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LT  Robert F. ATKINS

MACR: 05169 CR: 05169

Comments1: 24 MAY 44 BERLIN (CREW 06 PL 102528) (EAC) Crew's 18th Mission




1st Lt Henry N.Jespersen          P    POW  24/5/44  BERLIN
2nd Lt Robert F.Atkins             CP   POW  24/5/44  BERLIN
2nd Lt Burton W.Seely          NAV   KIA    24/5/44  BERLIN
2nd Lt Joseph Savino            BOM   POW  24/5/44  BERLIN
 S/Sgt George Kostoulakos    TTE   POW   24/5/44  BERLIN
 S/Sgt Frank J.Gronkowski    ROG    KIA     24/5/44  BERLIN                  A/C #42-102528 "Times A Wastin"
   Sgt Frank Fischer              BTG    KIA     24/5/44  BERLIN                 MACR #5169, Microfiche #1853
   Sgt Thomas T.Kiriako       RWG    KIA     24/5/44  BERLIN
   Sgt John E.Legg              LWG   POW   24/5/44  BERLIN   SN# 33491033
   Sgt John J.Durrenberger     TG    KIA     24/5/44  BERLIN

349th Sqdn. Crew,as above,joined the 100th Group on 6/3/44. This was 
their 18th mission for the crew.  Regular A/C BTO "Big Time Operator"

Look in Missions File for May 24, 1944 Berlin mission story by Lt Jespersen. 



2. CALAIS, FRANCE 3-19-44

3. CHATEAU, FRANCE 3-28-44







10. HAMM, GERMANY 4-22-44


12. ST OMAR, FRANCE 5-1-44

13. BERLIN, GERMANY 5-7-44

14. LIEGE, BELGIUM 5-11-44


     BERLIN, 5-19-44-RETURNED


17. TROYES, FRANCE 5-23-44


First, let me congratulate you for a wonderful web site!  Some people have obviously put some real work into creating an excellent reference for those of us interested in the activities of the 100th BG!

My uncle, H. Neil Jespersen, 249th Squadron, 100th BG, was pilot of B-17 #2012528, and was shot down on a run to Berlin on 24 May 1944.  In the listing of aircraft serial numbers on your website, James Brown lists the serial number, but not the aircraft name.  According to Mike Howell of the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver, WA, the name of the aircraft was "Times A Wastin' "  It was a brand new bird with only 75 hours since the production line.  Prior to the USAAF gaining clear air superiority over the Luftwaffe, I guess that short a life expectancy for an aircraft wasn't unusual?

One other minor correction.  My uncle's full name was Henry Neil Jespersen.  However, he preferred to go by H. Neil Jespersen, or sometimes just H N Jespersen.  After becoming one of 5 members of his crew who survived the shooting down of his aircraft, he was killed in a construction accident 18 November 1969, near Seattle, Washington. 

Again, please pass my congratulations to the members of your organization who did such a great job of putting together the new web site!

David C. Hobson,

Archives : Volume 38  
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society 
History Quarterly Digital Archives
Source: January 2000 Volume 38 Number 1, Pages 15–34

The Experiences of a World War II Prisoner of War

John E. Legg ... Kriege Number 1693

Page 15

On the morning of 24 May, 1944, the Neil Jesperson crew was flying a brand new B-17G, No 4Z-102528, which had only seventy-five hours of flight time on it from the production line. For this mission, their regular plane "BTO" (Big Time Operators) had been grounded for maintenance. They had been forced to land at a fighter base the previous day, just barely reaching the English coast line before the engines began to sputter and die. For reasons I do not recall, the plane ran out of gas as we were returning to our base at Thorpe Abbotts from a mission to Lyon, France. 

This day our bomb load was twenty 300-pound incendiaries, and we were headed for Berlin again. During the assembly effort for the May 24th Berlin mission, the 100th Bomb Group's formation became somewhat separated and spread out, instead of being close and tight in what is called a "Combat Box". This box formation is necessary to have proper protection and fire power for the group. We all believed this happened because our inexperienced Group Leader climbed too slow at first, then realizing that we would be too low by land fall, he began climbing too fast. This action, plus poor visibility because of clouds and exceptionally heavy vapor trails, caused the 349th Squadron of the 100th, flying in what some crews called "Coffin Corner," to be a good distance behind the others. This was a perfect set up for enemy fighters -- B-17 stragglers. At the point that we were supposed to pick up our P-38 fighter protection, they were not there. Probably the weather hindered them in their efforts to locate our straggling formation. 

Page 16

Veteran's Name: John E. Legg
Army Serial Number: 33491033
POW Number: 1693
Address: 45 Anthony Wayne Drive, Wayne, PA 19087-1425
Date of Birth: June 8, 1924
Place of Birth: Philadelphia, PA
Branch of Service: US Army Air Corps
Dates of Service: Feb. 1943 to Sep. 1945
Group & Squadron: 100th Bomb Group(H) – 349th Bomb Squadron
Name of Base: Thorpe Abbotts AAF Station No. 139 APO 559
Position: Waist Gunner and Armorer
Rank: Tech. Sgt.
Awards/Medals: Purple Heart; Air Medal with Clusters; Presidential Unit Citation; European Campaign Medal; Good Conduct Medal; Ex-POW Medal

Experiences - Dates - Targets - Missions Flown: Augsburg 3/16/44; Calies 3/19/44; Chateau 3/28/44; Belgium 4/1/44; Rostock 4/11/44; Belgium 4/12/44; Augsburg 4/13/44; Lippstadt 4/19/44; Abbyville 4/20/44; Hamm 4/22/44; Friedrichafen 4/24/44; St. Omar 5/1/44; Berlin 5/7/44; Liege 5/11/44; Brux 5/12/44; Berlin 5/19/44 (Returned); Brussels 5/20/44; Lyons 5/23/44; Berlin 5/24/44 (Shot down) 

As we left the North Sea and swung in over land toward Berlin, it was not long before some twenty- five German fighters spotted our formation a good distance from the rest of the group. After circling to size up the situation, they lined up a little above and in front of us. The enemy air­craft then started a head-on attack, with their machine gun and 20mm shells bursting everywhere. Jesperson put the plane into a dive and then as he leveled out, one of our B-17s flashed by in a vertical lunge toward the ground, missing us by what seemed inches. 

Our chin and ball turrets were out, and there was a good size hole in No. 2 engine. Three of our squadron went down in what seemed like just a few minutes of battle, but our plane was still in the air and all the fighters were now behind us. A shell fragment had torn through my helmet but I wasn't feeling any pain. It was during this first pass of fighters that my intercom failed. 

Page 17

We survived that first attack because our pilot put the plane into that sudden dive. As we rose up to regroup with the remaining B-17s, the enemy fighters made their turn and came at us again, this time from the rear. Being deadly accurate with their fire power, they sent down the remaining bombers of our squadron. Their 20mm cannon fire was exploding everywhere, and it shook and vibrated the plane as these shells came crashing into us. The sounds and flashes of explosions and of twisting and tearing metal was horrible. Fire now streamed out of No. 2 engine. I believe the controls were shot out, and soon a second engine was on fire. Years later I learned that at this point Jesperson gave the order to "BAIL OUT," but with no intercom I did not receive that message, so I continued doing things that I thought needed my attention. 

I did not know that the copilot Bob Atkins, and engineer George Kostoula­kos, had bailed out around 15,000 feet. The bombardier, navigator and pilot were preparing to jump when the front end of the ship violently exploded. This caused Neil Jesperson, the pilot, and Joe Savino, the bombardier, to be blown out of the plane. We think somehow Burt Seely, the navigator, was blown back into the wreckage. I believe portions of the wings and some of the front end was gone at this time. The fuselage was falling, and the remaining five members of the crew, including me, were still aboard what was left of the plane. 

Tilted slightly down but remaining in an upright position, the sensation was that we were floating in the air. Tommy Kiriako, the other waist gunner, had opened the hatch in the waist, but I do not recall seeing him do that. The tail end of our plane was shattered, and John Durrenberger, our tail gunner, crawled forward from his position to the waist section covered with blood and immediately collapsed. I put an oxygen bottle on him, but he stopped breathing. Then I tried to remove the ammo belts that had poured out of their containers because of the sudden up and down action of the plane. All this was now jamming the movement of the ball turret, and preventing Frank Fischer from getting out. I started clawing at this mess of belted ammo, trying to get it off the turret, but quickly found it to be an impossible job. 

Giving up this effort, I noticed Frank Gronkowski, our radio operator, still in the radio room. Not knowing if he were hurt or not, I waved to him and pointed down. I'm sure that he knew the awful condition of the plane and that we were going down. I did not know if the bomb bay doors were open, but he could have looked, and if they were, all he had to do was step over the bulkhead and jump. Or he could come into the waist to get out, but he seemed to be in a daze and did not move out of the radio room as we continued to go down. 

Page 18

After that bout with the fighters and the explosion up front, it seemed relatively quiet except for the wind screaming. I wondered if the intercom had been working for anyone else. Since we were going down, I also wondered about the crew in the front half of the plane, on the other side of the bomb bay, but I could hear nothing nor could I see anything. As I mentioned above, four of the five in the front of the plane were already out. I was told later that after the explosion and being blown out of the plane, Savino was unconscious for a short time, and when he came to he thought he was in water. So he moved his arms as if to swim, but quickly realized he was falling and pulled his rip cord. Jesperson was hooking up his chute as the explosion occurred. He said he actually only fastened one buckle of his chute before he was blown out. He pulled his rip cord while in the same overcast, and the one buckle did the job and both he and Savino got safely down. 

But now this big dying bird was earth bound, and I felt -or had a very strange sensation that something or someone was telling me - "It is now time to get out of the plane." Thankfully, in all the mess, I found my chest pack, hooked it on, and got myself over to the open hatch. I sat down with my legs over the ledge of the open hatch, and looked at the ground which seemed to be coming up at a rather rapid pace. I believe that the altitude was under 1000 feet. Pushing off, I immediately pulled the rip cord, and almost instantly there came that severe jolt of the chute opening. I saw the plane crash, explode and burn just a short distance away from me. After a couple of swings back and forth, my chute and I smashed into a tree which left me dangling some fifteen feet above ground. 

Knowing there was no way to get my chute out of the tree, my thoughts of hiding it disappeared. While hanging there, I realized my back hurt and my head was bleeding. I pulled a small branch toward me, and with a little time and effort I moved a larger branch into my grasp. Soon I was able to get a leg over this and unbuckle the chute from the harness and drop to the ground. 

Immediately I was confronted by a civilian who was pointing a rifle directly at me. He seemed to appear out of thin air, because I had not noticed anyone nearby when I landed in the tree. I guess he arrived as I concentrated on getting down to the ground. We had been told that people on the ground, when hearing battles overhead, would be on the lookout for airmen dropping down in their chutes. 

Page 19

We aiso heard about civilians and soldiers killing downed airmen, and these thoughts were racing through my mind. For reasons unknown to me, this man chose not to harm me. I tried to make him understand I wanted to go to the nearby site of the crashed plane, but he shook his head and directed me down a path through the fields to a road. He then made it clear that I should sit down, and I began to wonder what lay ahead and if I were the only one to survive from our plane. 

It was only a short time before a big, black chauffeured car arrived with a German officer in the rear. He seemed pleased with the capture of an American flyer. He ordered the soldier who was his driver to take everything from the various pockets of my flying suit. After this search, the dog tags were yanked from my neck and that really shook me up. The taking of my tags really frightened me, because if anything were to happen to me now there would be no identification at all on my body. 

It was not long before I was told to get into the car. As we drove along the roadway, I thought I saw Bob Atkins up on a hill, not too far from the edge of the road, and made an effort to wave. This brought a sudden blow to my neck and shoulder from the officer sitting behind me in the car. It felt like a bolt of lightning had struck me. I presume he used the butt of his pistol, and this, of course, kept me still and quiet for the rest of the trip into a town called Ratzeburg. 

Upon arrival in what appeared to be the busy middle part of this town, the officer ordered me out of the car and onto the sidewalk. Then I was told to strip, except for my boots and socks. Civilians watched and laughed, but did not come very close to me. I still had a language chart in the sole of one shoe, which they did not find at this time. So finding nothing, he motioned for me to dress again. After that I was placed back into the car. While sitting there, someone behind me said, "Don't worry, everything will be all right," in perfect English. I did not turn around to see if it was the officer who spoke, or if someone else had moved in to speak to me. That really was a weird moment in the actions and events that were happening to me, and I have often wondered who spoke to me that day. 

Shortly after that they moved me to what was their local jail. Lying there in a cell, I wondered what would happen to me as a prisoner. I lifted up a prayer to God, one of many that would be made in the year ahead. I thanked Him for the fact that I was alive, and asked for the safety of the other crew members. 

Page 20

A while later someone came in to look at my scalp wound. I believe they shaved away some hair and put on some antiseptic fluid. Then they wrapped a bandage completely around my head. I felt somewhat better but pretty much alone, wondering if I had really seen Bob Atkins, and if we were the only two survivors of our crew. 

Now very much upset, worried, tired, full of fear from realizing I was now a prisoner in Germany, and not knowing what to expect next, I had difficulty sleeping. Then early the next morning I was taken outside to line up with other prisoners, and there stood four members of our crew, Jesperson, Atkins, Savino and Kostoulakos. Seeing them improved my spirits so much I think I may have shed a few tears. Although we were not allowed to talk, we each knew that at least five of our ten-man crew were alive, while wondering if it were possible that others may have survived. George Kostoulakos was in rather bad shape. 

Our guards took us to the local train station, chased everyone from one of the cars, then placed us aboard that civilian train for a trip to Hamburg. Arriving there, we viewed a devastated city in ruins from many Allied bombings. As the guards moved us inside, a sizeable group of angry and hysterical civilians came toward us with sticks, clubs, umbrellas, etc., in hand. Our guards pointed their rifles at the group, ordering them back in an effort to protect us. Some civilians came close anyway, and reached between the guards to hit, kick and spit on us. There was real hatred in their eyes, and I guess anyone would act like this if their city had been frequently bombed. 

Members of the mob shouted,"Baby Killers ... Roosevelt Gangsters ... Terror Fieigers, etc." I am sure that we showed our fear of them as each of us wondered if the guards would really shoot at anyone in the crowd. Apparently the threat of the guards possibly firing finally broke up the group, and we were taken to what I think was a large old prison. After being led down many, many wet stone steps to below ground level, we were placed in smelly, damp cells. I do not recall the condition of the others, but George Kostouiakos had been wounded in the face, arm and leg and was in misery. I do not believe that he had received any medical treatment back in Ratzeburg, and I wondered why they had treated my head wound. This was a bad night for George, and I remember him groaning and moaning. 

As mentioned before, American flyers were branded with such names as Terror Fieigers and Luft Gangsters and Baby Killers. 

Page 21

Although it was not always carried out, many air crew members suspected that policy had been set to murder all downed air crewmen. Some were shot, hung or beaten to death by civilian or SS troops upon capture, but many, many thousands were sent on to the Dulag Luft interrogation center, and then to various Prisoner of War Camps. 

The next morning they placed us aboard another train for the remainder of our trip to Frankfort. There we transferred to a street car which took us to where the famous Dulag Luft Luftwaffe interrogation center was located. All captured air crews passed through this interrogation center before being shipped out to a permanent camp. Sometime later in Stalag Luft IV, my first prison camp, we heard reports that some American flyers had been hung by civilians in that Hamburg railroad station, just a few days after we had passed through. It may have been the same group of civilians that had approached us, so we certainly were lucky that our guards got us safely out of there. 

It was solitary confinement at Dulag Luft. The individual cells were maybe six feet wide and nine feet long. Just enough for a narrow bunk with several slats covered by a thin straw mattress, nothing else. A single bare light bulb dangled from the ceiling. Lying there I realized I was hungry, and I could not recall eating or drinking anything for the past few days, but I guess we must have had something. And to this day I don't recall getting food and water at the interrogation center until we were placed in a holding compound. 

Sometime early the next morning, a young officer came into the cell with a folder under his arm. He spoke perfect English, and said something like "Good morning John, how are you this morning? For you the war is over, and we want to get you to a camp as quick as possible." He then asked many questions, and I answered each by saying only my name, rank and serial number. Soon angry threats were made that there would be no medical attention or food, and I could stay there in solitary for a long time or even be turned over to the Gestapo, the State Secret Police. But after a while, when he realized that he would get no answers from me, he changed tactics. He opened and read information contained in his folder, stating all the things he knew about me. All the while he watched my expression as he spoke. 

All his information was amazingly good. He knew my home address; when and what AAF schools I attended; that I was flying with the 100th Bomb Group in the 349th Squadron; what our target was on the 24th of May; and many other bits of information. 

Page 22

The Group and Squadron information probably came from the marking on our plane. Anyway, I tried not to show any surprise to the fact that what I was hearing was all true. I guess that when the interrogators realized that their threats would not get the prisoner to answer their questions, they then wanted to show how brilliant they were, and how good their intelligence gathering really was. I do agree it was good. They somehow must have gleaned information from local newspapers throughout the United States. An example being that the Glenside News, my home town paper, probably received news releases from the schools I attended, stating I had graduated. I just wonder how Germany managed to gather all that information. 

After two days in solitary, I was moved to a nearby compound where hundreds of Air Corps prisoners were waiting to be shipped out by train to a permanent camp. I think it was here that we received a cardboard suitcase that was from the Red Cross. I'm not sure what all was inside, but I seem to remember some things such as soap, tooth paste, tooth brush, towel, washcloth and comb. Also shaving items, paper and pencil, underwear and socks, shoelaces, and a sweater knitted by someone back in the States, and probably some other incidentals like playing cards, were included. What a thrilling package it was, and for most everyone, including me, it certainly was a wonderful morale booster. 

Around the end of May, a large number of us were packed into those infamous, pre-1918 vintage 40 Hommes & 8 Chevaux box cars, and we were delivered to Keifheide, the railroad crossing near Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Poland). Two miles away was KREIGSGEFANGENENLAGER der LUFTWAFFE Nr. 4, or Stalag Luft IV, a new camp mostly for American non-commissioned officers. I believe one compound also had equivalent British non-coms. Upon arrival at this camp we were thoroughly searched again, and this time I lost the language chart I had in the sole of my boot. Also, this was my introduction to a big, tall and mean German guard that I soon learned had been given the name "Big Stoop" by the prisoners of war. I remember him smashing a prisoner ahead of me in the searching process, because he found a compass on the prisoner. Thank goodness he wasn't the guard that found my chart that day. 

Behind ten-foot high twin barbed wire fences were four lagers or compounds. Around the perimeter were the guard towers with machine guns and search lights. I believe each lager had ten barracks, a large building housing a kitchen, Red Cross rooms and offices, an outdoor latrine and wash house, and a pump. 

Page 23

Compound B, Barracks Five, Room Three became my home for the next eight months. The ten barracks in our compound were built up on columns, so the floor was about three or four feet above the ground. That allowed their trained dogs and ferrets/guards to roam freely at night around and under the buildings. It also prevented tunneling. Each building was approximately 40 x 130 feet, containing ten rooms which were about 15x23 feet. 

Stairs led up to the only doors at one end of the building, and there were five rooms on each side of a central hall. At the other end there was a wash, and three or four hole toilet room. Each of the rooms had two windows that were shuttered at night, a single light bulb for illumination, and a potbelly stove. Eight double deck bunks accommodated sixteen men. Each bed had six slats to hold up a thin paper mattress filled with wood shavings or straw, so sleeping was difficult to say the least. Other furnishings included a small table, and either some stools or a small bench. And it wasn't long before there were additional prisoners sleeping on the floor. 

Getting settled into the daily routine of POW camp life took some doing. Boredom was a big thing, but much was terrifying, and food was scarce. Around the middle of July there was an influx of POWs from Stalag Luft VI. That camp was evacuated because the Russians were getting too close, pushing the German troops back in Poland. A decision was made to move Stalag VI to Stalag IV. My friend John Stipe was involved in this move, and he relates that it was quite a horrible experience. I believe the first part of that move involved being packed in the hold of a ship. Then, by truck or train, they moved them to Keifheide. Most were in poor condition, and under the threat of bayonet and bites from guard dogs, they were forced to run the two miles to camp. 

To house the influx of so many additional prisoners, more were added to each room of each barracks. In addition, the Germans built small shacks between each barracks to house some of these POWs. We called the shacks large dog houses. They were barely high enough for a person to stand up inside, and about wide and long enough for eight to ten men to lie down side by side on the ground. Some RAF personnel were now mixed in with those who came from Luft VI. Other POWs kept coming all through the summer. 

The German officer in charge of Compound B was Captain Wolf. I think most of us thought him to be a good man, and that he helped us and did as much as he could for our benefit. He spoke very good English and was quite friendly, I think we learned later that he was the best lager officer in the whole camp. 

Page 24

Every prisoner had a story to tell. You really could say most everyone had a hair raising wild experience the day they were downed, be it by flak, fighter, accident, malfunction, or whatever. It was quite interesting to listen to these tales, and those of capture. Of course, this helped to pass the time and, yes, we had the time to listen to the many unbelievable ­really miraculous accounts of survival. 

It quickly became evident that the protein and fat-poor diet would be a problem, and that we would need the supplement of the Red Cross food parcels that were designed to provide supplemental rations for one man for one week. These frequently were not available for one reason or another, and we would have to share, sometimes five or more men to a parcel. A typical Red Cross parcel contained the following items: 1 Ib. of raisins or prunes; 6 oz. liver pate; 4 oz. soluble coffee; 8 oz. sugar; 12 oz. canned corned beef or Spam; 1 Ib. powdered milk; 1 Ib. oleomargarine; 8 oz. crackers; 6 oz. jam; 8 oz. cheese; 8 oz. canned fish; 1 oz. salt and pepper; 1 bar chocolate; 1 bar soap; and two packs of cigarettes. 

I usually shared and / or swapped items with room mates Paul Farina and Jim Fife. (Sometime later, crew member George Kostoulakos arrived after spending quite a while in a hospital.) Sometimes we would combine food items to make something seem special. Food was something that was always on your mind. Although you didn't have much to eat, you still talked about it, tried to remember how things tasted, and of course dreamed about all the good home cooking you were missing. Once in a while Paul and I would try out our home made recipes, hoping to create something that might improve one of our meals. Usually there was a bucket of hot water in the morning and the evening 

The small loaf of heavy brown bread, which we thought was mostly saw­dust; and the bucket of horrible, sometimes wormy, cabbage, rutabaga or kohlrabi soup usually came once each day, but never was the quantity enough to satisfy hunger. Seven or more men would share a loaf of bread. Of course everyone was careful to oversee distribution, trying to be sure that one person did not get more than anyone else. It was an art to slice a loaf of bread in the necessary portions, making them as equal as possible. I think we cut cards to determine who would have first choice, and the person doing the slicing would be last. Once in a while we were lucky enough to find a sliver of meat in the soup, which usually came from part of a dead dog or horse that was brought into camp. Once our bucket of soup had a Gl knit cap in it. I guess the cook leaned over too far. 

Page 25

Weight loss soon became evident in most every one as their time in captivity increased. Cigarettes from the Red Cross parcels became the medium of exchange, and if you had something you did not want, be it food, clothing or anything else, you could sell it for a number of cigarettes. Then you, in turn, could use cigarettes to buy an item you needed or wanted. I always thought the fellows that did not smoke seemed to eat a little better than those who did smoke. 

I hit upon an idea to make some cigarette money that helped me, for a while, to buy extra food items. While washing out some of my clothes, I realized that some guys never washed anything, so I thought that maybe I could start a laundry service. I bought a few cakes of soap, made up a list of what I would wash, and what the cigarette fee would be for each item. Soon I was doing a small amount of business, and with the extra cigarette money I could buy some extra food. It was hard on the hands though, and never did get to be a big business. I guess too many guys didn't mind being in dirty clothes. 

Later in the summer, and again in the fall, the YMCA Representative brought in some bats and softballs, and games with barracks against barracks developed. All kinds of card games were popular, especially bridge. A certain amount of betting developed, with cigarettes as money. Later some books arrived, and that helped to pass time. Also blank log books, about two to a room, were received. Again, the cutting of cards determined who got those books. The fortunate ones used them as diaries and for sketching, writing poetry, and keeping records of friends and their addresses. 

An event that always drew a great deal of interest was when the "honey wagon" came to our compound to empty the cess pools of each latrine. I seem to remember it being called "The Super Duper Pooper Scooper," and it was either horse or tractor drawn to each location. Actually, it was nothing more than a large tank on wheels. A large hose was put into the cess pool, and I guess some methane gas passed into the tank. Some POWs said a little gasoline was also pumped into the tank. Anyway, a valve was opened, a match was struck to light the fumes, and with a loud "woof" the fumes burned off and apparently created a suction/vacuum which drew the sewage up into the tank. Crude, but it worked. 

Page 26

I believe we were allowed to write a letter once a month on a special form. As for incoming mail, there was some but it was sporadic. I did receive a couple of parcels from home which we considered a miracle. 

Every so often the guard towers had to try out their machine guns to make sure they were in working order. Once in a while, after a morning roll call, the guards would herd all prisoners to the center of the compound. Then the tower guns would spray their bullets all over the camp, making chills go up and down my spine, not knowing if a stray shot, or one on purpose, might go into our group. 

I remember one prisoner being shot for an infraction of rules. No one was to jump out of the barracks windows to get outside, but for some unknown reason a fellow did jump out one day, and he was shot. I think another was shot when he spit on a guard. You learned not to antagonize some of the guards. All the way around the perimeter there was a low warning fence, about eighteen inches high and maybe forty feet from the tall twin barbed wire fences. Once a fellow went beyond this low warning line to retrieve a ball that rolled into the "do not enter" zone. A guard in the tower fired at him but missed, and the prisoner jumped back over that line in a big hurry. 

I also recall a German up on a pole being electrocuted while working on some wires. And somewhere near by, there was an air base that may have been a training field for fighters. One day in October, several German FW 190s were diving in and out of the clouds, and one plane nose dived into the ground to the delight of the prisoners. 

Anxiety and depression affected many, and each person had to learn in his own way how to cope with all the negative situations that confronted us on a daily basis, each and every day. Prayers, faith in God, and attending church services surely did help in getting through the stress each of those counted days. You had to keep telling yourself that someday the war would be over and you would go home. Finding a friend, someone you really could trust and call a buddy, someone to talk to and share food with, was a big help. 

Around the end of July, 1944, there was a strong storm, and most every­one was inside their barracks or "dog house shack" when lightening struck. It hit and damaged one of these shacks that was near my barracks. The bolt of electricity killed one person, RAF Sgt. Raymond Stevens, and injured some of the others that were in there with him. 

Page 27

I can remember going over later to look at the shack, and running my fingers along the trail of the burn marks as they zig-zagged down the surface from nail to nail. Although I did not know John Stipe at this time, I later learned that he was housed in one of those shacks beside my barracks. It was not until John came as an art teacher to Upper Dublin High School, where I was an Industrial Arts teacher, that we swapped POW stories and found out how close we were in Luft IV, yet did not know each other there in camp. 

Sometime in late November, I found out that George Kostoulakos, after spending about six months in hospitals, had arrived and was placed in Compound A. Somehow we managed to have him transferred to Compound B and put in my room. It sure was good to see that he was in fairly good shape, and that they had saved the sight in his wounded eye. 

The winter of 1944-1945 was one of the coldest winters Germany experi­enced in a great many years. This was the winter of the Battle of the Bulge! Twice a day roll calls during the summertime months were never much fun, but as winter approached and cold weather set in, going out for roll call was dreadful because of the lack of warm clothing and shoes that were not in the best condition. Sometimes we stood outside for long periods of time until guards got the correct count. And there were times when we would have to line up outside so they could search the barracks. As for heat, the inside of the barracks wasn't a great deal warmer. You could say heat was minimal - and at times non existent ­because the allotment of briskets, a coal-like substance for the stoves, was very limited. 

Christmas Eve we were given an extra hour before lock up. Normally doors were locked, windows shuttered and the lights went out at nine, but this night we could stay out until ten. This allowed some of us to go around singing carols, and praying that we would not be there for another Christmas. 

Around the end of January the Germans decided to evacuate Stalag Luft IV because the Russian offensive was again getting too close. We could hear the rumbling of warfare that was off in the distance, but the Russians were still many miles from us. During the first week in February, the German Commandant received orders to abandon our Stalag Luft IV camp. We quickly packed up what little provisions we had, ate what food we thought we could not carry, and put on every piece of clothing we owned. About one quarter of the eight to ten thousand prisoners there were moved out in the 40 & 8 railroad box cars. 

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Some of the very sick left by truck or train for unknown locations, while as many as 6000 left on foot. Divided into several groups, these men experienced awfully harsh foot marches, some lasting over 80 days, which became a living nightmare for those POWs. Essentially each group of prisoners was moved to more central locations in Germany as the squeeze was applied by the Allied troops. 

I consider myself very lucky, and do not understand why, I was in the group that marched to the railroad crossing and immediately was packed into those small box cars. Did I say "lucky"?? Yes, lucky because I was not one of those men that left on a foot march. My friend John Stipe was on one of those horrible and devastating marches from Stalag Luft IV that covered some 800 miles and lasted 86 days. Again I say I was lucky to be in the group sent out by train, even though there was extreme over­crowding and we were packed in like sardines. Estimates were as high as 70 men packed into each car. You had to take turns to sit down. There was no food, except what we had managed to carry; no water; no medical supplies; little clothing and one blanket to ward off the cold. A small bucket was not sufficient to take care of the problems of the sick men. Dysentery added to the unpleasant filth and stench. One day our train was strafed by aircraft, and one night we were in an area being bombed by the British. Sometimes a POW would seem half out of his mind, and while many needed medical attention, there was none to be had. Somehow most of us survived that eight-day journey in those box cars to Stalag Xlll-D near Nuremberg. 

Now I cannot recall how many days we were there in Nuremberg, but I do remember several days when our Army Air Corps bombers would fly over­head, and we prayed that they knew the POW camp was there below them. We could see our bombers release their bombs, which would arch down over us and land in the city of Nuremberg. The metal fragments from the 88mm shells fired by the German flak batteries would rain down on us. There were prisoners from many nations in this monstrously large camp, segregated by barbed wire into various compounds. I believe we were only in this camp for a short period of time when the Germans real­ized that now the American troops were getting too close to Nuremberg, and they would have to evacuate this camp. 

I think there were close to 8000 of us when we began our dreaded foot march to Stalag Vll-A in Moosburg. Exposure to harsh weather, sickness, malnutrition from little food, poor clothing and shoes, blisters, frozen hands and feet, all helped to make this a nightmare, as were all the marches that our POWs were forced to endure this cold winter. 

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Each day was misery, and you sometimes wondered if you could go on. Many fell behind, and I don't know what happened to them. One day we were strafed by one of our own fighters. We really never knew just what the next day would be like for us, or if we would live to see the next day. Usually though, buddies or friends looked after each other as much as possible, helping each to survive the deplorable and inhumane conditions and filth, and lack of food and water. While most of us somehow man­aged to survive, some did not. 

Once, after a miserable day and a soaking rainy night, word was passed around that we would refuse to move out in the morning. This we did and the guards could not make us get back on the road. Somehow they got word to a nearby SS troop. The SS arrived in three-wheel motorcycles with side cars. In each side car there was a dog. Taking their dogs with them, they went to the rear of our camping area. With machine guns firing and the dogs barking, they had us back on the road rather quickly. I do not know how many may have been bitten by the dogs, or were wounded or shot dead because they were too weak to go on, or just didn't move quickly enough to suit the SS troops, but the majority did get back on the road. Along the way of the march, some were shot trying to escape, even though we had been told that our best chance of survival was to stay with the group. Most of us did survive this unforgettable experience, and we made it to Stalag Vll-A near Moosburg. 

Here was a camp built to house about 14,000 prisoners, now bulging with POWs of all nationalities and rank, numbering more than 130,000, in conditions similar to another nightmare. Again it is hard for me to recall how much time we spent in Moosburg. About this time Germany's armed forces were being crushed on the various fronts, and the Axis cause was nearing its end. I believe it was somewhere in this time frame that we heard the German Reichsfuhrer Adolph Hitler had given orders for all prisoners of war to be executed. Thank God, the Germans did not carry out those orders. 

It was here in Moosburg when the glorious day of liberation came to us. The troops of General George Patton's Third Army, specifically the 14th Armored Division, were our liberators. Around the 28th of April we could hear the lines of battle getting closer and closer to us. On the night before liberation there were shells being fired over our heads, and in the darkness of night many of our German guards left the camp, knowing what would happen the next day. Our leaders told us the safest thing for us to do was to stay put, and not try to escape at this time, because the front lines of battle were so near. 

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The next morning, the 29th, a couple of our fighters flew over the camp wiggling their wings. We could hear the rumble of tanks moving closer, and again there was shelling over our heads. Before long the tanks came rolling into view with the infantry troops behind each one. Barbed wire fencing was smashed down, pandemonium broke loose, and prisoners were going wild with the thoughts that their days of incarceration were over. We soon had Army food rations, Gl 10-in-1s, dropped from some of the tanks and trucks, and it was later in the day when we had some real baked white bread. I remember it tasted so good. I thought it was better than Angel food cake. 

The GI front line troops were really something to see. They appeared tired, but very upbeat and happy. They knew by now that the war would soon be over. Their dirty, sometimes ragged, uniforms had grenades attached in every imaginable place. They asked how we were, and what did we want or need. It was two days later when General Patton paid us a visit, and all I can remember is that he did have those two pearl-handled pistols, and he did not look tired and dirty like his troops. 

In no time at all they rounded up the few German guards that had stayed in camp overnight. All German weapons were put in a pile and a tank drove over them to crush them. That action helped to keep many weapons out of the hands of the now liberated US POWs which could have been a problem. When the infantry GIs lined up our guards, who were now their prisoners, some American POWs did physical harm to a few of the German guards that had mistreated them, I believe one particular guard, the one known to us as "Big Stoop", was taken somewhere near by and viciously killed. I took a watch from one of the German guards, who kept saying, "Don't hurt me because I am Polish, not German." Disregarding his remarks about being Polish, I kept his watch. Sometime later, I made a trade with someone, the watch for a German officer's pistol, which I brought home as a souvenir. I think it was later in France when we learned that on April 30th, Adolph Hitler committed suicide. On the 7th of May, at the Headquarters of General Eisenhower in Rheims, France, surrender papers were signed. They became effective on the 8th of May, when formal unconditional surrender papers were signed in Berlin. This closed out the war in the European Theater, and brought an end to the Third Reich. We now celebrate May 8th as VE Day. 

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Again we were advised to stay in camp, but as the tanks and troops moved on, the prisoners tried out their freedom by roaming the local area and surrounding country side. A GI with a Jeep took four of us out for a ride, saying he would get us a good home cooked meal. He drove up to a farm house where he saw some chickens. He went in and demanded that the old couple living there prepare a chicken dinner for us. He put his pistol in the middle of the table, and it did not take long before we were eating that meal. We stuffed ourselves because it was so good, but within a short time we threw up every bit of it. Our shrunken stomachs just could not handle that kind, and quantity, of food. 

Within a few days all the ex-prisoners of war were taken by truck to an air field and flown in C-47s to a camp in Rheims, France where, I believe, we were cleaned up, deloused, showered, etc., given new uniforms and a quick medical check. From here we were moved to Camp Lucky Strike, a marshalling area near the port of LeHavre, where many thousands of military personnel and prisoners of war were assembled to wait for ships that would return them to the USA. 

The loss of freedom, incredible hardships, lack of food, malnutrition, dysentery, lack of medical attention, dreadful cold weather, crowded and unsanitary conditions; all were behind us now. God had answered our prayers. Each day of this ordeal I had told myself that we would not remain POWs forever, that one day the Allies would prevail, and the war would end. So it did in Europe, one day in May, 1945. 

While waiting there in the tent city called Camp Lucky Strike, we learned that some of our friends or crew members did not survive, but we also found some friends that we thought were dead. It also was difficult to eat what we considered very good Gl food because of our shrunken stomachs. I am not sure if there were further medical exams given here or not, but I suppose someone looked us over to find those most needing immediate medical treatment. And I recall someone being shot, but do not remember whether the cause was accidental or a suicide. What a shame, after coming so close to getting home. 

We were told that there may be a number of days of waiting there in the staging area before the ship would arrive that was to take us home. Hearing this, POWs were going off in all directions, even t hough they were told to stay in camp. A friend, Albert Banner, and I were thinking about this waiting, and decided that we needed to do something other than just sit around camp. So we made plans to go to Paris. We got whatever the small pay allowance was, bought several dozen cartons of cigarettes, figuring we could exchange them for whatever we would need, and hitched a ride on a supply truck that took us right into Paris. 

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Just how long we stayed there, and what all we did, I can not recall. But one thing I do remember is that we joined a group with a guide, and we had some kind of a tour of the city. A group photo was taken, which I still have somewhere in my mementos. I also remember going up in the Eiffel Tower, but we were only allowed to go to the first level. That was not very high, but did provide a good view of the area. Anyway, I guess it was after this tour that Al and I made our way back to Camp Lucky Strike. We were in time to get on a ship that had just docked, and what a won­derful six-day voyage it was. 

One day a floating mine was spotted, and the ship circled it while the gunners fired, and after some misses successfully blew it up. I also privately celebrated my 21st birthday while on the high seas. I believe our ship was the Admiral Benson, and it possibly was one of the first few to arrive in New York with returning POWs from the European Theater of war. What a thrill to see the Statue of Liberty once again. I think there were many tears in the eyes of those standing along the rail, realizing they really were safely home. 

The fire boats came out into the harbor to meet us, and were spraying their water hoses in the air. Also ferry boats, with music on their loud speakers, and girls dancing on the decks, came alongside our ship as we slowly came into dock. It really was some great welcome home for us. As soon as I stepped off the gang plank, I bent down and kissed that New York ground. That made me remember that I had kissed the ground in Florida, just before getting into our plane and leaving the USA. 

In the February 1995 issue of Ex-POW Bulletin there was a poem by Ellie Fier, dedicated to her husband who flew B-17s in World War II. He was shot down and became a German prisoner of war. A part of the poem was this: "War is a nasty thing ... It never goes away ... It lives inside the combat men ... Until their dying day." How true for most veterans. 

Let me say here that it was a great honor to serve our country and con­tribute to the Allied efforts in the struggle to overcome the Axis powers. It also was special for me to be a member of the group of men and women that formed the United States Eighth Army Air Force Bomber Command. 

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This "Mighty 8th" was never known to have been turned back by enemy action while on a mission, although they did suffer tremendous losses. Approximately 9000 bombers were knocked out of the sky, which caused some 26,000 crewmen to lose their lives and leave some 18,000 wounded. In addition about 28,000 became prisoners of war. I consider myself a very lucky person, as an ex-prisoner of war, to have returned home. So many did not come home, and of those that did, most have some permanent injury to their physical and or mental health. 

In World War II, the total figure for captured and interned American POWs was 130,201. Of this number, 14,072 died while in captivity. As of January, 1982, there were about 88,000 ex-POWs still living, but that figure has now dropped to 52,531 living as of January, 1998. I thank God I am still alive today, June 8th, 1998, my 74th birthday.But as Father Time reaches out for us, the number of living ex-POWs and other veterans of the World War II generation is decreasing rapidly. There are fewer of us as each day passes. 

My wife Frances, oldest daughter Janice and I had a wonderful trip to Georgia in April to visit the "Mighty 8th Air Force" Museum, and to attend the Grand Opening of the new Prisoner of War Museum. I certainly hope that before I die I will get to see the World War lI Memorial now planned to be built in Washington, DC, our nation's capital, to honor everyone in our generation of Americans who helped to win World War II. 

I believe that during World War II, more than 16 million American men and women were involved in the Armed Services. More than 400,000 died for their country, and 1-1/2 million came home wounded. Reasons for POW deaths were numerous. Some died from lack of food and medical atten­tion; some in escape efforts; some expired while on forced marches or from exposure in the extreme cold weather; some perished in air raids or even friendly fire; some were massacred or executed while a prisoner. All POWs endured their fair share of personal suffering and sacrifice. The welfare of the prisoners was not a high priority for the Germans, and this was especially true in the Far East concerning the prisoners of the Japanese. It can be said that only the fortunate ones lived to come home, and they all wonder why they became the fortunate ones. 

What is the price of our freedom? Who paid for it? Ask anyone from an Allied nation whose homeland was bombed and ravaged by this war. Ask any family that lost a loved one. Ask those men and women who served in the armed forces. Especially, ask those who were prisoners of war. They all know freedom is not free, and that a terrible price was paid. 

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2nd Lt. Robert F. Atkins passed away on March 24, 2015 at the age of 95 in Downers Grove, IL.
He was born in Chicago, IL. July 2, 1919. He's is survived by his wife Violet Atkins, his soon

Robert F . Atkins Jr. and his daughter Barbara Nicholson.

You may contact me, Robert Atkins Jr. at:

Sent from my iPad


TARGET: Berlin DATE: 1944-05-24  
AIRCRAFT: "Times A Wastin'" (42-102528) CAUSE: EAC  




The enclosed photo is of the Neil Jesperson crew that went down on either their 18th or 19th mission, depending on who you talk to. We were in the 349th Squadron and were shot down by fighters on one the several disastrous missions that our group had during the war. Our particular day of bad luck was on May 24th, 1944. This was a Berlin mission and I believe this was the day of no return for nine 100th planes.
The following will identify those in the photo. From left to right, standing in the rear is: Frank Gronkowsky, Radio Operator; George Kostoulakos, Engineer; Robert Atkins, CoPilot; Neil Jesperson, Pilot; Burton Seely, Navigator. From left to right in front: Frank Fischer, Ball Turret Gunner; John Durrenberger, Tail Gunner; John Legg, Armorer and Waist Gunner; Thomas Kiriako, Waist Gunner. Inset is the Bombardier, Joseph Savino. Joe probably took the original picture and later someone added what looks like a school photo of Joe. (100th Photo Archives)

Henry N. Jespersen crew (left to right)
Standing: Frank Gronkowsky, Radio Operator; George Kostoulakos, Engineer
Robert Atkins, CoPilot; Neil Jesperson, Pilot; Burton Seely, Navigator
Kneeling: Frank Fischer, Ball Turret Gunner; John Durrenberger, Tail Gunner
John Legg, Armorer and Waist Gunner; Thomas Kiriako, Waist Gunner
The crew photo does not include Joe Savino. It is assumed he was the photographer that day. 



Crew 1

ID: 142