VIIA Main Gate #1 and Watchtower
Liberation of Stalag VIIA
Editors Note: This article was originally published in the April 2005 issue U.S. Legacies Magazine. However, since the author of this story Milton J. Long passed away February 5, 2009, we are republishing this article in his honer and memory.
I had a personal interest in the Liberation of Stalag VIIA, both times. I had a lot of contact with the former POW's as a member of Service Company 25th Tank BN. 14th Armored Division.
The date of the first Liberation of Stalag VIIA was April 29, 1945, and the former POW's will never forget it.
Each tank battalion had four companies of tanks and one service company. My company was the service company for the 25th Tank Battalion. We had the job of servicing all the vehicles and to supply the entire unit with gas, ammo and water. My job was to take the loaded trucks up to where the tanks were located and resupply them with ammo and gas.
I would then take the empty trucks back to the supply points in the read and reload them with gas and ammo and then return to the unit. This was a daily function. Most resupply was done at night so the enemy wouldn't try to stop us.
The vehicles all had names. A company names started with "A" and B companies names started with "B", etc. Service companies vehicles names started with "S." Thus the name of my jeep became "Some Junk." A name it got from the fact that the day I received it, was a day when it didn't want to run. So they towed it back to our maintenance section and corrected the problem. I was upset over the fact that it didn't want to run, so I gave it the name "Some Junk." This became a code word in the tank companies when they needed to be resupplied. They would radio back that they would need "Some Junk." Tonight. The Germans never did figure this out.
This story starts in the Nurnburg area, about April 20th, 1945. My diary isn't exact on this date as we were moving very fast. I remember my service company was providing roving patrols and outpost guard duty, which wasn't any fun. We had two men badly wounded and I almost got blown up by shelling. I had 5 flat tires on my jeep as a result of the fighting.
A Service company was not used for patrols unless there was a special situation requiring it. The reason we were doing this was that they had pulled out our tanks and left a hole in the lines where the enemy could get through if they learned about it. So we placed trucks where the tanks had been and tried to make them look like tanks. Lucky for us, the enemy never learned what we had done.
While on a billeting party, I parked my jeep in front of a building that I wanted to check out to see if it was suitable for the company command post, (CP).
When I came out, I was surprised to find two Germans looking over my jeep. They were just as surprised to see me and for a moment it was a stalemate. I didn't like coming face to face with armed enemy soldiers but since I had been trained to react, that is what I did. I pulled my Tommy Gun up at waist height, took it off of safe and stood my ground. The enemy soldiers had their rifles hung over their shoulders and it did not appear that they were ready to fight.
I put my finger on the trigger and waited. The Germans said something to each other that I couldn't understand. They started to take their rifles off their shoulders and I thought, "This was it." The one German could speak English and he said, "You in 14th Panzer Division?"
To that, I replied, "Yes."
"Do you always feed German Prisoners before they are locked up?" the German asked.
I replied, "We try to feed them if it is possible." The German said, "We surrender, the war is over." With that comment, they took off their steel helmets and tossed them to the ground. This was always a signal to us that they didn't want to fight anymore. They unloaded their rifles and leaned them against the jeep. They put their hands behind their head.
PFC. Milton J. Long, a jeep driver with service company 25th, is pictured with two German Soldiers that he captured. They are aitting on the hood of his jeep, which he named "Some Junk."
I was surprised but I ordered them to empty their pockets onto the hood of the jeep, which they did. I put a bandage on the arm of one of the soldiers because he had been wounded. Then I drove them back to the company where they received a hot meal prior to the time the MP'S picked them up.
The problem was that the MP'S would pick them up at about 1730 hours (5:30 PM) and by the time they were processed and arrived at the POW compound, it was late and they wouldn't get fed until the next morning. So, the 14th Division had a policy that if the enemy soldier would surrender without a fight, we would feed them prior to their being taken to the rear. This saved a lot of lives. Sometimes our men played games with them, however, not wanting to guard the Germans, they at times would not let them surrender until late in the day. When the Germans would wave a white flag, there were times that our troops would shoot off the staff that held the flag.
April 23rd, we were transferred to Patton's 3rd Army and we met him on the road. He didn't like the sand bags on our tanks and ordered them removed, which made the tankers unhappy.
My part in the Liberation of VIIA started on the 27th of April. We were sent back to the Quartermaster to draw rations to feed the POW's. We unloaded several trucks and filled them with 10 in 1 rations. These were better than C or K rations. Designed for use by tankers, they contained two meals for five (5) men (tank crew). We also picked up some white bread that was supposed to be for a general officers mess.
Back at Moosburg, we were in the city and not sure if we would get to the camp that day. T/4 Charles Brix and I found out that the twin church steeples could be seen from the camp.
We decided to replace a German flag on one of the steeples with an American flag. Keep in mind the flag pole had been placed there by the Germans and to make the job rough, they had cut the rope off and tied it to the pole about 10 feet from the bottom. Well, I didn't want to die by falling off the steeple so Brix said he would shinny up the pole and do the job. Keep in mind he was about half drunk from drinking Schnapps.
Well, I had a flag that my folks had sent me to put up in Berlin, so Brix took the flag and worked his way up the pole. He lowered the Nazi flag and replaced it with the American flag and slid back down the pole. He asked me how that looked, and I told him it looked ok except it was upside down. He said a few words and back up the pole he went. He corrected the error and slid back down.
Exuberant Ex-Kriegies join the 14th Atmored Liberators on the tank to crash through the front gate on April 29, 1945. The Krigies, next to the soldier is A.P. Clark, R.M. Stillman, and E.F. Schupp. In the back row 2nd from left is PFC Milton Long. This is the proudest day of WWII for the men of the 14th armored division and General George S. Patton, Jr.
He asked me if I heard the bees while he was up on the pole, and I said that I didn't think there were any bees around. About that time a bullet hit the pole and tore a hole in the blue area of the flag. We both knew the bees he had heard were Germans shooting at him. We made record time getting down out of the steeple, I want you to know, and Brix was stone sober.
As a note about the flag, I mentioned this at our reunion a few years back and wouldn't you know I received a package in the mail that contained that flag. The soldier that ended up taking it down sent it to me. It is now a part of my Moosburg display.
Back at the camp I was told that they saw the flag and a dry eye was hard to be found. A cheer had gone up when the POW's saw the flag.
On Liberation Day, the tank that went thru the gate was swarmed over by the POW's. When I got inside the compound I found the former POW's were hungry for news from back home. I received copies of the Wooster Daily Record, my hometown in Ohio, and they came through in bundles. I had several bundles that I had not read so I gave them to the POW's.
One copy ended up in a tent and the soldier reading it said to his buddy, "You're from Ohio, I have an Ohio paper for you to read. "
This soldier was Harold Mahler. He looked at the paper and started to cry. He looked at the address stamped on the paper and said, "That is my hometown and the fellow that it was sent to was a friend of mine. My girlfriend Midge Blough and I double dated with his Milton's sister Jean Long and her boyfriend Ohmer Calhoun. What do you think the chances are that you would get a hometown paper on Liberation Day in Germany?"
VIIA POW'S waiting to depart at Landshute Air Base
As a passing note, Harold Mauler returned home and went to the Defense Plant where my dad worked and told him the story of the Wooster Daily Record he had received on Liberation Day.
Some didn't realize that General Patton wasn't there on the 29th of April and that's ok. We in the 14th Armored know the truth about this. Patton was down in Bavaria looking for the Nazi Redoubt on Ike's orders and thus he was not present for the Liberation of VIIA. He told our general not to wait for his return to liberate the POW compound. His fear was that the Nazi guards might kill the POW's as Hitler had ordered.
He arrived at Moosburg on April 30th, and was unhappy that he wasn't present for the Liberation. So he had us pull the gate back up and they got some Germans to stand outside the gate with empty rifles, and he proceeded to liberate the POW compound again. The signal corp. photographers took the pictures on May 1st and spliced the film on to the one they took on the 29th so it looked like Patton was present on Liberation Day. The POW's were so happy to see the General that it didn't matter to them that they were liberated again. General Patton took a tour of VIIA and the conditions under which they had lived. There were 110,000 happy former POW's that day.
The trucks that I had with me that were loaded with food were parked just outside the compound. We were told not to give the POW's any rations because it might make them sick. Well I told a captain that I was going to chow and asked him if he would guard the trucks that were loaded with rations. He agreed to do his best. When I came back, the captain and the rations were gone.
VIIA POW'S departing from Landshute Air Base
We raised several flags that day and you could see the flags of a lot of nations flying. The one I had put up on the 29th, on the gate, one guard tower was replaced by a much larger one provided by General Patton.
Among the former POW's we met that day were the ones Patton had lost on his failed trip to Hammelburg. Task Force Braum left the American lines on March 26th, to liberate the POW camp at Hammelburg, with 53 vehicles and 294 men. All the vehicles were destroyed or captured. All the men were either killed or captured. In the Liberation try, LTC John Waters, Patton's son-in-law, was wounded. Patton always said he didn't know that LTC Waters was in the camp. We had the chance to meet the men of this task force and to talk to them about their experience.
Over the next few days we hauled the former POW's to the Landshute Airfield. They flew hundreds of C-47's in to fly out the former POW's on their first leg of the trip back home. As a side note, I wish to say this was the proudest moment for the 14th Armored Division in WWII. Our men gave the POW's guns, cameras and pistols so they could take them home. They gave them anything they had that was of interest to them.
While I was sitting in my jeep, an Aircorp Captain came up and shook my hand and thanked me for being a part of the Liberation. He said the only thing that would make this a perfect day would be to have a bottle of Coke to drink. I told him "Captain, this is your lucky day cause I have here a package from home that contains a bottle of Coke." My folks sent me two bottles of Coke every week while I was overseas. I opened it and he drank it very slowly. He looked on the bottom and it read Wooster, Ohio. He told me he was from Barberton, just 30 miles from Wooster. So I told him I wanted him to take the Coke bottle back home with him and when he had a chance to take it to the Coke factory in Wooster and tell them where he had gotten it. He did this and for a long time they had it on display along with a picture of the Captain.
They took all the trucks they could find and used them to haul the POW's to the airport. One morning when we were lined up, a British officer saw all the trucks and said "the bloody Americans are fighting the bluming war with loories."
You don't know how precious your freedom is until you don't have it any more. The former POW's help me appreciate the fact that freedom isn't free. This was a great day for the 14th Armored Division and the former POW's.
The Liberation of Stalag VIIA
by Milton J. Long
Originaly published in the April 2005 issue U.S. Legacies Magazine