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Rev. James Howard Tucker « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Rev. James Howard Tucker

Hometown: Pilot Mountain, NC
Branch of Service: Army, 106th Infantry Division
Location of Service: Europe

I reported for basic training on March 3rd, 1943, in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. We also trained for a while in the mountains of Tennessee, and finished our training at Camp Atterberry, Indiana. One particular night of training sticks out in my mind; they called us out one night about 7 PM, we made a march of about 10 miles, turned around and marched back. A lot of our guys fell out on the way home, but although I was hurting, I toughed it out and made it back. Later, I found out what good training that really was.

We left Indiana in the fall of 1944, arriving in England in October. Assigned to the 106th Infantry Division, we relieved the 2nd Infantry Division along the Seigfried line in November. We were stretched thin, covering a line about 30 miles wide, we were only supposed to cover 10 miles. After we had been in place about 2 weeks the Germans attacked along the whole front. We didn’t know it at the time, but the Battle of the Bulge had begun.

There were about 25 of us from the motor pool that held out about a week. We decided to try and make a break for it and try to get back to our lines. We drove all night, were fired on by German machine guns, we tried to turn around and got stuck in the mud. We just held tight for a while, then I cut loose the trailer full of ammo behind my jeep and we were able to get out of the mud. We had started again when German 88 shells started falling in front of us. We started another direction and the shells again fell in front of us. We tried several more times, but each time the shells fell whichever way we tried to go, so finally we stopped and surrendered. It was December 16th, 1944.

The Germans herded us into an old barn, and kept adding POW’s all night long. The next day they marched about 100 of us on what seemed like an endless road, with nothing to eat or drink since the day before, it seemed like 30 to 35 miles. Just like our training march in Indiana, I didn’t fall out this time either. About 5 PM that day we stopped and they gave us a chunk of bread and some margarine. After our “meal” they took us down to a train station and loaded us on boxcars. We were packed in like sardines, not able to lie down, but at least we had something to lean on. We rode on the train all night and most of the next day, finally pulling into a station. After we had been there a while, it seemed as if the whole world exploded, allied planes were bombing the train station. None of the cars were hit, but we had to sit there the rest of that day and all night while they fixed the railway.

We finally left the bombed-out train station on the night of the 19th of December, our third day of captivity. The next day we arrived at a town called Bad Orb, Germany. From the train station we marched about a mile up a mountain to a POW camp. It was to be our home for the next three and a half months (we later learned we were in Stalag 9B). We were interrogated, and placed in a barracks about 75 feet long that held about 100 of us. It was so crowded the first night I had to sleep on a plank on top of a masonry wood burning stove, and by morning I was starting to get a little to warm. Later I was able to share a bunk with another POW and, it too,was a little crowded. If either of us wanted to roll over we had to wake the other and roll over together.

Every morning about 7 AM, they would open our barracks and we would head to the mess hall. For breakfast they would give us what they called “tea”, water boiled with pine needles or acorns, whatever to just give it a little color. For lunch we had “soup”, I really don’t remember what was in that, but it wasn’t much. For supper we would get a hunk of bread with a little bit of margarine on it. All of our “tea” and “soup” had to be put in our helmets; we had no cups or spoons. And this is what we had, day after day, for three and a half months.

One morning they didn’t open our barracks up as usual to give us our “tea”. Eight o’clock came and went, finally at 9 AM they opened the door and told us to line up outside. The Germans said that during the night someone had attacked one of the guards inside the mess hall. He was unconscious and not expected to live. If we didn’t confess as to who did it they were going to pick two or three at random and shoot them. We couldn’t tell who did it because we didn’t know. About the time we started to really get nervous, they found two POWS hiding in another barracks with blood on their clothes. They were taken from the camp and we never heard from them again. I can only imagine what happened to them.

Aside from this incident, and one other time when an allied plane ( I think it was Russian) strafed the camp, (only two were wounded, not serious), life in the camp was pretty monotonous. We did have the odd work detail, going to cut firewood or cleaning out the bomb shelter (a deep ditch we were to hide in if there was a air raid), but mostly we just stood around. For the most part our guards were older men, they spoke English, they even kept us informed on how the War was going. Except for one young officer they brought for a short while (he got a little sassy) most of them were decent enough. Looking back I think they realized the war was going to be over soon and they were just trying to get through it, just as we were.

On Easter Monday, 1945, we awoke to find almost everyone gone, except for a few of the guards. They had stayed behind to keep order and to surrender the camp. General Patton’s Army was fighting across Germany, and liberated us on that Easter Monday. We stayed in the camp for about another week and, of course, received real food for a change and more of it! We then moved to a field hospital where we got checked out and got our first showers and clean clothes in three and a half months.

They flew us from the Field Hospital to La Havre, France, to wait for a ship home. The one thing that sticks out in my mind to me there was they gave us some chicken stew. It was good but they also filled up my cup with broth, and I, not realizing it was scalding hot took a big gulp. It burned my mouth and I really couldn’t taste anything for a week. They told us we could go to Paris if we wanted to, but if the ship came while we were gone it wouldn’t wait, so I didn’t go. We left on the ship a few days later and sailed for New York, taking 14 days to get there. When we arrived at Fort Bragg on a troop train several days later, we learned Germany had surrendered.

At Fort Bragg a Captain told us we were not going to get two weeks vacation (everyone’s s spirits sank), but rather we were going to get two MONTHS leave. That brightened all our outlooks. During that time, I returned home to see my wife Lillian, daughter Polly, and son James Howard Jr., who had been born in March of 1944. While I was in the POW camp the only news they had from me was two postcards I was allowed to send, letting them know I was a POW. I later learned that after they got the first card Polly went to the Post Office three times a day looking for more news.

I then reported to Camp Butner, served six months in the motor pool driving officers around. While at Camp Butner we learned that Japan had also surrendered. I was finally discharged in November of 1945. While I would not want to relive my time in service, the hardships we all endured and the memories I have, have made me a better man and who I am today. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to tell my story.
Note: This was written in first person from personal interviews by a proud and grateful grandson.