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Interview with William Fordham [July 3, 2002]

Janet Hammond:

Bob, tell me something about your childhood, where you grew up, what your family was.

William Fordham:

We were -- I was born in Holyrood, Kansas, like I say. My dad was a barber, my granddad was a barber and my uncle, they all had a barbershop there. And we used to go down, and I was only about five or six years old and I would always shine shoes. And, you know, they'd give me a nickel or a penny or something in those days. This was back in the early '30s. And then we moved to a little town called Kanopolis. And I lived with my grandparents while my dad went out -- you know, that was depression years. He went out and had a job driving a truck. And we had a barbershop there also for a while. And then we moved to Ellsworth, Kansas, where I did -- started school and -- a child school in Ellsworth, Kansas. When I was about the fourth grade, business was okay, but it was really -- getting really depressed back in Kansas. And the dust storms and the dust bowl was quite bad. And so we decided to go to Wyoming. And we got out there in Wyoming and my uncle called and said he had a new invention that's going on. And he was interested in using that and maybe making a living out of it. What it was, was a Smile-a-Minute Photo. Very few people remember that it was a -- remember the photos of three for a dime.

Janet Hammond:

No.

William Fordham:

Little positive paper, you know, developing paper, and -- you've seen them in the malls, you'd step in and had your picture taken.

Janet Hammond:

Yes.

William Fordham:

Well, they were the first ones probably to do this. And they moved to -- we moved to Casper in 1934, and I was about ten at that time. And we came out, and we opened up. And dad put the photo machine in the Casper Pharmacy down there. And really, we made probably a better living than most people, because everybody -- they could get pictures. We would enlarge, and Mother would tint them. And this was cheaper than photography. So this was -- at Christmastime, we were really busy and made good money. And then dad started to manufacture these things himself in our living room. And then he would sell them to other people, these photo machines, you know. And so this was my life then, carpentry in the living room. But anyway, then the war years came and Pearl Harbor. And then we declared war. And then we couldn't get any film, and so our relatives from Kansas had moved out to Mare Island, California, which is a base for repair of submarines at that time. So we went out there and got a job. I wanted to go -- go back a little bit. I wanted to go into the air cadets, and they closed it when I graduated from high school. There was just too many people. Everybody wanted to volunteer for the war and -- something you don't see maybe today. But they wanted to get at the axis exercise, they called them in those days and -- but anyway, I went back there and worked for a few months. And then they were going to open up the draft or maybe the air cadets, and I didn't want to go in in California. I wanted to go back and go with my friends, you know, being in the service. So I came back to Casper by myself. And on January 1st, I volunteered for the draft. The air cadets still wasn't open. So that's...

Janet Hammond:

Then you were in California at the time of Pearl Harbor?

William Fordham:

No. No.

Janet Hammond:

You were in Casper?

William Fordham:

I was -- when Pearl Harbor happened, I was still a senior in high school and -- in fact, I was out rabbit hunting and came home and I was staying with some people. My folks had to go out, and they were -- with the photo machine making, traveling different towns with it. And this is back, like I say, in 1930 -- well, 1939, 1940. My last two years of high school, I stayed with some friends, room and boarded there. And then my folks would come in and visit, you know, naturally quite a bit and so forth. But I didn't -- that's where I lived the last two years and graduated from Natrona County High School in Casper. And then this started -- then the war started. Then, like I say, I was out rabbit hunting, 1942, came home to these people. They said, Did you hear about Pearl Harbor? And I said, No. And that was it, when I first heard about Pearl Harbor was those...

Janet Hammond:

What was your emotional response to hearing about it?

William Fordham:

Well, what was I, I was about 17 then.

Janet Hammond:

Yeah.

William Fordham:

I was -- I was mad, you know, and going to go out and get those guys, you know. That's about the extent of it. And we would follow -- it was so different, you know, and Hitler was such a big name then, you know, such a horrible thing. And now, we had Japan, and so it was just we've got to stop it.

Janet Hammond:

When you were at Mare Island with your folks, were you also working there?

William Fordham:

Yes, uh-huh. We worked on submarines. When they came in to be repaired and re -- sort of reconditioned and so forth, and we would work on them. I was in the electrical department. And one time of day, they sent us out to the submarine. I can't remember the name of it right now. But they sent us down, my senior electrician and myself. I was just a helper. And we went down and worked on this subway in the bottom. And we had a big coil that was huge. And we couldn't get it into place. And we worked and worked, and we were just -- then all of a sudden, all of the motors came on, you know, the other motors. And it was so loud. You couldn't even hear -- you could scream and you couldn't -- 2 feet away and you couldn't hear. I happened to look up through the manhole, and I saw a sailor, and he looked -- did a double take and looked down at me. And he motioned me up. And I went up the ladder, and he said, What in the hell are you doing down there, you two? I said, Well -- I told him the story. We fixed this thing. He said, Well, you-guys get up. You know we're on our way to -- we're out in the Golden Gate, you know, the bridge. We're out in the ocean and the bay. And I said, No. But anyway, they had to call the Coast Guard and Mr. Hillman -- that was his name -- and I had to stand on the side of that submarine, and it was sort of bobbing up and down a bit and so was the Coast Guard cutter. And we had to jump on to the Coast Guard cutter to take us back. So I almost ended up in the war zone without even being in the service, so -- but anyway, that was the story of that and so forth.

Janet Hammond:

Now, when you entered the military, you enlisted?

William Fordham:

Yes, I volunteered for the draft down in Casper, yeah.

Janet Hammond:

And did you -- you went with other friends?

William Fordham:

Oh, yeah, uh-huh.

Janet Hammond:

Why did you choose the Army as the branch?

William Fordham:

Because it was the only thing I could get into. Everything else was closed. You couldn't even become a Marine. You couldn't be a -- I tried that. You couldn't get in the cadets yet, and so the Army was it. So I said, Well, I'm going to go in the Army. And they said that you could keep applying, you know, for this, that and so forth. So they sent us down to Camp Carson where we were indoctrinated and initiated or whatever. And then I went on to -- they formed Camp Phillips in Kansas, by golly. That's only about 40 miles from where I used to live. And that's where I took my basic training with the 11th Corps of Engineers, down there.

Janet Hammond:

How did you get there from Casper?

William Fordham:

Train.

Janet Hammond:

Took a train?

William Fordham:

Uh-huh.

Janet Hammond:

After you got to the camp in Kansas, do you remember your first few days, your feelings, your activities?

William Fordham:

Yeah. I remember it was just having a good time with some of the guys, you know, met a lot of new friends. We had a whole bunch from Brooklyn, New York. And I tell you that was -- they were Italian, and that was really something, I want to tell you. But I did -- in Camp Carson, that's where I got stuck on KP. And I had a big cut under the finger, didn't pay much attention to it. And while I was in basic, all of a sudden, I just got -- just headache, and I was going up to the -- see the doctor in the Army there, and I passed out. And I found out -- when they took me over to the hospital and I found out -- they said, Oh, he's got the measles, you know. But then I showed them down my arm, and I had blood poisoning into that thing. So I had to stay in there about two weeks, you know, for -- for -- to get that taken care of and everything. So my first two weeks -- no, it wasn't -- yeah, about the first two weeks, it was sort of hectic. But from then on, it was -- when I came out, back out, they noticed on my thing that I had played trumpet in my high school. So they put me in a band for a while, you know, and -- which was all right. It's good duty. Then they shipped us out to -- do you want me to go ahead with it?

Janet Hammond:

Sure. Sure. Go ahead.

William Fordham:

Yeah. Well, they shipped me on out to -- from then to -- all of us to Camp McCone (ph), North Carolina, where we were in the -- starting the 17th Airborne at that time. And we were considered glider troopers. We were not paratroopers, and -- which I think is worse. If them things -- a little -- put some paper on the outside of this aluminum frame, it's really something to ride in one of them, I want to tell you. And there's no wheels. You come in on skids. But we went through our training there. And I learned to load gliders with cannons, 75 millimeter, and/or a Jeep and cooking, you know, for -- when you go into combat, you have these things and you have what you need and so, if they survived the landing and so...

Janet Hammond:

How many -- how many rides did you have in gliders?

William Fordham:

Oh, about two or three, was enough, because I -- and I kept applying, you know, all of the time for this other. And finally, they said, Yes. And so I went to Miami Beach and took my tests. Boy, that was really nice down there, I'll tell you. I stayed in a hotel. And I took my test, passed all of my physicals.

Janet Hammond:

This is for air cadets?

William Fordham:

Air cadets, and passed my tests. And then they shipped us off to Newport, Arkansas, for what they call down the line training. And I have a couple of pictures of that in here. And while there, we just sort of maneuvered the small planes, the -- your trainers, and we'd check them out every morning, make sure the motors were running and stuff. That was quite a thrill, sit in the cockpit, you know, and do that and stuff. Didn't fly them naturally, but I did -- but we were there for a short time. And then unbeknownst to us at the time, they were planning D-Day. We knew there was going to be an invasion, but we never knew when and so forth. But they were planning it, and they had already set the date of June and so forth or they were looking at it anyway, I guess. And so they decided -- I assume this -- that in Washington that we need other troops, you know, for backup and stuff like that. We've got to start getting more divisions. So all of the guys in the air cadets that had served in the ground forces prior to taking this test had to go back to the ground forces. And I think it was about -- in that area, there was about 1,500, 2,000 guys that had to leave the air cadet program and out to Indianapolis where they were forming the 106th infantry division, and that's the last of my last --

Janet Hammond:

Do you have any idea what month that was? What time of year that was?

William Fordham:

Spring, I think.

Janet Hammond:

In the spring?

William Fordham:

Uh-huh.

Janet Hammond:

What --

William Fordham:

Because I know we trained that summer, and then that fall we left for overseas, so...

Janet Hammond:

So then when you went to the 106th, what were you then trained for?

William Fordham:

I was put into a mortar squad, 60 millimeter mortars. And it was called the weapons platoon. It was Company G, weapons platoon. And I was still a private. And eventually, in about a month and a half or two, I can't remember exactly, I was made a sergeant. And I had a squad of -- in the mortar platoon. And that's where we trained with 60 millimeter mortar, so...

Janet Hammond:

How many men would be in your platoon?

William Fordham:

Well, let's see, there were three mortars, and they're -- that's 5 men, 6 -- you know, 18, and I don't know how many on the machine gun squad, but I would guess 30 or so, something like that. That's something I don't remember exactly and...

Janet Hammond:

When were you sent overseas?

William Fordham:

October of that year, '44.

Janet Hammond:

And where did you go? How did you get there?

William Fordham:

We went on the Queen Elizabeth, which is a sister ship to the Queen Mary. That was quite a trip, a big ship, and even met a friend of mine, went to high school with, believe it or not. He saw me standing there. I was watching a -- there was a big crap game going down on one of the bulkheads, you know. And one guy says, You know, there's $50,000 on there laying in that thing. I said, Good Heavens, no. I don't whether it was or not, but that's what I was told. And all of a sudden, a guy tapped me on the shoulder, and here it was Jim Walsh from Casper. And his dad is the one where Kelly Walsh High School is named after.

Janet Hammond:

Oh, yeah?

William Fordham:

He was our principal in high school, NCHS. And they named that new high school when they founded it here a few years back, Kelly Walsh. And that was Mr. Walsh. And his name was Kelly, Kelly Walsh, and it's Kelly Walsh High School down there in Casper now. So anyway, it was Jim, and I think he lives in Billings, Montana or had -- did. I don't know where he does now. But that was rather nice and sort of -- to see him, you know, and everything. And we talked and so forth. He was in the 424th regiment and so forth.

Janet Hammond:

How long were you on the ship?

William Fordham:

It took seven days to go across. We landed at Glasgow, Scotland. And they shipped us down by train down to England. And I was at the -- near Oxford. And this was -- they put us, believe it or not, on the Duke of York's estate. They were Quonset, us there with, oh, some country fellows. Then we had these gunnysack mattresses filled with straw, had a stove inside. And it was just a -- and I happen to know my aunt had made a -- had looked at our biography and our history, and I happen to be way back related to this Duke of York and even a couple of generals in the -- General Howard and General Bailey or something. I don't know which side they're on, probably the British in the Revolutionary War. But anyway, and the Duke of York, I had a very good -- our officers were wonderful, Captain Keil Meyer and so forth. And they got to stay in the castle, you know. And out in front of the castle was a nice pond with the swans. So one day, I -- about the third day up there, I happened to see the captain. I said, Captain, sir, I said, You know, I feel that I should be able to live in that castle with you-guys. And he says, Why? And he says, Well -- he (sic) says, I happen to be related to this guy that owns it. Well, I'm not going to tell you what he said. But it was -- he was joking. But anyway, that was where we stayed and everything so -- until we went overseas.

Janet Hammond:

What kind of training did you go through there?

William Fordham:

Just the same thing, we trained out on the field. And we ran. We got in shape. We did maneuvers and so forth. And they were very nice. I got a three-day pass. I went to Birmingham. They wouldn't let you go alone to London. I wanted to go to London. But they wouldn't let you go alone. The other guys wanted to go to Birmingham, so I went to Birmingham and -- they wouldn't let you go to London, because of the raids and so forth -- oh, I take that back, you could go to London alone, but you couldn't go if you have your buddies. I guess they figured if you got in an area where they destroyed and you-all got -- you know, and so forth so... They could lose one of you, but they didn't want to lose three or four or five. So I suppose that's what it amounts to.

Janet Hammond:

After England, where did you go?

William Fordham:

We went to Southhampton. They load us up, and they put us on the ships that cross -- go across the channel. And it took three of them to get our outfit in there. And I remember we had to stay out there, and it was sort of scary because the U-boats were running around us. For some reason, we couldn't land. I never did find out. So we sat out there for two days and two nights in the middle of that channel in those boats, wide open for a U-boat attack, you know. But we finally landed at Lahr, France in the rain. And we just went on in, and we did walk on up there a few miles in the mud. It was quite a trip. And so while there, one guy said, Hey, we can go up here to this farmer up here, and he'll give you some hard cider in your canteen for some cigarettes, you know. So we all ran up there with our canteens, you know, being the young guys we were and filled them up. Well, I'll tell you, you don't put any type of liquor in a lead canteen. That was dysentery ala grand. Long underwear hanging on the tents in the rain, in the mud. It was a mess. And we really got told off with that -- you know, that's -- almost court-martialed, you know. But anyway, we finally loaded up after we got all of that, and we went up into the Ardennes, which is out in Belgium, up in that area. And we were stationed there for a few days. And we had some skirmishes there, mostly just patrol-type thing, very light. And then they put us on up into the -- what we used -- the Germans used to call the Siegfried line. And this was a -- they put our headquarters out -- our company in the pillbox. And these pillboxes were something, 3 foot thick walls, 3 foot doors, you know. It's hard to open them up and everything. But that's where our captain and everybody did their work with the radio and so forth. Snow all over the place. You know, it was very, very cold. We were spread out there, and the trouble with this, we were spread out very thin, you know what I mean, we were just -- not too many troops up there on this particular sector. And we were inexperienced combat people, as you would well know, you know. We haven't been in combat yet outside of these few scrimmages, you know, we had down in Ardennes, so...

Janet Hammond:

What month was this, Bob?

William Fordham:

This was in the latter part of November and December and so forth -- round about the middle of November and December, is when this was, yeah. And we did some patrols. And, again, we had some scrimmages. The Germans were always putting on white outfits, and we didn't know what -- you know, in the snow to hide themselves. But we had a little cave dug in the -- down in the snow and the dirt. Then we had put logs over the top of it with branches, and then we put our sleeping bags down in there. That's where we slept for -- your squad, you know, each one had one. So it wasn't exactly Motel 6, you know, but...

Janet Hammond:

Tell me about the first time that someone shot at you and you realized that this was serious; that someone was going to try to kill you if they were given the chance.

William Fordham:

That's funny you should ask, because I -- we -- when the battle -- when the Bulge started, we didn't know what really was going on and -- all we knew we had to move out, that the Germans were attacking, that's all we knew. And they'd already penetrated certain areas. So we went down, and I can't tell you where we went. But we ended up finally after a day or two of walking in the forest up there, we found out that -- in a big open plain like, and it was a big ditch about -- it was -- I don't know how long it was. But we were down -- we went down there. And we all lined up. We set our mortars up in the ditch, and it was about 7 feet high -- 6 feet, 7 feet high and about 8 feet wide, you know. And -- and all of a sudden, shells started coming in, and we looked up over the top of the ditch, and here was a couple of tanks down here. And it was Germans, and they were shooting. Well, I looked at my friend, and I says, you know, I wanted to get in this war, and now I want to go home to Mother. That's about the experience. And -- but it was sort of shocking, sit up there. You're scared. I'm going to be honest with you. You know, naturally, you are. Anybody says they wasn't scared was crazy, you know, I'll tell you. But, you know, we had our mortars going, and we did hit that tank. I don't know if we did any damage or not, but he sort of stopped shooting. And he was down there about 600 yards, 700 yards, something like that. And then we took off from there. Do you want me to just keep on --

Janet Hammond:

Sure.

William Fordham:

-- going here? And we marched and ran back into the forest and -- I'll be honest with you, I don't know what we were doing. Nobody ever told us anything. We just followed what the officers told us. So we came -- all of a sudden, the next day or two, we came upon an open plain like. It was like you was up in the Bear Tooths here in that open area and there'd be forest around the edge and so forth. And the ridge was over here, and it went down. And I would say it was about three quarters of a mile or more. And all of a sudden, we were being fired upon, and we had to go across the -- we were trying to go to that ridge. That's what we wanted to do. And as we started out across their 88s -- their -- the cannon that they had was an 88 millimeter cannon. You've probably heard of it, very accurate and so forth. And they sort of clobbered us pretty good. I lost most of my squad. They were killed in action going across. And I know that I picked up the mortar and carried it myself down into this ridge. And we were very fortunate because some of those 88 shells weren't 15, 20 feet from me when they went off. And I always fell down, which you're supposed to do, you know, and get up and start going again. But anyway, those of us that made it down there to this ridge, we dug in in foxholes and so forth. And then another company from some other outfit, H Company, they were the 80 millimeter mortars, they came in from somewhere. I don't know where. What was left of the 422nd was on this ridge, and I can't tell you how many in our company was -- what was left of it. And we looked down on the little valley down here about 100 yards and then it was sort of, like, 100 yards wide, and then there's another forest again. And that's where the Germans were in there and all too. I know that we -- they spotted a machine gun nest, and we -- with our 60 millimeters, we did get it, knocked it out. By golly, they -- I didn't think this was very sensible, but they came back in the same spot with another one. And we knocked it out too, so -- but then we stayed there for a couple of days. And they just -- we were getting 88s all of the time in the trees, you know. And a lot of guys got hit with shrapnel and stuff like that. But I don't think that anybody got killed. I really don't, because they just -- they were firing up in the air. I don't know if they were firing blind, just like we were. And all of a sudden, we -- three or four days down the line, we saw a white flag come out on the other side. Well, naturally, we said, they're going to surrender. That wasn't the story. And so finally, they came up, and they talked to our officers -- German officers came up there. And they wanted us to surrender. And they told us that there was three Panzer divisions around us, in the area, and that we had no chance. So one of the officers went, and they found out that that was true. And we were to the point where we didn't have much ammunition left. And we did send a patrol -- prior to this happening, we did send a patrol. The 423rd had left their trucks up on the road, all -- didn't destroy them or anything, and we -- so we went up, and we got ammunition out of their trucks. And we did bring that back once, well, what we could bring back, you know. And we used it all up while we were there, most of it. But anyway, going back to where -- so they decided -- well, the men didn't want to. We just said we don't want to -- you know, but the officers said, it's the wise thing to do, you know. So that's what we did. And we destroyed our weapons and buried the ammunition, so forth and so on. And they came up the next day, and we started marching off. And marched down through a lot of chaos, a lot of death.

Janet Hammond:

How many -- how many of you are in this surrendered group, approximately?

William Fordham:

200, 3 -- 200, 300. And they marched us down -- we had heard a rumor -- I don't know if you had heard this or not -- not talking to you. I know not naturally everybody has. The Malmedy Massacre, have you heard of that?

Janet Hammond:

Yes.

William Fordham:

Okay. We had heard of rumor of that and one guy mentioned that. I said, Oh, God, I hope we're not -- so anyway, like I said, we walked through an area where the Germans had -- and there was American Jeeps and bodies burned and so forth. And it was really grim and something I'll never forget. And anyway, they marched us into an opening, and then they told us to line up, get on our knees and put our hands behind our heads. And the guy says, Oh, my God, my friend next to me, says, they're going to do the same thing as they did in Malmedy. And so -- then we all said, Well, we'll just -- when they start shooting, we'll play dead, you know. But anyway, a truck did pull up and opened up the canopy, and it was a machine gun and -- but they didn't do it. They came by and looked at us and everything. And then they called us up and marched. And we marched back to an area, and we got on a train and -- boxcars. 40-and-8, they used to call them in the old days. They're smaller than boxcars anyhow, but they jammed about 60 in there, in each one and -- but they locked the doors. And they pulled us into a station in Plum, P-L-U-M, Germany. And there we sat. And this was Christmastime. And we argued, We wanted out. It wasn't right to Geneva to lock us up in these cars that are not marked and, you know, no cross on it or anything like that. This is one of my bad days, you know, on this thing, I'll tell you. Well, they finally decided, they started back in the back car, and all day long, they got one man out of each car to -- you know, we had these web belts, you know, and you take -- you put canteens on the web belts, and he would get to go get water for the guys in the car. Then they'd locked it back up, and then they'd come to the next one. Then they'd lock it back up, you know, and take them out. Well, I happened to be the one in our boxcar when they got there -- excuse me -- and -- so I got up, got -- picked up the canteens. The guys tossed them out and put them on the belt. And they had two German guards, and they had a dog, a police dog. And that was quite -- they always had dogs. And all of a sudden, over the horizon came our planes. I -- you know, I -- I -- just to this day, I looked up, and I saw them. And they were shooting at the train, strafing it. And those two guards and me, this little room -- station, it was only about 15 feet long, maybe 8 feet wide, and it had a big plate glass window. And the three of us and -- I don't know where the dog went -- we went through that glass window just head first to get out of the -- you know. And I was the only guy out of that train. I think the good Lord was looking out for me. I'm the only guy and -- that I know of, you know, because everybody was locked up. And it was very sad. I heard 85 killed, and I also heard 200. So I don't know which is true. I never could find out. To me, I think the planes were Spitfires, British planes. But it didn't make any difference. And then somebody said, No, they were Mustangs, so I don't know, which was the United States plane and so forth. But anyway, we -- then we argued with the German officers after this all happened, and we were taking care of our dead and wounded. I don't know how many were wounded. We said, We don't want to go back in the boxcars unless you leave the door open. And we finally won. So we thought it over the next day, and we decided, Well, I don't think we want to stay in them at all. I said, We'll march. So what we did, we formed a march with a U and the next was the S and the next was the P and the next was the O and the next was a W, of groups. And whenever these planes, our planes came -- the Germans didn't have hardly -- not many airplanes in the area anymore. And during the Bulge -- by the way, going back a little bit, due to the -- a lot of the problems why so many things happened was they -- our planes could not fly because of the weather and -- could not -- they could have brought supplies, ammunition and so forth, in there, you know, and parachuted it down. But -- now that it had cleared, this is -- they were flying. So anyway -- by the way, going back to the Christmas thing on the train, that night I heard a man singing -- all of us did -- I've heard several people say, but I remember it as "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful," in the most beautiful voice I ever heard. Here's Christmas, you know, and we're all in these cotton-picking boxcars and very -- a lot of guys cried, you know, and -- including myself. You think of home and so forth. You want to go back. But one guy said he was from the CBS Radio Network back when he was -- and whatever happened to him, I don't know. But I always remember that. That's -- this, to me, was a very -- happening and being out and the number of guys that were killed, and it just was friendly fire, you know, during this. But anyway, after we got that -- made the deal with the Germans to march, then we formed this US POW thing. Whenever these planes came over -- you know, they traveled pretty fast in those days too, you know, 300, 400, 500 miles an hour. And are those Americans or are those Germans down there, and they have -- you know. So we'd always run to a field, and we'd form this US POW. And these guys -- I remember a P38 coming in, and he just waggled his wings at about 100 feet above us, you know. And -- but you had to hold your ground. You know, you didn't want to. We were really scared they were going to fire on you. But this worked. And we marched until we got to Dresden, Germany. And this was at Stalag, Stalag 4-B. And this is where they indoctrinated us as prisoners of war. You had to go up, you know, and give your name, rank and serial number, that's all. And then they put us in here. And we stayed there for some time. I can't tell you exactly how long. I don't remember. It wasn't too long, but it was probably a couple, three weeks. We got a Red Cross parcel, and I must tell you this, we divided it among three men. That was the only Red Cross parcel we ever got, you know, and so...

Janet Hammond:

How long did it take you to make that walk?

William Fordham:

Well, I'm going to get into that, because this was -- I call it the starvation walk. Then they started marching us for a few days, and we marched. And they gave us -- during the whole time, some weeks twice, sometimes -- most of the time, just once, they would give us a ninth of a loaf of bread and some salt in your hand. That was our meal. Once in awhile, I'm going -- when I'm saying, I'm speaking for the whole time I was a prisoner -- you would get what they call the -- they just took the potato peels that they -- when they're peeling potatoes and put them in a pot and boil them, and that was our soup. But it tasted pretty good because it was hot. And that only happened about twice during the whole time. I was a prisoner six months and -- enough to do, as you'll find out, and... But anyway, we marched, and then some more. Then they wanted us to go -- they loaded us on a train again. And they left the doors open and so forth. And they said they wanted to go over to Gorlitz, Germany, which was right near the Czechoslovakian border. And what they wanted us to do there -- oh, by the way, let me go back again. From Dresden, they took us -- the privates went to farms. That was the Geneva rules. And they got to work for the German people, you know, and they would be fed. Officers got -- had to go -- everything then was what your rank was. And the officers got to go where officers go, and I assume that they got decent -- you know, taken care of decently; although some of them had lost a lot of weight too. We were in the sergeants or what they called noncommissioned officers, corporals and sergeants and all different ranks. And so our group, we have a choice, the officers don't have to work. We have a choice, you can work for the Germans and get fed, or you cannot work for the Germans. We chose, out of the group, and it was pretty unanimous, No, we will not work for the Germans. They wanted us -- and then they put us on a train and took us over to Czechoslovakia to Gorlitz. What they wanted us to do there was to unload the bodies that came in from the Russian front that were frozen. And we said, We won't do it. We're not working for you. And this was when we, I suppose, the starvation began, but they marched us, and they marched us. We'd stay in barns. There must have been 1,000 of us, and they'd march us. And some guys would pass out and so forth and give us our bread. We marched through towns. We marched through Ruan, the town that was bombed completely. That was the most horrible sight you ever saw. And that was our bombers, you know, that did that. But the one thing -- building standing was a church and -- in that whole place. And we ended up -- well, I was getting thinner and thinner and thinner. And our weight -- I was getting very weak. I did a dumb thing if you remember in that article that you saw, I did -- we did anything to get a piece of bread. And I -- our combat boots were very comfortable, and I went and traded my combat boots for a pair of British boots, which weren't exactly the right size. It was a little -- just one size large. And they're heavy, big things. But we got a loaf of bread. Now, Randy Walsh, our platoon sergeant, and I shared this. We did everything together. If I got bread, we shared it. If he got bread, we shared it. And I had a camera, my folks gave me, one of the old Bellows type cameras. And this is back early in the -- two young guys -- and I talked to them. They spoke a little English. And I talked to them. I gave them the camera, and they gave me a half a loaf of bread. And we shared that. But it got down to the point in certain areas and so forth that Randy says, Well, I've got my wedding ring. I said, Hey, you do what you want to do. I'm not getting on that. But he did trade his wedding ring in and got a loaf of bread. And I always remember that, because these things did help maybe save us, and... But anyway, we marched, and we marched, and getting weaker and weaker, the loss of weight. Nobody had a mirror, so you couldn't see it. I guess it'd been pretty pathetic. I got to the point where these boots were rubbing sores in my feet. And I just couldn't walk anymore. And I kept -- started lagging behind. And to make a long story short, one day, I just -- I must have been a quarter of a mile behind them. And they didn't seem to care. Other guys were dropping out too, and I thought, Well, this is it for me. I just couldn't -- all of a sudden, I just passed out, and I fell in a ditch. As far as I was concerned, I thought that was it, you know. And when I came to, I was riding in an old cart pulled by British POWs. And they called me "Mite." But anyway, they took me onto Milhausen, the town of Milhausen. And in this castle, there was also prisoners of war. And there was sort of a prisoner of war hospital, such as it was. And they just -- they took us up there. When I took those boots off, my feet were so big that I couldn't never -- they just swelled up real quick. And I never could put the boots on again. And I was just -- oh, there were six Australians there that had been prisoners for four or five years and some Americans and some British. And then there was a bunch more down there -- and then all of a sudden -- the guys that were ambulatory. Then we were being -- the Russians were coming one way, and the Americans were coming the other. And the rules say that you have to take the prisoners of war and start marching them out again, you know, which they did. But they couldn't take us. There was about 15 of us that they didn't take, because I couldn't put any shoes on and -- it probably saved my life. We went down in the basement and -- of that castle to stay out of the shooting and -- that might happen or anything. And all of a sudden, the door opened and here came this couple of guys from the Sixth Armored Division, I think the Sixth Armor. And we were liberated. And I'll tell you, we cried and we cried. But that's basically my story. There's probably some things I left out. But we went to the camp hospital and -- and while we were prisoners, by the way, I got a book -- and I didn't bring it. It was a little Bible. My grandmother gave me a New Testament Bible, and I carried it with me the whole time. And while we were being prisoners of war, we'd pick up food naturally, and so we would write down recipes. You ought to see some of them. I never have tried any, and I -- you might be scared to try some. We even had tomato biscuits, you know, instead of milk you use tomato juice. You know, I didn't know how that would go. But I have that still, and it's sort of fun to look through that and see all of the recipes written on that. But my -- what was your favorite food, everybody had a different thing. You know, they'd have steaks and stuff. But mine was two eggs fried in butter and toast. I'd always dream of that. But anyway, from then on, I just went to the Paris, First General in Paris, the hospital in Paris, the First General Hospital where they really didn't know how to handle malnutrition. They'd never really -- you know, on such a mass scale. So they said, Okay. We're going to experiment here. We're going to -- half of them we'll give a soft diet and half of them we'll give -- eat what they want. Well, I got in the bunch that ate what they want. HAMMOND: This is side B of the taped interview of William Robert (Bob) Fordham by Janet B. Hammond on the 3rd of July in 2002 in Powell, Wyoming.

Janet Hammond:

Bob, go ahead with your story about your rehab in Paris.

William Fordham:

Okay. Like I say, they didn't -- had never had malnutrition on such a mass scale before. So they decided to give half of the prisoners that were there with malnutrition -- by the way, I didn't even mention it, I weighed 92 pounds when I came out. I weighed 170 when I went in the Army. And I weighed 92 pounds when I came out of this. So it was really very weak feelings and so forth. But anyway, they give -- half of the prisoners could eat what they wanted, steak, chicken, whatever came out on the menu. The other half, they gave a soft diet. Well, I ate my -- I happened to be chosen for the -- the one who could eat anything you want. So you could eat everything you want, stuff yourself and gorge and a half-hour later, you vomited it all up. And that went on. I wasn't gaining any weight and just nothing. And the other guys that were on the soft diet were getting -- they gained weight, and they got to go -- naturally, would go home, be shipped home and, so... Well, they closed the -- all the prisoners -- well, everybody, whether they're wounded or not, they moved them out and moved them to England. And we went over to England and in the hospital. And each hospital, they were just closing down. And we'd be transferred. And I was still on this diet. So finally, I got into a hospital. And I told the doctor, I says, I want to go home. And I haven't gained hardly any weight, maybe about 8 pounds. And I weighed about 100 or something like that. And I says, well, I just eat what I want and so forth. Well, right away, he says, Well, that's dumb. So he gave me some plasma. Right away the color came back to my face and put me on a soft diet. The first week I gained 13 pounds, and -- just like that, start, you know. And I started to exercise a little, and then they closed down that hospital. And then went on over, and I was still on the soft diet. Finally, I got up to around 150 pounds. And I got -- finally got to go home. But they put me on a hospital ship, the USS Lofberg. And so I figured out with my cruise on the liner, you know, I really -- I got to wear a bathrobe, and I laid in lawn chairs, listened to music. You know, it was really something and slept in a nice bed downstairs, bunk, in the ship and so forth. And we landed at Charleston, South Carolina. And I was going to say something else, my mother wrote letters to me all of the time. And she never -- the letters were always returned. And so they -- when I landed in Charleston, they didn't even know that I was missing in action yet. So finally, they found out -- when I came out and a general in Paris, they found my name, and finally, they sent her a telegram. And by the way, I brought the telegram here, so and -- that I was liberated -- I was a prisoner of war. And I was already liberated when they told her I was a prisoner of war. And so but anyway, went to Charleston. And immediately, I was shipped to Fitzsimmons Hospital in Denver, Colorado. And that's when I -- until I gained enough weight to go home on a furlough and RR, went home and so forth. And my folks came down to Fitzsimmons and got me, and we went home to Casper. And that's my story basically. I was there -- they didn't have my records because of being a prisoner of war, for some reason, they were destroyed. And so I had to go down to -- when I discharged, I had to go to Fort Sam Houston and -- just like I was re-enlist -- enlisting again. I took all of the tests again, and so forth. And then I got discharged down there and came home.

Janet Hammond:

How long was your recuperation period from the time of liberation to where you did come home?

William Fordham:

Let's see, May, June, July, August; about three, four months.

Janet Hammond:

Do you have any lasting health problems from the malnutrition?

William Fordham:

I've always had a -- my stomach has always given me a lot of trouble; although I feel very fortunate that I didn't -- I wasn't wounded and my stomach has given me troubles and so forth. But I control that, and I take particular medicines for it, and I'm fine. No, I didn't have any really (sic) disabilities and everything. Just some bad memories, like everybody else. The real -- the real -- I can't even talk here. The real heroes are those that didn't come back, and those that were wounded for life, you know, with loss of limbs and so forth and sight. And I think those are the real heroes of these wars and -- so I feel very fortunate and very blessed, but... It's an experience I wouldn't want to ever go through again. But it's an experience I wouldn't trade for a million dollars. You know, it's just -- maybe.

Janet Hammond:

After you arrived home, the first few days, your first weeks at home, what were some of the things you did?

William Fordham:

Well, I went and saw my friends. You mean when I got to Casper?

Janet Hammond:

Uh-huh.

William Fordham:

Yeah, I went and saw my friends. And I did some drinking. I shouldn't -- you know, that's the way it was. And -- that didn't last long, but -- and we just went around and had some fun, went horseback riding, went duck hunting, so forth like that, you know, and -- there were a lot of guys home at this time and -- see, we were still fighting Japan during this period, and -- was it -- mid June, when V-J Day, I guess --

Janet Hammond:

Right.

William Fordham:

-- that we dropped the bomb. And I was home at that time. And then -- when V-J Day happened, and they surrendered. And the whole town went crazy, like they did all over the United States and everything, and so it was just a mass of fellowship with old high school buddies and everything.

Janet Hammond:

What did you do then in terms of career following your time when you left the Army or did you --

William Fordham:

I didn't -- you know, when I was in high school, I always loved -- at that time, radio was very popular. And I was going into communications. I always thought it would be nice to be a radio announcer then. In fact, one of the nicest schools at that time was the University of Nebraska, but then the war came, and that sort of stopped that. But I thought about that again. And I swore up and down I wanted to get a white collar job after being in the infantry. And -- but I went down, and I had a pair of sunglasses. And I went down to a friend of my folks was Dr. Bush in Casper, Leo Bush. And he was from Kansas, Denocil, Kansas. And they got together and actually because of this, and they said, Well, Bob what are you going to do? I said, Well, I haven't made my mind up yet. I was still in the Army at the time. And I was -- he was fixing my sunglasses. And he said, Why don't you become an optometrist? I said, What's that? He said, Well, that's me, so... I said, Well, golly, he looks like he's got some money, you know. So I went back, and I sort of looked it over and everything. And he called up the school and yeah, I could still get in in the next semester, which would be January. So I quickly rushed down to Fort Sam Houston to see if I could discharged if I passed the physical. And I did, and I got discharged, getting back, got on the train and headed for Chicago.

Janet Hammond:

Did you use the GI Bill?

William Fordham:

Oh, yes, $65 a month. And that sounds like very little to live on, but, you know, most of us GI's got together back there. The school was so crowded with students, they had to put it off for two weeks to get organized and buy a building or two to have lectures in and where are we going to put these guys. Well, we decided we didn't want to live in the dorm, so we decided that -- there were about 12 of us. And we decided that we would -- if we could rent a house and we, each of us -- you know, the rent for this house was $95, which was pretty high in those days. It was a nice house, about three, four blocks from the school. And so we would give this man, 12 of us at $20, which would be, what, 240, yeah, 240 a month. Well, this guy owned a grocery store down here and man, his eyes lit up, if he would furnish the living room, you know. And the school gave us bunkbeds. And we went out and bought a dining room table and chairs and the kitchen. And so we really -- to go to college, we got by -- and then the other 25 -- $45 went -- $25 went for groceries. We elected a guy that we thought would take care of the bills, you know, and so forth. And he did a good job of this. And then we -- every Saturday, we'd go shopping, three or four of us would go down and buy all of our groceries. We'd buy these big tins of lunch meat, you know, and we had two refrigerators. And three of us had to do the cooking. I volunteered to be a cooker. That was all I -- that was permanent. The only meal we had to cook was the one at night, you know, and not on weekends, unless somebody was -- but anyway. You also had that, you fixed your own breakfast. You went and had your own lunch. But you had to -- be sure to -- you had to clean it up. If you left any dishes, your name was mud. And we only had to kick two guys out during the whole time we did this during the years, because they wouldn't -- you know. The others had -- cleaning were -- you rotated on the bathroom cleaning. You rotated on the dish washing, and you rotated on keeping the downstairs clean, and your bedrooms you kept yourself clean. So it was really a neat deal. For $45 a month, we lived like kings, you know. And everybody felt this is pretty cool. And that left us 20 bucks, you know. So $5 a week was for entertainment. Well, I had some back pay, and so did everybody else, you know, so we did have some money then. But it always amazed me how we got by in college for $45 for room and board, except the laundry, we'd -- I had a suitcase, a special suitcase, and I'd send my laundry home to Mom. And she'd send -- we always had one going back and coming and so forth. So it was quite an experience. And we learned how to budget everything so... A bunch of guys, I'll never forget, and that there were just -- all of them were ex-GIs except two.

Janet Hammond:

Did you have -- do you have lasting friendships from your military time?

William Fordham:

No, and I have tried to locate Randy Walsh, and he lived in Kaliyuga Falls, which is a suburb of Cleveland, but I never could find him, and -- he and I were very close and the other -- my friends that I did have were killed and -- in action. And -- but Randy and I, we -- you know, we went to the POW camp together like that until I passed out on the road there, but -- and I never could locate him after -- I tried for a couple of years. I also tried to find out about that friendly fire. I would just like to know, you know, something about it. But I never could get any information. And I suppose the government doesn't want to tell you. There's probably a lot of that went on, I'm sure, you know. It happened in our own wars in recent years and so forth, but...

Janet Hammond:

Are there parts of your military experience, Bob, that you have never been able to share with anyone?

William Fordham:

No. The one with the Christmas story was always so emotional, I used to -- that I used to -- tears came in my eyes, and I just couldn't -- didn't tell it much. And I got -- sort of opened up in the last few years, and -- then the time when we had to kneel down, I -- you know, that was -- that was very -- my whole life went in front of my eyes, you know, and I just didn't know what was going to happen, you know, and so forth. And I imagine it did to all of them in that time but -- From being a prisoner, I never had any thought that I was not going to make it. I just knew that the good Lord was going to get me out of this and take me home, and...

Janet Hammond:

How would you -- how did you occupy your mind?

William Fordham:

How did I occupy my mind, I suppose I thought of the good things that I would go home to, you know. You have to -- had to look forward to like a plan in your life, you know, to try and get this out of your mind of what's happening to you and around you. I always tried to think of, Well, gee, when I get home, you know, this I'm going to do, and this I'm going to do and so forth. Loved to fish, you know, and stuff like that with Dad. And these are the things that you remember and want to do.

Janet Hammond:

If you were to give me advice on how to get through a situation like you went through, what advice would you offer?

William Fordham:

Well, it so happens that I try to be a Christian, and I always have been, you know, ever since I was a little kid, went to Sunday school and so forth. And so I would say believe in God that he's going to take care of you. And do your best to keep a positive attitude if you can, it's awful hard in something like that and -- especially when you see others pass away in front of your eyes, you know, but -- you know, I hadn't thought of this -- all of these things and in the last year, I've had -- this is your third trip on this, besides the project I told you about out at the park and the article in the paper, and so it's really come to life in this last four or five months and -- again. There's probably a lot of things I forgot that I -- there are some things that I don't want to talk about. And a lot of them had it worse than I did. Mine was just really starving, malnutrition and -- oh, I can remember one little story, sort of humorous. When I was wearing those cotton-picking British boots -- you know, they have the cobblestone streets over there. And that was hard walking, especially when I'd walk -- so I'd walk over on the side. And then German guards would keep saying Roush, Roush (ph), get back in, you know, on here. Well, I'm going to be honest with you, I called him a real SOB. I'll walk where I want. And the German guard says, You know, I do speak perfect English. I disappeared into the crowd. And they looked for me a little bit, but I -- you know, we all look pretty much alike, bearded and dirty and everything else. But I would never forget, I do speak perfect English.

Janet Hammond:

When you saw, obviously, a lot of brutality and a lot of suffering --

William Fordham:

I saw in the Gorlitz camp, when we went over there, there was a bunch of Polish prisoners of war right next to us. And they were, Oh, so pathetic. They'd probably been there for years, you know, and sunken, so it's -- sunken eyes staring at, you know. And you just -- you just can't believe it. And I'm certainly glad I didn't get to go to, you know, these places where they were killing the Jews and so forth. I don't think I could have stood that and but...

Janet Hammond:

You also remember specifically some acts of human generosity and kindness that really stick with you amidst all of this suffering.

William Fordham:

One of the guys that I had friends with, we helped each other. And I think that we got -- there were also others who did anything. They were selfish for themselves, you know. And that quickly showed up, you know, in the -- in a situation like this, you'll find who's who. And they'll want to associate with you, but I -- Randy, naturally, was great. And then there was my captain, which when I had him at the time, was just one of the finest officers I could ever have. Of course, we were split up back there in Dresden and so forth. But he would say, Oh, why did we have to surrender. You know, we should have stayed, you know, and this kind of stuff. And we all agreed with him and so forth. But it probably would have been worse. We couldn't have done anything for such a small group, you know. But it was just the feeling at the time and so forth. One time, I -- you know, the two young men that I met, I told you about giving the camera to and they gave me a loaf of bread, they said this war is foolishness. These were not Nazi kids. He says, this war is foolishness. This one spoke a little English. He says, You'll move in, and then we go home. And that's basic -- and I -- I think that's an act, sort of, of kindness and so forth. I don't know whether we would shoot each other. And then when I got to Gorlitz, we were marching, I -- we were taking a break, and we sat down. And we was in town, and I sat down on the curb in front of a house there. And a lady walked out, and she also spoke some English. And she says -- asks me where I was from, and I says, From Wyoming. Well, where is that? And I tried to explain it to her. She says, You know, I have a son. He's in the Army. I do not know any -- whether he is alive or what he is, and I think this war is horrible. And I always remembered that, because she was kind. And she started to -- she had a cup of water. And she started to hand it to me, and the German guards came and shooed her back in the house. But that was an act of kindness on the German part. And I thought that was nice, you know. So they were nice people. The Nazis were not Nazis. And then -- there was a lot of people in Germany who didn't like this war. And it's a shame. It's just like with what the government does, I suppose, in their country. And if you didn't do what you were supposed to do, well, they took care of you.

Janet Hammond:

When you were in the group being marched as prisoners being moved around by foot, how much time would you have, say, in an evening, how long of a day would you be actually on the move?

William Fordham:

Oh, we walked a good eight, nine hours a day. And trying to get up and get organized and -- and these big barns, you know. These barns, they would have lofts about 8 feet high, and the ladders would go way up. And the guys were not very nice there. They didn't want to go all the way down the ladder to go to the bathroom. So if you were down here in one of these, hallelujah, a lot of yelling going on. But anyway, and then a night we'd sometimes stay -- one time we stayed in a camp where there was young Nazis. They'd have their search lights on all night on us. And they'd sit there with their machine guns. And they were all blond and blue-eyed, young kids, 18. They wanted to pull the trigger so bad and, boy, they told us to just be quiet tonight. And they had their bright search lights on us all night, you know, to see us, and...

Janet Hammond:

Why were they moving you so much, Bob? Why weren't you put in a camp and left?

William Fordham:

The only thing I know was the war was coming to an end, and according to the Geneva -- why they followed the Geneva rules of conduct was -- I suppose maybe some of the camps had been overrun by the Russians. And some had been overrun by the Americans and where do they put you. They just kept marching just because if the enemy is coming, you have to move the prisoners. Now to me, we were just saying leave them there and then the Americans or the Russians have to mess around with prisoners and lose time, you know. But I can't give you that answer, because in our group, they just marched us all over the -- some Count Borne (ph) -- remember him -- no, you wouldn't remember him. He was a radio commentator, Count Borne. And he called this -- I have an article, and I lost it. And I can't find it because he called this the -- which is natural -- I don't think it was as bad as this, but he called it the Japan death march of the World War II in Europe, and -- but didn't last as long or as horrifying as the one that the Japanese did to these guys, you know. But that's what he called it. And it was bad enough, but we did get to stay in a hayloft or something at night, you know. And a lot of times, we'd sit on these burrows. They said if you ever start picking them up, we're going to sick the dogs on you and a lot of the guys -- and in these burrows were sugar beets. That's the way they did them. They put them in sort of a -- they took the sugar beet, put it in a hole and then cover it up with dirt to keep them. And we'd sit there when we were having a rest period, and we'd dig in. And I finally got ahold of a sugar beet. He said, Don't eat them because they'll give you dysentery. But you know what, I ate that sugar beet. It tasted awfully good. And I never did get dysentery, so they'd hide it inside our jackets, you know, and so... And they gave us a POW jacket. I took mine down to the museum down here. It looked like a British jacket. And on the back it had a triangle. That was the POW jacket. They took my jacket and gave me that. I suppose that if you're running away, they could see that, and they could pop you one, but...

Janet Hammond:

Did you ever contemplate escape?

William Fordham:

I thought about it, but I never knew where I was. I never knew where I was. And so I'd -- if I was going to escape, I should have -- should have did it right at first. But I felt that -- I don't know -- that I should stay with my outfit. Randy and I talked about it and so -- but some guys did, and I understand they didn't make it, and -- the books I've read and so forth on it.

Janet Hammond:

How much communication could you have where, like you said, you and Randy talked about it? How much communication could you have?

William Fordham:

All we wanted. Nobody told us to shut up. You know, we'd just walk down -- keep walking and we'd talk to each other and so forth. And when they gave us a break, we'd all talk to each other. The guys would say, Gee, I wish I had a big thick steak. And I'd say, Yeah, I want my two eggs with the toast.

Janet Hammond:

Is there anything else that you wish to record of your experiences?

William Fordham:

Oh, I probably left out quite a few. I can't even tell you what I told you now. It was an experience, like I say, that I -- the starvation part of it, I know what it is to be hungry. I tell you it's just a horrible feeling. When I came out at the hospital in Paris, they had a -- did a test on me. They had a 2-by-4, I could put one foot up on that 2-by-4, but I didn't have the strength to bring the other one up about an inch and a half. And I always remember that. So I had to really have help to go upstairs and -- but I wanted to see Paris. And I did another dumb thing. I got on a bus dressed up in a baggy outfit, about 95 pounds and went out. And I got so sick. I did get to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame. And I got to see -- I forget what they call the white church. I didn't go in with the guys on that one though. So I just sat on the bus the rest of the time just sick as a dog. I should never have done that, but at least I got to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame and a little bit of Paris and the Eiffel Tower and so forth and all of that, but -- and I have some pictures of POWs and so forth, and... I just -- I guess -- I know that that hospital in Paris had tunnels all through Paris. They made it so that if they had to get to the hospital during wartime, they could come through the tunnels. And it was secret tunnels and so forth. I'll -- I tried to -- I picked up the yellow jaundice one time. They said I had it. They put me in a -- a German doctor, when I was marching, overnight that night the place that we were staying, and there were five of us laying on the floor, you know, while he -- he just said, You have some jaundice. You'll sleep here tonight, you know. But I woke up in the morning and the other four were dead. And I'll never forget that either. I never thought about that. I don't know why, but I got out of there. One died from -- had jaundice real bad. It must have been worse than me, and it's hard when you can't eat what you've got, you know, because nothing tastes good when you've got jaundice. But it went away, so it must not have been too bad.

Janet Hammond:

The places you would stay at night, the barns you would stay in and so on, where were the owners of these barns?

William Fordham:

I suppose in their homes --

Janet Hammond:

You think they --

William Fordham:

Yeah. There were plenty of guards, you know. They'd just -- that was -- I suppose they couldn't say a word, you know, because they didn't have to give any food, but maybe to the guards or something like that or so forth. But all I can remember is marching into these great big huge barns and so forth. And sometimes we just slept in sheds, whatever.

Janet Hammond:

Did you almost always have shelter?

William Fordham:

A couple of times we didn't. We would sort of -- usually had a roof of some type but no sides -- excuse me -- and it was pretty cold. We had -- naturally, we'd -- the Army overcoat was the most heavy thing. It was probably warm, but we got rid of those things. We couldn't move fast enough, you know, with those. And they gave us a little sleeping bag that had a liner of wool. And it was very small and lightweight, sort of a canvas -- not canvas, but a silken-type cover under with a hood. And a bunch of us cut that sleeping bag off, you know, and cut up slits for the arms and put the hood up over and that's what we wore. We'd zip up the front, you know, and we wore those over our field jackets, and they were pretty neat.

Janet Hammond:

Now, who gave you those sleeping bags?

William Fordham:

The Army, that was an issue.

Janet Hammond:

Oh, it was an Army issue?

William Fordham:

Yeah, an Army issue. And we got those, when -- I think we got those when we landed in France and so forth -- no, we got them in England. I take it back. We had those when we were in our Quonset huts there at the Duke of York estate, yeah, so...

Janet Hammond:

The few times that you did receive food, your loaf of bread and so on, from the Germans, where were they getting it? Did you see it arrive?

William Fordham:

They would come by, and we'd line up. And they would just come by and -- you'd walk by, and they'd hand you -- the soup, they usually had an inside place that you'd walk in. And we were really disappointed in some of the Americans, because they would fight for who was in line to get up, you know. And the second time that happened, there was a bunch of us trying to tell them, Stop this. This -- you're making a fool of the American solider, you know. The Germans took a big can of that potato peeled soup and threw it on the ground and said, the heck with you-guys. And they were -- You know, one POW that you've got to give credit to were the British, they knew how to handle this thing. They'd know how to -- they had their little coffee cans all made. They made a fire, and they made their tea. And they knew just how to take care of things. I tell you. The Americans -- we were not that imaginative to do these things. But they were -- they were with us part of the time, you know, and so forth. But some of these guys just didn't know how to handle this. And I suppose that would happen anywhere and so forth -- I was fortunate, I did, and -- discipline to me was part of my life before I ever went in, so it was -- just, so...

Janet Hammond:

The size of the group that was marching must have fluctuated quite a bit, or did it?

William Fordham:

Our group stayed. The only thing that would fluctuate was those that passed out on the way or died or something, because you're locked in.

Janet Hammond:

So then you were not gaining other --

William Fordham:

Oh, no.

Janet Hammond:

-- prisoners?

William Fordham:

Not that I know of. If we did, we weren't paying any attention to that. And I never saw any anyway, so -- there could have been somebody join us, because like I say, there was about -- anywhere from 800 to 1,000 of us walking. And I suppose part of us went to another farm, it could have happened that way at night too, because one farmer couldn't handle all of that many and so forth. You'd go into some of these small, small villages, which there's lots of, you know. And they're farmers; of course, they don't have a lot of acres and that kind of stuff, but -- like you'd see over here, but, you know -- and -- I don't know what they grew. I'm sure they grew beets, but -- the sugar beets is what I'm talking about. I can't think of nothing -- anything else, Janet.

Janet Hammond:

All right. Well, thank you, Bob. I want to thank you for your service and also for having this conversation with me. I really appreciate it.

William Fordham:

Well, I appreciate you asking. If I have anything that was really worth telling, I hope so, you know.

Janet Hammond:

Your memories are invaluable.

William Fordham:

And I think every person has their own memories and different experiences and so forth of what happened.

Janet Hammond:

Well, thank you for sharing them with us.

William Fordham:

Okay.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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