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Interview with John Lord [4/23/2008]

Bobbie R. Glick:

This interview is taking place on April 23rd, 2008 at the home of John and Katherine Lord in Lincolnshire, Illinois. My name is Bobbie Glick and I am interviewing John Lord who was a veteran of World War II. Mr. Lord was in the Army Air Corps and was a radio operator on a B-24 and was shot down and captured by the Germans on October 7th, 1944. He was a prisoner of war for six months. Mr. Lord was born on July 8th, 1922 and currently resides in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

John Lord:

I enlisted.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Where were you living at the time that you enlisted?

John Lord:

In Maywood, Illinois.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Why did you join?

John Lord:

Because we were fighting a war that we had to win.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Why did you pick the service branch you joined?

John Lord:

Well I joined as an aviation cadet and at the time I joined in August of ’42, they had an excess of cadets so I had to wait six months before I was called in at the end of March in '43. I went down to San Antonio to the cadets but I washed out. I couldn’t be qualified to be a pilot or a bombardier or any of the things that cadets were trained for. So I was sent to another Army base, Sheppard Field in Texas to become a bomber crew member. I had to go to radio school and gunnery school and then training where you trained as a crew. One of the reasons that I chose the Army Air Corps was I didn’t like the idea of having to march across Europe as part of the ground troops. As it turned out, I marched much further than any of our ground troops did in Europe.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Do you recall your first days in the service when you first came and got in?

John Lord:

Yes. As an aviation cadet we took tests and so on and it turned out that I have poor depth perception. I didn’t want to be a pilot because I didn’t even drive a car at that time. Because I lacked good depth perception, they didn’t want me either as a bombardier or a navigator. So I ended up being a radio operator.

Bobbie R. Glick:

And your training experience or boot camp?

John Lord:

The training was first. Well, at Sheppard Field they tested us.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Where is Sheppard Field?

John Lord:

It’s in Northeast Texas; a huge base with just thousands and thousands of men there. At Sheppard Field I took some basic training and took tests to see whether I would be an armored gunner or a radio operator gunner or a mechanic gunner. They had a board showing where the schools were for all of these possibilities. There was a school located in Chicago, a radio school located in Chicago, so I purposefully did as poor as possible on the armors test and on the mechanics test, but as good as possible on the radio test. So I got the assignment to go to radio school. But something happened and I was at Sheppard Field for a lot longer than I expected to be because I was supposed to go to radio school. I finally got so fed up and upset about this thing that I wasn’t going anywhere and I was doing all kinds of chores, twenty four hour KP, and all kinds of work projects in between the phases of basic training. So I went to the company clerk and I was going to ask him, “What’s going on with me?” And it turned out he was a little wimp of a guy, and when I started to talk to him, I got a little upset. He was sitting at a regular desk and there were cubbyholes in the desk and there were some papers in the cubbyhole, and for some reason I took those papers, and I can’t remember why, but they were the papers that were to send me to the Chicago radio school. They had just been put in there and they would have stayed there forever, I guess!

Bobbie R. Glick:

Lucky you spoke up!

John Lord:

Yes. So then I went to radio school in Chicago at what is now the Conrad Hilton Hotel. It was the Stevens then. But that radio school was closed and we were shifted down to one of the other lakefront hotels. Finally that was closed; we were only really there I guess until around the end of May or so. I can’t remember the exact dates. Then I was transferred to the radio school near Belleville, Illinois, Scott Field and there I took the rest of my training. I passed all of the mechanics part of radio school very easily, but I had trouble taking the code. You had to take eighteen words per minute in order to pass the code test. Well, I could do sixteen without any errors but I couldn’t do eighteen. I spent so much time in that class that I got to know the sergeant who ran it and finally he passed me even though I didn’t take eighteen words. I got out of there and went to gunnery school, which was just a two-week course but I got sick when I was there and spent actually over three weeks. There was an incident there about this sickness. In the afternoon we took physical training, and I didn’t feel very good but I went out and did the physical training. The man who ran the class saw that I wasn’t doing as well as he thought I should be doing, so he made me run around the track a number of times and I was really done in and barely made it back to the tent after that. The next morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. I was just totally out of it. They had to bring an ambulance to take me to the hospital where I spent a week. I still remember that lovely guy who made me do that. I was going to go over and fight and he was going to stay there where he was perfectly safe. I ran into other permanent party people at other bases that were even nastier than this guy was. After gunnery school I was sent to Gowen Field near Boise, Idaho and became part of an air crew. We had ten men in the crew. The four officers were pilot, co-pilot, bombardier and navigator and the enlisted men were radio operator, mechanic, two waist gunners, a ball turret gunner and a tail gunner. We learned to work as a crew at Gowen Field. There were sixty-four crews in the class we were taking. We lost one crew during the training. The plane crashed and they were all killed. There were a lot worse examples of being killed in training than that. Then we were shipped by train to a base near New York in New Jersey to get ready to be put on a boat and sent overseas as replacement crews in the 8th Air Force. The train ride was something different because it was a very hot August day in Nebraska where we were taken to board the train. The train, of course, was just regular passenger cars. There was no air-conditioner or anything like that then. We had cars to provide food for all of the men on the train which was over six hundred and forty, plus the train crew. I was the last one to get on the train because I knew that those cars would be hot having sat out there in the sun all day, or a good part of the day. When I finally tried to go to sleep at night I found out there was one less seat in the train than were people there. Since I was the last one to get on I was the one that lost that seat. So I had to sleep out on the steel platform between the cars. Of course, these were coal trains and there was a lot of soot and stuff. It was really not a pleasant trip. On that trip, every time we stopped if we were near any place where food could be bought, the guys would get off the train and grab the food. Sometimes they paid what it was worth; other times they just threw some money at the guy because we had to get back on the train. But it was a very adventuresome ride and it sure was good for me to take a nice shower after I got to the base in New Jersey. I must have spent an hour and a half in that shower trying to get all that grease and stuff off me. Then we were shipped overseas.

Bobbie R. Glick:

This was in 1944?

John Lord:

This was in August of 1944. We were put on a ship, the SS Brasil, which had been a cruise ship to South America. There were something like ten or twelve thousand men and women on the ship. We were in the middle of a huge convoy along with some other troop carrying ships. The only adventure we had there was the fact that I was lounging on my cot and this terrible explosion, oh it was just so loud, I thought, “Oh my goodness. What’s happened?” Well, it turns out all it was, there was a five inch cannon on the ship and they were testing it out. We had no problem with any enemy ships or planes or submarines on our trip over. When we got to Liverpool there were so many ships that they didn’t have room for us in the port so we stayed outside the submarine nets for a couple of nights which wasn’t the greatest thing in the world because we ran out of food in the enlisted men’s part of the food supply. We survived on K-rations out of packages. The officers, of course, got their food, but we didn’t get ours. We got off the boat and were put on buses to be transferred to a British base and on that ride an A-20 light bomber came right over us extremely low and he wasn’t past us but a few seconds when we heard this terrible crash. He had gotten too low and hit something and the plane went into the ground and all the people were killed.

Bobbie R. Glick:

This was an American plane.

John Lord:

This was an American plane, an A-20 light bomber. It just goes to show you that you shouldn’t fool around. We were trained in England for the ETO, European Theater of Operations, for their rules and regulations. We took that training in Northern Ireland. There I got sick again. I got pleurisy and spent another week at the hospital. After that I was sent to the 44th Bomb Group Air Base near the town of Shipdham in England, northeast of London, near the wash which is a kind of a shallow part of the North Sea. There we received some more instruction and then our pilots went along with other crews on one or two runs. Then we were ready to go and we made our first mission, which was memorable for one reason and that is that in England the air bases had shorter runways than in the United States. As a matter of fact, the runways at Gowen Field where our pilots had trained were much, much longer because they were anticipating the B-29s. Our pilot had always taken the full runway before taking off at Gowen Field. Now, our planes were never nearly as loaded as a fully loaded bomber with the bombs and the fuel and the flak suits and the ammunition and all that. But he still took the full runway. And as we were waiting to take off for our first mission, our captain was standing alone, so I went over and I said I had seen how they were taking off, the planes that preceded us. They got to the head of the runway and revved their engines way up with the brakes on and then they released the brakes and it gave them a good push to start because the engines were going full blast. So, they could get off the narrow, short runway even though they were fully loaded, six thousand pounds of bombs and all the rest of the heavy stuff that we carried including the fuel. So, remembering that the pilot always took the full runway on these very long runways, I walked up to him and said, “You’re going to take off like these guys with the weight on the brakes and get the power up on the brakes and release the brakes and so on.” He didn’t say a word. So when we got on the plane at the head of the runway, instead of the engines being revved up, the props were barely turning. I guess he was going to show me, I don’t know. But when we started to take off, we got to the end of the runway and we were nowhere near take-off speed. Fortunately, there was nothing in front of us except green grass, and quite a-ways away a wooden rail fence. We proceeded along the grass, and just as we approached that fence, the pilot pulled the nose up. Well, I had a window that I could see what was going on outside. The radio operator sits right behind the pilots. I saw the wood from this fence flying. So our tail had hit the fence. Our two tails, twin tails, had hit the fence. We did get off the ground. I don’t know how because the tail was really being dragged. We went on our mission, which wasn’t a real hot target. There wasn’t an awful lot of flak and, of course, no fighters. We had fighters escort the P-51’s. When we got over the target, it was the radio operator’s job to go out and clip on his clip-on chute and stand on the walkway that went through the bomb bay and make sure that all the bombs got out. When I went to do that, I found that the bomb bay doors were swinging in the breeze. They were out of their tracks and the two bottom bombs on both sides, two thousand pounders were gone. Where they went, who knows, but then the plane was damaged again. So when we got back to our base, the first thing they do is to take you into a room where you sit down and the crew sits down at a table and an interviewer comes and asks you what happened and so on. They may even have let you have a little drink which after a mission always came in handy. While we were sitting there starting the interview the commander of the base walked up. He didn’t run or anything. He just sauntered up and he asked the pilot about the take-off. The plane had, there were two big holes in the bottom part of the twin tails and then the runway doors being out of the track, we had more damage than any other plane even though it didn’t come from the enemy. Anyway, the base commander told our pilot how to take off a fully loaded bomber on the short runways in England. He told him exactly what I had told him. From that time on he obeyed the base commander and we had no further problem taking off on our next missions which were six more missions we flew, but actually we flew six-and-a-half missions because we were shot down on the seventh. Well, as part of being shot down, I haven’t told you about that. On our seventh mission it was an all-out mission for the 8th Air Force, everybody was flying. We were in formation just about the time we...because we were the newest crew in the group, we were flying one of the older planes which had been apparently through a lot before we got it, and just as we were crossing into Germany, one engine on our right side quit. We were still almost fully loaded. All we lost was some fuel. We couldn’t keep up with the rest of the 8th Air Force, so in a short time we were flying alone but continuing on into Germany. Why this was, I don’t know, because the pilot could have turned right around on a reciprocal heading and the navigator could get our path back to our base coming out of Germany instead of continuing in. But we continued in and it took the navigator a while to get the path back to our base. And just about the time he was reporting that to the pilot, the other engine on the same wing went out. So now we couldn’t even keep altitude. But it was almost immediately after that, that I heard through my earphones and everything kind of a loud pop, but it wasn’t real loud. But it was the time when we got hit with flak from an airfield we were flying over. In no time at all after that, the co-pilot, who was a tall man, came and opened the top hatch and went out the top hatch even though the plane was still flying straight and level. Now, of course, he did bump into things on the way back over the plane. He lost an eye as a result of going out the top hatch. At that time I looked and saw the bomb bay was nothing but flames and that was my escape route from the plane. I could have gone out the top hatch if the plane had had a radio table. But for some reason the radio table, which was a folding table in front of the radio, the folding part of the table wasn’t there and without that I could not reach the top hatch. So I stood under the top hatch looking up and knowing there was no way for me to get out. So I was going to die, and I said, being a religious person, “Jesus save me.” I wasn’t talking about getting out of the plane. I didn’t think that was in any way possible. For God, everything is possible, and right after that the plane turned completely over, still flying level but totally upside-down. The top hatch was now a hole in the floor and I ended up with my head and my shoulders partly out of that top hatch after the plane had turned over. So it was only a matter of me pushing hard to break the connections between my heated suit and the radio things. So I came out of the plane head first. And because we had been told in England not to pull our rip cords too soon, so that we would be coming down from a very high altitude where we couldn’t breathe, so I didn’t. My head was facing so that I was looking up, rather than down. Actually like a maple tree seed that comes off the tree and circles down and I was the head of the actual seed part of the maple tree. At that time, I had no idea I was falling, even though it sounds crazy. I thought, “I’m stuck up here. I’ll die for lack of oxygen. I’m stuck up here.” Then I turned my head and saw the ground coming up so I immediately pulled my rip cord and started coming down in the chute. While I was coming down in the chute I noticed parts of our plane were landing at various places around where I was heading. Then I looked down and saw our six thousand pounds of incendiaries were spread all over the field that I was about to land in. I was about to land right in the middle, and I don’t think I could have escaped from those burning incendiaries. It probably covered an area of two or three hundred yards in diameter. I grabbed my right shroud lines and found that I could steer the chute. I did that and escaped completely from the incendiaries and landed in a very soft, newly-plowed field. It was a very easy landing. But then I found after I landed that I had a terribly badly burned left hand. For some reason I had pulled a heavy glove off of my left hand and it got burned and my right hand still had the heavy glove on. So in coming down when my left hand felt funny I rubbed it with the glove on my right hand and of course it destroyed the...all the skin was gone; my hand was a real mess. I couldn’t use it, couldn’t bend my fingers or anything. I would have had a heck of a time getting out of the parachute harness, but a young German boy, maybe ten or twelve years old, came up and helped me out of the chute. Now he wanted to take that chute material home to his mother, of course. Just about the time I got out of the chute, there was a German non-commissioned officer standing in front of me pointing a pistol at my chest. It turns out that next to the field that I landed in was a patch of woods, and in that patch of woods the Germans were on some kind of a maneuver. This German NCO had come over to capture me. He left the group there and walked me to the air base that had shot us down. It was near the town of Bielefeld in Germany. Because of my badly burned hand they put me in a hospital room with a bed. Eventually, they put a paper bandage on my hand but nothing to stop infection. During that day that I was in that bed, two things happened. One, they brought the flak gun crew in to see what they had shot down. We had been told in England that the flak guns were being operated by Hitler youth, both female and male and that’s what came in, a group of Hitler youth, fifteen and sixteen-year-old boys and girls. They just looked at me and eventually went out. Then, later on in the day, a German soldier with part of a uniform on and he had a bad arm and a bad leg came in, and looked at me and I looked at him. He spoke German only and I spoke English only. We couldn’t converse with words, but we conversed without words. I knew what he was saying. He was saying, “Now you’re out of the fighting too, you’re out of the war, as I am.” I’ll never forget that. That was the only time I had a non-verbal talk with anybody. After three or four days we were taken into the nearest town to a train station, and taken to the train station in Frankfort, Germany. That train station had been bombed but they had always repaired because it was so necessary for the German transportation system. From there we were put on a bus and taken to what was called the Dulog Luft. Luft, of course, is air. All air prisoners were taken to this place where they were questioned and if wounded like I was, treated. When we got to this place, by that time my hand was terribly infected and horribly painful, it was just awfully painful. The Germans had never done anything but put paper bandages on it. The first thing they did was separate me from the rest of our surviving members of the crew. Three of the ten had been killed when we got shot down. They put me in a kind of a barracks room that was full of British paratroopers. The campaign to get across the lower Rhine, what was called the Market Garden Operation, became known as The Bridge Too Far. They were supposed to capture all of the bridges over the various branches of the Rhine. The last bridge they didn’t capture. The Germans got some tank troops there and ended up capturing the whole British First Army. I was in this room with these British First Army guys. They had everything that they had when they landed in their chutes except arms and ammunition. So they had their medical supplies and one of them gave me a shot of morphine which stopped all the pain and that was just wonderful. I never have forgotten those guys. They were supposed to be reached at the Bridge Too Far by Montgomery and his troops, but Montgomery didn’t make it. Their talk about Montgomery was full of “f” words. But I was sure glad to meet those guys. Then I was taken to the hospital and there a British airborne doctor, who had been captured September 20th at Arnhem, the Bridge Too Far, had been on the ground only two days. They put him in this hospital to treat the prisoners. He had sulfa and was able to stop the infection of my hand. It was weeks before I could fully use my hand but the pain was gone and didn’t come back. I really appreciated the work that that British doctor did. Then after I was well enough they put me in a prison car, a box car that had been fitted with all kinds of wire to keep us from getting out. We went across Germany to a regular prison camp that we were going to stay at, which was in Eastern Germany, somewhere around a hundred miles or so east of Berlin. We were north of Berlin, but not much, maybe twenty miles south of the North Sea. That’s where I stayed for...from the time in October when I got there, which was probably the 17th or 18th or 20th, whatever, until February 6th when we had to leave the camp because the Russians were coming.

Bobbie R. Glick:

What kind of treatment did you get?

John Lord:

The German military has kind of a caste system. The highest caste in the German military are submariners and flyers and it included parachute soldiers. Anybody who flew was in this higher category. Because we were all non-commissioned officers and in this higher category, the camp that we were in, there was no work for us to do. They did have a crew in the kitchen to prepare our food and of course those guys (background noise, can’t hear vet) The main thing in the camp was boredom, because we didn’t have anything to do. We did get some things from the Red Cross besides some food packages. I got a deck of cards and a book. The book was Rats, Lice and History. It was about the fact that rats were the ones that carried the bubonic plague from city to city. The rats on the ships had lice and the lice carried the bubonic plague. I must have read that book ten or fifteen times. I just about had it memorized. It was an interesting book but I would have liked to have a few more to read. I also taught a number of prisoners how to play bridge. We spent a fair amount of time playing bridge. In fact, the deck of cards got so full of...messed up with stuff, food I guess - anyway, the deck was about three times as thick as it was when it was new, but we still played. As far as food was concerned, the Germans gave us a sixth of a loaf of bread and some margarine. That was for breakfast. And some very watery soup that contained what appeared to be re-wet weeds and vegetables that had been dried. The stuff was totally unrecognizable and the soup didn’t taste good at all, but you had to eat something and that was lunch. At supper time we got some boiled potatoes. That was what we got from the Germans. From the Red Cross we got parcels that had food and other things like vitamins, cigarettes and so on. A parcel a week would have kept us almost from being hungry all the time. But all we could get was a half a parcel. We had to share a parcel with another prisoner. So the whole time we were in the prison camp we were hungry. Except on Christmas, people had saved stuff up from the parcels and made some fancy stuff on Christmas. The parcels contained jelly, corn beef, beef hash, margarine. The margarine was awful but nowhere near as good as the German margarine; some crackers, vitamin C pills, five packs of cigarettes, and a can of powdered milk, which was very well-received. Each one only got half the can. It helped to keep us alive but we were always hungry. Here’s all these young men going to sleep at night and we didn’t dream about girls, we dreamed about food. You’d always be just about to eat something really good and you’d wake up and have to go to the bathroom. The prison camp was new. It had been opened in July and we were there in October. They had made it pretty much escape proof. They built all the barracks up three or four feet off the ground. So there was no way to do any tunneling. Of course, you could have made a hole in the floor and gotten out eventually, but where would you go then? The only thing is that nobody did get out because once they turned all the lights off and we were in total darkness, they let the dogs run in the compound and if anybody stuck a foot out of a hole in the floor it would have been damaged quickly. So there were no escapes, except we did hear that maybe men who pretended they were sick or actually sick got to the hospital that maybe one or two did escape from the hospital. It turned out that the cigarettes became the medium of exchange in the prison camp. Everything that came in the Red Cross parcels had a value in cigarettes. The most expensive thing was the powdered milk. A whole can of powdered milk was worth four packs of cigarettes. As soon as we got a chance to write home, we said: “Don’t send anything but cigarettes,” because cigarettes was our money. Now what this did was bring a lot more cigarettes into the picture and so we had inflation. It wasn’t very long before everything doubled in price. A can of milk was now eight packs of cigarettes, and so forth.

Bobbie R. Glick:

So you were receiving letters from home too?

John Lord:

Oh, yeah. Well, I didn’t receive any letters from home but they got letters from me. But by the time they could do anything I was already out of the camp.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Is that the camp you were liberated from?

John Lord:

No. That’s another story. Do you have any more questions there? In our camp there were four compounds. There was a road in between the two compounds here and the two compounds here. In late January there started to be people marching on that road day and night. They were Russian prisoners mostly. They were in bad shape; some of them only had rags wrapped around their feet and so on. This went on for a number of days until the morning of February 6th. We were told that we were going to march. We were given Red Cross parcels and so on and we packed up food and the lousy blankets the Germans had and so on. Sure enough, we were marched out in groups of three or four hundred. There were thousands in the camp. I don’t know how many thousands. I heard figures of twenty thousand but I am not sure of that. The first night we slept in a kind of a German pub. A bar room where the guards were playing solitaire, and we slept on the floor. This happened for about a week. Then we reached the Oder River which runs into the North Sea. We were right there at the mouth of the Oder. In order to cross the Oder we had to take ferries, and there were islands all across the Oder River as it emptied into the North Sea. We ended up on the night of February 14th, Valentine’s Day, on Usedom Island in the mouth of the Oder River. We had gone through the terrible first half of the winter of 1944/1945 where we had to stand out and be counted every morning and afternoon. When we first got there in October, there were prisoners who messed up the German count by moving around as they were being counted so it took longer to be counted than it should have taken. Well, we didn’t know but the commander of our lager knew that winter was coming. We didn’t even think about that. Well, when winter came, it was that horrible first half of winter of '44/’45. It got below zero. There was a lot of snow. We’d go out and stand in the snow below zero and the counting wouldn’t start for quite a while. So the commander of the compound got his vengeance and most of us had very sore feet from frostbite and so on. It was fortunate that I was given captured shoes when I became a prisoner, that were way too wide. It was so fortunate for me that that was the case because when my feet swelled from the frostbite the shoes were still adequate and didn’t hurt my feet as much as they would have if they had been the right size in the first place. So it made the long march we were going to undertake easier. But the night of February 14th, the weather had improved greatly. That night in the mouth of the Oder River, way north of any place in the United States, it didn’t freeze. We had to sleep out on the ground and if it had been cold a lot of us wouldn’t have made it. We were fortunate and we got across the Oder and we kept on marching. Our food that we had taken out of the camp and stuck in various parts of our clothing began to just disappear, and we didn’t get any replacements like we had before. Our main meal on the march was a full knit cap with four or five medium-size boiled potatoes. Now the farms after we crossed the Oder River, we slept in barns. That part of Germany was the old Junkers part of Prussia. The farms are huge and the barns are tremendous. I guess we had three or four hundred men in a group that would sleep in a barn on the hay up in the hayloft. It was not the greatest thing in the world because they’d give us our food and our potatoes and get us to the barn and as soon as the barn was filled they’d close the door and there were no lights. So when you ate your potatoes, if there were rotten parts, you found out by eating the rotten part. A good part of the time it was mostly the only food we got, so we ate as much of the potatoes as we possibly could. Once in awhile there was a Red Cross parcel, but not very much. A mystery for me was every time we’d come to one of these farms, the old farm owner, there were no young guys, they were in the service, would be out there with his dog and his stick in his hand. The commander of the group of guards, guarding this group of prisoners, would go up and talk to him. They would get really loud talking, and I wondered what was all that going on? It happened many, many times. Long after the war I finally figured out what that was. The farm owner was complaining about all of this mess that the prisoners left because there were no bathrooms out there, so anything done was done out in the open. You can imagine if you have a group like that, every night it didn’t take long to get a real mess. I’m sure that’s what the farmers were complaining about. Another thing I forgot was, I remember everything that happened on the day that I was shot down. Except one thing I don’t remember and that’s clipping on my clip-on chute. I know I did it of course, but I don’t remember when I did. So we continued on this march, sleeping in these barns, and we’d march, I don’t know, ten miles or so a day. With our sore feet it was not easy and guys would drop out along the way and just lay down because they couldn’t go any further. We didn’t know what happened to them but I found out after the war from men who experienced it, that they were loaded onto a horse-drawn wagon and taken to a hospital and they all made it back. I guess they all made it back, I don’t know; some of them could have been sick enough to die. Every fourth day we would not march; we would rest and hang around the barn and not be able to do much of anything. But the rest helped. As the march went on and on, it got harder and harder to march.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Where did you end up?

John Lord:

I got to the point where I just couldn’t keep going. But I could make one more step, and I never did drop out. I was always able to make that one more step. I had taken a lot of cigarettes. The British captured coat that I had, had a place where you could store cigarettes, just right for storing a lot of cigarettes and many, many times on that march my breakfast was a cigarette. We went to the town of Uelzen and there they put us on a train. This was in Western Germany. We weren’t on the train too long, only a matter of hours - I don’t know, four or five, or three or four, whatever – but when we unloaded from that train we were taken to a huge service tent camp. There were no buildings of any kind or no bathrooms except a hole in the ground about fifty feet by thirty feet, which was where you were supposed to do all of your getting rid of your waste. Well, that was fine for one kind of waste. But for the other kind, to take your pants down and stick your back end out over that bathroom-hole, which was full of you-know-what, and it was so scary that I got very constipated. I just couldn’t use that. I was getting worse and worse on the constipation. One thing helped, I didn’t get that much food, so it’s not like normal constipation. We were told that a group of us could march out and go to a field where there were weeds. Instead of having to sleep on the ground itself, we could put some weeds in one of our blankets and make kind of a semi-mattress. When I got there I had to go. It was such a painful experience because of all that dried up stuff. I bled and bled. I still think that it’s related to my colon cancer years later. But that’s what happened. While we were there it was the middle of April. We learned that Roosevelt died and we celebrated Easter. I got to Mass for the first time. We had Mass at the prison camp, had a priest that was captured too. But we had no religious services at all from February 6th through the middle of April when Easter was in 1945.

Bobbie R. Glick:

So when did you end up being liberated?

John Lord:

It is still a ways. One day at this camp we were told that we were going to march. We had heard American guns for the first time. We always had heard Russian guns and American bombs being dropped and English bombs being dropped but we hadn’t heard American guns. So the next day we broke the camp and marched. In this camp were prisoners from all over Germany, all kinds - (?) and (?) from the 8th Army captured in '42 – all kinds of different prisoners. They marched us to the upper Albe River and it turned out that on the other side of the river were the Russians. But the Russians weren’t doing anything yet; they were still building up for their taking of Berlin. So we made that march and we made this march back toward the Russians. One morning, April 22nd or so, we heard small arms fire from across the river. So it meant the Russians were right there. We had never heard small arms fire before, only artillery and bombs. So we all got going in a hurry. The guards were scared stiff because they didn’t want to be captured by the Russians. We marched all day and a good part of the night. There were two things that happened on that march. One was, we were all on a road with ditches on the side, and an American plane came over low and somebody said, “Get in the ditch! Get in the ditch!,” and it started to happen, and the guards got into the ditch. But then somebody said, “Stay in the road! Stay in the road!” and so we stood on the road. The P-51, which has that big canopy, came over and he turned sideways and he waved at us. So we knew that they knew where we were. That was a big thrill. Later on we went through an SS Panzer division, these were all these Hitler youth. And boy, they stared at us like daggers, daggers, daggers. They would have loved to have killed us but we were able to march through. We saw one of the reasons why the Russians had such an easy time; the Germans had a great big tank there and they were moving it in position to use its gun with oxen. No fuel. So we ended up in a small village where there were houses only on both sides of the street. The houses all had a little barn so we were split up into smaller groups and slept there in the barn. One of the houses had a great big mound of potatoes. They let us take the potatoes out of the ground and cook them. So we spent most of the day and night cooking and eating potatoes, and then getting rid of the potato waste, of course. But that was the first time we had enough food. Then on the 26th of April they said we were going to march. They marched us west, and the first village we came to, just like the one we’d left, there were white flags hanging out of all the upper windows. Then I don’t know how many villages we went through, two or three, but we got to a road intersection and there was a jeep with American MP’s. They said, “Take their guns,” and the Luftwaffe guards were very happy to turn their guns over because they were captured by the Americans and not the Russians. And that was it. In that whole march we were never able to bathe. Washing was just with cold water you could kind of wash your face. I shaved but I don’t know how I did that now. But that shower we got when we got to the base where the MP’s were from, oh it was.... We got clean clothes. The next day we took all of our old clothes and burned them out in the yard to kill all of those lice that we had been carrying for weeks and weeks. We just enjoyed that fire.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?

John Lord:

I have the air medal from our six missions. I have the Purple Heart from a wound, and I have the ex-prisoner-of-war medal. Plus the victory medals of the ETO and the war.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Do you recall coming back to the U.S.?

John Lord:

When we were liberated, they took us into a German Army camp and there were nice stone buildings. Very good, like apartment buildings, for the German Army. There we got food, but we didn’t get a lot of food because they said if they let us just eat what we wanted we’d just all get sick. Mostly we got chicken and so we were still hungry. There was a group of Jewish ex-prisoners who had gotten the idea of taking from the garbage can all of the insides. They just threw all of the insides of the chickens away. Then they picked, it was April, and the onion-like weeds were coming up and they took those. They made the best fish. Oh my goodness; was that good. One guy even had cigars. I don’t know where he got them but anyway, we were very happy to have that meal with them and that they shared it with us. From there I was flown to where either the 101st or the 82nd airborne were near Rouen, France. They were the reserves for the whole Army there. Now that the war was over, they were there in their camps. We flew in a C-47 to the camp and for some reason there were all kinds of guys, but there was only one other prisoner on that plane. So we were going to have to stay there the night at and there was a tent we could sleep in. We found out, we got there after supper, but the chow line was still there. All they had in the chow line was white bread, jelly and butter and milk. So this other prisoner and I spent the whole night eating butter and jelly and bread and then throwing up and going and doing it all again.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Do you recall the day your service ended?

John Lord:

Well, when we were there they took us to the camps that were along the coast of the Port of Le Havre where they were bringing in soldiers that were going to replace the fighters. The guys that were just going to be the occupation troops. They would take prisoners home. I was there for a couple of weeks. Eisenhower came and said they would try to get us home a quickly as possible. I did get home in either late May or very early June. We came on a fast brand new Navy transport, the Admiral Bensen, I remember. It was perfectly clean and we had great food and we got even some money. We had a fast trip. We were still fighting the Japanese, so there could have been Japanese submarines, but this ship was fast enough that it could outrun anything. We landed in New York Harbor and went to a base there in New Jersey. They had told us that they had taken a poll among the soldiers of the Army of their favorite foods. That’s what we were to get at dinner, their favorite foods. I forget what the favorite foods were, probably steak - anyway, when I got there, here was this line a mile long. There were a lot of guys on that ship. I said, “I don’t want to wait for this,” so I got another guy and we went over to the PX and got hamburgers and malts, that was oh boy, ohhhhh so wonderful. I was sent home for sixty days, a rest and recuperation furlough, to report back to Miami Beach in sixty days. Well, before that sixty days were over, the bombs were dropped. So we didn’t have to go over and fight Japan, too. That was one of the things, they got us home early but they were going to send us out quickly because they needed more men for Japan. While I was there I went to Randall Field up near Madison, Wisconsin, while I was waiting to be discharged. There was nothing much to do there but they offered some jobs. I thought I wanted to do something, so I was the chief NCO of the commissary. You can imagine all of the kids that were doing the restocking and all of that. I had a funny experience when I was there. We got a great big box of grapes and the captain who ran the commissary said we had to sell at least seventeen pounds of those grapes to break even. Well, we didn’t. The guys that were doing the restocking stopped at the grapes often. So he said no more grapes, we can’t afford them.

Bobbie R. Glick:

After that did you work or go back to school?

John Lord:

On October 27th I was discharged. It was too late; I’d finished a year at night at Illinois Tech, and it was too late to get into Illinois Tech, but I finally found that I could go to North Park School and take a course. I took a course in chemistry. The funny thing was, the chemistry that I had in my third year at St. Phillip High School was a lot harder than the course in this college.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Was this on the GI Bill? Did you take advantage?

John Lord:

Oh, yes.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Did you continue with the friends that you had made in the Army? Did you have a relationship with any of them after?

John Lord:

I found that our navigator, this guy here (pointing to a photograph), and that’s me, he was a petroleum geologist in the Houston area. In my job I used to visit customers...

Bobbie R. Glick:

What was your job?

John Lord:

I’m a Chemical Engineer and I was in industrial water treatment. We serviced all of the big plants all over the country. Whenever I would go to Houston, I’d call him and he would arrange his schedule so we could get together. We became extremely close. He was a bachelor, and, of course, I was married and had kids and everything. He and I just hit it off beautifully. He died too soon, and the funny thing was after he died, for some reason I didn’t go to Houston as much anymore. I was glad that I had all that opportunity to spend time with him.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Do you belong to any veterans’ organizations?

John Lord:

I belong to the VFW but I haven’t really gotten involved in it here because I don’t know anybody.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Oh, so you moved here from where?

John Lord:

My first job I spent ten years here with the firm that I stayed with all along. Then they closed the Chicago office and I had to go to the main office in Philadelphia. So I lived there for like thirty-four years. When I married Katherine, she lived in my house for two years but she’s got bad knees and there were all kinds of stairs. It was a five-level house. So I sold that to the first person that made an offer. Bingo, I sold it. We moved to South Carolina and stayed there eight years and then she wanted to come back to her roots. She would come up here and visit her friends every once and a while from down there. One of my sons works for Delta Airlines so she could fly for free. She took advantage of that to visit her kids and everything. She’s got has six and I’ve got six.

Bobbie R. Glick:

Oh my. Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered? You have done a great job, I appreciate it.

John Lord:

There is one thing, I don’t know if they say 'death march’ in here. About two years ago, and I’m so sorry I didn’t keep it. In the VFW Magazine they had what they called the Death March. That was the march that I was on, but that was no Death March. I very strongly feel that it was trying to kind of knock down what happened in the Philippines which was really a Death March. Those guys went - to compare what happened to me - the prisoners...was bad. We were hungry for all that time and did all that marching. I marched far more than any infantry. I marched west, then east, then west again. I marched at least five hundred miles and that was more than any ground troops did. Anyway, I say this, I met a neighbor down the street was with the National Guard group that went over in September to the Philippines and was captured and was on the Death March and everything and he survived. I went down after he got home. He got home a little after I did and I told him what happened to me, and I waited for him to tell me what happened to him. I’m still waiting, I’m still waiting and I say this: Compared to what we as prisoners of the Germans had to stand for, they were in hell and we were in heaven, and that’s the comparison of what happened to the Japanese prisoners.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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