21 January, 2012

21 January 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
21 January, 1945       1000
Dearest darling Wilma –

Another Sunday morning away from you – and we sure have missed a good many of them. But we’ll give more value to those we have together and thereby make up the lost. It’s not a very good Sunday anyway, dear, so we’re not missing too much. The weather here just persists in being rotten and it has snowed some part of every one of the last five or six days. About the only striking news is that from the Russian front although by no means does that mean that the boys over here have stopped dying. We follow the Russian reports about as closely as you do I guess – and it makes no difference who gets to Berlin first as long as someone gets there and ends this goddamned war sometime.

None the least of our present annoyances, darling, is the complete collapse of the mail system. I do hope it’s working better in your direction. We just aren’t getting any at all. We never did get all of November’s mail, we got perhaps a third to one-half of December’s mail and of course – no January mail – which puts everything way behind. The only thing we’re getting at all is old journals and newspapers. Yesterday I received two editions of the Boston Herald – 13 and 14 September – which, of course, made excellent reading. Bitch, bitch, bitch – that’s about all I seem to be doing in my letters of late, dear, but I know you’ll excuse me. It could be worse, I know, and besides I’m healthy and well – and that’s no small consideration these days. But damn it – I sure would like to hear from you, dear!

Boston Herald Front Page, 4 September 1944

I have your letters of the few days before Christmas and I can imagine how all of you felt. By now you must have received some of my mail of late December and I hope you’re all less worried.

By the way, dear, you mention the clock striking in a few of your letters. Do you mean our clock? If so, it has a louder sound than I can remember it having for it seems to me you can hear it in the living room, library, your room or your mother’s room! Does it keep good time?

Yes, as you write darling, things do get dim after 14 months. I have the same trouble in visualizing certain things. I try so hard, too, especially at night while trying to fall asleep. Yet it will all seem very natural, dear. For instance – when I saw Frank Morse some time ago, it was 13 months since I had seen him last and yet when I did see him – it didn’t seem so long at all. It will be the same with us, sweetheart, and yet so infinitely different. Gosh – I get so excited at just the thought, it makes me woozy. To see you and have you for myself, to be completely free again seems like an almost unattainable goal right now – but we’ll make it – just the same.

And why haven’t you got your license yet!! I have plenty of reasons for not having a photograph of myself – but you had all of last fall to get your driving license and no results as yet. I warn you dear – you’d better be able to drive or you’ll have to wrestle me to get into the driver’s seat of our new car. Too bad I sold that old Ford I had – or I could have let you experiment with that.

Well, darling – conditions are getting punk for me to continue with this so I’ll start closing. The only thing we look forward to these days is mail from home – and I hope we hit the jackpot today. For now, darling, so long, love to the folks, and

All my sincerest love


about George Juskalian's March

From a total of 257,000 western Allied prisoners of war held in German military prison camps, over 80,000 POWs were forced to march westward across Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany in extreme winter conditions, over about four months between January and April 1945. As the Soviet Army was advancing, German authorities decided to evacuate POW camps, to delay liberation of the prisoners. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of German civilian refugees, most of them women and children, as well as civilians of other nationalities, were also making their way westward on foot, in hazardous weather conditions. January and February 1945 were among the coldest winter months of the 20th century in Europe, with blizzards and temperatures as low as –25 °C (–13 °F), and even until the middle of March, temperatures were well below 0 °C (32 °F). Most of the POWs were ill-prepared for the evacuation, having suffered years of poor rations and wearing clothing ill-suited to the appalling winter conditions.

Here are excerpts from the story of one who made it, as told to Bonnie Hobbs of the Connection Newspaper's CenterView Southern Edition, published on 11 and 17 June 2004. It was titled "Recollections of a War Veteran." Retired Army Col. George Juskalian, 90, of Centreville's Virginia Run community, served in three wars and, in his 30-year career, made enough memories to last a lifetime. This story starts with his fighting in Africa...

Colonel George Juskalian
"We got to the border of Algeria and Tunisia about Jan. 15, 1943 and began fighting the Germans and Italians there." Some 10 days later, the battle continued in the Makthar Valley in central Tunisia and, on Jan. 28, Juskalian was captured by the enemy. George was in regimental headquarters, but knew the Americans had gotten into a heavy fight, the day before. "One of our intelligence officers had gone out to check on the situation, and word came back that he'd been wounded and was out there somewhere," he said. "So another officer and I went out in a Jeep and found him, but he was dead. Then we came under fire, so we couldn't drag him out of there."

Juskalian told the driver to return to the command post, and he set out on foot to see how the other U.S. troops were doing. "I thought they were all right because we hadn't heard anything from them," he said. "But they'd been overrun by the Germans." Earlier, Juskalian had lost his glasses so, when he came upon the Germans, he couldn't distinguish who they were from 50 feet away. Emerging from the bushes, they pointed rifles at Juskalian and took him prisoner. "I was irritated with myself for being so foolhardy," he said. "I shouldn't have been there."

He and other American prisoners were interrogated in Kairouan, trucked to Tunis and flown to Naples, Italy. Said Juskalian: "They flew about 100 feet above the Mediterranean because they were afraid that, if they flew higher, the American fighter planes — not knowing POWs were inside — would see us and shoot us down." The soldiers were later placed in a British POW camp in central Germany, in Rotenburg am Fulda, where they remained until June 1943. The British POWs had been there a long time and told the U.S. soldiers how to handle the German guards. They also asked them to help with a tunnel they were building.

Although Juskalian had claustrophobia, he volunteered. "It didn't bother me until I went home," he said. "I'd go into a cold sweat, [thinking about it]." The camp was a former girls school, and the tunnel went under a road. "It was ingenious," said Juskalian. "Instead of going under the floor, it started at a panel in a wooden wall, went down about three feet, horizontal about 10 feet and then down about eight feet. It went out under the street, beyond the barbed wire. The intention was to go 100 feet more to come out on the bank of the Fulda River. Then the guard couldn't see it because it wouldn't be eye level."

The Girls School Today

The POWs dug with scoops fashioned out of British biscuit cans with handles created from their wooden bed slats. They even made a pipe out of these cans, carrying fresh air to the tunnel's end from a hand-cranked fan at its beginning. But before they finished it, the Americans were moved to a camp in Poland. "Two of our members feigned illness so they could stay there and help with the tunnel," said Juskalian. "But the Germans knew about the tunnel. We found out later that a British POW had told them."

He was a POW for 27 months total, and 19-1/2 of those months were spent in this new camp, called Oflag 64 ("Officers Camp"), in Szubin, Poland. "We got there June 6, 1943 and stayed until Jan. 21, 1945," said Juskalian. But instead of trying to tunnel to freedom — as they'd done to no avail in their old camp — this time, the POWs busied themselves with other activities, organizing an orchestra, band, theater group, library, newspaper, athletics, language school, etc.

"For awhile, I was the editor of the monthly paper," said Juskalian. "A guard with a printing shop in the town printed it for us. We put in stories from home, cartoons, pictures of pin-up girls and girlfriends and articles about camp sports and activities." He said the Germans didn't bother them until the end, when 50 people escaped from a British POW camp and they killed the 30 that they captured. Then, said Juskalian, "A German captain from Austria warned us not to provoke the Germans or they'd exterminate us."

Russia later began assaulting the whole Eastern front and, on 21 January 1945, the Germans began marching their POWs to Germany. "We marched 40 days, 400 miles, in the dead of winter, and it was bitter cold," said Juskalian. "We slept in barns, ate wheat and barley and traded old coffee for bread." Of the roughly 1,500 men that left Oflag 64, only about 400 reached their destination.

They were eventually placed in a camp in Hammelburg with other American officers captured in the Battle of the Bulge. Gen. Patton's son-in-law was among them, so a task force was sent to liberate the POWs there. "They arrived, the end of March, and the German guards fled," said Juskalian. "But there weren't enough trucks to take us all out of there, German infantry soldiers were all around, and my buddy Pete and I were recaptured," he continued. "We were tired and depressed, but thankful to be alive."

They were soon marched south to Nuremburg, where Americans began bombing. "We were cheering, and our guards were getting irritated," said Juskalian. "But the bombs came down on us, too, and I was sure we were gonna get it. About 30 of us were killed. I was thinking of my mother and how ironic it would be to be killed at the end of the war — and by your own aircraft." He and Pete survived, but they were surrounded by Germans, with no place to run. They were then marched toward a prison camp near Munich, but were given the opportunity to return to Nuremburg as wounded soldiers to be treated in the hospital. They took it because that was closer to the American lines than where they'd been heading.

When the Germans tried to see if they were really wounded, the British erected a sign on the gate saying "Plague," and that kept them out. "Three or four days later, the 45th U.S. Infantry Division overran Nuremburg and we were liberated," said Juskalian. "We were overjoyed." They were flown to France, from where thousands of POWs would be sent home. But he and Pete had been prisoners a long time and decided to see Paris before departing. They tried getting money at the Army Finance Office to buy new uniforms, but had no dogtags with their I.D.s.

"But a sergeant there, who managed that office, heard my last name and asked, 'Do you have a relative in Watertown, Mass.?'" said Juskalian. "I said, 'Yes, my brother Dick,' and he said, 'He lives across the street from me.' Then he told the others, 'Give him anything he wants.'"

Juskalian and his wife in 2004
Juskalian went on to serve his country in both Korea and Vietnam. He died on 4 July 2010 in Centreville, Virginia at the age of 96, and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

No comments:

Post a Comment