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Paul Dallas « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Paul Dallas

Hometown: Neshoba County, Mississippi
Branch of Service:
Army, 65th Infantry Division & 45th Infantry Division
Location of Service:
Africa & Europe

Question: Mr. Dallas, tell us a little about where you grew up and what you were doing at the time when you entered service.

Paul Dallas: Well, I grew up in Mississippi, in Neshoba County, Mississippi on a farm, and I entered service in November of 1943 after I had graduated from high school in the spring of the year that year.  I was drafted and reported to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for training, and I trained in the 65th infantry division at Camp Shelby until May of 1945.

Question: What were you doing up until the time when you left for Camp Shelby?

Paul Dallas: Well, I was working on the farm after finishing high school.  My father, he got me deferred six months to farm, deferred from the draft.  And I worked hard all summer on the farm.  In fact, I did the farming that had been done in previous years with three hired hands and my siblings and myself, but during the war you couldn’t get hired hands anymore.  So I did all of the plowing, everything myself.  I worked from daylight ’til dark everyday except Sundays, and usually one row, a walking cultivator pulled by a fast horse and a mule, and I almost had to run to keep up with him.  So I lost a lot of weight that summer.  When I reported for duty at Camp Shelby I weight 131.  I had been at 160 when I finished high school that spring.

Question: What was your experience like at Camp Shelby?

Paul Dallas: It was a good experience.  I actually enjoyed the training in Camp Shelby.  A lot of my buddies in the training had been working in offices and different jobs.  They were not real active physically as I had been on the farm.  So it was tough on them.  It was easy on me.  The army unit training, or basic training, was easy on me because I had been working so hard on the farm and that didn’t bother me.  In fact, I got fat taking basic training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.  When I finished my basic and unit training, I weighed 165, and I weighed 131 when I reported for duty.  So it wasn’t too bad on me.

Question: Which branch of service were you in?  And tell us more about your unit.

Paul Dallas: I was in the 65th infantry division in training, but when I was shipped out of there I was shipped to Fort Lee, Maryland with a trainload of other soldiers, and we wound up boarding ship in Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia at Newport News.  It was a large troop ship.  I was told it had 5,000 troops on it and it looked like it had more than that.  We finally wound up in Naples, Italy after four weeks after we boarded ship.  This convoy of ships that we were in, in the Atlantic, somehow they let German submarines get in among the convoy of ships.  So they wound up moving south to, down the south Atlantic, and came back up along the coast of Africa and through the straits of Gibraltar and finally landed in Naples, Italy.  It took four weeks to get there because of that.

And in Italy, I was put in a replacement camp, in the Volturno River Valley in Italy for two or three weeks, and they finally assigned all of us in the replacement camp to units, and I was assigned to the 45th infantry division.  Within a week–I don’t remember–maybe two weeks, after being assigned to the 45th, the 45th started boarding LSTs in Naples, Italy for the invasion of Southern France.  And we made the invasion of Southern France on August 15th.

Question: Tell us about that invasion.  How did it go?

Paul Dallas: Well, the invasion–I felt the invasion went well.  We got into a storm in the Mediterranean the second date out in these LSTs, and that bad storm in the Mediterranean caused the invasion to be one day late.  We were supposed to go in on the 14th of August, but we made the invasion on the 15th.  And I think this day late caused the Germans to pull a lot of their units away from the beach.  I think they knew we were coming.

So my part of the invasion, we went in at Marseilles and hit the beaches there and there weren’t many Germans there, but snipers were there, and the snipers killed quite a few.  In fact, snipers killed my squad leader that first day.  He was on a church steeple, but we happened to be looking at the church steeple and saw the smoke from his rifle when he fired that sniper’s rifle, and he killed my squad leader.  We took care of him.

The next morning, a lieutenant, the first lieutenant walked up to me and said, “Are you PFC Fred P. Dallas?”  And I said, “Yes, sir.”  He said, “Your squad leader of the first squad in the third platoon.”  I said, “No sir, I’m not a squad leader.”” He said, “You are now.”  So I was squad leader from then on.

Question: And what did it require to be a squad leader?  What were you doing?

Paul Dallas: Well, you had to lead the squad in battle and you had to know how to take care of your squad.  It’s kind of hard to describe to you what you had to do then.  I knew what to do then.  I knew what to do at the time.  In fact, in my unit training I had been assigned the job as squad leader for quite some time in unit training, but I requested to be taken out of it before we went overseas.  I didn’t want to be a squad leader when I went in combat, but then I wound up one anyway.

Question: Why didn’t you want to be one?

Paul Dallas: Well, I thought I wanted to take care of number one and not be responsible for 11 or 12 other guys.  But once I got in combat I didn’t have any problem with that, because then I enjoyed making sure that my squad was taken care of the best I could.

Question: Did you have any type of practice or rehearsal for the landing?

Paul Dallas: For the landing?  No, not in Italy, but we had gone through similar training in unit training in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and of course we had instructions.  We knew what we were going to do when we hit the beaches.

Question: What happened after you hit the beaches?

Paul Dallas: Well, the Germans, as I had said earlier, they moved out away from the beaches.  Actually, the second day we boarded a French freight train, box cars.  It was small French box cars, and they moved the regiment I was in several miles inland to catch up with the German army, and it was the third day before we really encountered them.

Question: And what happened when you encountered them?

Paul Dallas: Well, it was pretty good battles each day really.  We’d take an area and maybe the next day they’d counterattack.  And one time they took the area back that we had taken the day before, but most of the time when they counterattacked we took care of that okay.  But we kept gradually moving forward.

And from August 15th to November 28th, when I was captured, we had moved from the beach at Marseilles all the way to Mulhouse, France, which is up in Alsace Lorraine.  It’s probably about 20 miles from the German border, and I think, if I remember right, about 10 or 12 miles from the Swiss borders, up in that area.  So we kept moving.

Question: And what was the combat like at this point, as you were trying to push further north?

Paul Dallas: Well, it’s not easy to describe, but a lot of it was on the ground, crawling.  A lot of it was in the woods, in the mountains.  We were having to go through that terrain, running into machine gun nests that the Germans had set up in the mountains behind trees, going through minefields where they had laid mines.  It was pretty tough.  We lost a lot of men.  A lot of us were lucky too.

Question: Describe for us what was happening in November as you approached Mulhouse.

Paul Dallas: Well, on November 28th we had orders earlier that morning before daylight to push off and take the next three towns.  I don’t remember the name of the little small towns.  I remember the name of Mulhouse because that’s where I was captured.  But the first three towns, we were supposed to take those three towns and then dug [ph] in for the night and not move onto Mulhouse until the next day.  But about lunchtime we had taken the three towns and secured them, and the regimental commander decided we should go on take Mulhouse that day.  So he sent orders up for us to do that, and my company and my platoon–in fact my squad was leading the attack to Mulhouse.

Well, we got word up that we’d have an artillery barrage on Mulhouse at 13:50, 13:30-1:30 PM that afternoon–and we were to wait until after the artillery barrage let up, and then we were going to move into Mulhouse, which is about a half mile away, to take the town.  Our artillery barrage, for some reason, did not come.  And about 2:00 o’clock, about 30 minutes later, we see all these German tanks coming out of the town.  I mean there was, I don’t know how many, but it looked like hundreds of them, but I’m sure it wasn’t than many, but when you’re a foot soldier out there on the ground and you see those tanks coming, it looks like an awful lot of them.  And they moved up within just a few yards of where we were.  In fact, we saw them coming.  We started trying to dig in.  It had rained the night before.  The area, the field, we were in was muddy.  We dug in that mud and tried to dig in a trench to get down in, me and my assistant squad leader and the others in the squad…

[CUT] [OFF MIC TECHNICAL DISCUSSION]

Question: So you were telling us about the conditions at Mulhouse that day.  What were they like?

Paul Dallas: You want me to describe the conditions when were captured?  Okay.  Well, as I said, we had dug in, trying to get some protection from the machine guns and other guns from the tanks.  The tanks moved up pretty close to us, and they had the large artillery 88 guns on them.  And by the way, the first two shots they fired off of their 88 guns, they fired them at our two tanks that was attached to our platoon, and it knocked both tanks out, one right after the other.

And we had a bazooka–we call them bazooka men in the platoons–with bazookas that could blow a tank up.  They spotted those and killed them right off the bat.  And we had, in my squad, I had a BAR man, that’s Browning automatic rifle.  They spotted him and killed him right off the bat.  And from then on all we had was our rifles to fight against those tanks with.  Well, when you fire a rifle against a tank it’s like throwing peas against a wall as far as the effectiveness of it.

And when I was captured one of the tanks moved up pretty closely, maybe 100 feet from me, and he rolled the barrel of the 88 gun down, pointing right at me and my assistant squad leader, and I was looking right down the barrel of it.  And he moved the tank a little bit closer, and I think when he moved it a little closer he dropped the barrel down a little bit and they fired it.  And the shell went in the ground, probably 15 to 20 feet in front of us and created a pretty good bunker, threw a lot of mud on us.  We were lucky, did not get any shrapnel from it, I guess because we were down in that hole.

And then they started firing burp guns on us and machine guns.  And before he fired that 88 gun, a machine gun had already been fired against me and had torn my helmet up.  I had lost my helmet off my head.  It almost broke my neck when it came off, it felt like.

And then this German came out, they opened the turret on that tank, and came up out of the tank and stood straight up, and I had my rifle pointed right in his eyes, but he had a burp gun pointed in my eyes too.  And he said, “Go ahead and pull the trigger,” in English, “go ahead and pull the trigger.  You’re dead.”  And I looked at all the guns pointed in my face and I decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to pull that trigger, because I knew I’d be dead.  And then he said, “Drop your gun.  Put your hands up.  Stand up.  Tell the rest of your men to stand up with their hands up.”  Well, I knew we were dead if I didn’t do that.  So I did that thinking, “Well, I’m going to escape later.”

So they captured 28 of us and they wiped out the rest of the company, and later that night we learned that they wiped out a lot of people in the regiment out of–other than that company, because we learned later that they had captured regimental headquarters that afternoon.

Anyway, they put us on tanks and had two half tracks pulled up there and had has get on.  They hauled us down into that little town of Mulhouse.  And about the time we got into town, our artillery barrage came, and it was a very heavy artillery barrage.  And we were sitting up on the half tracks and on the tanks, and the Germans started jumping off the half tracks and the tanks, trying to take cover from the artillery.  We did the same thing.  And about that time I saw a concrete wall, kind of a round wall, about maybe 100 feet from where I was on this half track.  So I decided that was the place to go, I’d escape.

So I ran to this wall and lay down real close to the ground for protection from the artillery shells and from the flak, and as soon as it lit up I was going to take off.  I thought I was.  Well, within probably 30 seconds from the time I lay down behind that wall, I felt something sticking me in the shoulder, and looked up and this dumb German shoulder was standing straight up with his rifle with a bayonet on it, pushing it against my shoulder, telling me, “Let’s go.” There was flak flying everywhere.  I thought he was the dumbest guy I had ever seen, but I had to go.

So he took me back to one of the tanks, and we got behind the tank until the artillery barrage was over.  But then they had an army truck in the town.  They loaded us on this army truck and took us to Strasburg that afternoon and we were interrogated.  They had an interrogation center set up in Strasburg, and we were interrogated off and on most of the night.

Question: You said 28 of your men were captured.  Out of how many?  How large was your platoon?

Paul Dallas: Well, the company was, at that time I think was about 180 men in the company.  And each platoon–then, the platoon I was in had 28 men in it.

Question: So it was 28 out of 180?

Paul Dallas: Yeah.

Question: What were their interrogation methods like?  What were they trying to find out?

Paul Dallas: Well, he began–and by the way, the interrogator was a German lieutenant who spoke English fluently–and the first thing he said to me when they had me to sit down in front of his desk, he said, “By they way, I’m a graduate of the University of Chicago, three years before the war started,” and he could speak English fluently.

Anyway, he started out by being real nice.  He asked me if I wanted a beer.  I said, “No, I don’t drink.”  He said, “Do you want to a cigarette?”  I said, “I don’t smoke.”  And he said, “What do you do?”  I said, “Nothing,” and I think that kind of made him angry.  Then he started asking me a lot of questions about the unit, about the outfit I was in, and I didn’t know anything.  I just kept telling him, “I don’t know.”  And finally he said, “You’re a pretty dumb old southern country boy, aren’t you?”  And I said, “That’s right.”

Question: Where did you go after the interrogation center?

Paul Dallas: After the interrogation, the next morning they put us on German army trucks and carried us to Stalag 12-A [ph], which was near Limburg, Germany.  I guess it was a prison camp with two or three thousand American prisoners in it.  All of them weren’t American.  Americans and there were some British.  There were also some Australians and some Italians.  I think this was a transit prison camp where they took them temporarily because they were moving them about everyday.  I stayed there three weeks, and then they herded several hundred of us down to the railroad track where they had us to get on boxcars, and we didn’t know where we were going, but we loaded on these boxcars.  We were packed in the boxcars so tight, it was standing room only, and when they closed the door on that boxcar that was it.  We had very little light coming into the boxcar…

[CUT] [OFF MIC TECHNICAL DISCUSSION]

Question: Now they were moving you from one prison camp to the next and they put you on a boxcar.  Explain that trip for us.

Paul Dallas: Well, they loaded several hundred of us, I don’t know how many, on these boxcars, and when they closed the doors, it was daylight when we got in there.  It was like pitch dark because of no light coming in the boxcars that we were in.  They had the one window, but the windows were partially stopped up and boarded up with boards.

The train started moving within a few minutes, and it probably moved 30 minutes maybe until we heard British bombers coming over.  And we knew they were British bombers.  If you stay in combat a month or two, you learn the sounds of different country’s airplanes.  Well, the British bombers came over and bombed and strafed that train.  I’m sure they thought it was an ammunition train.  There was an ammunition plant not too far away from this prison camp at Stalag 12-A.  But they did a pretty good job at bombing and strafing that train.  They must have torn the tracks up.  They must have torn the locomotive off of it because we sat for five days and nights in one spot, and the Germans didn’t open the doors to the boxcars.

And we were packed tight in there, no sanitary facilities except a bucket.  It looked like a big paint bucket.  It was over in one corner.  And when we got in the boxcars they told us, you know, that’s where we’d use the latrine, but you couldn’t get to it you were packed so tight.  And it was in the opposite corner of the boxcar from where I was standing.

Well, the strafing killed a few guys in the boxcars.  I didn’t know how many until they finally arrived at the destination where they were taking us six days later.  We, when they opened the doors, they had us to unload the dead off the boxcars.  There were 12 in the boxcars that I was in, that was dead.  And they had been dead in the boxcar since the first day that we were in there.  They had us to unload them, stack the bodies like cordwood at 20 pine trees at Stalag 4-B, by the way, is where we finally wound up.

The train started moving after five days and nights.  It only moved about one day until we arrived at Stalag 4-B, but we didn’t know where they were then, but we learned later that’s where we were.  Thirst was the worse thing of that, being in the boxcars six days and nights with nothing to drink, no food.  You become dehydrated in that length of time, pretty much so.

Question: What did you think about?  What kept you going during that time?

Paul Dallas: In my case, it was my faith, my faith in God, my faith in my country, in our military.  I knew one day we were get out of that boxcar.  I didn’t know when.  Of course all the guys in the boxcar didn’t get out alive, but many of us were fortunate.  We did get out alive.

We got out, we couldn’t speak.  Our tongues were swollen so much from dehydration.  And they made us stand in the pine forest outside the camp all night that night, and it was freezing weather then.  And the next morning, I’ll never forget it, it was Christmas morning.  They took us inside Stalag 4-B and put us in the barracks.  It was Christmas morning, 1944.

Question: Describe for us the prison camp where you ended up.  What were your days like there?

Paul Dallas: Better than they were in Stalag 12-A.  Stalag 4-B, the American prisoners of war in there had a little organization.  It was a large camp.  They were organized pretty well and had some control on what went on inside the camp.  They had gotten cigarette rations there in some Red Cross parcels.  Of course I didn’t smoke, but that meant a lot because a lot of they guys that did smoke got pretty bad to get along with because they couldn’t get a cigarette.  And the food was a little bit better than it was at Stalag 12-A.  Of course we had gone six days and nights without any food or anything, and it was good to get just anything to put in your mouth and swallow.

But I stayed there 10 days.  On the 10th day a German officers stood up on a box so he could be up above everybody else, had us in this large assembly room, and he said, “I have 40 names to call.  As I call your name, come over and stand with the sergeant,” an old German sergeant that they had over there.  And the first name he called, “Fred P. Dallas,” and I wondered, “What are you calling my name for?”  Well, the guy standing on my left was taller than I was, so I just stepped over behind him where the German officer couldn’t see me.  So he called my name again.  I stood there and didn’t respond.  He said, “If I call your name a third time, you will be executed.”  So when he said that, I stepped out and went up to the German sergeant.

He called the other 39 names, and they had us to go into a separate compound that afternoon where Italian prisoners of war who were medics gave us shots.  We didn’t know what the shots were for.  They gave us shots in the chest, right here.  I still have a scar where the shot was given.  And when I saw that I thought, well you know, we’re going to be dead pretty quick because those needles are going to hit our heart, but they didn’t.  Those Italian medics knew what they were doing.

The next day they put us on a passenger train, the 40 of us, sent us to a little small town almost in Poland, almost in Czechoslovakia right in the corner, named Runsdorf.  And there was a small prison camp just outside the town, built just like a big German prisoner of war camp with the guardhouse towers and the high fences and everything, but it had only had one barrack, one building for the prisoners.  It was divided into two sections.  It had 20 bunks on each side, if you can call them bunks.  They were wood things with straw piled in on them, but no mattresses.  This was a labor camp.  It was the fourth labor camp.  And it was a bad place.  It was the worst experience of the whole deal.

Once a day at a night, after dark when everybody was back in from working, they gave us one bowl of soup–we called it grass soup because we’d find grass blades in it–and a hard piece of German bread that you had to soak in the soup before you could bite it.  That was our night.

Now the next morning before we went out to work, they would give us a cup of German coffee with a little piece of bread, and you had to soak that in the coffee before you could eat it.  Our first assignment was cutting ice into blocks, about 200 pound blocks, approximately that size, and loading it onto a wagon, a horse drawn wagon.  This was out on a German farm where they had this lake.  It was about three feet deep and it was frozen to the bottom.  That’s how cold it was.  The temperature was below zero.  Sometimes they had said was 15 below and so forth on some days.

We cut this ice up into blocks, loaded it onto those horse drawn wagons, and hauled it to a town… Germany, which is about two kilometers away, and unloaded it into what they called their ice building.  An ice building was a building with probably four or five foot thick walls where they put the ice in to store it for the summer and it was next door to a brewery.

So we did that for several weeks.  And a couple of the guys froze to death out on that frozen lake.  We didn’t have on any warm clothes.  I did have any warm clothes any warmer than what I have on right now.  No gloves, and it below zero and handling ice.

Question: Tell us about the guards.  What were they like?

Paul Dallas: Well, these were SS guards at this labor camp.  One of the SS guards was okay.  The other six in that labor camp were almost like beasts.  But one of them, we called him Pop.  We nicknamed him Pop because he was an older man.  We thought he was an old man then.  He was probably about 50.  He had been in the German army in World War I and was captured and was a prisoner of war in

England.  He told us all about it when he’d catch the other guards not watching where he could talk to us.  And he spoke pretty decent broken English.  He was good to us when he could be.  In fact I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today if it hadn’t been for Pop.  He saved my life a couple of times.  But the other guards were like beasts.

Question: What did he do to save your life?

Paul Dallas: Well, one that we called Whiskers.  He was a very mean guy.  He was mean to all of us.  I became real sick one day out on the frozen lake when we were cutting ice, and I couldn’t stand up no more so I just laid down on the ice.  And he was going to make me get up.  He said, “If you don’t get up I’m going to shoot you.”

He put the barrel of his gun against my head and said, “Now get up or I’m going to pull the trigger.”  So I didn’t get up, so he pulled the trigger.  And it malfunctioned.  It didn’t fire.  He started to do it again and Pop was watching him, the other guard.  And as he started to pull that trigger the second time Pop hit his gun with his gun and knocked it away from head and it fired into the ice.  And at that point, Whiskers decided not to kill me.  Well, Pop got put in solitary confinement–in solitary, and was threatened to be executed because he saved my life that day.  They finally took him out of solitary and put him back out to watching us with the guards.  That’s just one incident of what happened with this guard we called Pop.

Question: What were thoughts this time about the people that you had left back home?  Did you have a girlfriend or a wife?

Paul Dallas: Didn’t have a wife, had a girlfriend.  Had a big family.  I came from a big family, my mother and father and eight children.  Oh, I thought about them all the time.  In fact, that’s one of the things that kept me going.

Question: How long did you end up being in the last–the labor camp?

Paul Dallas: A little over four months in the labor camp.  The Russians’ army liberated us from there on April 20th, 1945, and they wound up sending us to Russia.

Question: Describe for us that day.

Paul Dallas: Well, the Russians actually didn’t liberate us from the camp because the commander, the camp commander, a little German SS sergeant–I won’t tell you what we called him.  Anyway, he decided that he should take us and the other guards and leave the camp and go down a highway going south into Czechoslovakia to a little village called Rosenthal, Czechoslovakia, where another highway crossed through there going west.

He wanted to get on that highway and meet the American army, and the American army, we knew they were in Dresden.  We could hear them, and he knew it.  Well, he wanted to be captured by the Americans, because at the stage of the war the Russians were killing all SS troopers.  Instead of capturing them, they were killing them.  They were capturing regular German army soldiers, but not SS soldiers.

So we walked that afternoon, probably about eight kilometers from this little prison camp at Runsdorf across the border into Czechoslovakia to Rosenthal.  We spent the night in a school building in Rosenthal.  Well, about 4:00 o’clock in the morning all hell broke loose.  It sounded like the war had come to Rosenthal: horses, guns, and all kinds of noise.  So we look out the window and the Mongolia cavalry had come into Rosenthal.  And I think all of them were drunk and they were shooting everything that moved.  They were hanging people on telephone polls.

And at that point our guards tried to give us their guns.  We wouldn’t take them of course and we told them to stack over in a corner, and they did that and they didn’t touch them no more, because they knew that their time had come.  Well, we wouldn’t go outside and let the Mongolians know we were in that building because we knew our time had come too if we’d do that.

So we stayed inside, and about 8:00 o’clock the Russian army infantry came into the little village.  Well, one of our guys named Kapalinski [ph] was of Polish decent and he could speak Polish fluently.  He had moved to the United States with his parents when he was about 10 to 12 years old.  We sent him out to talk to the Russians, and he told a Russian officer that we were in a building and, you know, what the situation was.  So the Russians had us to go out into the courtyard and had the guards out in the courtyard and lined them up in front of a machine gun, those SS guards.

We told Kapalinski to tell the Russian officer to take Pop out of that line, that we didn’t want to see them kill Pop.  His answer was, “Well he’s going to stay with the other SS, and if you have anything else to say we’ll put you people in the line up also,” just like that.  So they killed our guards.

Question: What happened once your guards were executed?  What happened to you and the rest of your men?  Where did you go from there?

Paul Dallas: Well, they assigned two Russian soldiers–and by there were 31 of us out of the 40 still living that time–they assigned the two Russian soldiers to us supposedly as our guides, but they told us where to go and they walked with us with their guns, went back into Germany to Horsberg [ph], the town where we had stored the ice in the building, and there was nothing left of Horsberg at that point.  The Russians had bombed it and blew up almost everything.

We spent the night in a bank building, in the lobby of bank building that had been bombed, slept on the concrete floor.  And the Russian guards, I don’t know if they slept or not, but anyway, they were there.  During the night a drunk Russian soldier came in with a burp gun and took whatever stuff we had on us off of us.  For example, I had a watch, a 17 jeweled Elgin watch from the Germans from when I was captured.  I had it in my army boots.  And all the time I was in prison camp, I kept it hid.  Well, you know, I was liberated so I put my watch on and was wearing it, and I was laying on that floor with arm laying across my chest.  My watch, I guess, was shining.  And this drunk Russian soldier put a burp gun in my chest, took my watch, took the stuff off all the other people that had picked up different things.

The next morning a Russian officer came and wanted to know if this guy took anything off of us, and we told him he did.  He came back and said they had executed him.  I don’t know what they did.  We didn’t see it.  But at that point he told us to go with these two guides, that we were going to–I forgot now, some town–anyway, inside Poland.  So we walked all day with these Russian guards, I call them guards.  We wound up walking eight days going east across Poland, then they told us we were about halfway across Poland, that they were sending us to this little town in western Russia where they main rail line went through going to Odessa, that they were going to put us on a train in this little town to send us to

Odessa where we could board ship in the Black Sea and go to Italy and be turned over to the American in army.  I thought that was a lot of trouble to get us to the American army when the American army was five miles behind us when we left there.  So we all knew that we were being sent to Russian labor camps.

Anyway, finally one morning we got up.  We had slept in an old barn and we got up and started going down the road early with these two Russian guards, and we saw bicycles leaning against pine trees in the woods.  So we all took a bicycle, including the Russian soldiers.  They took two bicycles, and we rode bicycles for four days going east.  And then the fourth day we met a Russian infantry column coming down the road.  They took our bicycles, including the two Russian soldiers bicycles, and we walked the rest of the way.  The next day we walked across the border into Russia, into this little town.  I don’t remember the name of the town anymore.

And after we got there they put us in a building.  They had us to strip.  They deloused our clothes and deloused us before they gave the clothes back to us.  But before they gave our clothes our back, they had us to go through a door one at a time.  And we stepped inside that other room, there were two Russian women in the room.  They were Russian doctors and they gave us physicals.  They gave pretty good physicals.  But I’ll never forget that one of them could speak English, and the one that could speak English told me to step on something, the scales, and I stepped on the scales and she says, “Oh, pretty heavy.”  Of course I couldn’t read it and I said, “How heavy?”  And she said, “Ninety-two pounds.”  And to give you an idea of what had happened to our bodies though this ordeal, the lightest guy weight 82 pounds, and the heaviest weighed 108 pounds and he was six feet two inches tall.  We were all just skin and bones.

Question: How did you eventually get back to American and to American troops?

Paul Dallas: Well, the next morning after this physical, a Russian officer came into the room where we were, speaking English, and he said, “I have just received orders from General Eisenhower to send you guys back to Germany.”  Well, we knew that was a lie, but we were glad to hear we were going back to Germany.  And they put us on Russian army trucks, two Russian army trucks, hauled us back across Poland, back to Germany to Luckenwald, Germany, where Stalag 3A [ph] was–you know, the big prison camp where the Germans had the gas chambers and all that stuff.

In fact, the day the war ended, we were riding these trucks across Poland, and the reason we knew the war ended, we stopped in some little town–a pit stop in some little town in Poland–and people were dancing in the streets.  And the guy driving the truck I was on could speak a little English, you know, we could understand him, so we asked him what the people were dancing in the streets for.  He went and talked to somebody and came back and said the war had just ended.  That was May 8th.

A couple days later, we were in Stalag 12A, in Luckenwald, Germany, and we stayed there, and there were thousands of Americans there.  It was a big, big camp, and they were all over the place; and the Russians were in charge then, of course, because it was in East Germany and the war had ended.  But we stayed there a little more than a week, as I recall, about 10 days, and Russian officer had just the 31 of us.  They put us in a separate little compound at camp–I guess they thought we were contagious, had contagious diseases or something, and we probably did.  And they took us out of that little compound that day and put us on Russian trucks again, took us to the Elbe River Bridge, where they had a repatriation ceremony set up in the middle of the bridge, and we were repatriated from the Russian army back to the American army.

Question: How did it make you feel to know that the war was over and you were back with American troops?

Paul Dallas: Oh, it’s impossible to describe that feeling–really elated.  We thought maybe we were going to live after all.  And the American army took us to Holle [ph], Germany that afternoon on trucks to a hotel, where we spent the night in a hotel, and the first thing they did before they gave us a meal, they gave us all eggnog.  I guess they thought that would pick up strength up faster than anything else.  We drank the eggnog, and it made us all deathly sick.  Our stomachs wouldn’t quite take it, see.

But the next day, we were put on a C-47, flown to Saint-Valery, France, where Camp Lucky Strike was set up–you know, that’s where they were processing guys who had been prisoners of war to put them aboard ships and send them back to the States.  And we had been in Camp Lucky Strike, probably 15, 20, maybe 30 minutes, and they ran us through these medical tents and had Army doctors giving us brief physicals, checking to see if we were able to get on ship the next day to come back to the States.  The guy told me, said, “I’ll see you again before you get on the ship tomorrow,” and I said, “You won’t see me tomorrow; I’m gonna be on that ship!”

Well, he knew more than I did: within a few minutes, I passed out, fell out.  I was standing talking to a guy–I had just met a guy named Tommy Thomas from Meridian, Mississippi.  I walked out of that tent, saw this guy, we introduced ourselves and were talking, and that’s the last thing I remembered until I woke up three weeks later in a big Army hospital at Reims, France.  The nurse told me I’d been there three weeks; that’s a long story, but I finally got back to the States July 8th, to Harland [ph] General Hospital in Staten Island, New York–I came back on a hospital ship.

Question: You were awarded the Bronze Star; what specifically for?

Paul Dallas: Well, I actually received the Bronze Star so many years later, I had almost forgotten what it was for when I got it.  While we were in combat in southern France, I took half of my squad and went over on a reconnaissance patrol for the battalion commander in the mountains, the… mountains.  We had heard that the Germans had headquarters set up at a certain place, and he wanted to make sure whether that was right or not.  So we went over this mountain, about three or fours miles behind the German lines, and we came down the mountain and we saw this building down the mountain—we could see the roof of it.  And it was a German headquarters, and we wound up capturing the German general and took him back to our lines.  I was told, after that, by the platoon leader, that he was going to recommend the Bronze Star for me.  Well, I went on and forgot about it.

Another thing happened in the mountains: I was leading my squad, didn’t have scouts out, and we were trying to take a certain hill–Hill 566 or whatever the number was, there in the mountains—and I was leading the squad through the woods in the mountain.  The first thing I saw was, I was about to step on a landmine, and I hollered at the squad to “Stop!  Don’t move!  Start looking and make sure you don’t step on these land mines sticking up out of the ground.”

And we got through that without anybody getting killed.  A few minutes later, a machine gun opened up on us from up on the mountain, and they pinned us down for several hours.  And I finally crawled close enough behind trees that I could toss a hand grenade into the machinegun mess, and that quietened it, and we went on and took the mountain.  And the lieutenant told us, “I’m going to recommend a Bronze Star for that,” and I said, “Don’t bother.”

Question: What would you tell a young person today so that they could understand your experience in World War II?

Paul Dallas: Hm, that’s a hard question to answer.  So they could understand.  Well, I talk to young people occasionally–church groups and schools–and tell them some of the experience, and when I do that, you could hear a pin drop all the time I’m talking.  So they’re that interested.  I’m not the only one that does that; there are several former prisoners of war in this area that have done that, and we do it all around the country.

Question: Why do you want them to know your story?

Paul Dallas: Because they’re not being taught any of that history in schools, and they’re so shocked when you talk to them and tell them about these things.  And I think they need to know.  We’ve gone to NC State University and given talks to the ROTC classes, and they haven’t been taught any of this history, either.

Question: And why is that important for them to know this history?

Paul Dallas: Well, I think it’s awfully important for the young people growing up to know the military history of this country, because when they reach that stage in life where we are having military conflicts, I think it’s good for them to know the history of these conflicts.

Question: All right.  Anything else that you want to tell us about?

Paul Dallas: When I finally got home, back to the United States, after World War II, I did get home–I spent six and a half months in Army hospitals before I got home.  That’s how bad my health was at that time.  But I’ve been trying to take care of myself and improve ever since.

Question: I bet that farm looked awfully nice when you got home.

Paul Dallas: Oh, it did.  It sure did.

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