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Interview with Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr. [6/14/2010]

April Bates:

Good afternoon. Today is May 28, 2010. My name is April Bates. I'm conducting an oral history interview at the Court Reporting Institute of Dallas, in Dallas, Texas with Herb Sheaner. Will you please state your name for the record and your address?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Herb Sheaner. Address is 7151 Greenbrook Lane, Dallas, Texas, 75214.

April Bates:

Welcome, we're glad you came today.

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Oh, I'm glad you're with me, both of you and I enjoy being here.

April Bates:

Thank you. Okay, were you drafted?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

I was drafted. I was 18-year-old, less than a year out of high school. I was drafted out of Texas A and M College, which is a military school. Back then it was all military. And then in high school I had been in ROTC for four years. And my senior year I went company commander. And that was all infantry training. So when they drafted me and asked me well what service did you want to be in, artillery, this or that, I chose infantry.

April Bates:

And why did you choose infantry?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, that's the background I've been trained in at Texas A and M and school. I wouldn't choose that again.

April Bates:

You wouldn't? What would you choose if you had the choice again?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

I'm not certain. I'm not certain.

April Bates:

Do you remember your first few days in the service when you first joined up?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Yes, I do. I went to Mineral Wells, Texas. Stayed there just a short time, and the man that asked me what branch of service I wanted to be in? Then I said the army and the infantry. He said, "Well, have you ever heard of the ASTP training program?" I had not, and he signed me up for that.

April Bates:

And what's ASTP?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

That's army specialized training, and what it really did was get these boys that were 18, 19 that had been drafted in college the army sent them back to college. And they were going to be -- I went to the university of Alabama to be trained as an engineer and we were told we would rebuild Europe and be officers and be graduated, but that didn't last much more than a half a year.

April Bates:

And why is that?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

And by that time Congress said, well look we need more men fighting and we cant have these young men as many as we have. Oh they went to all kinds of universities, Syracuse all over the United States. Well they did away with the program and our group was sent up by train up to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where we joined the 106th infantry division. That was in April, 1944.

April Bates:

Now all of this was, I'm assuming, after boot camp?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Yeah. We all went to boot camp first, and that was for three months and it was tough as nails and I think we liked it. Because we got three good meals a day and we just come out of a depression. The army fed you real well. I know from my part I gained maybe 20 to 30 pounds. And then from a 119 I ended up 162 and grew about three inches. I loved every -- I like that. So they what's the question?

April Bates:

Do you remember who your drill instructor was? Is that what they called them?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

They sent me to Camp Wheeler, Georgia and then that's where I met all these other young boys who had been in the colleges and we're all trained just like we would be sent over seas as a replacement in the infantry. We were trained well. And the instructor, they probably used all the people; they used them in active divisions because our instructor didn't even have a rank. He was an old southern guy, maybe he was 40-years-old, possibly too old to serve. But he knew how to get us in line, march us, and I still -- Hickerson was his name from Mississippi. He had a drawl that I can still remember. It was entertaining really. They did have one corporal that helped, and then they had a lieutenant. We didn't have a full cadre; we were just in the basic training for infantry.

April Bates:

What war did you serve in?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, World War II, that was in 43'. When I was drafted and went to college in 43' and spring of 44' then went directly to an infantry division, the 106th infantry in Indiana, Camp Atterbury at Indianapolis.

April Bates:

And where did you go when you received your orders?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, from Indianapolis they had gotten rid of a lot of the infantry men and sent them to Europe or Italy as replacements. There was quite a few casualties in the infantry fighting the Germans and they needed replacements so they were left without a full division of men. Then we came along and we filled up the ranks. And then that summer they did the same thing again. Most of my ASTP friends were shipped out as replacements, but during that summer I had become an expert rifleman, they also designated me as a regimental scout and that was an MOS assignment that made me non-expendable. That is, I stayed right there with the division, with the cadre. The cadre is your sergeants, corporals, and everybody that's in command, you might say the officers. So we stayed that -- They sent them there in the summer and I stayed there with the division and then they filled them up with -- our officer, for instance, one of them they gave us was an artillery coast guard officer. And he had told me after the war that he -- he had never been trained in the infantry. Never the less, he was in charge of the platoon of men and he was going to do what he had to do. We had air force men they had too many air force people at that time training for pilots and they put them in the infantry. So, it was a bag of -- it's not the same division that trained back in South Carolina when they formed this 10th Division with the men. All of them had been shipped out as replacements except the few and I was one of the fortunate ones. I say fortunate because I'd rather stay with my division and I did. But in November it was time for us to go over seas. We went to Camp Miles Standish, given new uniforms, new clothing -- brand new. Then we -- one morning, three or four days we were went by train down to New York City. And the whole division, 15,000 men, went over on two ships. The Aquatania, which I went over on, the Aquatania. Two British ships, and the other ship was the Queen -- Well I used to know it. Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, one of those. Probably the Queen Mary, I don't know whether the Queen Elizabeth existed at that time. But these were passenger luxury ships at one time and they gutted them and put sleeping bunks, four or five high, hammocks. And that's where we slept. Most of us got sick going over. If you weren't sick you'd be up on the deck watching the guys gambling, throwing dice, and abiding there time. It took about five days. We went to Scotland, where we landed.

April Bates:

And where did you go from Scotland?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, immediately we were put on a train and went down near Oxford, England, in central part of England. And you learned then that you it sounds like English was a whole different type of English. "Wolf on the Rye" and all -- Names of streets they were so different from -- it was all different to us English. And I could really not understand the English they seem like they talk differently although they were English

April Bates:

Very proper?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

They were. We were kept pretty much isolated there for about a month. You might get a weekend pass to Oxford or to London. After about a month it was time to go to Europe, and we went down to get a boat and head for La Havre. La Havre, France, that's where we disembarked.

April Bates:

Did you see -- I guess when you went to La Havre, France?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

La Havre, it's on the coastline. But that was a pretty common destination for troops. It was really in the area near where D-day. Invasion of D-day, the troops. They fought D-day June the 6th, just below La Harve. And that's where we taken to La Harve, got in trucks, went to probably half way to Belgium. And disembarked in an open field, and stayed there a week, and then put up tents, and it was rained all week. It was muddy, we didn't do anything. Just stay in the tents, I suppose. Just waiting to go from there up to the front lines. And we didn't. Go after about a week they got the trucks out there for us. We trucked going into Belgium. Began to see snow up in the higher, in the tree, higher elevations to Belgium. That's a new experience. Well, one night got in the edge of Belgium where the snow was and after that, I remember that some of the older guys they'd get gasoline off of the trucks, get timber they could find, throw it on the fire and we'd keep warm. It was cold but, not terribly cold, it got terribly cold later. The next day we got back in our trucks, and we were really going to the front lines this time. And the snow became heavier and thicker on the ground. And then We got to one point where we had to stop. And a truck one at a time would go over the crest of a hill. And we learned that -- we were told that Germans were over there and they could see, and they would fire artillery on the trucks as they went over the hill. They could see them. Well we went one at a time, and sped up over the hill, and the Germans didn't fire one shot. We went to the front lines where the second division was -- had been there maybe, maybe a month or so. And they say it was quite, there was no activity. They even said, you send out a patrol, you will. A lot of new people. Over to these little towns that had the calvary, and you'll come back and every two hours and in between, could be four hours, and in between the Germans sent a patrol out. And would you believe it, they said, don't shoot at them, they're not going to shoot at you. It was a very quite place, and it was supposed to be -- they say it was a quite place. And it was. That's when the battle of the bulge started. And it wasn't very quite after that. And we were captured, as prisoners, and became prisoners of war.

April Bates:

That was going to be my next question?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

And my thinking, and my readings, which I had no idea what was going on, none of us did. But, years and years after the war, I read a lot about the battle of the bulge. And I'm not so sure, but the high command of the United States Army. Maybe even the President in Church Hill knew, too, that the Germans were planning an attack on the forces, allied forces. But none of us foot soldiers or the officers, or the kernels, or even the generals of the division knew that. It was supposed to be a quite front, and then when it became springtime, the army would start an offense. Where you go on into Germany. We weren't just inside Germany, we were in Germany at that time, we infantry men. My division, 106th infantry. But, my thinking is after I've done a lot of reading is. They put us in an area of 28 miles, this one division. And then you had to go two miles over to where the calvary unit was, and these little villages, and we were a hilly country so they were usually down in a hole. And that two miles didn't have a soldier to defend that at all. It sounds strange but, we were all spread out so thin, that wasn't the only place that had big gaps. So when the Germans attacked on the 16th of December. They surrounded us the first day, but we didn't know it. We did not know it. We were up stationary in the forest, but they went through -- they went through where the -- to our left through -- through Schonberg. And where those Calvary unit was stationed. And they -- all they had was just a few men one little old town in another pocket in another place and they were just overwhelmed when Germany had -- they had whole armies that came through there. That totaled about a quarter of a million men. And yet we're talking about just a few hundred. Why they didn't get further then they did the first day or two the Germans, they experienced the same thing Americans during that battle. They had such a -- everybody wanted to get on these few roads, everybody. The 5th army, 5th German panzer group with their tanks and they had three armies involved. And they were all trying to get in there, made a big mess. They did bumper to bumper, it was hard to go. But enough of them did go to surround us. We didn't know until that night, that we were surrounded. And we had gotten word by them that we were ordered back to Richmond headquarters to protect it. Because the Germans had infiltrated, and any minute if they wanted to, they could over run headquarters. But, as it turned out the Germans went looking for the small flies like that. They were trying to get to Antwerp, Belgium. And that might be a hundred miles away. So they were going as far as they could to get to Muse River though within a few days. That was about 60 miles back behind us, Muse River. And from there, they would turn up in -- and capture the sea port of Antwerp. Americans were -- had just captured that and were bringing in supplies that we needed for the spring offensive. But, we never did or had no orders or retreat. And, I mentioned, that the second division, that we relieved from 28 miles went about ten miles to our left and front lines, where the 99th division was, and they were inserted in a two mile front. The 99th had about four miles, and so they were put tn the two mile front. The rest of the people were in reserve. They had that that's vital they wanted to hold that ridge. To keep the Germans -- keep them going in one direction and not go back headed to turn in and go back to the North. And it wasn't very long -- before the Americans had the greatest artillery, during the whole war, in this one place. Up there it was the 22nd division. Was the -- engaging the Germans along with the 99th. They had the artillery behind them throwing down artillery to keep the Germans at bay aa best they could. Meanwhile, we infantry men, where we were, we never -- we never saw a tank. The only tank we saw were German tanks. The division we relieved took their tanks with them. And that left us with no tanks, and artillery was dispersed the first day they were overrun, and they went back to St. 5th division headquarters. Some of went as back as 40 miles. Before they got stopped, and said, hey, boys where are you going? But they also had a lot of Americans running back from the Germans. But, I'm going to have to tell you. It wasn't the 106th infantry division. I don't know -- you know there's a lot of people behind the lines that do service work, but actual they want to get it out of the way. So, when the big brass, the core commanders, Eisenhower, people like that ordered help for us, they couldn't get to us because the Americans were blocking it trying to get out of there. So, we never had orders to retrieve. So, we were there for five days. We left our food. So, we didn't have anything to eat except the D-bars. This was the battle of the bulge. And the 5th day. Most had been captured or surrendered by that time, in Richmond. But, there were 400 men left and I was one of them. The last of the 422nd regiment. The officers got together and ordered to surrender. The Cornell, commander of the regiment, asked for a boat. Because captions, other officers, were bleeding to death. They had no medical supplies. And these men were hungry. Had been -- and they were pinned down now. The Germans said they would fire artillery on us if we didn't surrender. And what good would it have been if we had been bunch a dead man and we had no artillery, no tanks, and no support. And average age of our division was 22-years-old. So there was a lot of 19,18 year old kids. We were trained well. But, later on during the war when Americana did go across Germany they went across in tanks, and the infantry was with them. They worked together. We didn't have -- we were just an isolated bunch. We were the largest surrender of troops during the war other than Corrugator and the Philippine, the Olympaton in the Philippines. And they were just like we were. The Japanese were over there and they had just run out of supplies and they had no choice.

April Bates:

When y'all surrendered what happened to you then?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

We dug our fox holes and they were -- oddly enough they still from anti-aircraft people there outside of Schomburg and the Germans didn't know they were there. They didn't evade their holes, they were right there. They were digging fox holes, and preparing for the last stand. And right across the Valley in the woods, you couldn't see him, but there was a guy hollering over there. It was a German, soldier, I guess he had been shot. So, the German officer put up a white flag and went met with the American officers and said -- each of us get our wounded. Go out and get them. Well, in the meantime, then the Germans started talking surrender. And they said they wouldn't just attack just use artillery. And as I read more soldiers died by artillery. They hit the trees and the shrapnel and the tree limbs and the pieces of the trees would rain down on the soldiers. On top even if they were in a fox hole. More died that way than by riffle bullets. I didn't know that. Well, they negotiated that we would go the next morning and December 21st. Leave our positions and walked down in the Valley where the opening between the trees. And that's what we did. We at -- at 8:00 the next morning -- about 8:00 we disassembled our riffles, tore them apart, dug into the snow, silt -- fur silt, and even left our helmets there. You see most these guys, prisoners, have helmets on when they were captured. There's a German tank here. But, We went down without helmet and had our wool hat that we -- heavy steal army helmet fits -- fits on top of it. It doesn't fit directly on your head you've got something between that heavy meddle helmet. And, it was an experience. You know 17 miles from where we were, everybody knows Malmandy where the Germans were going in one direction and then at this crossroads, American, they were support units for artillery. They were coming down from the North and they crossed each others path and the Americans were surrendered. They weren't -- you know they weren't front line troops they were back in the rear troops, support. Well, they put them out in a field at Malmandy. And then these tanks went by some of the trucks. Some of them got excited, the Germans, and they were fired and killed most of -- shot most of the Americans. Most of the prisoners of war. And here we were prisoners of war 17 miles away. And one of the Germans started to take man's wristwatch and the young Sergeant, that was a German, he forbid him. He told him get that give our American back his wristwatch. Don't touch him again. So that was a sign of kindness and we felt a lot better, with that guy in charge. But these guys in the tanks over there that fires at the -- they had come from the Russian front. And that was a mean battle, with the Russians, they didn't take prisoners a lot of times. They just kill each other. And that's probably some of the Russian, Germans fighting over there, they saw Americans out there. They just thought they had a free pass to just shoot them up. So, that was the first day of being captured.

April Bates:

How long were you prisoner of war? How did that work when y'all surrendered? Did y'all follow along? Or how does that work?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, yeah. We were told to go down into the valley, between the hills where the trees were on the hills, and side of the hills, so we walked in single file. When we got next to the German that were down in the valley standing there were their bird guns, but we stopped. And I told you about the incident where, I guess the German tried to get the watch out of the American and the commanding person was just a young sergeant, in his early 20, German. They didn't give it back to us. That's unusual because you take watches from all the dead and here he was taking it off while we were prisoners. From there we walked to the town of Schonberg. And by now and the last day or two we could hear a lot of tanks and we thought it was the American tanks because we were told that 7th army was going to attach Schonberg from one side and we infantry men would attack from the other side. But we were hearing were not American tanks it was darn German tanks that were going down right through the town we were going to join the attack. Well 7th army never got any where close to us. They just couldn't make -- they got to St. Fifth, it was the division headquarters about 15 -- 10-15 miles back behind us. And whether they tried I think they probably did, try to come down the road to Schomburg, but the Germans, by that time, already had their tanks on that road and they were just maybe just a mile or two from division headquarters at St. Fifth. So the high command, the generals, they said they'd send those tanks on down to the 420, not to us it was surrounded, but down South. And they did, and those people got away with the tanks support of those Americans, the 424th. There's three regiments in a division, and two of them were surrendered and surrounded and the fort, the people who were supposed to come out and get us went out and got this third regiment and they retreated back to regiment on headquarters and defended it for another week or two before the German pressure was so great they had to retreat. But we saw these very German tanks they put us on the side of the road and we and these Germans would look at us and one come by in trucks and they weren't -- in my mind they knew Americans were tough fighters. They pushed them out of Africa, out of Italy, and pushed them all the way from France into Germany itself and here we were -- they hadn't seen any armor or artillery. They were looking at just a group of infantry men that got -- unsupported, and they didn't look really happy. Because they knew they were in for a battle. And you think maybe they had make fun of us or say something. They just looked at us, you know, and we looked at them. Two armies, one going one way, and one the other. And got to see them first class -- you can put your camera on one of their vehicles came by and taking a picture of all the Americans. We had to wait awhile because there was a lot of tanks, German tanks and people riding trucks, Germans, before they passed. When they passed then we went on to -- into German. And we got put in boxcars. We maybe been 10-15 miles behind the lines by then. And after all these tanks passed we never did see any more German troops. They didn't have much support after that. They were just -- they were all engaged in -- where as the Americans you go back all kinds of units back there. In America there were all kinds of soldiers to that had gone overseas. But the Germans were running short of material and men. Well, they put us in boxcars to take us to the prison camp. We were in there probably five minutes before we could hear scraping wood, shattering. And what it was was British aircraft coming down shooting the machine guns at these strait -- at the settings boxcars and we were in them. That's -- my first Sargent that was sitting 1, 2, 3, about third place to my left, was shot through the chest and he was one of about 96 people who were hit. Then it turned around the plane and came back add made another swing. The first time it happened so fast we weren't -- didn't even have a chance to get, just say, Oh God. Couldn't pray. Second time we were really more scared. You started pulling in to yourself because you knew what was coming down. Bullets were being shot through these boxcars. About that time one of the young one boy that was very small. He broke out through the air vent of the boxcar. And opened up all the boxcars and we got out in front of the PW in the white snow. And the aircraft saw that and flew on South. And we walked. We wanted to walk. It had been cloudy and snowing and so bad here maybe a month. It just terrible weather there. They thought maybe -- maybe they knew that would happen but we young soldiers didn't know anything about scraping, you know. Well they put us in the boxcar, more likely to get us ship backed to the prison camp. But, it didn't work. It was, some plain got under the clouds, I guess. Scraped us. That's the first plane we saw, all during the battle. All the five days. We never saw any aircraft helping us, firing at all these tanks. But, anyway, they went after that -- the rail yard and we were victims of them. So, we walked about a hundred more miles to -- Koblenz. Koblenz, Germany. The airforce wasn't going over on the Rhine River. That's on the Rhine River. Once we got then they could push back in boxcars. We would go to a stalllog where the big prison camp. We did not know it then, but we ended up in boxcars that took about five days to a week, maybe take them a week. And we never got fed. Not one day. In the boxcar. But, we were going to East Germany to Stalog 4B. It's on the -- that's ?Milburg? was the name of the German town. I stayed there. From there they had shipped out a hundred privates at a time to go -- go somewhere in Germany to work. Either a cole mine -- usually repairing or putting back rail -- rails that had been bombed or destroyed and they did that pretty easily -- done easily, but quickly. Trains could be on the move. The Americans, the slave help. Prisoners were doing that. We were the second group to leave that stallog. And we went to -- we were put in the cars and ended up in little -- I don't know where we ended up. But it was across the rail -- when we got off there was a house, where we went into that had some bunkbed and that's where the hundred of us stayed. And there was sugar beat factory. We knew that it was a factory of some kind and it ended up to be a sugar beat factory and we thought we would be working there. It was out in the farm country. Wasn't in any town. We stayed in this house for two weeks. And the only food we got was a sugar beet shreds. You know, they'd cut up or smash sugar beets. I don't know where they'd get the juices out or whatever. But the no good stuff is the sheds. And they'd put it in paper sacks and bring us some, the guards. But not enough. People working in that sugar beet factories were slave help. And they would pass along a trail between us, our backyard, a big high fence. They go to work at daylight and come back at dark. But after two or three days we learned to go out there and put our head through the barbed wire fence. And so we turned to be American soldiers, good looking, harden boys, losing weight. We turned out to beggars. So we were begging for food. And these -- they didn't have much themselves, but they'd bring back from the work the sugar beet shreds, and put it in our palm of our hand and we'd go inside and eat sugar beet shreds. One of the German guards it was very nice, old man. He didn't like Hitler. He didn't like Roosevelt. Maybe people were tiring of Hitler, you know. He brought on a terrible war, and a lot of people. You know what happened to the Jews. Well, you know they -- I felt like we were in about the same category. We just weren't put be in -- into the furnaces. We just starving to death, and you look just about like those Jewish pictures there. Just bone and skeletons, we were. Well, from that place two weeks we ended up at Merseburg and they put us in a beer hall and we found out that we were gonna be issued -- well they gave us a shovel -- a spade, and then they took us out into a creek where they had a lot of little trees and we had to cut down limbs. Make a handle for our spade. Sometimes that handle would be crocked and we were going to use that to dig in the farmland. Dig the creeks that were mud gotten into the creeks and they needed to be cleaned out and made the creeks wider and deeper. The Germans command would be wider and deeper. Well, we had no breakfast at that place, no lunch. It must have been 10, 15 degrees or lower. Sometimes a guard would build a fire while we were working and they would give you 30 minutes off for lunch, at this time. And if we found any potatoes while we were out walking, we'd throw them in that fire that the German guard had built and would harden the potato and get it out with the stick and it was good eating, you know. It was good eating But the problem was, our group of a hundred, there were three or four or five men that couldn't take it really and were general older men. And they were, they weren't the young college boys type. And I think they were the ones that were stealing at night. And what they would steal would be -- by that time we were getting some red cross food parcels. Now that saved our lives, because it was full of powdered milk. We would eat about a spoon full we never made milk out of it. We had M and Ms. We had spam. Cookie, crackers. Anything that an American could put in a box about 15 inches long and ten inches wide and eight inches in depth. It was just crammed full of good food. We couldn't eat it all at one time, of course, because we had to save it. We'd get one between two men every two weeks. But this wasn't until March, and by that time we -- we wouldn't get any food at all from a lot of days. When we did we got -- at the end of work get a cup of soup and slice of German brown bread. They said it was made of sawdust. And I guess it was and we ate it all. We really ate it all.

April Bates:

How long were you a prisoner of war?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, that -- I was a prisoner until I had made a third escape. And I was picked up by the Americans on May -- May the 21st.

April Bates:

A third escape?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, the third one. Now, the first one was -- all right, the first one was -- we had always walk out of this beer hall early in the morning and the guards would take us different places to dig and make different. Maybe out that way or over that was South. Well we went -- this one time, we were across digging a little -- in a creek, just across from a very small little village. And their air raid sirens started and -- started. And the Germans were deadly afraid of air raids. I mean we had seen a lot of bombing in these towns, and rubble as prisoners of war. But we had never been in a bombing. It didn't scare us. We didn't know what it was. You'd didn't think I'd hit us -- Anyway, but Germans were very scared. So our guards rushed us to get in line, get over on that creek, they led the way, and went over to this little village. And I was down at the end working. And by the time I got in line, and got -- got following all the other Americans I was near the end. Well I got to this village I just turned off. Because I heard that you could buy your way out of Germany with cigarettes, and I had a lot of them under my shirt. I didn't smoke. I saved them, and I knocked -- went to a German house and knocked on the door and I put out a my pack of Camel cigarettes and,(in German)"bra cigarette for bread", saying to the German lady. "Yah" she say, and she left and came back with a big brown loaf of bread and boy, ya know, we hadn't had -- this is real eating here. She got my cigarettes, and I took the bread, put in under my shirt. At A and M you don't do that. Freshman don't eat dessert down there. And as a freshman at A and M I could put the whole pie underneath my shirt and then go to some dorm where I wasn't living, nobody would know me and I'd sit in the stairway and eat. Well, that's what I did as a prisoner or put the whole pie here or potatoes if I found any. If they're gonna search you they're gonna search your pockets. And they might miss it and they did miss it too. Well, I got back and I said, I'll get in line as the Germans -- I mean Americans came back from their rage shelter and then I thought, well, no, I think I better go on back to where I was working and just to squat down and help shovel, and just -- take your chances -- Americans would come back -- field tripped back into the creek and nobody would ever even know I wasn't with them anyway. That happened. But nearly had a threaten a guy that was going to take my bread. I'd hid it, in case the Germans did see me I didn't want them to find the bread so I hid it -- I hid it in the weeds. And this one guy, that was one of the five, I think, was stealing from one of the prisoners, but he left his shovel and was walking slowly over to -- looking at the weeds about where I -- and man I tell, I wasn't about to give up that bread to this guy. I stepped out and ran. I challenged him, just like I had a rifle and would trained in the infantries at ?Banet? and practice and I -- I was really mad -- I mean really desperate -- you don't -- desperate -- I was starved to death. Well, he stopped and went back and I got to keep my bread. The other escape was when we -- I did -- got another erade and we went to barn. And they left us in the barn, all hundred of us, and we had that side door was wide open out in the back. We went out into -- outside and there sure enough there was some potato mounds. They harvest their potatoes and cover over them with dirt in the winter and just like putting them -- keeping them from rotting and so forth. But, we dropped down on our knees and started getting potatoes. And about at that time -- you see we were loose. We could go and we could just keep going anywhere we want to in Germany then. But there really wasn't anywhere to go and we didn't know which way to go and we were to far into Germany -- we surely somebody would turn us in. We couldn't keep finding good people that would barter with us. We might run across soldiers or SS troops. So we just got our stuff and went back with the other prisoners. Well we did that this time. This time I guess the farmer -- someone discovered his potatoes had been stolen. So they -- the guy who was a civilian and he must have been a real Nazi. He was -- oh he was mean, all in black. I mean he just raise-in-cane. He didn't like it. He that had two old men that were German guards and they probably 70-years-old -- the searchers. Well, they went down the line, the two old men, and -- I'd given all my potatoes to my buddy. Because I told him I got the bread before and you take a chance. Your going to do it and maybe I'll find some more. So, he had -- he didn't find money. He was out there digging for potatoes too. I don't think he found any and I -- I found -- I got my finger down in that and found some. Well, these guards didn't find anybody with potatoes, but the old Nazi man. He came out there on the bicycle every day to oversee us. He raised his cane up and pushed aside the guards, and starts searching people himself. And he found about a dozen men with potatoes, and he got next to my buddy, Frank. I guess Frank did just like I told him to put it in his shirt -- and see we were so skinny that probably couldn't feed them anyway. We had our army jacket on, we had the overcoat on and -- but he had filled the pockets and wasn't anything there. So, they didn't -- didn't get Frank, but the other guys got beat with this cane he beat them. Didn't hurt them because, you know, they had the wool hat on. In the meantime, Americans aircraft would come along and dropped lethals and they said they were in ?Ifert? Well, good night and they had a map of Germany that was half way between where we were and the Ryan river and I could see, My golly they are really moving, they are really moving. And we might get liberated here. We are pretty happy about that. Then we got on another -- a week later another map and they were closer, half as close again. Well, it wasn't probably a few days after that we were out digging and we'd heard -- and it was ironic. One young guy -- I never had laughed, but he was being chased around the bomb. We were also filling bomb craters once in a while stead of creeks. And it's hard to fill a bomb crater, it's so deep. We never didn't like that. We weren't fast workers, slow. But, this old guy reminded me of my grandfather. You know, old dutch guy, and he was -- he was chasing this young guy around and he couldn't catch him. Because he was ?high boat? he must have been 80 years old maybe. But he had his cane up and I was laughing and he looked over and saw me laughing and he turned -- started coming to me and then I started, Hey, I didn't do that -- I hadn't done anything. I don't think -- I dont know whether he was playing or whether he was really serious. But about that time a boy came just huffing and puffing come up through the field on a bicycle. At the same time we started hearing thunder, but there was a clear blue sky. And that thunder had to be the American artillery that and close to us. And that's what the -- told the old German. And you temple temple he got away, he got us away from bomb shell, bomb hold. And marched us rapidly, just back to the beer hall where we had our backpack. And we got -- got that and immediately left. We were going away from the Americans, and that wasn't a happy feeling but that's. We -- we went in the direction of Lipsic And we saw the sign Lipsic. See we didn't know it at that time but I read at that time the Americans had gone South and around the other side of Lipsic. Instead of going strait through us into Lipsic they were -- they were South and hitting it from the other side and they were in there fighting the Germans and here we were going to Lipsic. Well, I guess the Germans knew that when they got there they were told probably that this fighting going there so they turned up went to another town called Island Berg and it was on the river. We crossed over Island Berg and -- as we were cross just about at the bridge at Island Berg, crossing this river, it's a big large river, big one. Thones -- a crowd of people were standing on a busy sidewalks and woman were well dressed, but they looked like they were sympathetically looking at us. Looked like a bunch of mummy's, I guess walking. They didn't throw eggs or anything, they were really -- this town had never been bombed, you know. It was a little town back out in the -- out in the country side and on the sidewalk there's a huge German officer and he hollered out. It won't be long now, boys. It won't be long now. And boy that gave us a lot of encouragement. He was telling us the war was gonna end pretty soon and the Americans would be here. You're gonna get saved. It won't be long now, boys. Not one of us answered, you know. I don't even know if we even looked at him. You know, we -- we were just too done, done well. Just didn't have any energy. Well, they marched us down into the woods, I mean several, I don't know how far down, but it came to a wooden area where they had a truck trail into that area and it we came up to a fence area, and they put us in that fenced area, and it was full of civilians. Probably Polish's, and Yugoslavians, and. Czechoslovakians, civilians. And maybe they were , I don't know what they were, Germany anyway they put and had them there. They put us in there and the civilians were -- had cut the grass that much of the below the ground surface, an inch or two, and rolled it up and had little, like tepees and put their grass, that's where they would sleep like an Indian would do. And they were cooking over little fires and their oplong utensils. Whatever they're cooking, soup or something. Well, we got put in there and we didn't have any food to cook. And immediately I saw -- immediately we got in there and there was a tent over to the right. And I thought it started raining. And I told Frank, Let's go over there to that tent, get out of the rain. And we did. And I had set, took my backpack which had a lot of cigarettes in there, besides the ones I had under my shirt. And I still had saved some food from red cross partial and I put it down behind me and I took my over coat off and I looked back and the darn pack was gone. Somebody stole it. All -- all these civilians were laying there and no one moving, I couldn't see my pack. It was -- and I told Frank, we're getting out of here, we're getting out of here now. But I had seen when I went into here the civilians walking up to the guard at the gate and asking to get out to get fire wood out of the woods and bring it back and they would cook it for evening meal. Well, I'm not sure if they knew whether I was a soldier or a guard. We were so dirty. That was the same clothes we had, months ago and back at the bulge. They were all dirty and I went up to the German guard and asked them for food and asked them -- motioning like I want to get some firewood and come back and cook. Well, he let us out. Well, we kept going. Frank and I kept going. That night -- that evening went to -- that's not my third escape. That evening we were desperately hungry and I said, let's try, I'm going to do this again. Go to a German house in a little village and give them a pack of cigarettes for some food. And I knocked on the door and the two, momma and daughter came to the door and startled them. And I guess they didn't know who we were, but maybe prisoners of war, I don't know. But they called the man -- husband to the door and they wouldn't take my cigarettes and they wouldn't barter give me no food. We went inside and we showed pictures of our mothers and trying to let them know we were good kids in America. You know, your good, and we're good, we're not gonna hurt any -- we're good people. Well, meanwhile, the dad, I guess, was back there calling the Mayor. And about the night we got talking they still didn't give us anything. So, the dad came out and he's going to take us down to the Mayor. We followed down to the Mayor and it wasn't to far. Each little village over in East Germany is just little village here and there and everywhere, not big like Dallas you know just a little few houses. But there were two story building there that was -- a hotel. And the Mayor was standing in front it waiting for us. We could see this man standing there. We came down and they talked German and about that time a soldier came out of the building, hotel, and he was a first Sargent. About a foot taller than both Frank and I. He looked down -- I had traded when I went across some British prisoners of war and from that had jumped in over in Belgium and failed jump. Well, I traded for their jump jacket and I thought that was something, you know, come down to my knees, and big pockets. Now, I gave him some pack of cigarettes for his jump jacket. Well the big German guard -- big German Sargent looked down at me and I ask -- British is what he said. I said next American, but that was a British apparel I had on. And then he and the the Mayor started talking and then the guard -- the big German soldier left then the Mayor turned to us and said that he said that it was full of soldiers and there was no room for you in the hotel. So come on with me and -- eventually, they were gonna just put Frank and I up in the hotel. You know, they -- I think these guys were sent in at the end of the war and they were trying to get away from it. They weren't interesting in going up to Berlin where a big, big battle with the Russians were going on, so they -- but who knew they could have shot me right there. You don't know who you run across. Well, the Mayor took us down to a walled area and inside was some slave help that lived in a barn and big haystack and he said you can sleep in the hay. And that's what we did. At midnight though big doors opened up some tanks came in, they were German tanks, and little kids with forces hasn't even changed. Must have been driving these tanks. And one guy with a big bull horn, big voice, -- the commander. Well, they took hay right off of us -- in front of us. But, they couldn't see us because it was pitch dark. We could see them. They were running around with little candles or lights. And just about daylight when my buddy said, what are you going to do? And then I woke up enough to say, well we better get out of here. We don't want to be seen with these young kids. They were -- could be dangerous. And we walked back out -- I had seen a big barn before we got to this place down the way that was sitting up on a hill. At that time I thought, boy that would be a good place to just stay in that barn and hide until the Americans came. And that's what we did. Went back to that barn. And -- he -- slave helped at fed us at night. Great big guy, looked like Frankenstein was the first one I saw in that barn and he was milking cows. And I didn't know whether he was friendly or what. He didn't say nothing, but I guess he was friendly because he left us a pale of milk every day that we could drink. And then at night we were up in the loft and -- he must of told some -- one of his slave help friends, obviously he was a slave help. And they brought us food at night. And then about the third or fourth day he came in hollering that the Americans patrol had come down the road down there about a mile or two away. He could see it, we were on the hill. Temple come on jump, jump, jump, rush rush rush they wanted -- he couldn't speak English, you know. We could understand each other though. But we got outside of the barn and went down to that road. And waited for the Americans to come back. That's what we thought would happen and across the road from us were two boys about 14 and 15 that had Italian uniforms on. And I guess they wanted to go back to Italy and the war was about over. There were still shooting going on, but we were in the no man, we were out in the pocket. And the Russians over here 15 miles, and American over here about 15 miles away. Americans were sending out patrols. Russians weren't. They were just stopped at the Ale River. And they -- sure enough here come American patrol coming back. We had about five jeeps. Well, we just stood there and thought they'd know -- they's recognize us, we're Americans, you know. First jeep just sped right by. Second jeep sped by. Third jeep -- and finally we hollering, hey, hey, we're Americans. Then that last jeep went by and slowed down, about a football field away, and then it turned around and came back. And the Sargent told the captain. Said captain, I told you they were Americans. He must of thought we were slave help, because we were dirty and you know, we looked pretty bad. And he said hop in. Frank and I got in the back of the jeep, and -- old Jeep copper stone and I thought my bones would parish my skin because I didn't have any fat in my seat. But I made it and I was happy. Boy, was I ever happy. We were going home. And I was going to Dallas. He was going to Pittsburgh. And I didn't get put in the hospital until I walked around that little town where the Jeep had taken us. And I walked into -- told somebody I had dysentery. For, you know, long as I could remember then. Next thing I know they pulled up an ambulance and took me in it and took me to a General Hospital. I stayed there for about a week, then they flew to England for about a month, and then they flew me down to -- eventually they flew me down to the United States. And I got discharged from the hospital in McKinney, Texas. At an army hospital, temporary. And that was a great day. Of course, a lot of interesting -- a few interesting things when we were in this town after we got liberated. We were walking down through a medical army -- walking down to be fed. They were going to feed us. And a coronal spotted us. And he walked right up to me face-to-face and I had to stop. Soldier, he says. Where's your helmet? Good god a helmet? I haven't had since I gave it up to the battle of the bulge. And I stuttered a while and I told him we were -- well that's what they had told us some guys there, we were painted red. Meant that we were prisoners of war. And he turned and walked way. But when he got close to us I'm sure he saw how dirty and all, he had plenty of reasons to get on us for looking like a couple of tramps. Well, I thought that was a fun. And army treated me great. The army hospital. Boy did they ever. They fed me and I got back to Dallas -- I mean here in Texas. I got steaks every day. I got in line and was special nothing but steaks and everybody else got the regular food. And I'd come into Dallas on three-day pass I go to a restaurant, I'd order two steaks. Well, I learned if I did that, they only bring me two steaks. But I wanted two servings of all the sides that go with the steak, and all the drinks. So, I asked, I said, I got a buddy that's coming in give him the same thing. I want this steak and they'd bring a whole order over here. Well I'd eat all mine and I move over and eat all his. I never could get filled up, and finally I did. Glad to be discharged in December. And, you know, went back to college. Went enrolled back in January. There's a lot of incidents that happened but that's the main thing. That gives you a pretty good idea of what prisoners of war would do. Through no charts of our own, you know, it's just the way we were put on front line. Happened to be a big, big battle. We were you might say sacrificed. You see, Hitler had told the ambassador of Japan, that he was gonna to have a -- gonna come up with an offence of a Western front. For every soldier they had on the Western front where we were they had 4 or 5 more fighting the Russians. Well, Americans had already broken that the Japanese code -- messages would get them so they were able to make a victory out of the Midway Island. Otherwise, you know, Japanese were about to take that island. Americans knew where they were and how many they had and they defeated the -- in that pacific -- the American Navy sunk some of there carriers and won that battle at Midway. So, I'm believing if they could intercept that code probable they could from the code from the ambassador that's advising Japanese Hitler's. He might and said Hitler is going to have a big encounter attack against the Americans over in the west in the winter. And sure enough he did. He went right where he went into France in 1940 and -- but this time, Americans I think were ready for him. They had a lot of men. Not right on the front lines. Or not even right behind him because we got no support. But they went -- about 50 miles, Germans did. And that was it. The -- that was the last really that's the last battle -- real battles that were Germans were to put up. So, the Americans were able to go from there all the way into Czechoslovakia. Make up 30-mile a day a lot of types with their tanks, cars. And that seemed -- that was a weak spot. So that's where the battle of the bulge started right in that week area. But, I think we were prepared in the end.

April Bates:

Did you stay in contact with Frank after y'all were discharged?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, I'm fixing to call him this week. I lost contact with him for years and years and years and just more recently I found out through his son where he is. He's in Ohio. And I'm going back to my infantry division reunion in September in Minneapolis. I'm going to see if he will join us. If not I'll drive by his place in Ohio visit with him, either going or coming. It's time for us to get to see each year again.

April Bates:

It's been a long time?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Yeah, it has -- and I'm sure he was like me for 30, 40 years after the war. Your no -- your no -- you want to forget about, you know. You don't have -- I didn't want to go to any infantry division reunion. But now, you know, we're all talking about it now. We know a lot more about it. We're not like guilty like we thought we were for years and years, you know being prisoners of war. We either going to be dead or we're going to be prisoners of war. We had families back here and they got the message. Missing in action. They didn't know until nearly -- nearly the end of the war that I had become a prisoner. Not one of the guys that was frozen in the battle of the bulge. When it started thawing out they found a lot of bodies both German and Americans that were covered up in the snow that were killed back in December. So, it was nasty winter up there. We're glad -- we're glad to be back. All of us.

April Bates:

How did your experience affect the rest of your life?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

I -- I think I came back -- pretty much like when I was a kid. I didn't give anybody any trouble. And not until these later years do I -- I realize what I've gone through and I don't -- I don't really take anything off from anybody. I think when I came back though -- I just felt like a kid. But, I've also learned, you know, to be as I got older, to be more patient more forgiving. Not be so -- I think when I first came back I'd be -- when things didn't go right, I said I'm going up to -- in the army you'd go one place, Alabama. I've never been out of the Texas. You'd go to Alabama, you'd go to Indiana. I just still had a feeling, I just was going to be going somewhere doing something, you know, if I didn't like the way things were going. But -- it -- it turned out good after established insurance business in '52. Went to Texas got a degree. Went to Michigan to get a master's degree because the kids in ASTP in Alabama were all from up there. They all they have good school up there. Well, I tell you what they make you study up there. They weren't quite like. So, I run a business for myself and I've been 58 years and it's well at good enough and I can go to Europe, vacations. Well go back to where I was captured and find that. Go back to where I was at prisoner at war with my son and we'd been had, three children, and a wife. Been active in the that. I was President of the Texas Tech Dad's Society and things like that. Campaign chairman for the Dallas YMCA and I wouldn't like any of that in my early life. I was at least 40-years-old by that time. Before I really had the confidence, I guess, to do so those things.

April Bates:

Do you have grand kids?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

I have three. The other two are adopted from Russia. I mean one blood grand kid, the other two my daughter and son-in-law adopted. Two Russian babes. But we had one for a long time until they made an adoption.

April Bates:

Thank you so much for being here today and doing this and telling us your story.

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, thank you for listening to me.

April Bates:

Is there anything you want to say that -- which I didn't hardly have to ask you any questions and was -- I really enjoyed listening to you talk about -- but you just answered every question and -- I'm very glad we were able to put this on record. But, is there anything you want to say?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, I know I -- this year I was a speaker at Lakewood United Methodist Church. So, it was very easy to tell about my experiences at prisoner of war. And the point was that Jesus had the parable about people passing up the fellow that had been robbed and beaten. And here someone stops goes over and tries helps him. And I was telling the congregation experiences at prisoner at war and they were probable 5 to 10 times more people that were good good samaritans to me as a prisoner then they were that were bad guys. Starting with the German that refused to take American watches or search and then Christmas Day and a woman came out and had a box full of cookies. And gave each prisoner a war a cookie. And you know that's good samaritan, that was nice. And then the woman that trade -- gave me the loaf of bread for the pack cigarettes. She couldn't turn me, you know. But she gave me food. And then this officer that came down, he didn't say we'll go in the back of the building with these guys and I'll send somebody down and shoot them, you know. He just said, no room here, let him go down in a hay stake. And the then the German officer told us, lift our spirits up said, it wont be long now, boys. It wont be long now. There were a lot of those little things that German civilians and just people -- people they were people would pick you up and take you and put you in a furnace like they would do the Jews, you know. And other people were entirety different. Well, you cant always say that all the Germans were Nazis and SS. I didn't meet any of those I guess that one guy that came out there in his black in uniform.

April Bates:

I'm sorry. What does SS stand for? What does that mean when you're saying that?

Herb Michael Sheaner, Jr.:

Well, I don't know. It's for some kind of special troop and they had an emblem "SS" and they were the mean guys. The mean -- supposed to be the mean guys. Well, America had -- America didn't, you know, have cars coming out of the assembly line, didn't have sugar, they had rationing. But they still had cars you could drive, they'd ration the gasoline. But over in Germany I never saw a civilian car. And I walked across a lot of Germany, you know, and they would really depleted America. And everybody supported the war, you know, how about that. There was a snake attack that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and that just united everybody. And Hitler by that time already taken over the old countries. He was going wild in Europe and that wasn't very nice.

April Bates:

Thank you. Thank you.

 
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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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