On the following pages are entries from a diary I kept while I was a Prisoner of War in Germany. I was a member of the 99th Division, Cannon Company, 394th Regiment.
PFC Russel E. GUERRA, Cannon Company, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division
I was assigned to this outfit in early 1944, and trained with them at Camp Maxey, Texas, which is just outside the small town of Paris, Texas. The camp was a very nice one with a fairly good sized lake in the middle. We found that the lake was also very practical since we did some water training in it. Swimming with full packs, not really a lot of fun, but necessary to convince us that a properly constructed field pack did float and could keep us above water.
We operated as units with each company having it's own kitchen crew and chow hall. Food was served family style by the KPs, a profession I rapidly became quite proficient at. We trained in the field as well as in camp, hiking to the particular area which was the site of the exercise. Tactical problems could last as long as a week, living out of our field packs and sleeping in tents or in sleeping bags. Since Texas is quite popular with copperhead snakes, sharing the ground with them could and did become exciting at times. I vividly remember the night one of our wriggly friends took a shortcut across my leg. I am afraid of snakes, and I proved just how fast I could move that night.
After training we shipped out to Camp Miles Standish, a port of embarkation near Boston. From there we sailed in a very large convoy to Liverpool England. Then by train and truck to a small village in Dorset call Beaminster. It was beautiful country and became well known to our marching feet. The natives were great and treated us quite well. My twentieth birthday occurred and a local family invited me to their home and gave me a birthday party. The diary in which I kept these notes was given to me at this time.
Perhaps as you read these notes you will find them dull. To really feel the emotion, you have to place yourself in the position of a PW, of a KGF as our German hosts called us. These initials stood for Kriegefangen, which translates to Prisoner of War. We had no control over our destiny, and in view of atrocities which occurred during the fighting, and which were taking place in Germany, we had no guarantee ever that we would live to see the next day. Many of our guys didn't.
You have become a number, a nonentity to be used or abused on the whim of a captor. Psychologic as well as physical mistreatment was common. Long cold days locked in a boxcar, unheated but luckily overcrowded. Lucky? Sure, because the mass of bodies produced heat they wouldn't furnish. Still, guys died in the boxcars. Guys died from the gas used to delouse our clothes. Guys died of starvation, despair, and disease. Objections brought you a beating, but they could also get you shot. We were animals and we were treated less well than animals. We tried to develop shells to shut out the terror and the uncertainty of our total vulnerability. Some couldn't do this and gave up ....and died.
In fairness I must state the there were some Germans who tried to help us and to make our existence a bit better. Their efforts were thwarted by the guards who were well suited for their roles. Maybe I will get to tell you of one or two exceptions I met, fortunately. Remember these things as you read. Remember too that the American spirit proved stronger than the efforts of those bastards who bruised us but could not break us.
We had just finished our section cabin, lived in it for about a week and really had a hell of a nice time. We'd all steal food from the kitchen then every night we'd cook up a snack for the gang. Everything was fine, 3 hot meals a day, warm hut, then all hell pops loose. One thing that made me feel badly (among others) is that I didn't get one package from home. All these good candy etc. and I didn't get any at all. Such is life. A man misses a lot of little things here. For instance, right now I long for nice Sunday morning, go to church with Mom, Dad and Bob, come home, have a good breakfast of eggs, ham, toast, coffee, then sit, unwind, and read the papers, then spend the rest of the day fooling around.
Barrage started 0530 today. Shelled all day. Noisy as hell. Jerries acting up.
Jerry broke thru. We are ready to scram. Pulled out this after. In position on hill (Elsenborn Ridge) being shelled. No food.
0230 caught in hut by Jerries. Bullet thru carbine. Pivic, Gardiner, Bentley gone. Shelled by Yanks all day, marched 11 hours tonight. No food.
Slept in old barn. No food as of yet. Don Curenton & I still together.
Still in barn. Had four potatoes today.
Been digging graves for Jerries. Weak as Hell.
Worked in graveyard again today. Still awful weak. (Note: handled bodies rather than digging this day. We buried 73 German soldiers. Dropped one, hell to pay.)
Left barn, hiked 30 miles to Flamersheim. Live in an old auditorium. Tired as hell, long hike. Got a bowl of soup tonight. (Shit! If I ever pass up a meal when I get back I hope someone kicks the hell out of me) Sleep in cold barn.
Worked all day today at a RR station. Loaded a train full of Jerry wounded. One yank in the bunch. Not too bad, keep mind off home.
Christmas Day worked in warehouse. Ala., Andy, Strick & I. Swiped cookies all day. They were good too. Hell of a Christmas. Next one at home, God willing. (Guards went to lunch leaving one to watch us at rifle point. House across the street had a piano, playing carols. German woman tried to give us some beer and food. No dice).
Supposed to leave for new camp in morning. Draw rations in morning, then hike I guess. Hope it's a good place.
New camp at Bonn, hiked from Kuchenheim. 1/3 loaf bread, piece of sausage for day.
(Note: camp was outside of Bonn)
Had soup today. Hope folks aren't worried.
Good meal today. Bread, butter, jam, sausage. Rumor Yanks in Cologne. I hope.
(Note: Later this night Bonn heavily bombed. We cheered)
Happy New Year! Thought an awful lot about home last night. Hope to God Mom knows somehow I'm ok.
Moved today. Went thru Bonn, really smashed up. (Note: we were paraded through the town. People either couldn't tell difference between fliers and infantry or they didn't care. A couple of the guards tried to protect us a little, but we took a bunch of lumps) Riding locked in boxcars. Prayers for folks, worried.
Ration for today and yesterday, loaf of bread, cheese, piece of sausage. 2nd day in cars. No heat but it wasn't too cold. 79 men in our car.
Still in boxcar. Getting awful weak. Been praying quite a lot . Hope I can take it. Very little sleep.
Still on train. Moved tonight. Got very little soup tonight. Left Lionburg (SP?) today. Cold as hell.
Arrived at camp, treat us pretty good. Deloused, shower, typhus shot, registered, soup. This isn't permanent though. Thank God I am out of that box car. Ala still with me.
Ah! Red Cross packaged tomorrow for sure. Good thing. Ate like a king today. 2 days rations. Saw Mac & gang here at camp. We are 40 miles S of Berlin. Bombers galore going over.
Month ago I was captured. Time went fairly fast. Rumor that Russians are on German soil. Had potatoes, turnips, bread, meat and butter for chow. Some of the boys shipped today.
Worked on RR all day. Didn't kill ourselves though. Had damn good soup, cottage cheese tonight. 8 men to a loaf of bread. Colder than hell.
Bombs or artillery. On Sunday Turkey declared war on Germany. News is good. Fini la guerre in March I believe yet.
Ah nuts! Fat Boy and I got caught screwing off. Lucky tho, a good guard. (Note: This Guard disclosed to us that he had a son who was a POW in Oklahoma. Showed us a picture and letters the kid was allowed to send him. Said he owed us. He later deserted) Bagley died this afternoon. Cause, same as Robbie the day before.
Spuds tonight. Could hear artillery. Hope they are here soon.
Left Camp, took train to Seifhennersdorf to hospital. Is good deal. Say we'll f-k off here for at least six weeks. Yanks have cross the Rhine, taken Cologne. Maybe this will end damn soon I hope.
Yanks passed over, about 400 of them. Moved across the hall today. Too weak to jump yet (escape)
Two years in the Army today. We had a piece of cake and a cup of coffee from the French. Rumors of packages in area. War news good. Advances on all fronts. Watch my prediction.
Moved to hospital today. Christ what a deal. Drew an invalid parcel for 2 men. Could stay here for the duration, I hope. English staff, pajamas blue and white stripes, Wow!
Another day. I'm in good with a Dago Captain and his officers. He's a Doctor and gave me a big bottle of cod liver oil and bread. I can talk Italian and German fairly well now.
Rumor of possible peace conference. GI Easter looks doubtful. Two more days to go.
Blue Monday.. Say Yanks are 125k from Liepzig, that is really something if it's true. Had bowl grease soup today.
Sgt. Brown went to Prosten for fags and packages today. Rumor paratroops dropped near Liepzig. News still very good. Hope this book doesn't fall apart 'fore I get home.
English Bob Jones early this am, just came in yesterday, Yanks have captured Hanover. Russians got Frankfort. Yanks about 60k from Leipzig. Hurry, Hurry Boys!
Beautiful day. No church. Rumor ...... be examined. Serb Sava [Salvia ?]showed problem predicting end of war. Works out for April 11th. Ha!
Leipzig is ours. Rumor Yanks are 60 kilo from here. Sava gave me tin of GI butter, good. Had an alarm tonight, hope they get here in day or so. Sweating it out!
Nuts. They aren't here yet! According to the map they are 80 kilos away. Rusky in the same distance in opposite direction. Maybe they will be here by Tuesday morning. This damn thing is pretty close to being over. A day or two might see the end of it - I hope!
Yanks were supposed to have advanced 40 kilometers, that's half of the way. I'm too anxious, think I'll forget and look forward to Friday pkgs. Amen!
Alarm for tanks sounded, no evacuation. Packages in AM, eat it all by God. Ready to scram
Drew pkgs. Russians are coming along, some guards took off tonight. Joe's boys must be close. Come on Joe!
Free again! Russians arrived this am. To Moscow, then home!
At Russian camp, sick as a dog today. Ate too much last nite, puked this am. Slept all day. I'll soon be on my way home. Rusky officer said we'd go home via Moscow. Hope so, wonderful chance. We've had chicken eggs etc since "liberation". Hope can remember all that's happened so can tell folks. Gotta get going again.
Moved tonight. Don't know where the hell we are going. Walking too!
Still in Hoyerwerda. Looked for souvenir for Bob. These Russians got damn near everything. Don't know what to get Bob for Graduation. Jerry plane scared shit out of me today. Guess I don't go home via Moscow now.
Moved today. Walked 18 kilometers to Spremburg. We took our time, lagged behind the bunch. Got honey, cookies, etc. from the Polish. This is a beat up town. Christ! Next Sun. is mother's day. Hope I can get in touch with her. Should go on our own again!
Rumor we move in the morning. Got myself a bike from the Russians today and did a little work on it. Hell with that walking business.
Moved this am 3 kilos. We're supposed to wait for transport but Slim [Ernest Bradshaw] and I took off for Sagan.
Took off this am. Rode all day, hit Sagan about 3:30. Russian Soldier took us to compound. About 70 yanks, 9 officers. Capt in Charge. Met Capt from my Regiment. He was service Company.
Moved today by truck. Rode all day, sleep in trucks tonight. May be in GI hands by tomorrow (Luckenwald).
Goddammit - more of this f------g waiting around. We stay here for a day or so. Yanks 40 kilos away across the Elbe. Yank gave me 10 Eng fags. Bunch of good GIs here.
Mother's day. Didn't wake up in time for church. 2 Jeeps full of Officers came to camp from the 104th Division, talked to the Russians. We're still here. Thought a lot about Mom and said and extra prayer for her - - God, but I'll be glad to see her, Dad and Bob.
Flew out of Germany. Drank Champaign on the Plane. Landed at Reims, what a set up. Food galore, new clothes, PX, rations.
Left Reims this pm on hospital train. Stopped four times for food. Slept on train
Arrived at Camp Lucky Strike at St. Valery France. Saw Strickland.