Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chad W Stephens

Chad W Stephens
We are honoring our veterans today - remembering the sacrifices that they made to keep us free.  Chad flew B-17s over Germany during World War II.  He was a 2nd Lieutenant and served as co-pilot on the bombing missions. 
On his sixth bombing mission, German fighter planes were attacking the B-17s.  Chad remembered the bullets whizzing past between him and the pilot.  His plane was shot down over Germany in August, 1944.  The tail of the plane was completely shot off and the tail gunner perished immediately. The parachuters jumped out of the bomb bay.  Amid smoke and flame, Chad managed to parachute to the ground, but broke his ankle at landing.  He was captured by German farmers armed with pitchforks and held until the German soldiers arrived. He was sent to prison camp - Stalag Luft  3.  The prisoners were moved several times to stay ahead of Patton's army.  They were at Sagan, then Nuernberg and then Moosburg.  The Germans did not want the highly trained airmen to fall into Russian hands, so to keep ahead of advancing Russian armies, the prison camp was forced to evacuate at midnight on January 28, 1945.  Snow was falling and continued to blizzard conditions. Ill-fitting packs, blisters, frozen feet and hands and sickness all contributed to the misery of the marchers on their way to an undisclosed destination.  There were seemingly endless hours of marching with occasional rest periods and less frequent stops in barns along the way for much-needed sleep.  The snow fell for 4 days in near-zero conditions. 10,000 RAF and American airmen were the marching line.  The men were marched 62 miles in 6 days in a blizzard.  Next the prisoners were packed in boxcars - 50 to a car and one guard, barely enough room to sit.  The 2 day train trip was nearly as wretched as the winter march.  The cars were French and only 8 feet wide by 40 feet long plus they were very drafty during the middle of winter. The prisoners were locked into the boxcars while the allies were bombing the trains.
Two miserable months were spent at Nuernberg, memorable for its large-scale air raids, vermin, food shortage and deplorable living conditions.  The prisoners were served a soup they called "green death" consisting of worm-ridden dehydrated vegetables.  There was also the "gray death" soup, a flour soup the consistency of water.  Their diet was supplemented with German black bread and occasionally a few potatoes.  Dysentery was rampant.  Lice, bedbugs, fleas were prevalent and every exposed body part was bitten.
When morale had reached a new low and food was practically non-existant, American-made Red Cross trucks came with some food parcels - which must have given the prisoners some hope.
On April 29, 1945, Patton's army steamrolled through the area and liberated the camp.  Patton himself came into camp and received a thunderous ovation by the deliriously happy and supremely grateful prisoners.  Patton gave orders for the prisoners to be on the white bread ration.  Chad recalled tasting white bread again and remarked that it was like angel food cake.  After liberation, someone gave Chad a box of sugar cubes and he ate the whole box until he was sick. (See my post from October 11, 2012, with a photo of Chad in prison camp.)

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