been cut?

G. Vince Howell:

They apparently didn't. They apparently didn't. We had just enough to where it would be separated just the thickness of a knife blade. It had a fairly high ceiling in the barracks, and unless they climbed up on a ladder, they would never have noticed it anyway. On the floor, it would never have been visible to the naked eye. They could not have seen it from the floor, so I guess they never did notice it.



Donald R. Lennon:

You spoke of storing your trading goods that you accumulated. Was there any problem with stealing among the prisoners?

G. Vince Howell:

I don't know. No, I would say that that was one of the least of anybody's worries. I would say that the element of theft was what you might say nonexistent. I would say that there was no--that thought--I never worried about anybody stealing anything. I, at one time, thought somebody had seen me bury my things in the ground. In reality, it was just a false thought on my part, because nobody had, and as far as leaving--of course we had nothing to leave. We had our cigarettes that we could leave in our barracks; but to my knowledge, I never ever in my life remember missing anything that belonged to me in that camp the whole time I was there. It was a situation of everybody having a common problem and respecting the other person, and there was just no problem whatsoever. I never thought about it much in that light, but in recounting over my situation, I remember that just was not a problem with us at all.

Donald R. Lennon:

You mentioned the provisions that the Red Cross sent, the food stuffs. How was that handled, did they send large quantities and it was divided up equally among the American forces?

G. Vince Howell:

The Red Cross had this set up where they would give you a parcel. This parcel was approximately--this box was a square box, I would say perhaps a foot wide and a foot deep and approximately five inches high. Well, in this box you had usually a pound of powdered milk. You had a can of corned beef; you had usually five packs of cigarettes; you had two chocolate bars; you had a can of oleo margine, about a pound can. Once in awhile, we would get a small can of butter, which was a very small can of butter; it was very seldom that you got that. Really the oleo margarine provided a grease to do your



cooking with. If you wanted to fry your spam or make your corned beef into a little hash or something like that, you had to have something that you could cook with; and that was, of course--your oleo margarine, you would use it--you would butter your bread with it, and it was sort of a multiple purpose thing. Maybe it wasn't too highly thought of at the time, but it was really in reality a worthwhile item. We could have a pack of sort of graham crackers, I remember; and we would have a little can of coffee; and we had a little box of sugar, and that's about it. But anyway, the distribution in that particular camp was made through Switzerland. The Red Cross people periodically were allowed to come into the camp, and of course, they always disapproved of everything that was done, and that about all that was said about it. There was nothing ever done about it. What they disapproved of didn't appear to worry the Germans too much. But anyway, the Germans would have these supplies. I assume they were hauled by railway car into Krems, which is a nearby town. We were about a mile behind a hill from Krems and from the railway station there. I guess it was brought up to our camp in a truck and stored in an empty barracks that they used to store Red Cross parcels. And once a week on a certain day, they gave out to each person in the camp on the of the parcels. The German guard would open the pack; and he would sit and take his saber and would punch a hole in every sealed can; and then they would had it to you; and you would go back to your barracks and do what you wanted to with it. If you were frugal and wished to save, you could spread it over a whole week. As a usual thing, it lasted two or three days, and then you went on more or less of a famine until the Red Cross parcels came in again. It was sort of human nature to live it up while you had it. That was the way it worked.

Donald R. Lennon:

You say that it usually came in once a week?



G. Vince Howell:

We were supposed to get those once a week, but one time we went for six weeks without getting any, and the Germans said that the trains were being shot up, and the Americans were shooting the trains up which it may have well been. They weren't coming through. The might have been coming through, and the Germans were getting them. I don't know. We weren't getting them.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you have any trouble or did you have any indication that the Germans were pilfering the Red Cross packages?

G. Vince Howell:

If they were, it was not to my knowledge. I don't know. I highly suspect that since they were Johnny-on-the-spot and all, that they probably got a parcel of their own at least, and they might have had more, I don't know. It was set up whereas some Americans in the camp there--we had our own political system which was even similar to say the one here in the city today. You had a camp commander, and you had more or less the representative in each barracks that sort of carried on with the next higher echelon in command, and so on like that. Those boys really didn't get any better parcels than we did because all of the parcels were almost identical, and I don't think that they could have gotten more than one. I think that everything was pretty well watched there. But whether the Germans got any or not, I don't know. I don't know that much about it. We were not allowed to know anything about it. None of the Americans there would tell us what he and the Germans were doing behind closed doors, so I don't really know what was really happening.

Donald R. Lennon:

You mentioned cooking your spam and what have you. What kind of facilities did you have?



G. Vince Howell:

In each barracks, there was a large stove which was a combination cooking stove and heating stove. It served a dual role. It was the only means of heat that we had. It was centrally located within the barracks. If you lived in the end of the barracks, then that meant you were about seventy-five feet from the stove, so you had little or no warmth radiating to your particular bed at night from that stove. And of course, nobody kept the stove going at night, anyway, because we didn't have any fuel to burn unless we pulled the building right down of our heads and used rafters; and we didn't want to do that. Of course, a lot of it was used, but not all of it. They did give you a small amount of coal to use during the day, and most of the time during the day, we would have a fire going to whereas on the flat surface on top of the stove. When I say stove, I mean that it was similar to like you might use in a restaurant--you had a large area that was flat on top that you could clean off and cook on, and fry anything that you wanted to cook. There was no baking or anything like that. It had to be fried or cooked in some similar manner. Of course, there was a lot of cooking going on. We did get a box of raisins in this parcel, about a pound and a half box of raisins. And a number of the boys made raisin wine. They didn't eat the raisins. They let them go through the fermentation process, and they would come out with some very good wine. There was always an alcoholic in the crowd.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well now, since you were so far from the heat and the heat didn't operate at night, I presume that they furnished sufficient blankets during the winter.

G. Vince Howell:

We were issued, I think, two blankets, no sheets, two blankets and that's what you kept warm on. If it were real could, you could put your overcoat over top of you; or a lot of the boys, in fact everybody, slept with his clothes on and didn't pull his clothes off at night. It was too cold in the wintertime. You'd keep your overcoat on and put your two



blankets over the top, because there was no heat to keep you warm. You just made out the best you could. If you got cold, you'd wake up. Maybe it would be too cold to sleep, but there wasn't anything you could do about it.

Donald R. Lennon:

What about bathing?

G. Vince Howell:

Between each barracks, and when I say each barracks, I'm talking about a length of one hundred fifty feet. So each barracks was over three hundred feet long. And in between each barracks, you had a sort of a bath facility which you had an enormous big concrete tub that nobody ever bathed in the thing. It was just there to sort of run off excess water. If you wanted to wash some clothes, you would put them inside the tub and let the water spicket run over them, and so on like that; or if you could get a pan or something, you could let them soak or things like that. You had spickets in sort of a crude basin there, a trough, it really wasn't a basin, it was a trough really on the sides of the wall, where it had fifteen spickets in each and each bathroom all together. And that was where you could go and wash and shave. I don't think there was even a mirror on the wall, but we didn't really worry a whole lot about shaving. I don't remember how often I would shave, I think I would shave about once or twice a week, something like that. Some people never did bother shaving. But I thing everybody as a whole kept clean. I don't remember right off hand that anybody was offensive in odor or anything like that, but you would certainly have thought they would have been to have lived in the conditions and bathed under the conditions that we had to bathe under. You did not take a shower; you just splashed water on yourself, and that's about it. And it was usually could water at that. If you wanted to heat some water and use to bathe in, you could do so. Once in awhile, the Germans gave us hot baths, thought. They had a place that they



called a delousing room there they took us. Periodically, they would take you up to this, and there they had hot running water and everything. You could take a hot shower and that was about once a month that they would take you into that. They called that a delousing process, but I don't remember ever having any lice on them that I know of, really, I think that it was wonderful that the people there were able to cope with the situation as they did and make out under the very extremely primitive conditions that they had to do it under. Now, we had an outdoor--down behind our barracks, we had a toilet which was of the outdoor type. It was a brick building with accommodations for perhaps ten people at a time. You had just a big box, open, with a big tank underneath; and periodically; these German farmers would come in with a wagon; and they would clean that out; and they used if for fertilizer. It was just a never ending cycle, but there was just no--it was the same as we had in this country three hundred years ago, the same as an old outhouse. The odor was very--it was an ordeal to go into one of the places; but, we never had any outbreaks or anything. It seemed like everything went along miraculously well, as far as the health of everybody concerned. I don't really remember ever being sick in my life the whole time I was there. I enjoyed perfect health; I lost a little weight, but I think the thing that was paramount-I think in a way that we lived like dogs and that we were always hungry; and getting something to eat I would liken very well myself to my German police dog out there; he wants to eat; that's his first instinct; he wants something to eat. He's not concerned with pretty flowers that you might have out there; he's not concerned with who is there or anything like that; he is looking for something to eat; and it seemed that that was what we were after. We could not appreciate the scenery of the country or things like that for always being hungry.



Donald R. Lennon:

Well, the Germans knowing that you were going to get these Red Cross packages, do you think that had any influence on the lack of food that they provided for you?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, I don't know about that. I think that the Germans--I would say that the Germans did very well in providing us with as much as they did give us because I think that even their own soldiers were hungry. I don't think that they were fed very well. I don't think that they were very far ahead of us. I base that on the fact that the guards would look at you with so much envy and jealousy whenever we would get the parcels and all like that. If you wanted to give them something, they would grab it. So we didn't give them anything. Maybe we should have, I don't know. But the Germans were our enemies, and we were not to comfort them or aid or abet their welfare in any way, and that's the way we did it.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, it's rather amazing, considering the conditions, that the Red Cross packages got through to you at all.

G. Vince Howell:

I think that it is a blessing that we got any at all, really; but, of course, if they had not been coming through, then they would have cut them off. I guess the Germans knew that, and some of the in people were, I guess, getting something, so they allowed it to thrive and prosper the best that it could.

Donald R. Lennon:

Were you allowed to receive any communication from the outside world? Any letters from home?

G. Vince Howell:

We could get mail. I was there, I guess-oh, they would allow you to write, I think, maybe two or three letters a month home. They gave you a piece of paper that folded over, and then you could write your message on it, and address it, and there was no



stamps. Of course, that was supposedly paid for by the Red Cross. There was no postage necessary. Nobody had any money to but stamps with, anyway. Periodically, once or twice a month, we would get mail in, but only I would say on the average about every other week would we get any mail. It was no weekly thing.

Donald R. Lennon:

And your letters did reach home then?

G. Vince Howell:

I did get letters home. I wrote letters home, and I received mail from home, and it did work its channel. I could say that it would take--I was in this camp for almost a year. I think I was there for at least three months before I ever got any mail. And I think, by the same token, that it was about three months before any of my mail ever reached home. But then it came in--you could expect to hear from home maybe once or twice a month, and that's about it.

Donald R. Lennon:

Why did the Germans not send the Americans out on work detail?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, by the terms of the Geneva Convention, if you were a certain rank, you were not to be sent out on work details. If you were below the rank of Sergeant, then they were free to do whatever they wanted to do with you. But everybody that was in here was--ninety-nine percent of them were either Staff Sergeants, Tech Sergeants, or Master Sergeants, on of the three. Now the officers of our particular outfit that were shot down were sent to a different camp. They had a camp which they did separate the regular officers from the enlisted men. We had a few; we had a Chaplin who was an officer; we had a doctor there who was a medical doctor--that was an officer; we had perhaps four or five officers that were stationed in our camp. Why, I don't know. They were just there when I got there and they were there when I left. I mean they left with us, of course. I don't know the whys and wherefores of that.



Donald R. Lennon:

So you had no duties except to kill time?

G. Vince Howell:

I had no duties whatsoever to perform. I had no work to do whatsoever. It was a time killing situation. You would wait out the end of the war or escape if you could.

Donald R. Lennon:

You mentioned Spanish classes and a library.

G. Vince Howell:

We had that very well organized. They had people there who taught Spanish; you could take Spanish if you wanted to. You could to up in the morning, say at 10 o'clock and attend a Spanish class or just about anything that you wanted to do. You could take classes in it. They had a lot of boys who, for want of something to do, liked to do that. They would volunteer their services for the benefit of those who didn't know as much as they did about it.

Donald R. Lennon:

And the Germans were not opposed to this?

G. Vince Howell:

The Germans were not opposed to it in any way. No sir, they apparently sanctioned it, and it was up to us whether we wanted to do that. So, they did not discredit it in any way to my knowledge. It was open and free and apparently with their blessings. I don't think they really cared one way or another. We learned to speak Spanish, we could speak German as well or anything that you wanted. Every once in awhile--of course, we had church services. I mean every Sunday we went to church if we wanted to. I always did, and they had this fellow that was a Catholic Priest. I think he was a Captain. He did not conduct his services in the vain of the Catholic Church. He conducted it as a non sectual, secterian thing, and he just had a regular orthodox type of sermon and everything like that. They did have a library there with a--not really much--I don't know how it got in there. I'm sure the Red Cross sent that in. There was not much to that, but they did, nevertheless, have one. They even presented--they had a little playhouse; they



even had staged musicals; and they had band instruments that the Red Cross apparently had sent in. They were there when I got there; so I don't know how they got there; but I would assume that the Red Cross did. I'm sure the Germans didn't just give it to the camp. I don't think that they had a piano. I don't remember them having a piano, but I know they had trombones and drums and whatnots, guitars, violins. But anyway, they would periodically, some of the boys there that were inclined to lean towards the theatrics, would stage plays' and there was always somebody willing to play this role or that role. It was usually of a musical vain though, and no heavy drama or anything like that. I don't think the Germans, perhaps, would have gone along with that, but anything of a light musical nature, they--I'm sure they censored these things to a certain extent; but I was not in on that and can't tell you much from the workings of it or how it went about.

Donald R. Lennon:

But the Germans apparently abided by the Geneva Convention?

G. Vince Howell:

I think they did to a certain extent, yes. I think they went along pretty well with it, and there was something that must have forced them to do so. Of course, they had their people over here, and they expected the same treatment. I'd say that they probably treated us better than I would have treated them if the situation had been reversed. So I can't really condemn them and say that they did wrong, or anything that they would have done because after all is said and done, I had no gripe or complaint to make. They really didn't bother me any; and they didn't bother anybody really, I don't think.

Donald R. Lennon:

How great was the morale problem?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, I can only speak for myself. I would say mine was pretty good. I kept busy. I knew that sooner or later we would get out of there. I would listen to the news whenever I could at night. We had in each barracks a newscaster who, once a day, would



read the news to the barracks. Now this was hush-hush from the Germans. This would only be read when the Germans were not present or were not in the barracks or anything like that. This was sort of an underground thing whereas any news that I might pick up on my set, then I would pass it along to the fellow in the barracks that would compile the news. This was sort of a--somewhere in the camp, they had sort of a central news headquarters. All of the representatives from each barracks would obtain their news as they would get it and transfer it on the head central headquarters; and they in turn would run out sheets; and these sheets were read to each barracks once a day so you know and kept abreast of what was going on. When D-day occurred in June of '44, we knew it immediately. In fact, I heard it myself, I mean when it happened. I was listening to it right on the radio, of course. There's a lot of people--we had four thousand Americans in the camp. You stop and think that I had a set that I shared with the fellow that slept in the bunk adjacent to me. He listened on one earphone, and I listened in on the other one. There was, I would say just roughly estimating, I would say there was perhaps forty or fifty radios in the camp. But you stop and think, that's only one percent of the people in the camp that had a radio, that had access to the news other than through a reading of the news once a day. So you were kept abreast, I mean we knew what was going on' we knew what progress was being made, what bombs. From BBC, we could pick up on the news how many bombers had been shot down on a certain day. Of course, that was not--I would not put a whole lot of stock in that, because I've known many times in England before we were shot down, we would get the news; and they would say that so many bombers were lost, when we may have had more lost right on our base that one day that I knew had been lost that there was no mention of. It was always minimized, and you were



not given any true figure. The population of the country was ill-informed then, and they still are today. So, that's just on of those things. I take things with a grain of salt, and let it go at that.

Donald R. Lennon:

What did you do for recreation?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, as far as physical recreation, I would say that I spent my time walking. We had a large lot back behind our latrine about the size of a baseball diamond, and you would get out and maybe walk that about one hundred times a day, just for the exercise it gave you. Other than that, we might have a ball. We'd sit and pass ball. Once in awhile, we would get--they had maybe a half a dozen in the camp--once in awhile, we would get a volleyball; and we would string up a rope and play volleyball; but I didn't do much of that, not really. As far as my recreational things, I guess playing cards was my mainstay. I guess I played cards more than anything else. But then again, you're always yakking with somebody or you're involved--like I was very involved with my trading activities, and I was organizing myself, I was working from one day to the next. In the afternoons, I had to get out and get up my order of things that I wanted my man to get for me the next day. I threw my message once a day in the afternoon over to the Russian interpreter. Sailed it on a little rock--a little piece of paper tied to a rock that was marked for Your. Of course, he knew me. He knew who each one's counterpart was, and he would give it to him. I don't know what the Russians had to pay him, but of course I'm sure they had to pay him something. Anyway, he would interpret what I wanted in Russian to the Russian. I might have wanted a piece of wire; I might have wanted a watch; I might have wanted an onion; I might have wanted a ration of a loaf of bread; or something like that. I



would get orders during the day. It's just like the stock market. You could like it very well like to that. You get your orders to buy, you buy what people want you to buy.

Donald R. Lennon:

Were they able to deliver the next night?

G. Vince Howell:

Oh, yes. They would generally have everything you wanted. You let him know that day. This Russian interpreter may have been an officer or something, but I never saw him go out on work details. But my man went out on work details. So I did not see him in the daytime, but he would come in late in the afternoon and I would see him then. When he came in, of course, the message would be given to him, and then the next day, he would get it. The following night, he would throw it to me one item at a time. He would throw me say, the onion, and I would throw him back the pack of cigarettes if that's what we agreed on. He would hold up what he was to throw to me; and I could see it; and he would hold up fingers, two cigarettes, which meant two packs of cigarettes; and then you would nod your head. If you thought that he was charging too much for it, you would shake your head. And then he would give you, “O. K. then, one cigarette.” He would throw it over, and then I would throw back to him. And then it would just continue back and forth until we had finished--I had finished. Then somebody else was there, either before me or after me, who would go ahead and complete his. But we would never barge in on one while he was doing his trading. We would wait until he had finished. It was never the situation of two throwing at one time. It was singly, always. Perhaps we might start in when it got dark, we'll say at seven o'clock, and it might take us an hour and a half to complete our transactions back and forth.

Donald R. Lennon:

The Germans didn't try to intercept? I'm sure they knew this was going on.



G. Vince Howell:

No, they had a guard, always. There were never Germans--at that time of day, there were never Germans in our barracks. They just didn't come in at that time of day. They left you alone. They came down every morning to wake you up, and then they would have a roll call every day. They would pull these spot checks on you, but in the early evening hours, they never bothered you. You just never did see the Germans then. You would have this lone guard walking up and down each fence between the Russians and the Americans. Then you would have them on the outer rim of the fence. Of course maybe in the whole camp, they may have had, I'd say twenty or twenty-five guards at one time on duty. They had the towers built, and they were in the towers, and they were walking the outside of the fence and things like that. But this was a sort of an interior situation whereas you had a guard that walked the length of about, I'd say maybe nine hundred to one thousand feet, maybe three hundred yards that he walked back and forth. All you had to do, you could watch and see when he got out of sight, go ahead and do your trading. You just didn't do it when he came along. He would, of course, he would keep walking back and forth, but we was continually walking somewhere; he just didn't stop; he just kept walking all the time; and he would eventually walk on out of your way. When he would come in, you would just suspend things until he gout out of the way.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, apparently they did not search the Russian camp that exhaustively, or they would have found these catches of . . .

G. Vince Howell:

I don't know about that. I don't know how they did that or how they got by with it. There was more bitterness between the Russians and the Germans than there was between us and the Germans; and how they were able to get the things in and all like that, I don't know. I don't know.



Donald R. Lennon:

Was there a curfew?

G. Vince Howell:

Oh, yes. In other words, you were not supposed to be out of the barracks after the sun went down. When the sun went down at dark, you were not to go out of your barracks. That is why when I got under the house, I had to slip off on the side of the barracks away from where the guard would be, and jump out the window because he could see the door. I couldn't take a chance on leaving from there. Any one of the towers could see the door, but I'd get down on the side of the barracks, and duck underneath the house, you see.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, I was thinking about your trading back and forth. That was after sundown.

G. Vince Howell:

It was obvious that we were trading. It was no secret to them. They knew it. Everytime the guard would come by, he would, whatever contraband was out there, he would just pick it up and walk off.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you try to stay in the shadows?

G. Vince Howell:

That's right, and I would imagine that he was watching us the whole time. If we had thrown anything with him standing there, I don't think that he would have done anything about it. I don't really think he would. But the only thing about it would be, the reason that we would wait for him to get out of the way would be the fact that if we dropped something that didn't quite get clear, we would have him as far away as we could to see if we wanted to make a mad dash out and get it, you see, if it didn't quite clear the place. Sometimes the stuff would fall on the roof of the building and land up there; and maybe he got far enough away, you could scoot out there and get up there and get it, get a pole or something. We kept a pole there to pull stuff down with, a hook on the end of it to pull stuff down off the roof, you see. Whether these guards--I would say



this that if I were betting money, I would say that they kept all of the stuff. I don't know. But you stop and think about this. Maybe they turned a little of the stuff in because the commandant of the camp probably expected it to be turned in to him; and if the guard didn't turn in so much during the course of the night, then he might have been watching us through binoculars and knew about how much the guard had picked up. So I imagine the guard perhaps turned in some things, but he kept some things, too, I'm sure of that. To be able to pay in cigarettes, I found that the easiest way to hurl the distance that we had to hurl cigarettes, was to take five packs of cigarettes and--I had two side by side--I had a certain way that I packed cigarettes; I had it in as much as an oval as I could make it; and I had a rock. You had to give it some weight because the cigarettes were too light to get it over, and you had to give it some weight, and then you had to have a good arm to throw. We had this big open window right here, wand we put the window down so it was open and you could stand right back here and hurl just like hurling through this door.

Donald R. Lennon:

You were operating from inside of your barracks?

G. Vince Howell:

Oh, yes. You couldn't get outside.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, this was why I asked about the curfew.

G. Vince Howell:

That's why I sat the end of our barracks was adjacent to their barracks. Our window was closes to the end barracks over there, so that's why we controlled the trading area. Now, some of the things that they would throw over, we're not going to throw through the window over there. We still had a place outside that we had to dash out here-he's going to throw it over here. You're not going to pinpoint it in the door, but you're going to get it over here in the general area. As long as it is beyond the warning line, you could make a mad dash out there when the guard was far enough away that he's not going



to shoot you or anything like that and go ahead and get it. It depends on how bad you wanted it. It might be something that was not too important that didn't get beyond that warning line, and you'd let it stay there. You wouldn't worry about it. But the next morning, it wouldn't be there.

Donald R. Lennon:

What was the nature of punishment for infractions? Did they have any type of punishment?

G. Vince Howell:

If they caught you with a radio or something like that? Yes, they put you--they gave you thirty days in a--I never did get in there, but some of the boys did. They put you in this dark room, as it was quoted to me, underneath the ground. In fact, it was underneath the delousing building, which was up on the side of a hill from us. I never did see the room itself, but they said it was just a plain barren room with nothing in it but, I think, a chair. There wasn't even a bed in it. And they gave you food maybe once a day. I don't think you got any Red Cross parcels or anything like that. It was sort of a dealers choice situation. I don't think they gave you much of anything to eat. They put you in there, I think, for thirty days or something like that. It must have been a rather severe thing to be subjected to. Complete isolation from everybody and everything. I think that being in a place like that you developed a rather gregarious instinct, because I had the certain clan that I palled around with, and I think that each one of those gave me a lot of support to carrying on. I guess we were very helpful to one another in that instance, in that after we went on this forced march, I know some of my friends were successful in escaping during the course of the march; and from where I was at the time the break was made, there was no way that I could make it. Although there was still alot of my friends there, there was still the close element that I palled with and everything like that, played



cards with and everything like that, were gone. Even my Russian friend, who was my cohort in trading, escaped and made the break at that same time; and he was gone. He had escaped from the Russian compound when we got ready to leave. He crawled over the fence and boldly came right in. I'll never forget. Lord, what a stinking person. Garlic--he stunk to high heaven, as the expression goes.

Donald R. Lennon:

Don't you think that the Russian prisoners were fearful there at the end when the Russian Army was moving toward them that they may be butchered by the Germans?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, I don't know about that. I think that the Germans certainly wanted to make a wide berth between themselves and the Russians in all respects, and they didn't want anymore closeness to them than they could get. That's why they marched us from one end of Austria to the other, so we would fall into the hands of the--so that the guards would be captured by the Americans. They had to be captured by somebody somewhere along the line, so that they preferred the Americans rather than the Russians. Anyway, this march that we went on, though, was most eventful. I'll never forget; the first night, we camped out in a little orchard. Well, the only provision you had for water was to drink water out of a branch. They had a little branch there. But I would imagine that that water was probably cleaner than--you would liken it very much to the streams, say, in the western part of this state up in the mountains there that has a near perfect water to drink as far as cleanliness is concerned. But anyhow, we drank the water with no ill effects, but we slept on the ground and just about froze to death at night. It was cold at night. But anyway, the trek was finally ended; and it seemed like the end of the world for the Germans. When we got to this forest near Braunau, they just gave up. As I say, we were free to go anywhere we wanted to go. We could go out and live with some German



household. They didn't apparently care, it was just do what you wanted to do. We were more or less advised to sort of stick together, and all like that. We knew that help was coming and knew that a certain amount of organization must still exist. You couldn't just walk in to the wild blue yonder and stay gone because we were aware that the Americans were very near. We would go out on the little safaris during the day, but generally in the evenings we would come in. But you think back, the forests in Germany are kept so clean. The underbrush is kept cut away, and it's just almost like a golf course as you might think of it. They have these beautiful trees. I know a lot of these Americans got in there, and when they would set up this bivoucatea would cut the bark off these beautiful trees, and just ruin the tree, of course, to use as a shelter to keep the rain off of them at night. But I still remember that, and I'd hate to go back and even look at the beauty of that forest after the way it was stripped of the bark from the trees, and all like that. But that is one of the hazards of war that you have to contend with, and I guess that whoever owned the forest there was certainly sick over it all, I'm sure of that.

Donald R. Lennon:

How did the German people react to you at this point?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, we were still in Austria. We were not in Germany itself, and I think that perhaps there would be a difference between the two. Had we been in Germany, but we were in Austria, and I think the hostility is much less severe in Austria than it would have been, say, in Germany itself. All the Austrians were highly Germanized, so to speak, but still I don't think it was that sense of loyalty to the Fatherland that existed in Germany itself. That would by my impression. I think we were lucky to be in Austria because I think that you might have gotten knifed if you had been in Germany itself doing some of the things that were done.



Donald R. Lennon:

What regiment liberated you?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, it was a part of Patton's. I believe that was the third Army that he was commanding at the time. It was one of his units that actually made the liberation. But everything worked very fast. I mean the American C-47's that we rode out of Passau on were right there ready and waiting, and everything was highly organized and everything went off just like clockwork. There was no waiting or anything at all. They were ready to take you. All of this came about with just amazing speed.

Donald R. Lennon:

You mentioned taking over houses there before you were liberated after you had been released by the Germans, and the families moving out. Did they do this voluntarily or did the Americans . . .

G. Vince Howell:

Well, we would go in the house, and the first thing we would want was something to eat, some bread. They'd usually have their food stuff hid. They had no refrigerators to raid. They would have bread, but they would tell you that they had no bread in the house, but we would just search around until we found it. We would usually find it hid. They had it hid from you, a big beautiful loaf of bread hid back in some trunk or something like that. We knew the tactics that they were pulling, so we would generally get us something to eat, but as far as getting out and--well, you might find some eggs or something like that, but as far as raiding the ice box as the Americans think of it today, the Germans or the Austrians there just didn't have anything to raid. I don't ever remember seeing a refrigerator in any of the places I was in, when I stop and think about it. They had the cupboards, where they normally kept the bread, and cupboards would always be bare. That's the first place we would look, and we would search around until we found it. You



knew you were not welcome, and there was no reason that we had to stay there, so it was more or less of a just a frolic that we were on the quest of something to eat.

Donald R. Lennon:

Scavengers.

G. Vince Howell:

That's about what it boiled down to. As far as having any of their personal things, I know I remember one time seeing a real nice atlas, and I told them I wanted it. The woman pleaded so much with me not to take it, that I finally thought, well what the heck. I didn't bother. If it meant that much to her, let her keep it. But I would have liked to known where I was because I didn't have any map, and that was exactly what I wanted. But in a way, maybe I wish I should have taken it now, I don't know. I guess not. It's kind of hard to say what you should do. But we had us some little motorcycles to ride, and rifles and guns were a dime a dozen. You could have all of them you wanted. I mean, you could go to certain places in town and there would be just a whole great big pile of guns and everything that had been brought in. They were bringing in Army equipment and everything like that. That's where we got hold of an old truck that we rode around in. We were entirely mobile then before we were actually liberated. Some of the boys went down to this aluminum factory, a beautiful factory. I would compare it to the size maybe to the Dupont place over towards Kinston. They had their own switching yard and everything there, but they had apparently at one time had housed a bunch of prisoners in there from one of the concentration camps because there was still things left in there, I don't know what it was, but there was something in there that I think some of the rail--some of the hospital cars there that some of the patients were in that was in this railroad yard and everything like that. But the plant was a beautiful plant with tools galore; I even got some drills that I got home with, fost German drills. You know



how . . what's the word I'm trying to think of? But anyway, they were real nice drills. I wish I had gotten home with some more of those, but they were just there for the taking, anybody that wanted them. The factory wasn't even in operation; it was closed.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, you say that there was evidence that prisoners from concentration camps had been there. Perhaps they had been working in the mill?

G. Vince Howell:

I don't know, maybe they did. I remember these hospital cars, and they even in the place they had a lot of hospital bed and all. I think they might have been housing them in that place. For some reason, I don't know why, they had had them there; but I think they had been there. I was a little leary being around a place like that where they had been due to some disease that you might of had, but I never had any ill effects from it.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well now, you said that you knew the men who wrote Stalag 17?

G. Vince Howell:

Yes. I knew of him. He was not in my inner circle, let's put it like that. He was about three barracks over from me, but I knew of him. He was one that was highly interested in the little musicals that they had and the plays they would put on every once or twice a month, things like that. But he and another boy together wrote the basis for the Stalag 17. They called it Stalag 17. They deleted the “B”; there was a Stalag 17-A and a Stalag 17-B. 17-A was up in Poland somewhere; 17-B was in Krems, Austria. But ours was the one they were writing about. I remember seeing that when it was made a play in New York, and it was very close to the actual way it really was. They did a remarkable job of having it. I think this boy must have collaborated in the production of the play and everything like that, and he had it pretty well down pat. But when it was made a movie, it was changed entirely. The movie was not at all the way it really was. It was very, very far fetched and completely different from the way it really was. It was nothing. You



wouldn't even have known anything about it as being the same. So far fetched, it was--I wish I hadn't even seen the movie. I'm glad I saw the play, though; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Donald R. Lennon:

You mention that those who had attempted to escape were shot. How did they attempt to carry out these escapes, and do you know of any that succeeded?

G. Vince Howell:

They went berserk. I think they just went out of their heads. That's where the moral aspect that you mentioned a while ago comes in to play. I think that after you're cooped up, I think that you finally just cracked up. Out of four thousand with something like this over your head continually, I guess you can expect a certain amount to mentally go off, and there was no provision there for anybody that was not mentally good and strong. If you were not fairly stable, there was no hope for you. It was survival of the fittest, and if they would get to the point to where they were not rational enough to realize that the Germans were going to kill them, then some German guard does not question this man's sanity. He has no case history of his portfolio on this man. He is merely kriegsgefangener, and he's going to shoot him if he goes across the wire; it's as simple as that. That's what they did when they went berserk and would just run to the fence and start climbing up the fence, and the Germans would shoot him.

Donald R. Lennon:

There were no well planned, well coordinated efforts to escape them when they had potential to escape?

G. Vince Howell:

There was, I guess, half-hearted tries right at our barracks. We were not the perpetrators of it. Some boys from another barracks come to our barracks. First of all, they were going to tunnel over to the Russian compound and they would go through the floor in the end of our barracks there, and we knew all about it. They were taking dirt



and hauling and running it down the drain and everything like that. They would get over maybe eight or ten feet, and the Germans would come in on their search and find the tunnel and block it off and close everything up. They didn't ever catch--I don't think, I don't remember anybody ever being caught in there because they were doing it, strictly on the sly.

Donald R. Lennon:

They never tried to punish any of you?

G. Vince Howell:

No, they never bothered anybody.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, what did they plan to do once they got in the Russian sector? That was still a prison.

G. Vince Howell:

I don't know. I even thought I was going. I was going to get in on that because I wanted to go over to the Russian--I'd dearly would've loved to go over to that Russian compound. Oh, I would've given my eye tooth to have gotten over there. What I would've given my eye tooth to have gotten over there. What I would've done--whether it was just--I guess the element of curiosity. I wanted to see how they lived. I had never been around Russians before. It was more or less a curiosity thing more than anything else. Not that I thought the Russians could do me any good. They didn't have anything I wanted, not really. I just wanted to go over there. I wanted to be able to go on a hit and run maybe come back, but if I could've gone on, of course I would have. But I think a lot of the Americans felt that this escape thing that they were pulling was not really an escape. They just wanted to get to the Russian compound, and maybe hope they could get out on work detail and slip away that way. But how good your chances would've been at that, I don't know. The Russians would have succeeded if it could've been done. But anyway, I don't know of any real concentrated effort that was made in our particular



camp towards a real honest to goodness escape. I think back about it now, I think of things that I would've done that I could have tunneled out of there somewhere, somehow. But I don't know if I would have done it or not, I don't know if I would've taken the risk or not. Maybe I would, maybe I would not. I'm not sure.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, by hearing over the radio that things were going as well as they were war-wise, you realized that you probably would be liberated in a matter of a few months.

G. Vince Howell:

Yes, I guess maybe we were prone to sort of play it safe, and I guess that's the line of action that most everyone was following. They didn't have much choice to follow any other but just hope you wouldn't go crazy in the meantime. It is what we did. I would say that one of the closest was on this march that we had towards the end of our time there. One night in this barn, I got the crazy idea that I was going to hide underneath the hay, and then get away that way. For some reason, I didn't do it. I don't know why I didn't, but I had figured that thing out all night that all I had to do was hide under this hay. I don't know what possessed me not to do that. I think I could have made a break for it that way very easily as soon as they marched out, then I would have been free to go wherever I wanted to go. I never did. I never did escape.

Donald R. Lennon:

Where did you think they were carrying you on the march or for what purpose did you think?

G. Vince Howell:

Well, we knew that they were getting us away from the Russians, I mean that was obvious they were marching us towards the American lines. We didn't know where we would end up. We just knew that we were headed west and that it didn't really make any difference where we were going. We were just going to meet the Americans as they were advancing because we knew where their positions were at all times. We knew they were



near Munich. They had crossed over into Germany, so we didn't really concern ourselves too much about where we were going. It's just that we were getting away from where we had been.

Donald R. Lennon:

But the motivation for escaping at that point would have been rather small, would it not, because you knew that you were marching towards the Americans?

G. Vince Howell:

That's true. You had less reason then. Of course, it was just a seemingly matter of days before it would all be over with, which it really was; so it was probably the smartest thing to stay together and go out in an orderly fashion rather than to risk getting off by yourself and being a loner. And maybe some over-anxious German decided he wanted to kill you or something like that and bury you, and then no one would ever hear from you again. He had that to contend with.

One of these days, I have a first cousin who is in Vienna now and I asked her to go up to the old prison campsite and take some pictures, which she did. And it just looks like a field now. The barracks have all been torn down; there's nothing there anymore. I think that as many times as I've looked at the nearby countryside, though, I could pretty well zero myself in to the exact point where the barracks was. One of these days, I hope before too long, my son has his passport, my wife has her passport, and I've got an application--I just haven't gotten around to sending one in, but we would like to go to maybe Vienna and then work our way back from there up to where the old prison camp was and just reminisce. Further from that, I would like to take the--I don't know whether I can or not but I think I can approximately--follow the route that we took on the march as we left the camp and headed towards the western extremities of Austria. I remember the first place where we crossed the Danube River, and you could see on the bridge they had



the bomb charges tied to the bridge and everything like that so that if they saw fit to destroy the bridge, they could do so. They were ready for the invasion then, not the invasion but the advancing armies that were coming from either direction. I would say Austria is such beautiful country, it is truly a beautiful country, and something you can't believe. I'll never forget one morning. I think it was the same day that President Roosevelt died; we got the news that he was dead. That same morning, we were camped out in this place on our march. All of a sudden, it looked like a mirage. I couldn't believe it, but I realized that I wasn't just looking at just flat, rolly, hilly country. I was looking at very high snow cap mountains that blended so perfectly into the horizon that you had been there for awhile and not even seen them. They had blended so gradually into the horizon until all of a sudden, I realized we're right here in the foot of these mountains, and it was just something that was there that you--boom, all of a sudden, you see it. It's just like being in a fog and it clearing away. But anyway, I never did get up into that. What I was seeing was actually the foothills of the Austrian Alps there in the southern part of Austria. I never did get down in there; I would have loved to have gone, but I never had the opportunity to go. So, that's about it.

[End of Interview]

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