Stanley E. Yelverton
Donald R. Lennon
October 31, 1975
Stanley E. Yelverton - SY
Donald R. Lennon - DL
SY: .to talk to you about some of my experiences as a POW in World War II. I was in a German concentration camp. Well, it was about this time of the year, October, as I remember. We had came up from France into Luxembourg, into south German, one of the first divisions into Germany. We were advancing. We got to this little town called Schmitt. We had dug in, and some of us were in cellars. The town was evacuated, of course, and we were there for a couple weeks.
During that time we were shelled every day-artillery mortar fire-and it was awful. We just were there, pinned down. We couldn't seem to get out. I remember I was a platoon runner, and I was delivering K rations from fox holes to wherever they were at. Some of the squadrons were in cellars and different places. But it was something you never forget. I never like to talk about it too much. I never have. (1:45)
We were there, and at this time is the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. We found out later after we were captive. I remember one night going out late. Well, it was right at the edge of dark, almost dark. I was sent to this squad, and as I was going I met these two fellows. We knew at that time some of the Germans had been wearing American uniforms, and as we advanced they were advancing too, and you better believe we were looking at each other. I never did know whether they were Germans or Americans. But we passed. We didn't say anything. We turned around several times and looked at each other. Anyway, we kept going. Nothing happened. We went our way.
But we were there, as I said, pinned down, and my sergeant had sent me out one day to the headquarters to tell them the tanks were advancing, the German tanks were coming in. They were coming in from the north road there, and he sent me. Of course it was awful. I ran wherever I could. I was scared, of course. We all were. I was under heavy fire. But, I don't know. That was the first time I. I really made it. I don't know how I did. I was completely out of breath. (4:00)
When I did get there all that was there was a door frame. The town had been flattened, leveled. All the buildings were gone from artillery. I knocked the door down, I came down the cellar steps, and there was the company commander, of course, with all his group there. They had the guns right at me. They said they were looking for German boots, [unclear 04:26] boots, of course. They felt I was one, but they happened to see my [unclear 04:31] so they held their fire, thank goodness. But I was completely out of breath, as I said. I couldn't even talk. I finally did get out to tell them to radio in for artillery because we knew these tanks were coming in. So he did, and then I had to go back across again, the same section, and I did and I made it back. But I was completely give out. I ran so hard. I was fired on going and coming, and just they were bouncing all around me, the bullets. But I made it back and we. (5:32)
The artillery slowed these tanks down a while but the following day they came back, and I remember one tank drove right into some little town there and just turned his gun around to every window, every door, anything that looked like there might be someone who was firing. But [unclear 05:59] that we had a few of our own little fighter planes, and we dropped a bomb that came. Well, it knocked this tank's [unclear 06:15] half off and this German came out of the top in his black uniform. He came. He got almost out. Of course he was shot. I don't know where. We were looking on, but he was shot by the time he got half out.
But at that time we still were completely cut off, surrounded, and they finally came in, and they were taking building by building and we had to surrender. Our whole battalion, they got all of us that was living. I don't know how many was killed or wounded, but it was awful. Anyway, they took us back as soon as they could. They didn't waste any time. They moved us back of the lines there; I guess two or three miles. They questioned each one of us, and of course all we'd tell was our name, rank, and serial number. They claimed they knew everything about us, what outfit we were. I was with the 28th [Infantry] Division. But they knew all about where we were at, what division and everything. (7:58)
Then they got us on the road. We marched all day and that night, all day and night. We came to this other little town where they put us on box cars, so we were on this freight train. They kept us about four days on this train so we. I remember one time they pulled us into some town, city. They unhooked the engine and pulled out, and as they were pulling out we heard this air raid go off, these alarms, sirens, and we were shelled, bombed. They left us right there in the cars in the [freight] yard. But it so happened we weren't hit. I don't know why, but we weren't. So they came back, oh, about an hour or two later and [unclear 09:07] to us and we went on up north.
We went, oh, I guess it was two or three more days, and during this time we didn't get any water at all. We just didn't have any food or water and we were thirsty. Of course it was very cold. Icicles were forming in the cracks of the box cars and we would lick the icicles. They finally did stop and they dipped these five-gallon buckets into a river, and they'd open the box car doors and just sit them in there and we would just take. They gave us two or three old tin cups and we were drinking [heavenly 09:57] water, very good. But they closed us back up and pulled out again and went right on to our camp [unclear 10:11], Stalag II-A. (10:14)
I remember we arrived real early in the morning, real frosty, cold. All of us were very cold. We didn't have overcoats; we just had our field jackets. They passed around some old hot. They called it coffee but it was parched [unclear 10:39] I don't know what it was. Anyway, it was a liquid. It was hot and it tasted good anyway, at that time. So we entered the camp and we were instructed by this high official, German colonel, what to do and what not to do. Keep away from the fences so many feet or you would be shot.
We stayed there, I guess probably a couple months. Anyway, that was my first Christmas away. I remember the Christmas night. It was a beautiful night, the moon was out, full moon, but I wasn't at home. We did get a Red Cross package and each package had a small fruitcake and [11:46 typical things], candy, and of course we had things like jelly, cheeses, and things like that; very good to us. And cigarettes. We had about five packs of cigarettes in each box. (12:06)
But we stayed there, I guess two or three more weeks. They finally came in and told us they were going to take a detail, a work detail. They needed twenty-one men, so twenty-one of us volunteered to go. We figured it couldn't be any worse. They took us out into a section of woods. Of course there's snow on the ground the whole winter. We were in northern Germany, not too far from the Baltic Sea. We worked the whole winter to the spring in these woods, cutting trees right down to the ground. They reserved everything. They just didn't throw anything away. But that time was really rough on us. We were out real early in the mornings and stayed all day and we weren't fed good at all. We had one loaf of bread a week and a few potatoes, boiled potatoes, each day. That's all we'd get. Sometimes we would get a little cabbage soup. (13:29)
I remember one day I cut my leg with an ax and it was bleeding real bad. I had a right good gash, right above my knee. This German guard, one of the guards, took one of the other American soldiers and we walked into this little town, I guess about five miles away. When I got there my shoe was filled with blood. The German doctor was very nice. They seemed to like the Americans much better than they did the Russians. He used clamps on my gash; first time I'd ever seen these little clamps. Instead of sewing it up he clamped the flesh together, and of course he put some kind of medication on it, and I gave him a pack of cigarettes. I had a pack on me and it was just like paying him, I guess, twenty to thirty dollars. I never saw any doctor any happier. They really liked American cigarettes. But I was glad to get back to the camp, of course. [unclear 15:02] They wouldn't let us walk on the sidewalks; we had to walk in the streets in the town. (15:15)
But we went back to camp, and a few weeks later some of our feet began to freeze, and I had to have. One of mine particular was froze. I don't know why one was worse than the other. But all they gave us for socks was just this square piece of cloth, no larger than a handkerchief, I guess, and we just wrapped it up and slipped our shoe over it. But anyway, they took some of us that had the worst feet frozen-or the worst condition-they took us into town. I guess it was several of us. We had already heard that you could get some bread down there if you had cigarettes to trade at the doctor's office. [16:23 They would slip you I don't know how] But anyway, I carried a couple packs with me and I did get some bread. I think I got about two loaves. On another occasion I went back, these women saw us and they slipped us some bread. It's awful to even think about how greedy you become when you get hungry. You think of yourself. You don't. Well, we were just starved unless we just [unclear 17:02] and if you didn't get any, you didn't get any. But I did get one piece, and some of the boys didn't get any, and it was [unclear 17:20] It was just awful. (17:24)
[17:29 We would go back and forth.] The condition in the camp, it was barely a straw mattress and conditions weren't good at all. We did the best we could, just hoping from day to day it would soon come to an end where we could go back, but we didn't know. We didn't get any news at all. We didn't know how the war was going on or anything. But finally we did begin to hear artillery fire, the guns closing in closer, from the east and from the west, I guess. The Russians were closing in from the east and the Americans on the west. But they never did tell us anything or what it was or anything.
One day while we were there we were. They had this big factory down in the valley below us. I don't know what kind. It probably was a [unclear 18:37] plant. But we saw these planes come over, these B-17s, and they formed this V formation and sort of smoke signal gun, and as soon as they did the guards opened the gates and let us go, and we flew because they tore that place all to pieces. There was just tin in flying. We were just a few hundred yards from it and they just tore it all to pieces. I never saw anything like it. (19:12)
But we got all back together again and we went back to camp, of course, they got us back in, and we were there a few. We kept hearing this artillery come closer and closer and finally one day they got us all. There was a couple of guards that went along with us and we all went out. They told us were going to go try to meet the Americans. They didn't like the Russians; they didn't want to be in their contact at all. But one of these guards was a new guard. He was [unclear 19:58] and he was very likeable. He seemed to have feelings for us. He asked could he go along with us. The other guards had gone their own way. So he put on one of these Russian overcoats. Well, they gave us these old long Russian overcoats where they came all the way down to our shoes, but they were warm. So he went along with us, and I don't know whatever happened to him, whether he got away from the Russians, but at that time he did. So he just left us and went away. (20:50)
All the time we were advancing, we were going out, we thought we were going to the Americans. That's what we wanted. But we ran right into the Russians, and I never saw anything like it. I've read the history of the Civil War and I've heard about different types of war with cavalry, wagons. This is what these Russians had: covered wagons; they had pots and pans and horses. I'm sure they had more modern equipment somewhere but this outfit that we ran into was just-I don't know how far back they were but they were something to look at. But they didn't know who we were. They fired in on us. But we finally had to convince them that we were Americans, because they wasn't too sure about it then.
Anyway, they were very rowdy. They seemed to. I don't know. I can't describe. They didn't care for anyone. They were just very, very cruel. They took some of the prisoners' wrist watches, what the Germans didn't take. They would take whatever they could from anyone. But we were liberated by them. Of course we were already free-the guards had already left us-and we told them we wanted to go to the American front, and they did let us go, finally. (22:50)
So several days later we ran into the Americans, and we were very. The first thing we saw was an American jeep, and they came in on us there. Of course we were very glad to see them. They picked us up and carried us to their headquarters in this town there. I don't know what town this was, but I never saw. It was just a place looked like the whole German army had surrendered there. There were thousands of soldiers, stockpiles of weapons, just stacks of them. We stayed there, I guess probably three to four days, and then they trucked us out of there to this airport and they put us on these C-47 planes and flew us down to southern France. That's where we really saw food for the first time. It was just something to look at our buddies, the way we'd look at each other [unclear 24:14] gaining or growing our flesh, pounds, back where we had. We were all thin and very. We were just run-down condition. I still-well, several of us still-had frozen feet. (24:30)
We stayed there, oh, I guess a couple of weeks. They fed us real well. Anything we wanted they would give us. They were trying to build us up. So they put us on these Liberty ships and we [crossed the] Atlantic to Boston. I think we were on these ships for, oh, about fifteen days. But at that time I still had this frozen foot condition and it was really painful, but all the time I was so happy. I knew I was coming back home. I still thought that after I got home I could go to a local doctor and everything would be all right.
After we got to Boston they sent us in different directions. I was sent down to Fort Bragg [unclear 25:38] and there I was in such condition. I was hurting. My foot was really beginning to give me trouble. So I went to the infirmary and they kept me there a couple of months. They put me right in the hospital. But anyway, my parents came down several times while I was at Fort Bragg, and I was very glad to be back, back at home. (26:10)
It was just some experience. I don't know. I can't think of. [unclear 26:21] sort of things that happened. It's just sort of more like a dream. About thirty, I guess thirty-one years ago, that we were. I was just one of the lucky ones. I got back, and I hope to never see one of my boys, or anyone else, go through the same experience. (26:49)
[End of interview]