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POW On or about the 6th of March 1944 we crashed our B-17, on fire, on the way to Berlin. I became a POW and I made up my mind that I would have to try to escape. After traveling by boxcar for several days we arrived at Dulag Luft at Frankfort. We went through a very intense interrogation for a few days and then another trip by boxcar to Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany. That was a trip no one will ever forget. I am certain all Ex-POW’s will agree. I still dream about those boxcars.

Stalag Luft I turned out to be the best camp from which to try to escape. If you were able to get out of the camp you did not have to go far to reach the coast. The town of Barth was a seaport and was not far from Denmark. At any other camp you would have to go all over Germany before you could hope to get in friendly hands.

I first had to come up with an escape plan that the Camp Escape Committee would approve. Next, I had to find one or two other people that would take the risk of getting caught. The chance of getting shot was pretty good. I made friends with Tom Brooks and Bill Clark.

Tom spoke German. Bill was from Brunswick, Georgia and knew a bit about boats and thought we could sail to Denmark. They were the type men I knew I could trust and were brave enough to try the escape.

At Stalag Luft I there was a little fence (like a guardrail) about a foot or two high around the camp and about ten yards inside the double barbed wire perimeter fence. The double fences were about ten feet high. Rolls of barbwire about six or eight feet across were between the two fences. There were guard towers on each corner that were thirty or forty feet tall. The towers were manned with German guards. They had machine guns and search lights in each tower.

If someone failed to catch a football and it went across the guardrail you could get the guard's attention. He would point his machine gun at you and let you go get the ball. We observed that he could not see the fence behind him while he watched you get the ball. You could walk slowly.

There was one corner of the camp that the goons had put up a small warehouse building about twenty yards outside the double fence. We noticed it was not locked. The barracks close to that point had a bench about ten feet long. We could get the board off and use it to cross the double fence by laying it from the top of one fence to the other. After we crossed the people from the barracks could put the bench back together.

After the afternoon roll call we had about fifteen minutes before we were locked in the barracks. If we could get across the fence during that time we could hide in the warehouse until after dark. That way we would not be missed until the next morning. We could walk all night following a railroad track to a small fishing town. If we were able to get to the seaport, we could hide someplace until the next night. We would then try to steal a boat and go to Denmark.

To get over the fence we planned to have someone throw a ball over the guardrail in the opposite direction from the point where we wanted to cross. If we did not get shot going over the fence, the plan should work.

The Senior American Colonel and the Escape Committee gave their approval but said there were five (as best as I can remember) Captains who had been waiting to escape and they would try the plan first. We selected people to help. We had to have people get the board off the top of the fence. There were people used as lookouts all around the compound. The Captains, two one time and three on another day made it outside the camp. We were later told they were recaptured in a few hours.

When Tom, Bill and I escaped, (probably around the 1st of May 1944) we left about five minutes before lock-up, crossed the fence and got in the warehouse. We all knew that if anyone had been seen a lot of people would have been killed or wounded.

We stayed in the warehouse until after dark. We then crawled about thirty or forty yards to get further away from the camp. While crawling, the search light from the guard tower went right over my back. I saw the light coming and stopped moving. I almost felt the bullets hitting me. A few minutes later a guard and his dog walked about five yards from me. The wind must have been blowing away from me.

We then walked to a single fence about fifty yards away from the camp. While crossing the fence a man in the dark said something to us. Tom said a few words to him in German and he went one way and we went the other way. We did not know who he was but he probably was not supposed to be there. I doubt if he was as scared as we were.

The Escape committee had given us maps, escape rations and a compass. We located the railroad tracks and started walking along them toward the coast. We arrived at a small seaport just before daylight. We could see several small sailboats. We came to a wooded area about fifty yards from the water and decided to hide until night. We found a big hole someone had dug. We got into that and covered up with pine bows to wait for dark. We were very tired and cold. All three of us fell asleep.

An old man woke me up with a pistol against my head. There were several other men with guns standing around. They took us to the police station and locked us up.

They said we were spies. Tom convinced them we were POWs and asked them to call Stalag Luft I. They did and the German Intelligence Officer came to get us.

The Stalag Luft I Intelligence Officer recognized my V.P.I (Virginia Polytechnical Institute) Ring and said he went to VMI (Virginia Military Institute) for two years while I was at V.P.I. He also said he had worked for Hercules Powder Company at Brunswick, Georgia. He named some people I knew at VMI and some places Bill Clark knew about in Brunswick. We would not answer any of his questions about how we escaped so he took us to Stralsund and put us in a Gestapo prison.

The Gestapo prison was a real hellhole. I only remember a few things about our stay there. The building was a real prison; four to five stories high with steel doors. They put the three of us in one cell that was about eight by twelve feet. There were no beds, chairs or other furniture. All we had were a couple of blankets and a bucket for a toilet. There was no way to wash ourselves. Once a day we were given a bowl of soup and two slices of bread. I remember that everyday they made us crawl down the hall to get the soup and bread. If you spilled your soup you did not get any more. The soup consisted of water, acorns, leaves and twigs.

We did not know what they were going to do with us and no one spoke English. Every day someone was shot in the courtyard. A prisoner in the next cell told us through the window that the people shot were Russian and French. We never knew who was going to be next. We thought we were the only Americans there.

I am not sure how long we were in that prison but I recently read in one of the books about POWs that we arrived at Stalag Luft III on the 28th of May 1944. We stayed there until January 1945 when we were moved to Stalag 7A at Moosburg. General Patton liberated us from Stalag 7A.

I now know how lucky we were to have lived. We did not know when we escaped that Hitler had said any POW that escaped would be shot. If that had been known at Stalag Luft I, I am sure they would not have approved our escape plan. They shot fifty of the British that tunneled out in the "Great Escape".

I have tried to locate Tom and Bill. I do not know what happened to them when we marched out of Stalag Luft III near the end of the war. I would like to talk to them.

Note: by 2nd Lt. Herbert Markle


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