World War II (1942-1945) Prisoner of War Camps
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Kiowa, Kansas Veteran Talks of WWII POW Experience
(story from the Alva Review Courier, Nov. 10, 1995, by Yvonne Miller)
As a prisoner of war in Germany, this American Lt. (Mike Rose) lost 100 pounds in his 100 days of captivity. "There was lots of marching and very little eating, " Rose said as he recalled those horrid days.
When the POWs did eat, Rose said it was usually on a very thin, unseasoned soup made from barley or whatever was available to the Germans. Larvae floated atop the soup which Rose admitted he ate in a desperate attempt to take in some protein.
"They also fed us meat from horses that had been dead and bloated for quite awhile," he recalled in disgust.
"We slept on the ground or in old buildings just like hogs and dogs."
The Road That Led To Rose's Captivity...
As a 1937 graduate of Kiowa High School, Rose was one of eleven children, eight of whom were boys. Two of the brothers served in WWI while two of them fought in WWII.
Rose entered the US military in the later part of 1940 as one of the first drafts to attend camp in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he earned $21 per day. He trained on the west coast and at "Little West Point" in Georgia where he graduated fourth in his class and was named lieutenant. He entered the 9th Armored Division at Ft. Riley, Kansas, where he became a company commander. At Ft. Knox, KY, Rose became a first lieutenant. He returned to Ft. Riley where he commanded Company L which consisted of 300 men and seven officers.
When his company heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Rose said, "We knew we were finally in." They left for New York, their port of embarkation to go overseas.
He commented that he was thrilled to death to set sail and was in love with what he was doing. Aboard the Queen Mary, Rose and his men made a six-day trip across the Atlantic, landing at a bay area known in Europe as the Firth of Clyde.
The troops journeyed across England. "From the white cliffs of Dover to South Hampton the sky was covered with all types of US fighter planes. The sight had hair standing up on my neck," Rose recalled.
In a storm on the channel, his company landed on the Omaha Beach of Normandy in liberty ships. He remembers braving water chest high from the ship to the beach. They were there at the tail end of the Normandy mess and were there to clean up.
Rose admitted, "Anyone who has been in that kind of mess cannot say they weren't scared." He said there was "comfort in numbers," but he lost even more men going further inland.
After crossing the "Sigfried Line" he led his men into enemy territory to spy under the cover of darkness.
Meeting General Patton...
Rose had the privilege to set across the table from the renowned General Patton during a strategy session over the Battle of the Bulge. Rose described General Patton as the finest officer and man and he tried to pattern himself after him.
After the strategy session with General Patton, Rose said his company was given a tank destroyer battalion, medium and light tanks, engineers and medics. By the cover of darkness they traveled 18 kilometers northeast of Bastogne, Germany.
That's when they met a German 3rd Panzer Division that stormed and bypassed them. They were annihilated and lost lots of men. The survivors took off in every direction hiding wherever they could. He and one other soldier hid in a manger in an old cow shed, but the Germans found them anyway.
"It was snowing. . . a blizzard," Rose remembered as German soldiers led eight American POWS to an unknown destination. Eventually they joined a group of nearly 300 POWS of both American and British descent.
One POW recommended they run for it. Rose vehemently disagreed because he feared the consequences of being shot as they ran. The two leaders fought. "The one leader was going to have me court marshaled," Rose said. Most agreed with Rose, and none of the soldiers ran.
The POWS marched up a mountain following a snow plow deeper into German territory. "We met a bunch of German tanks and those 'krauts' actually waved at us because we waved at them."
All of a sudden American P38s flew overhead and fired, not realizing they were killing their own. Rose said once those pilots understood what they had done they often flew in low "to check on us." "Hitler Youth" took charge of the POWs.
General Patton's son-in-law Colonel Waters was taken as a POW so Patton sent in troops. Rose said the troops shot the guards and "liberated the camp." Soldiers scattered everywhere.
Rose left with two other POWs. They traveled on a main road Germans used to go to the front. "We followed them in line and hid in the bushes when needed," Rose said. That worked for a while, but finally the Germans figured them out. They were transported in old trucks to another POW camp.
The POWs were in sorry condition... "We were covered in lice," Rose said. The men were actually thankful to arrive at the next POW camp. An old bakery building that was heated had been converted into the camp. There the men were stripped of their clothing and their heads were shaved. The clothes were baked in the ovens to kill the lice.
For the first time in nearly three months, Rose was able to take a shower, but it was in ice cold water. The soap burned his skin and they dripped dried.
The Germans strictly told the men not to go outside the barracks. "One guy went outside to the latrine and got shot in the head," Rose said grimly.
Although he was still a POW, Rose said he felt good as he started out on another march, this time to Mooseburg, Germany to a different camp. To his surprise a man came looking for him. It turned out to be Tom Logan, a classmate from Kiowa who was also a POW.
A German who spoke fluent English approached Rose, who was then a Captain. The Germans were picking out American officers to be in charge of their peers because soon the camp would be liberated. The time was 1945 and the war was about over. "The Germans wanted us to be organized," Rose said.
During those days before liberation, Rose remembers playing poker with the Germans. "We played for cigarettes," he said with a chuckle. "On the day of liberation when the US flag went into the air, we cried like babies," Rose said. With a very big friend at his side, Rose talked a German officer out of his new pair of boots and his saber.
Finally free, the Americans traveled to Camp Lucky Strike in France in preparation to go home. Rose was in charge of taking 150 high point enlisted men and 150 POW officers home to Leavenworth, Kansas. Aboard the S.S. Daniel Heister, the Americans sailed for 31 days. Rose said the food was bountiful, but after their starvation ordeal, they had to learn to eat again.
Upon seeing the Statue of Liberty, the men cheered. Rose said there were "bands and beautiful women" waiting to greet the soldiers. The group endured a two-day train trip to Leavenworth which Rose said "seemed to take forever."
When we finally returned home, Rose anxiously threw his arms around that son who was already two years old. "we got to be pretty good pals," he said of his son who as an adult lost his life to cancer.
Rose was in the service station business until his retirement. Before his release from the military, Rose became a Major. He wished his military career could have advanced further, but thinks his time as a POW hindered his advancement.