Former ball turret and waist gunner Billy Robertson of Philmont, NY, lost no time in experiencing the joys to be had in a world at peace. Among Addison’s memorabilia is a short letter postmarked April 16, 1946. The note thanked Addison “for your wonderful present” and the envelope contained snapshots explaining the reason for Addison’s gift. A happy couple proudly displayed their newborn to the camera; the baby boomer generation had begun.
On Sept. 2, 1946, Mrs. Gordon Monkman of Bynum, Montana, mailed Addison a letter. “We no longer have the sheep Owen used to speak of,” she wrote. “We couldn’t get reliable help and sheep are temperamental creatures.” She enclosed a lengthy local newspaper obituary about Owen. The War Department had officially changed Owen’s status from missing to killed in action, and this prompted a news article in the local paper. Addison had written the Monkmans a letter of condolence over this event and she responded. “Dear Mr. Bartush,” she wrote. “Thank you for your very kind letter.”
The obituary described the considerable efforts that Mr. and Mrs. Monkman had made to learn anything they could about their son’s disappearance.
Last August  his father, Gordon Monkman, made a trip to Nevada, Mo., to interview F/O Robert Miller, navigator. Then he traveled to Columbus, Ga., where he met Lt. David Bishop, co-pilot of the plane on the bombing mission. In November, Sgt. Paul Lynch, waist gunner from Leominster, Mass., visited the Monkman’s. None of these men could give any information concerning the son’s whereabouts.
Owen Monkman was 20 years old when he disappeared. In addition to his parents, Owen was survived by a brother who also had served in the armed forces. Mrs. Monkman wrote to Addison, “Some day we hope to meet the other boys of the original crew,” meaning of course, Billy Robertson, Earl Sheen and Addison. She also posed a question to Addison that would be asked of him six-plus decades later at the conclusion of my interview.
“Addison, did you ever see Mr. and Mrs. Monkman?”
“Yes, Dick, I did,” Addison responded. “She called me one day and said she and her husband would be driving through Detroit, and asked if we could meet. We agreed to meet at the Ambassador Bridge and I took my son Jay with me, who was a youngster at the time. This would have been in the early fifties, I believe. I remember waiting and waiting, and finally they arrived.”
“There was not much that you could say to them, was there?”
“No there wasn’t,” Addison said, beginning to choke up.
“Are you OK?”
“Yes, go on, please.” Addison picked up a Kleenex, removed his glasses and dried his eyes.
“They just wanted to meet you, correct? They wanted to meet the man that their son had written home about.” There was no need for Addison to reply and he did not. “This was closure for them? Another member of the Bishop Crew?”
“And Owen had been one of your favorites among the enlisted men?”
“I regarded him as a friend,” Addison confirmed. “I still do.”
“Did you have any stories to share with them about Gulfport or Bassingbourn?”
“I suspect I did, but I can’t remember them. It was so long ago.”
“Were you glad you waited for them?”
“Did you ever see them again?” Addison shook his head, indicating no.
Other than meeting Mr. and Mrs. Monkman once, Addison never met the parents of his other lost Bishop crewmembers. Addison told me that he had had no contact with waist gunner/lifesaver Earl Sheen and that he remembered little about the, “tall, thin person.” After the war Addison informed me that he made a few attempts to get in touch with his former navigator RJ Miller, but Miller did not reply to Addison’s letters. When Addison called, Miller’s phone always rang off the hook. Addison told me he surmised that Miller, who had been seriously wounded and recovered in a German hospital before being placed in a POW camp, may have been so traumatized by his experience that he wanted no reminders of what he had endured. Addison added, however, “I don’t know this, Dick.” From the many stories I have read about aircrews of World War II, I knew that the passage of time often did not serve to sooth one’s psyche; that in some cases the result was exactly the opposite—i.e., growing anger at the realization that one had been compelled to do things against one’s will and perhaps even one’s conscience. I expect this is what may have happened to author Joseph Heller; in Miller’s situation it is impossible to know. When I later interviewed Paul Lynch, I learned that Miller died in 1988 of cancer. Paul could tell me no more than Addison about Miller’s attitude.
When war broke out in Europe in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt pleaded publicly in the name of decency for the combatants to refrain from bombing cities.1 Of course the Nazis paid no attention to Roosevelt, and they were the first to target civilians with the terror bombing of Warsaw. Rotterdam and London soon followed. In January 1943, with America a little over a year into the war, Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Casablanca. The Nazi-started carnage had hardened these political leaders—they issued a joint statement to undertake “the heaviest possible bomber offensive against the German war effort.”2 Six months later, the massive Allied air raid was conducted over Hamburg, the first of what would become a continuous operational military pattern. The British bombed by night and the Americans by day.
By the end of the war the German civilian death toll from bombing was 600,000, “including 75,000 children under 14.”3 When one thinks of this, whatever might be one’s views on the British and American air war strategies, one cannot help but be saddened.
Did the massive Allied air attacks on Nazi Germany destroy German industrial capacity and shorten the war? Much has been written about this subject, pro and con. One thing is certain, however: German leaders, both civilian and military, thought that it did. Alfred Krupp, the arms manufacturer, admitted after the war that the air attacks destroyed 60% of his industrial capacity; his plants were nestled in heavily populated cities. Another industrialist said: “The virtual flattening of the steel town of Düsseldorf contributed at least half of the collapse of the German effort.” Field Marshal Albert Kesselring perhaps said it most succinctly: “Allied air power was the greatest single reason for the German defeat.”4 And Kesselring was in a position to know—he was arguably the most efficient German to don a military uniform, having held the Allies to a slow crawl in Italy with almost no airpower and desperate fuel shortages.
In 1944, the last full year of the war, U.S. aircraft production was 96,318, UK production 26,461 and the Soviet Union, 40,300 for a grand total of 163,079 aircraft. Most of the aircraft constructed were warplanes destined for the European Theatre. By contrast, Nazi Germany produced 40,593 aircraft that year, all of them warplanes.5
World War II resulted in a loss of human life that has no parallel in history. By war’s end, an estimated 72 million humans had been killed.6 The Soviet Union had the largest number of total deaths at 23.6 million (13.5% of its population) followed by China at 20 million persons. Germany suffered 7.5 million total deaths representing 11% of its wartime population. The death count in Eastern Europe and the Pacific are also high. The United Kingdom and the United States suffered fewer deaths—450,000 (1%) and 417,000 (0.3%).
Undoubtedly World War II ended for the German people any attraction to blind militarism. To what extent the USAAF and RAF heavy bombers may have played a part in what today might be termed a “culture change” I am not prepared to argue—but I like to think that some positives resulted from what Addison and many others did. A monster needed to be slain and the airmen did their part. The sacrifice of these strategic Allied air warriors was not futile.
And at Addison’s level, what was that sacrifice?
A review of the casualty reports prepared by the 91st Bomb Group during the period that Addison served at Bassingbourn reveals the following statistical information: 132 men killed in action, 3 killed in accidents, 14 missing in action and 133 prisoners of war. Thirty-three B-17s were lost while Addison was assigned to the 91st. Of the 163 days that Addison served in a combat command, this accounts for airplane losses at an average of one every five days. Of course this average is skewed by the loss of 13 bombers on one day, November 2, 1944—the Massacre at Merseburg,at a time when Addison was training for combat flying status. Addison’s squadron did not fly this tragic mission; nevertheless, Addison was then part of the “91st team”; he was there at Bassingbourn and had to endure this tragedy along with the rest of his bomb group.
Of Addison’s squadron, the 324th, or “Klette’s Wild Hares,” eight bombers were lost while Addison served as a member of this squadron. Thirty-four men were killed in action, one killed in an accident (in the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane accident described at the beginning of this book) four were missing in action and twenty-eight became prisoners of war.
“Addison, let me mention some names of officers that you served with in the 91st who did not make it, men who were killed on missions that you yourself flew, were in your squadron, or you might have otherwise known. I want to see if any of these names brings back memories. If this will upset you and you don’t want to do this, let me know and we won’t do it. I will only write what you want me to write and then only as a tribute to these brave men. Nothing will be sensationalized.”
Prior to this session I had decided not to read the names of the officers killed on the November 2 Merseburg raid, as I assumed Addison, being a new arrival at the time, would not remember them, and I also assumed the same for all enlisted men for all missions flown while Addison was at Bassingbourn. The enlisted men would have berthed and messed apart from Addison and would have had little, if any chance to interact with him. I started out with a big one—Addison’s second mission to Zeitz, November 30, 1944—four days following the loss of his crewmates on The Wild Hare.
“Ralph Stoltz, second lieutenant and Bernard Goldstein, second lieutenant? They were the pilot and co-pilot and they went down on November 30, 1944, near Leipzig.” I added: “These officers were from your squadron Addison and you were on this mission flying with them. The target was Zeitz.”
Addison looked at me blankly and I continued: “The description from the casualty reports reads, ‘This B-17 was observed to pull out of formation at 24,000 feet at about 2 minutes after bombing [as the result of] a direct flak hit. It exploded in mid-air and disintegrated completely with wings on fire. All were killed except the navigator, 2nd Lt. George Minich, who ended up a POW’ “
I looked at Addison. “Do you remember witnessing this?” I asked. “Do you remember these officers?”
“No recollection,” Addison replied.
The fact that Addison could not remember anything about this happening reinforced my opinion about his mental condition during this timeframe. Had he subconsciously blocked this painful memory out? I expected Addison not to remember many, if not most of the names I was about to read to him because they were from different squadrons. But for sure he would have known Stoltz, Goldstein and Minich. To go out with 12 planes and come back with 11, well, one would remember that, unless . . .
“Howard Mitchell, first lieutenant? December 5 at Berlin. He was a pilot from the 322nd and flew an unnamed B-17G No. 43-38693. Four including Mitchell were killed and five taken prisoner.”
Addison shook his head indicating a “No.”
“Pilot Earl Jeffers and co-pilot John Welch? They crashed January 1 while flying Heats On. Also navigator Clyde Harlow. On the start of a mission to Kassel, the plane developed engine trouble and Jeffers tried an emergency landing at a nearby fighter base. He crashed into parked P-51s and everyone was killed. This crew was from the 401st Squadron.”
“I remember the event,” Addison recalled. “But I did not know these men. If one is taking off, not at full altitude and loses power, as happened here, it can be a very dangerous situation. This was a tragedy that could have happened to any aircrew.”
“Donald Williams? A flight officer and navigator and Alan Hillman a second lieutenant listed as bombardier. From the 323rd. They went down from flak over Gerolstein, Germany, on January 6, 1945. The plane was namedJeanie. You did not fly this mission.”
“They were acquaintances,” Addison confirmed. “I remember them but I can’t tell you anything about them.”
As I looked down the list I tried to visualize what it must have been like being in one’s early twenties, waking up on any given non-flying-day morning, showering and shaving, putting on one’s uniform, perhaps enjoying a first cigarette, strolling over to the 91st Bomb Group’s Officer Combat Mess, looking at the others there and asking oneself: who is going to die this week? This had to have been a gladiatorial existence, no doubt.
The next event was the one that Addison told me about earlier that he had witnessed firsthand. “Frank Adams, the first lieutenant pilot and Lt. Col. Marvin Lord, the co-pilot and bomb group leader from the 324th. You saw this happen, Addison, on your February 3 mission to Berlin,Operation Thunderclap. All were lost including Capt. Nando Cavalier, the bomb group bombardier and two other officers, lieutenants Arthur Ebarb and Stanley Sweitzer. The plane was B-17G No. 42-97632 and unnamed.”
Addison now provided detail that had escaped him in an earlier session. “It was a direct hit from a big [caliber] flak gun behind the wing and it broke the airplane into two pieces,” he said. “Being the lead plane it was equipped with H2X Mickey Radar, that meant that there was a big black curtain in the radio room to keep it as dark as possible for the radar operator. I remember seeing the four engines, which were still running, take the front section of the plane up and up while the black curtain fell out and floated gently down. It was an unbelievable sight. We flew past them and there were no chutes spotted.”
Addison confirmed that he knew these men well, remembered them and that they had undoubtedly been especially targeted by the German flak battery because they were flying the always most dangerous lead position. “Lord was very young to hold the rank of lieutenant colonel,” Addison added respectfully, “and I remember the morning of that mission standing next to him to receive the blessing from Father Ragan.”
“Was he Catholic?” I asked.
“No, he was not.” I looked over at my friend and saw him sobbing. “He was a special person, Dick, they all were,” Addison whispered, tears flowing from his eyes. In addition to Lord, the others killed had been Klette’s crew. Of course Addison remembered.
“I’m OK.” Looking at my friend I could not help thinking of something out of the ordinary that I had seen in Marion H. Havelaar’s excellent historical reference book, The Ragged Irregulars of Bassingbourn—The 91st Bombardment Group in World War II—a full-page color photograph of Marvin Lord dressed in his flying gear. Lord was the only pilot so distinguished in the extensive volume. I also thought: my concept of “closure” is invalid. Sixty-three years had gone by when I did this session with Addison and in his mind it was as if this tragedy had happened yesterday.
Addison motioned for me to continue and I did so.
“Eddie Knight, first lieutenant and pilot and Bruce Becker, second lieutenant bombardier? It was a direct flak hit over Burnberg on February 20 aboard B-17G No. 42-102490. You did not fly this mission, Addison, but these men were from your squadron, the 324th. Six men were killed and three ended up as POWs.”
“Yes,” Addison answered, looking away. His voice quivered: “That’s all I can say.”
“Peter Pastras, a Michigan man, first lieutenant and pilot. Robert Morris, second lieutenant and co-pilot, George Latches, second lieutenant and bombardier. 401st. A flak hit at Stendal on April 8. The airplane was named, Times-a-Wasting. Seven KIA and two POW.”
The only recollection Addison had was the name of the bomber. “I may have flown that airplane,” he said.
“Woodrow Lien, second lieutenant and co-pilot. A flak hit on the same mission over Stendal, but on a different airplane, Wee Willie. Four KIA, four MIA and one POW. From the 322nd.” Addison confirmed that he had flown aboard Wee Willie but did not know Lien.
“Hollis Forbes, also from Michigan. He was the second lieutenant pilot. Everyone was killed in a crash landing at Weston, approximately 24 miles from Cambridge on April 12, 1945. From the 401st. Forbes dragged a wing tip of The Peacemaker on the ground. The other officers aboard were the copilot, 2nd Lt. Henry Maximovich and Flight Surgeon Maj. John Walker.”
“I remember that crash near Cambridge, “Addison responded. “But I did not know these men. Flight surgeons occasionally went for rides,” Addison added, “to see what it was like.”
“The Skunkface III crew over Dresden on April 17, from your squadron. 1st Lt. pilot Harry Camp, 2nd Lt. co-pilot William Heath and 2nd Lt. Richard Penner, who was the navigator. You were not on this mission.”
“Heath was from Kentucky, I believe” Addison said, “a fellow co-pilot. A buddy of mine and a good guy. I recollect Camp and Penner, but I was not close to either.” I looked at Addison and sensed him trying hard to control his emotions. These were names that he had not heard in . . .
“And finally, Maj. James Griffin, who crashed trying to roll the Thunderbolt at 1,000 feet on May 5, 1945, the last casualty of the 91st. “What can you tell me about Major Griffin, Addison?”
“Well, I was in the Officer’s Club celebrating the end of the war in Europe, and we heard him roaring outside. Then we heard the loud crash. He had gone down where two of our runways on the base intersected.”
“Did you know him?”
“Yes. He was from my squadron. He was a great pilot but performed a maneuver too low. Also a BMOC, most definitely. He was well-liked.”
“What was he doing flying a P-47?”
“I don’t know.”
Tribute to a Sense of Duty
A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL LYNCH
“From my readings, Paul, I believe it is fair to state that there is a significant amount of commentary put out by former American aircrew POWs that is highly critical of the way Luftwaffe personnel administered the stalag lufts and handled The Black March. In regard to the stalag lufts, their general complaint is that the Germans could have put forth a better effort with regard to food, sanitation and shelter. Also, the Nazis didn’t have to be so mean with their gorilla-like sergeants. Trust me on this, Paul, following the war a large number of former POWs expressed strong resentment over how they had been treated.”
I continued: “All the stalag lufts had certain elements in common: increasing hunger, cold, filth and endless roll calls in the open elements. Also, interestingly, each of the three major stalag lufts had a hidden radio.”
“My question for you, Paul, is this: thinking back, did you harbor any resentment over how the Germans treated you while you were at Stalag Luft IV?”
“I wasn’t at Stalag Luft IV very long,” Paul observed. “But I did harbor some resentment. A friend of mine worked at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and he made me aware of how well the German POWs there were treated. These POWs had first call on rationed food items over American citizens. Having said this, I will again state that I believe Germany tried to live up to the Geneva Convention.”
Always the contrarian, I shot back: “If Boston had been laid in ruins by the Luftwaffe I suppose the German POWs at Fort Devens might have received different treatment, do you agree?”
To which Paul deflected: “As I believe I may have said earlier, Dick, war is not mankind’s greatest endeavor.”
“Would you like to learn the fate of the other major stalag lufts?”
“Every camp has its own story, Paul. At Stalag Luft III near Sagan, Poland, 10,300 American and non-American airmen POWs, including officers and noncoms, were force-marched over a two-day period in January 1945, some 55 miles to a railroad station. They ended-up in various POW camps across central Germany, to be liberated on a catch-as-catch-can basis.”
I added: “As an aside, the 1960 movie The Great Escape was based on a March 1944 event at this camp. Seventy-six POWs, mostly British, made it out through a tunnel, and three actually made it to freedom in neutral countries. Hitler had the SS execute 50 British POW officers in reprisal.”7
Paul remained silent but I could sense what he was thinking. “Yeah, Paul, Hitler took a dim view of escapers.”
“On May Day the Red Army overran Stalag Luft I near Barth where Dave Bishop, RJ Miller and 10,000 other officer POWs were confined, the same camp that Gabreski wrote about. Of all the camps holding U.S. and British POWs, this one got the swiftest repatriation result. It happened that there was a workable airport nearby that the Soviets allowed the Americans and British to use. The airlift started May 12 and was completed by the 15th, only six days after Soviet V-E Day.”
“I don’t know if this speedy return resulted from preferential treatment or not.” I observed: “These officers may have just been lucky. They may have gotten out before the real haggling started. I did not locate anything addressing this issue, but I have to confess I didn’t look that hard either.”
As I uttered this, I mentally cackled: R.H.I.P—rank has its privilege!
“As I said earlier, Stalag Luft IV has no counterpart, Paul. The Black March from Stalag Luft IV stands alone in the history of the Second World War in Europe.”
Paul did not respond.
“I came across a book published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2003 entitled Our Last Mission.8 It contains a personal account of a Black Marcher who started from Lager “C”. I mention the academic publisher because institutions of higher education invariably apply high standards to what they put out. Anecdotes and references are fact-checked. Scholarship is the goal.”
“While this Black Marcher expressed some sympathy for the suffering of his over-age captors, overall he had a distinctly different recollection about them than you did. What I am about to read to you is a coalesced selection of his comments taken from 16 pages of that book.”
In the first thirty days of the march guards handed out less than one loaf of bread to each prisoner. . . At first the Germans threatened to shoot any prisoner caught trading for food with refugees or peasants Terror coursed through his limbs when a firing squad of German soldiers lined up thirty feet away......“You have fifteen minutes to replace the stolen bread from my pack or I shoot these men . . .”. . . the bread ration was replaced......There were some reports that when an ill prisoner dropped out of formation a guard fell out and a shot was heard......guards abandoned feeble and ailing prisoners along the road . . .9
“This individual also marched past that city made famous by Martin Luther. He took a different route but ended up near to where you were.”
“Care to comment, Paul?”
“That’s not how I remember it, Dick.”
“Looking back, what do think is the most remarkable thing about your story? Take a moment and think about it, please.” I added: “After you tell me, I’ll tell you what I think is the most remarkable thing. It came to me after I read and re-read your wartime memoir, The Great Warrior.”
“That I got home again,” Paul replied after reflecting. “Lucking out.”
“That’s a good answer. Now here is mine.”
“You were on the march for over three months and not once do you report hearing the sound of gunfire, not even the sound of Allied warplane strafing. You walked through the heart of Nazi Germany, Paul, and the only time you heard gunfire was after VE Day when you were no longer, technically speaking, a POW I find this circumstance astonishing.”
“Paul, why do you think Hitler refrained from executing you and the other POWs? Do you have ideas on this? I have an idea of my own, but I want to hear your thoughts before I express it.”
“I believe the German general staff was in control of the war at that time so we were not destroyed.”
“That may be, but I didn’t find anything indicating that Hitler ever issued an order to exterminate American or British aircrew POWs. It is difficult to look into the mind of a psychopath, but everything I’ve learned about Der FÃ¼hrer points to him being racist. My hunch is he viewed you guys as Aryan.”
When I said this to Paul, I thought again about what historian William L. Shirer wrote in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich about that macabre conference on February 19, 1945—the day Hitler ordered Admiral Doenitz to weigh in on Goebbels recommendation to renounce the Geneva Convention and execute all U.S. and British airmen.
Paul did not agree. “We were not German Aryans,” he said, adding: “We had good trading potential.”
“I could be wrong, Paul. But I do think Hitler made major decisions based upon racial considerations. I recall seeing a History Channel presentation where a lady who knew Hitler from childhood came forward after the war and stated that Hitler told her that the Jews were being eliminated to preserve the biological balance in Europe, that is, to compensate for the high losses of German soldiers.101 believe the truth is no one will ever positively know what criteria Hitler weighed when he determined your fate.”
I continued: “I did find a Nuremberg judgment that supports your opinion, Paul, that the German general staff prevented your destruction. The subject matter related to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity— Murder and Ill-treatment of Prisoners ofWar.’ The court made the following finding of fact:”
In March, 1944, the OKH issued the “Kugel” or “Bullet” decree, which directed that every escaped officer and NCO prisoner of war who had not been put to work, with the exception of British and American prisoners of war should on recapture be handed over to the SIPO and SD. . . . These escaped officers and NCOs were to be sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen, to be executed upon arrival, by means of a bullet shot in the neck.11
“OKH stands for ‘Oberkommando des Heeres,’ the high command of the German Army. Apparently the Nazi generals did have a soft spot for the Brits and Americans, Paul, or did not order them murdered because of the Geneva Convention. How much Hitler may have had to do with this I could not determine.” When I said this, I thought, incredulously: Would U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall attach his name to such a policy? Murdering prisoners and specifying a firearm execution not instantaneous is beyond the pale.
“Paul, did you ever make an attempt to contact any of the former POWs that were with you at Stalag Luft IV on the march, or at Riesa?”
“During the march I made a mental decision that if I ever got home I would put this entire rotten experience out of my mind. That is exactly what I did with the exception of the loss of my friends on the crew. I did make a trip to Montana to see Owen’s family. Mrs. Monkman and my mother were in close contact through it all.” Paul added: “It was a difficult trip for me to make, and not easy for the Monkmans either.”
“So you repressed The Black March?”
“Yes, pretty much. Many years passed with no attempt at recollection on my part.”
“Have you viewed website memorials for Stalag Luft IV POWs?”
I asked a question I knew the answer to. “What motivated you to write The Great Warrior in 1998, Paul, your 34-page war memoir that I quoted so heavily from?”
“It was at the strong urging of a cousin and my sister Eleanor. They thought I should preserve a record for the family.”
Indeed, I thought. Paul opened The Great Warrior with this:
Never in the ten-million-year history of mankind on this planet has a person been so put upon by the very people he loves so dearly, namely Barry and Eleanor. Nixon had his Watergate, the Clintons their Whitewater-gate and I have my Naggers-gate. In spite of this burden, I will attempt to marshal my meager strengths and abilities to describe the portion of my life devoted to my tour of England and Germany as a special representative of the U.S. Army Air Forces.
“Paul, you earlier mentioned that you had a trip to Germany after the war. Tell me about it, please.”
“I was invited to a research conference in 1978 to present a paper I had written about lead poisoning. Everyone was very friendly and there was no mention of the war.” Paul added: “It was held at a technical college near Munich.”
“Did you visit any of the places that you marched through?”
“Were you curious to do so?”
“And your reunion with Addison and Dave Bishop?”
“The three of us got together for the first time in 1998 at the 91st Bomb Group reunion in Savannah, Georgia. It was wonderful to see them after so many years. So much time had passed and we were still in good shape!”
Hearing this, I imagined how I would have felt if I were in Paul’s shoes. I knew that Addison and Dave had seen each other now and then after the war, but Paul had not seen either man since late November 1944. I thought: wow.
I moved to a new topic.
“Paul, you may be correct in your assessment that your camp commandant was not out to make the lives of POWs miserable. Bombach was in a tough spot. When the Great Escape took place in 1944, Hitler seriously considered executing a number of Luftwaffe officers who he held responsible for letting it happen, including the camp commandant of Stalag Luft III. In the end Hitler didn’t murder his turnkeys, but rather inflicted his maniacal wrath on POWs in violation of international law. My point is, Bombach and all the camp commandants had to be forever mindful of who they worked for and the fact that the SS might show up at any moment unannounced. The absence of atrocities at Stalag Luft IV, however, apart from the gauntlet run should count for something I suppose.”
I added, “On the other hand, Bombach was a senior officer in the Luftwaffe, in a position of command and had the non transferable responsibility under the Geneva Convention to diminish the unavoidable rigors of prisoners of war and also mitigate their fate. Approximately 1,500 POWs under his charge died during his watch. Given what I have learned about quite a number of these deaths, I don’t feel one bit sorry for him for having been arrested, detained and subjected to a rigorous criminal investigative process. The fact that he was not prosecuted does not, in my opinion, make him a good guy.” I added: “The New York Times on May 14, 1945 ran a story on the bitterness of released American POWs who endured the 500-mile march. Their anger seemed to be focused on the commandant. One of them said to a reporter, and I quote from the article, ‘. . . [he] spelled out slowly the name of the German officer who left standing American prisoners to die on the roadside.’ “
“I wish to pay you a compliment.”
Paul waited for me to continue. “You did not find fault with your guards even though I gave you every opportunity to do so. You viewed these Germans as human beings not unlike yourself, that is, people trapped in an inextricably bad situation. In fact, you expressed gratitude for the protection they offered when you encountered angry civilians and SS Cadets. I salute you on this. I also believe that you have been blessed to return relatively unscathed by this amazingly traumatic ordeal; being able to live a happy and productive life in spite of what you went through. You married, had a family, pursued higher education and enjoyed a long professional career.
After a pause I continued: “Paul, you chose to end The Great Warrior with the following statement:”
At this point the reader should realize that, in reality, I was no great warrior but I was indeed a very, very lucky survivor.
“I’m not sure that I agree with your self-assessment, Paul, and I’ll tell you why.” After another, more pregnant pause, I did the talking, practically all of it.
“Four years ago when I started this project Addison told me that you were smart.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“You were that NCO, Paul, the one selected for Norden bombsight training.” As I said this I thought: also brave, strong and disciplined.
I ignored Paul and continued: “You fired your machine gun.”
“As did others.”
“You jumped when ordered and saved yourself. You made your parachute fall as instructed.”
By now Paul sensed where I was going and that it would be useless for him to try to stop me from saying what I intended to say. “You did not display fear while at Dulag Luft.”
“You survived the march, and without nourishment due to a theft, I might add, during that first critical week. You experienced no racking shoulder pain from carrying your bedroll and gear. You drank only boiled water and slept in the extreme cold with other men, like that British pharmacist instructed. How did Senator Warner put it? ‘. . . forced to do something that would be difficult for well nourished, healthy and appropriately trained infantry soldiers to accomplish . . .’ You found those kohlrabies, Paul, you did not starve to death. You did instinctively what today is taught at the U.S. Air Force survival school.”
“You had an action plan for the SS. You weren’t about to be put down without a struggle.”
“You escaped and passed through a battle line. You figured out how to do it.” I added: “And in doing so you earned the respect of members of a Red Army combat unit.”
“And about that Red Army Sergeant, Paul?”
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe he put in a good word about you with that Russian Major? And the Major ordered his good-looking doctor to interview you to assess your leadership suitability?”
“Well it occurs to me,” I said. “Of the four escaper-sergeants, you were the one selected, Paul.”
“Finally, you got yourself and the men in your charge out alive. Things could have gone very wrong in Dodge City. I expect you told your men to hunker down and this was a smart thing to do.”
“Was luck an element in your survival? Absolutely. Did Addison have luck when that 88mm shell passed cleanly through his wing? I could go on, Paul, but no. Like Addison you are a hero and a great warrior. You are both great warriors, in fact as good as America has ever produced.”
“Don’t say a word, Paul, I’m about to conclude. I’m glad you suggested to me that we do this, for as I interviewed you it dawned on me that the war annals of the 91st Bomb Group are as much about what happened on the ground as in the air.”
“When I did this In Memoriam session with Addison, I used in his account real names of airmen from the 91st who died, men that he might have flown with and known. The details of their deaths are published.”
“Paul, I cannot do the same with you because practically all the men who perished on The Black March disappeared without a trace. Unlike with Addison, I have no specific information about individuals to provide to you. I have nothing with which to refresh your recollection.”
“I have no doubt that the U.S. Air Force today has a fairly complete listing of names of the 1,500 Americans who perished during The Black March. In my research I located the names of seven who did not make it. They died of disease. They marched from Lager “C” and were tended to by Flight Surgeon Dr. Leslie Caplan. I found their identities in Caplan’s deposition.”
I finished: “The names of these men can serve to solemnize what could have happened to you, Paul. I believe war stories should include the actual names of those who gave . . .” I paused and added: “How did Lincoln put it? ‘The last full measure of devotion.’ “
“Yes,” Paul said. “Yes.”
“These American heroes are casualties of a just war. They aren’t from the 91st but that doesn’t matter. Let them stand for all.”
George E. Briggs
39 193 615
John C. Clark
33 279 680
Edward B Coleman
12 083 471
George F. Grover
16 066 436
18 217 669
Harold H. Mack
17 128 736
Robert M. Trapnell
13 068 648
Addison Bartush (continued)
“Addison, it occurs to me that America today in many ways is a far different society than it was during World War II. I’m referring to the ideological component. Would you agree with that?”
“Let me show you something.” I pulled from the pile two letters that had been mailed to him while he flew combat; both were from Gesu Conference—St. Vincent De Paul Society. “It’s printed here proudly in the headline of the Gesu Newsette, ‘1,000 U of D. High Grads Serve.’” I handed Addison the Servicemen’s Edition. “Look.”
“Do you think you would see such a headline today in an American high school newspaper, even if it were only five serving in the Middle East?”
“No, I do not.”
“Let me read to you something else from the newsletter. I don’t expect that you knew the young man mentioned but he has nothing to do with the point that I am making.”
Pro Dio; Pro Patria
A memorial mass was offered in Gesu church this week for Pfc. Robert Phillips, 20-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Philips of Tuller Avenue. Pfc. Philips died for his God and his country during the invasion of the Peleliu islands.
“We believed, back then, that we were doing the morally right thing, do you agree?
“Yes, and I feel bad about what is going on in America today,” Addison responded.
There was no need for him to elaborate.
When I thought back to my sessions with Addison while working on this book, I had no doubt that the members of the 324th had a great deal of respect and even outright admiration for their military leaders—Klette, Terry, Lord, et al. I asked myself: is this the fabric of mainstream American society now? Today, some might casually dismiss such loyalty as a subtle form of fascism; ironically the very thing Addison and his cohorts fought against and many of them lost their lives over. This dismissal of the special bond between the men and their leaders, I expect, gives little regard to the enormity of the historical record of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.
“Addison, I know that you and your brothers received an incredible amount of support from your parents, loved ones and friends going through this ordeal. I mean there are those hundreds of letters. Your mother wrote you when there was nothing else for her to report other than a menu item. She wanted you to have something to open up and read from home, for you to know that she was thinking about you.”
I looked over at Addison and saw that he was holding back tears.
“And I want to pay you and your family a compliment, Addison, for it occurs to me that your father had enough money to probably have pulled some strings for his sons. I don’t know that he didn’t try, but my sense is from reading his letters that he was a ‘duty, honor, country’ guy down the line.”
Addison could not speak but rather nodded agreement.
“A final complement, Addison, and this time it is to you and to all of your same age friends who wrote to you. I read their letters. There was a lot of humor and some complaining, yes, but I did not see anything inappropriate regarding subject matter, language, or prejudice.
“Addison, do you think young Americans today have any appreciable knowledge ofWorld War II?”
“They probably know it happened, but that’s about all.”
“Do you think young people should study the history of this war?”
“I think it would help them immensely.”
“It could happen again. Human nature has not changed.” When I heard Addison say this I could not help adding mentally: You are correct Addison. The only thing that has changed is technology, and in regards to war, not for the better. Weaponry today is more lethal than ever.
“What have you told your only grandchild, Stephen, about your war experiences?”
“Stephen’s mother has told him that I was in the war. I have not talked to Stephen about it.”
“What would you want Stephen to know? After all Addison, your military experience is ultimately being preserved for him, is it not? Isn’t this the reason that you wanted to be interviewed?”
“Yes, I believe it is. Stephen is a teenager now and as such this probably won’t mean that much to him. But many years from now I think this might mean a whole lot to him, particularly if he becomes a father and he views his children in the same light that your father viewed you and your siblings. What would you want Stephen to know about your experience in this horrible world-wide event?”
“That World War II did not make us secure,” Addison said. “That it worked for a while, then the peace that was achieved fell apart.”
“And you are sorry for that?
“I am very sorry for that.”
“Addison, circling back to Mrs. Monkman, when she wrote you in 1946, she asked you a question and I am going to now ask you the same question again.” I withdrew the old letter from its envelope; it had been badly stained by acid leaching from the newspaper clipping of her son’s death. The top of its pages had a photograph of the Grand Teton mountain range taken from the Montana side. I read slowly to Addison the words that she had written 62 years earlier.
“Do you feel the war and the sacrifice of millions was worthwhile?”
“Well, Addison? What say you?”
Addison looked at me and pondered a response. After a moment he answered in the only way that in my opinion, anyway, made sense.
“Yes and no,” he uttered. “Yes and no.”
“Would you like to hear how Mrs. Monkman answered her own question? I think it is appropriate to let her have the last word, don’t you?” Addison nodded for me to proceed. “This is what a grieving mother wrote in answer to her own question so long ago:”
Somehow I am doubtful for all we still hear is war, and there is an armament race on. You boys who were in it—I do hope you will speak out, now and loudly, and ever more loudly—against war—and all its trappings.
The Altenbeken Viaduct today.