|Cassette recorded oral history interview with Harry Meeleus by Gordon Doule. He discusses his experiences during WWII during the Battle of the Bulge and as a POW. Harry was assigned command of the Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 422nd Infantry. They landed in Belgium in November 1944 and were soon sent into the front lines. The Division was over run at the Battle of the Bulge on December 16, 1944 and Harry was captured and sent to a German prisoner of war camp. He was finally liberated on May 2, 1945.
ORAL HISTORY WITH HARRY MEELEUS
CONDUCTED DECEMBER 16, 1993 GORDON DOULE
D: Hello, Harry, would you, just for the record, give us your full name please?
M: Yes, I'd be happy. Harry G. Meeleus.
D: Where were you born, Harry?
M: I was born in Oshkosh.
D: And what year?
M: September 4, 1908.
D: You're married, I've already met your lovely wife, would you tell me what her maiden name was?
M: Her maiden name was Helen Hunter.
D: When were you married, Harry?
M: November 21, 1942.
D: Well, that was just about the time of WWII, wasn't it?
M: Yes, it was during WWII. I had been in the service for several months before we were married.
D: What was your occupation, Harry? Were you employed before the war broke out?
M: Yes, after I became productive I worked for a transportation company until 1941, and then after I got out of the service I went to work for an engine generator manufacture company, United States Motors in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as their traffic manager, and principally their export traffic manager.
D: Was that the company that Tom McGuire was involved in?
M: Yes it was, in fact, Tom and I are still very good friends although I've been retired since 1975, and you're looking at the poinsettia which he and his son, Tommy, now run D & J Manufacturing, sent my wife and me for Christmas and we usually get it from them every year.
D: For goodness sakes, Tom McGuire and I palled around together all through high school before the war. I know Tom very well. That's very interesting.
You say you got married in '42, you were already in the service, tell me a little bit, Harry, about the events that led up to your going into the service. You were in before Pearl Harbor Day?
M: Yes, sir. Well, probably in the latter part of 1940, it was during the 'conscription,' I guess they called it, you had to register for the draft and then the Draft Board would determine when you would be called. I was fortunate that I drew a number 27 in Oshkosh, probably a majority of them up to that number received exemptions from being drafted. So in March of 1941 I was called to Milwaukee for the physical examination, which took place at the Armory down there, and we went down as civilians, and if you passed the examination, why, you went on to the camp and was issued your government issue things, and whatever you did with your civilian clothes that was up to you, whether you wanted to send them back or just destroy them. So I got in the service in the middle part of March, 1941 and I was sent to Camp Livingston, Louisiana where the 32nd Division National Guard had been training in Camp Beauregard nearby, and we went to this new camp, Camp Livingston, where I took my basic training. After basic training we were assigned, and I was sent up to the 32nd Division Headquarters Company [ ] personnel for the Division, and became their Company Clerk. I was 32 years old when I was drafted and it happened in about the middle of the year 1941, before we were at war, it was passed that any draftees over 27 years old would be released, and go in the Inactive Reserve. So I got out of the service, I believe it was probably about July of 1941, and then I was, at the time of Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, then we were promptly recalled. As the 32nd Division was getting ready to, mobilizing to go to the Far East, my position as company clerk had been taken by another party. So the company commander recommended me to go to the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning. So I went there, and received my second lieutenant commission there, and before that, of course I participated in the Louisiana maneuvers with the 32nd Division, and shortly after I got my commission I also took part in the Tennessee maneuvers. That's about the history until I joined the 106th which was during the Tennessee maneuvers. Is there anything further that you want after that?
D: Do you have any specific remembrances leading up to that time, unusual experiences that you might have had that you recall, like during Boot Camp, places like that?
M: We had, oh, when I was first drafted, it was kind of amusing, we were quarantined for ten days, I was at Camp Douglas, and during the quarantine period it was not able to go to the Canteen and get any writing paper or refreshments or anything that you wanted to eat. The non-commissioned officers at the barracks, they were very generous and they said that if you would give them some money, that they would go up to the post exchange and buy things for you. But we found out very soon that the gimmick was, if you didn't tip them, they would forget to bring what you had ordered. That was before the war and of course a lot of things happened that turned at the time of Pearl Harbor. Another experience was that the first week that I was in quarantine I was able to get a pass to go to Chicago, the first week after the quarantine, and my wife and mother, or my then mother and girlfriend came to Chicago and we visited them. I had a cousin in Chicago and we had the evening before they got done, Sunday morning, so he took me around the town. At that time, of course anybody in a uniform apparently didn't have any money, because our wages, were $21.00/month. We called that $21.00/day once a month. So the first thing he had to do, he had to get me out of uniform, and he called a cousin, called a person to get a pair of shoes, and one to get a suit, and another a shirt, and it was about midnight before we got out. And we did get down to the Northwestern Depot to meet my girlfriend and mother at 9:00 on Sunday morning, so we didn't really get any sleep. But it was quite a memorial weekend.
D: Shortly after that you shipped overseas, was it?
M: Then after the 32nd went over seas, then I remained back and of course, went to Officer Candidate School. And then for a short time I was in command of a company, they called it the Airbase Security Group, that was a group that was supposed to secure the air bases, probably in England or France, outside of the combat area. Then they disbanded it - they decided that it wasn't practical so, at that time I was assigned to the 106th Division, and from the maneuvers we went to Camp [Atterbury], Indiana, where we trained. The 106th Division was a new division and been only formed a year or so before that. We trained, the group, and we were combat-ready in about the middle part of 1943, I believe it was. Then about 75% of our men were taken out for replacements and we had to train the group over again. We had not even finished our basic training when we were shipped over to England for 30 days for some tactical training and then into the service. By the way on November 18, 1942, I had a three-day pass that I could come back to Oshkosh and married my girlfriend who is my wife now of over 51 years.
D: After that, of course, you re-joined your division and then you were shipped over to England?
M: We were shipped over to England and we went over on the Aquitania.
D: Aquitania, you had a pretty good ship them.
M: Yes, and we were unescorted.
D: Because it was fast enough.
M: It was fast enough.
D: Where were you located in England?
M: Two of our companies out of the battalion I was with were based in [Adlebury], which is not too from Oxford and henceforth, London. Our quarters there was the Leigh Estate, which was a beautiful castle arrangement the government had just taken them over to have the servicemen...
D: How would you spell that?
M: I imagine, L-e-i-g-h.
D: That's very interesting.
M: We had some tactical training there and [ ] and at that time I was the company commander of the Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 422nd Infantry which was one of the regiments of the 106th Division.
D: That was an infantry division.
M: It was an infantry division. One of my jobs was to take the morning report over the regiment, which was about 35 miles, and that had to be after dark, and of course, there weren't any lights. Well, we weren't used to the driving of the English people on the left side of the road. The first night, well, I had a chauffeur, of course, we took a Jeep over, and that was a very scary experience. So after that we took a weapons carrier and we were well shielded there and good many nights why, we scraped automobiles but we were up high enough and had enough protection. So I did that six nights a week and then the adjunct, he would go over for one night. So it was usually 2:00, 3:00 in the morning before we got back to camp, and up at reveille.
D: You didn't stop in any pubs on the way?
M: We didn't stop in any pubs on the way. Probably the drivers that we met coming against us, they had been in pubs we know, though.
D: The roads were quite narrow, too.
M: And the roads were narrow, yes they were.
D: That was closer to Oxford than it was to London.
M: It was closer to Oxford. In fact my education ended at Oshkosh High School and the only other education I had, I went to a traffic management class. As I say, I did get foremost marks from University, however.
D: You did?
M: Yes, I did. It was for Grave's Registration.
D: Just what you can use. [laughter]
M: Just what you can use. I never did use it, but I always say that I did go to Oxford.
D: Well, that's wonderful. You had something in common with our current President, Bill Clinton.
M: Yes, I do. Incidentally, while we stayed there, I believe it was the Lincoln Hotel, in Oxford. The place we stayed had no heat, no water, one end of the hotel had been bombed out and there was just a blanket hanging at the end of the hallway as far as you could go and no lights, and we slept under about three Hudson Bay blankets to keep warm, so it was a good indoctrination of what was to come.
D: I can well imagine. I can well imagine. Well then after you went through your training there in England, that led up of course, and you were probably in some of the D-Day landings.
M: Yeah, after that, and we went over the Channel with the vehicles, these...
D: Like an LST?...or LCI?...Landing craft...Infantry...
M: Yeah, yeah. We were put into trucks, and went immediately into the front line of the forces, which was into Belgium, and we were on the front line of the...
D: Well you got to Belgium pretty fast! Let's back up a little ways and tell me some of your experiences between there and Belgium! Belgium's quite a ways from Normandy!
M: We got in there in fact the harbor had been set up with land mines. I don't know if you call it land mines or not but they were under water. And we had just one whole day to dodge before the mines were detected, and as soon as we hit shore, why, we were just put in trucks, and we had no winter equipment at the time, for the extreme cold weather, no over shoes... we were put right up in the front lines and placed in our division, and it was a quiet area at the time...
D: When did you go ashore? You didn't go ashore on the initial D-Day landings, did you?
M: No we didn't. It was after that.
D: You're mentioning cold weather, and D-Day was mid June...
M: This was in November of 1944.
D: Where were the front lines? By then they probably could have been up there pretty close to Belgium.
M: They were in Belgium. However, our battalion command was in a German pillbox on the German side of the Sleidrecht Rhein. In fact, our group was the furthest into the German area than any of the armed forces at the time.
D: OK, so then you were there when the Germans launched their counter-offensive at the Battle of the Bulge?
M: Yes, in fact we were there for several days - we could report - we knew there was some activity on the German side, at times they told us don't worry about it, those were Victrola Records that they were playing, but we knew better. We had never sent a sentinel out that ever returned. And so we knew that there was something and...
D: Victrola Records weren't taking care of those sentries were they?
M: No, and of course we had an experience, we were, of course, green in the combat area. So we went in with all very clean machine guns, all our equipment was in good shape, our mortars and everything else. The division we replaced said, now we have all our replacements here, so there's no use of us taking them out and you putting your equipment in there so, how but we leave ours and you take ours? Well, we soon found out after they left that their arms were not in very good condition, we had to do a lot of cleaning to get them into working order again, and they went out with...
D: Nice clean stuff. Did you feel a little like you got taken on that one?
M: We were taken. [laughter]
D: They say, 'All's fair in love and war.'
M: I had a little experience down in this pillbox. A pillbox is a place that's built underground with all concrete and it's covered with dirt and with shrubbery and everything else. You can't see it, it's just a little walkway down underground. And it was cold there of course, their winters over there are just about like ours here in Wisconsin. So my battalion commander, said we've got a stove here, but we don't have any stove pipe or we could have a little heat down there, in the pillbox. So he directed that I should take a driver and a Jeep and go to the surrounding area to see if we could pick up some stovepipe. So I did, and we got to a hardware store in a small community near [Schlassenbach] where we were located, and a major from the quartermaster came in, and asked for my name, rank and serial number which I, of course, freely gave him. A day or so later my battalion commander called me over to headquarters, that the division general, and his assistant general were here to see me. So I, of course, reported to him, and they said that I had a report that we were in the combat area, and I was off-limits, and I was subject to court-martial. And of course, this was kind of a shocking experience - but my battalion commander, he took over, and he explained the whole thing to him, and they were not too receptive, and they were about to leave when my colonel told them that it was his instructions and anything that would happen to me, he would be in front of it, all the way. The two generals left, you might say, with their tail between their legs and we never heard anything from them after that.
D: That's the time you got the best of a couple of generals. [laughter]
M: Yep. And while we were there it was quiet, but we knew that it was coming and the time of the Battle of the Bulge when this started, it was December 16th. And we were hit like nobody would ever want it. Where we had troops we had good troops, but they weren't proper - didn't have all their training even, and we were so much dispersed that the Germans could almost walk through us and we wouldn't even know it. So we were cut off, and immediately all our communication was cut off, and we were just left without any instructions, couldn't get any instructions at all what the situation was, and of course we knew that sooner or later we were doomed.
D: Did they come through, also with a lot of, come through with American uniforms and speaking English, did you get involved with any of that...because they did that...
M: No, they didn't. Of course, we knew what was over there, our line and their line, there was a valley between it, probably 2, 3,000 feet, we knew that they were legitimate. History will show that we were probably out-numbered many, many times. It was a mission that was almost like suicide.
D: How close would you think that you were to [Bastogne]?
M: I don't know.
D: You were farther into Germany really, than [Bastogne] - not Germany but closer to Germany than [Bastogne] was. Do you remember any other incidents that occurred during that battle? That battle lasted for awhile, you know.
M: Not too long!
D: Maybe not for you.
M: We had just received our pay. It was our pay for October. So, I had assigned one of the junior officers to handle the payroll and he had to go - he couldn't group the men, we had to go to them. About that time is when we were hit, and the first thing that I did, I tried to find him to see where the money was, and he said, I've already buried it. And I know that after we were taken prisoners and released and later on, why, we had a lot of consultations on it and I had to certify for him that he had buried the money.
D: What was your rank at that time?
M: Captain. Company commander.
D: Explain a little bit if you will, a little more detail, the circumstances surrounding your capture.
M: Well, we just wandered, we actually didn't know where we were. We were dispersed and there was probably, in our group there was probably about 20-25 people. By that time the Germans had infiltrated - our biggest liability was that the snipers would be there, and we could hear the sniper fire, and we'd have to take our chances when we'd go from one wooded area to another one, [ ] to be dispersed. It was about two days of wandering aimlessly...
D: Did they pick off some of your fellas?
M: No, not of our group. They did get some of the people, in fact when the battle first started I recall that I was with one of the regimental officers, and he was on the forward slope of a hill trying to observe what he could see and a sniper with his 25 caliber rifle had hit the major insignia of this officer that I was with. The bullet hit his insignia on his shirt collar and it glanced it off and it landed into his throat, not from the force of the bullet but it was burned in there. And he completely recovered, and the other one was, another time this was all within hours I was on the forward slope when my first sergeant, we were pretty much a personnel group, but when you get into certain situations like that you're all in about the same circumstance. He had received a shot that crippled him and they dragged him off, but he's recovered and I have correspondence with him to this day yet, and we reminisce some of our experiences. Incidentally, the poor fella, when we went overseas on the Aquitania, that was a long ship, and we had some rough seas, and instead of pitching, why, that ship would list all the time. He was one of the, well, I think everybody got sick to their stomach of course...the poor first sergeant, he hadn't eaten it was eleven days going over, so when we got up in the English Channel they said, well we're in calmer water now, and so they got him to go down to breakfast to eat. They happened to have two hard-boiled eggs that day as part of their breakfast and the first one he cracked open was rotten and he passed right out. [laughter] But he recovered, he's a good man. I had good men there, 'cause I treated them like a civilian and I wanted them to treat me that way, too. While we were in the United States there was an emergency and we left to go to the Red Cross and they, of course, had to do a lot of investigating and I found that I knew the situation but before they could handle it the emergency would be over as far as I was concerned, so I always had a reserve of money, personally, and I gave them an IOU, and got them on their way within hours from the time they were notified of the situation. And they were very grateful for that. I always felt that that was one that I could do for them. I didn't lose a penny on it - they gave every penny back and they were very grateful for the service.
D: That brings me up to just about, would you say, up to the point of your capture?
M: Yeah, well after we got overseas...we were on a hill and there were some other soldiers there, too, probably a hundred of us altogether in a wooded area, and we discussed it, and we had one major, that was the ranking officer. We got together and we said, we hadn't eaten for three days, we had no weapons, no ammunition, we knew that the enemy was close.
D: What had happened to your weapons?
M: Well, we didn't have any ammunition, so there was no use in carrying it.
D: You'd used it all up and why carry it now?
M: We hadn't been in there long enough to get ammunition. Hadn't even set up an ammunition dump. So we just decided that... we took a couple of enlisted men, this one officer, and on a stick we put a white flag and we start walking out. They sent three people out and they talked over the situation and they admitted that they didn't know what strength we would have up there. They thought we were fortified. And we, of course, we didn't tell them that, and they said, we just want to let you know, and this was probably about 2:00 in the afternoon, and they said, at 4:00 the instructions were to bomb out the hill. We knew this was doom-day, so we surrendered, so they sent us back up the hill, told us to get into slip trenches so we didn't have any problems and we would walk off peacefully the next morning. There was no shots fired at all. And they told us, after that, it was a good thing because we would be wiped out. However, we learned this while we were prisoners, of course, you know as an airman in the service after the air weren't able to fly because of the inclement weather but we had witnessed a bombing, and during this bombing we were up the road as prisoners into the woods, and they lost practically all of the German guards that was with us and over half our group but the American B-17s had bombed and literally destroyed the whole woods. Then we were sure that we made the right decision when we were captured.
D: They were bombing from high altitudes.
M: 20, 30,000 feet probably. And this was interesting. We weren't actually bombed. They were bombing out a railroad supply to an ammunition dump at Furth, Germany, which is just outside of Nuremberg. And as we passed through Nuremberg. Nuremberg had been re-built twice during the war, having been bombed out by allies. They did a remarkable job. And they were bombing out - the mission of the bombers was to bomb out the railroad track from Nuremberg to Furth and get the ammunition dump. Well, we were a few miles off their route. However, as we understood later on, we had a [ ] corps man with us, they said that, when you had your instructions it was all systematic how you would drop your bombs. If the bomb bay didn't open up and you couldn't drop your bombs, you peeled off, just went back to your home base, got rid of it as soon as you could. One of these planes that's about what happened, and as they peeled off they were over us and that's where the bombs dropped. So we were actually bombed by the American forces. And they didn't know it.
D: You were in a PW camp by that time?
M: No, we stopped at Stalag 4B for interrogation We were supposed to get, when we got to [ ] Germany, it was just at the border of Belgium and Germany I believe, we were to receive transportation to one of the prison camps. Well, there was no transportation and finally after a day there, we still hadn't had much food, a trainload of horses came in all cattle cars. So they unloaded the horses, and this all happened through the night, and all they did, was, when the horses were out they told us we could get in the cars and that was our transportation. Of course, when the horses...we had to push manure to the ends of the car. And we were in there and not even room to sit. We just stood up and they locked us in the cars and off the train went. We only went a few miles, there was a bridge that had been bombed out, so the train couldn't go on, and then about that time there was some air to cover yet, and we were in this train on the side track, and of course the American air people thought that it was a German supply train, so they strafed us with 50 calibers, and it was fortunate in our case we had a lot of casualties, it was fortunate in our case we were in the middle of the cars because the burst of the shells came at both ends of the car. We only had one casualty, he had a bullet right through his chest and right through his back, a 50 caliber and it didn't bled at all, but of course as soon as we were released, why, I don't know what ever happened to him. I expect that he probably did recover because he was conscious and everything, it was just a sting, that's all.
D: Armor-piercing and it didn't expand.
M: And so from that time on we had transportation for three miles, anyway, and from that time on there was no transportation and we didn't get into any place to stay, any warm place, we would march all day and stop at a farm house and sleep in a hay mound at night. And then out the first thing in the morning, and we walked, and we had no food and of course nobody talked to us, none of us had overshoes, we had no winter clothing at all. We deduced the farmers didn't have anything either. Something that showed the action of the Nazis. The German people were good. The Nazis were the bad people. So you would get into a German farmhouse and where they were Catholic people, and they had a crucifix on the wall of course. And they would come in and they would demand that the swastika be placed over the crucifix. And if they ever came and saw that that crucifix had been uncovered by the swastika they would shoot them, and they believed that they would, too. The farmers had no money, the only thing they had was what they could raise, and the government told them what they had to furnish them, and if there was anything left they something to eat. But they had very little to eat. If we would have just a few rations, say, half a piece of bread in a day or two, that would be a lot. Or if you would have what was left in the swill kettle for feeding the hogs or anything like that, why, you might get a half a cup of that once a week or so. It was a good time to diet. There was one thing that I had, a little gimmick that worked pretty good. The animal barn and the house would always be attached. That was for you that could get the heat from the animals that would come in the house. And the hay mound would be in a separate building. If I could, I would get to the animal barn, when we had our night's stay there, and I found that, in the horse barn, in the feed box, where they fed the oats, the horse could never get the oats out of the corner of the feed box. So I had a little cup, I have it here, I'll show it to you, that I picked up, and I would put that in there and if I could find a place where we'd get a little water, warm water especially, I'd just put it in there, hulls and everything, and it would take me maybe a couple weeks to get a half a cup. And I found that if I'd take a spoonful of that a day it contained a lot of vitamins, and I was able to hold my weight from 180 down to 130 but I didn't go down any farther than that. Of course we didn't ever change clothes, we never had a bath in over 5 months
D: You really weren't in a camp of any kind, were you?
M: No. Five and a half months we were, the only time that we walked from, of course [ ] by-pass Berlin, I'll show you the map, on up through Northern Germany and into Poland, where we finally got into a...well, on the way we did stop at [ ], that was a camp, for one night, but they had no heat, and we had no food, and that was at the time that Patton [tape stops]
M: Let's see, where were we...
D: We were in northern, up north...
M: Hammelburg. Of course, they came right through the barricade there, the barbed wire fencing, and the only thing that we ever can really calculate, was that Colonel Waters at the time, was the son-in-law, of George Patten. Among other things, I guess he hadn't seem them in two or three years and [ ] thought he was, he had heard that he was with our group but Colonel Patten would not go back with him at the time. And so they were released, they left [ ] and all that, and the tanks [ ] they had to go back, but the Germans had already mined their path back, and none of the tanks ever got back to Patten's [ ] in fact there was just about, two days back here, a party came to let me know that the ex-POW organization wanted to know if I was a member and I was, and they signed me up to this thing and in our conversation we found out that the fella that signed me up, he was with this tank group, and of course I never knew it. So we can still reminisce [ ] he was captured too. He was a prisoner. And then there was [ ] was from Oshkosh. And an article out of the paper shows where, at that time, unbeknowned to me, there was a fella there, a soldier there, from Oshkosh, and found out that I was there, and he took a chance and escaped. He, fortunately, made it back and that was the first information that my wife had had that I was alive. I was missing in action but I was alive. So then we had to get out of there in a hurry, of course, [ ] barracks, and the windows were all shot out and everything. There was no heat or anything. An interesting thing, now, maybe I shouldn't mention but I will anyways, was the restroom facilities were at the end of the building. It was the old two-holer outside toilet. You were supposed to respect the facility there, whatever you had to do, and if you were caught violating, you had to sit there until you caught the next person violating. Of course there [ ]. We had an experience in another part of the compound there, there were Serbs. And I have a book that one of the fellas, one of the Serbs made for me. I'll show it to you. He was in the Air Corps from Czechoslovakian, I believe it was. We found a hole in the fence, and we would go over and visit him that day. Of course that was a no-no. We were over there and we wanted to get back for retreat, because
head count. And if there was a person missing, of course, you just stood out there until they could account for the person. Sometimes we had to jump ranks and be counted double to make it. We didn't want these fellas to stand out there for our sake so, these Serbs, they would watch the guards in the towers with machine guns and they found that
less than ten seconds, that there would be no vision of a certain place that we could get over this fence, this ten foot barbed wire fence. told us, when we say 'go,' don't run, climb over, ten seconds is a long time. Of course, we didn't think
we didn't get shot down. And we never went back there, of course. But what they would do, if they would catch you going over the fence, then they would put you on a stretcher, and when they would do the head count at night, they would go up and down with this body on the stretcher to show what would happened if somebody escaped. So this all happened in a matter of a day. So we were immediately evacuated to
then we got up into Poland [ ] 64, in [ ] Poland. I think the closest town was called [ ]. We was only there a day, they didn't have any heat there either. In fact, there was no heat at all. No change of clothes or anything. We were told that we would evacuate after we got back down from where we came. Down through Germany.
In fact, the farmers had 24 hour notice that they had to evacuate the farm, that the Russians were pushing the Germans back, that the Russians were, and the German farmers would have to evacuate their farm, and probably never to return. And they had 24 hours, into a wagon, and of course between then and us, on the roads it was kind of conjested. I saw quite a few experiences. I saw many mothers with children less than six months old riding in the wagon, they would butcher anything that they could before they left the farm sometimes. In fact, we saw one case where one of the horses on one of the wagons was exhausted,
another horse that followed it
shot it, and cut off the two hind quarters and a hind leg and that was gonna be some of that meat. It was quite an experience.
D: You were being pushed down the road by the Russians?
M: Yeah, we had to stay ahead of them too. Finally went and we, of course,
by foot again, through Germany, by-passed Berlin again, and when we got down into, I believe it was, Hungary, and from Hungary we walked over to Switzerland,
[ ] River down in Switzerland, and that's where we were liberated. I've got a pretty fair log of what it was.
read it, of course, now, but I'll show it to you and if there's anything interesting out of it, why you can...
D: When were you liberated?
M: I think it was...When was it, Hon? Maybe the end of May?
[Mrs. M.]: I want to say May 5 but I'm not sure.
D: Just about the time the war was over?
M: From there of course, then we
at a farmhouse, we were liberated by a group of [ ] company that circled the farm and they all converged on modern vehicles and
surrendered and we were liberated.
D: You weren't right in Switzerland though, were you.
From there it's not too far into Switzerland. The [ ] River travels
border of Hungary. So from there we had to walk to [ ] Germany, there was a prison camp there. This was also an air strip. And the air strip was just, probably nothing more than just a big open field. And from there, in groups, we would board the, I forget the name of the plane, they were paratroopers...
C-47s, that's right. And then from there, they took us to... France... It was just outside of...I forget the town, it's a big city that I'm trying to remember right now.
D: [ ]?
D: [ ]?
M: No...Ah...it's a popular town.
M: No, in fact, the navigators, or pilots could do anything they wanted to and
something the paratroopers had and took the equipment out. That was my first airplane ride, by the road, and we circled the Eiffel Tower and it was down that road, and we had to look up to see the top
but they said they could do anything they want. So we got into France, anyway, and from there we were loaded into semi-trailers, with just a board inside, no top on it, and we stood in there, and we were transported to what they called RAMP Camps. [ ] , R-A-M-P, Recovered Allied Military Personnel. And we would go there, and we finally got something to eat
things that we needed, why we could get it too. They were named after verious cigarettes. Our camp was Camp Lucky Strikes.
D: I was at Camp Lucky Strikes myself for awhile.
M: of course, we
kitchen they would drain all the juice off
water in it, it had no salt, it had no sugar, and the only thing that the Red Cross
had a little milk or eggnog or something like that, we always carried our mess kits around with us, have something to,
They told us what we could do and what they couldn't do and they had a hospital there, and many of them, they violated all, why, it showed, many of them just died because of not doing what they should, they'd explode. In fact, a couple of experiences when I was in prisoner,
a fellow who interrogated me, the German, it so happened that I could talk about as much German as he could talk English, so we got along pretty good. And he was one of the guards that [ ] to us. We got to be good friends, he was there for the same reason in Germany as we was there in the United States. So one night he looked me up in the barn and he led me out into the woods. And I didn't know what he was gonna do, and he whispered, he said very quietly, that I should put my hand in his right coat pocket. And I did. And he had a boiled egg that he gave me. That was a banquet! He said, eat it now, and don't ever tell anybody, cause if they knew that I did this to you, he said, I would be shot. So he was a friend. We got to be friends. But in our stay in the barns, one experience one night - it was cold and I had found an old German beer bottle. Remember the old bottles with the [ ] clamped down with the rubber gasket in there?
and I carried that on my belt, I put a string on there
and this one night we slept in the hay mound, we had no covers or anything, it was cold all night, and I had the water on my side, in the morning
all the water had froze and the bottle was broken because all the water had froze and I lost my canteen. Several things like that happened that I kind of remember.
D: You never want some of those kinds of privations, before or after...
M: Right after I was captured, I got a little crack in my boot, in my shoe,
little toe and of course we were in water, no over shoes or anything, you always had wet feet, they never got dried out. And so we got into these German farmers, they farmed in what they called a [ ]. And it was
which would be a community, and they would live at the top of the hill, maybe half a dozen farmers
top of a hill
pie shape they would have their land out on this slope. And they had a shoe repair man that took care of all their work. I had an American cigarette, you would give anything for an American cigarette. And I went to him and asked him if he could fix my shoe, and he said he would, for the cigarette, of course. But I had to leave my shoe there. So I had to walk in stocking feet out in the snow and slush. And I went back in the morning and he had the shoe for me but the shoe never, ever leaked after that. In fact the German soldiers, they were assigned one pair of leather boots. They were called [ ] boots, and they were leather. Any piece of footwear they would have they'd have to have for at least ten years.
wear it down and patch it up. The German soldiers didn't have it good. The Nazis
only communication, of course, was bicycles, or horse and wagon, and these Nazis,
down the hill,
get to the top of the hill and they would take their rifle
hold it crosswise
in the neck and knock you down and they'd laugh and drag on...So they were really the bad people. They had
Another case, another time
one Red Cross parcel in 5 1/2 months, and the only reason we got that little little elven pound box, and it had a carton of cigarettes I believe, and a little chocolate, and a little small can of coffee, it was either Nescafe or G. Washington. And this fella that gave me the egg
hot water, and I gave him a half a cup of coffee.
We both had coffee and this bean coffee that we have here in the States
And there were many experiences there.
sour dough bread that was made of pretty much any kind of grain, or dried up acorns, and to hold it together as a binder they would have to use about 5% sawdust. It was sour bread. One of the officers that worked there, a friend of mine
He couldn't take it
it just turned his stomach.
pretty fast, and this was probably about the latter part of January, and in this farmyard I come across this woman
loaf of bread that her daughter had given to her, which was a premium thing. I had a couple of cigarettes
I offered her the cigarettes for the bread. She took me up on it.
took this to my friend. He would eat about a quarter of a slice of it at a time. And then he had a little sour dough bread whenever he got it,
So he always said that I was pretty much responsible for him being around.
D: Saved his life!
M: Another time, we found a farmer that was
pot in a bonfire, and [ ] in the morning. So I made a deal with him for a cigarette if we can get some taters. And he said, yes, if you give me a cigarette tonight, I'll come
potatoes to the hogs
any potatoes. Those were some of the experiences
and this is, to a certain extent, this demoralized German soldiers, a lot.
tell a story, and we'
they were very serious. We couldn't understand that maybe we wouldn't be here tomorrow and we didn't worry about it. What's gonna come is gonna come. And I was one of the lucky ones that turned out o.k.
malnutrition, I had developed at one time,
carbuncle. I had seven of them at one time. And they were
so bad that a bedbug wouldn't even stick by ya. So we had a medic
he had a medical
but he was really a dentist. He would be able to get into these farmhouses
tell these farmers something and we found out at that time, he talked this woman into letting me come in and
he said he would operate on these carbuncles. Well, I'll just cut them all in half here.
Well, he didn't have anything that was sharp enough for that. So we found an old Gilette Razor Blade.
Well he asked this farm lady if she had a glass, and put some water in it, and took this razor blade, it was all rusy and everything, and he worked it back and forth
And he sharpened this thing up so it was sharp enough to shave. And that
biggest one was about half the length of my little finger. So I had quite a bit of relief after that.
D: It was a little painful
I didn't sit down for over a month. So then when we got to the [ ] Camp,
penicillin shots. Then when
hospital ship, called the SS [ ]. It was a captured German ship that was captured down in the southern part of South America. I guess the German name was the [ ].
quite a lot of armour on it. So then, every four hours, we would have to go down to the dispensary,
carbuncles too, and we got the penicillin shots. Well this one night
take the shots,
this other fella
why, what happened? Well, he said, I looked in the refrigerator and I thought I got out the penicillin, but I got out novacaine or something like that,
the biggest casualty thing that we had when I was a prisoner of war was dysentary.And that was because nothing was sterilized.
animal barn, and the manure pile. And that was where the moisture was, so you would drive a point down through the manure pile,
and of course you couldn't boil it. And actually, dysentary was
prisoners of war when we were there than anything else.
I did find out that we all had that problem, and at the time
this woman that operated on my carbuncles and she realized the situation too.
barn fire, where there were some cold coals, take some of that charcoal, and chew it,
and it's awfully hard to take, but that's as good a medicine as you can take. So I alwasy carried some after that and I never had any problems. It was mean to take but it did the trick.
some of the most interesting. However, after we got back to the United States
was really discouraging
eat anything we wanted to. So
first time we went in the mess hall
steak, or anything you wanted to eat,
And the cooks and the entire mess personnel
living like kings.
D: by any chance?
M: Well, I don't remember the
there was no
or anything that day.
to get home. After that, of course,
D: O.K., last question: How do you think your experiences changed your life?
M: Well, I know there were a lot of things I could apply it to after I got out of the service.
It would have been a lot worse if I would have had to experience it
It's a lot more of a life
some of the philosophy
I don't recall, we always had wet clothing, dirty clothing and everything else,
I don't remember a prisoner having a cold during that period. You wouldn't feel good of course, your vitality was very low but
the human body can take a lot, if you live with it.
And that was the philosophy of most of the prisoners, if you had to do it, you could do it. I would say now,
D: Of course not, at our age...
M: So, the human body is pretty good.
D: God takes care of us, doesn't he?
M: Yes, I guess he does alright.
D: One more thing, can you give me your birth date again?
M: September 4, 1908. So now at 85, why,
D: Still enjoy life.
M: Still enjoy life. I lost might sight, as I say, in 1985
with the help of my good wife
D: It takes a good wife. And you've been married over 50 years.
D: Well, of course, and she's sitting right here with a nice big smile on her face, too.
D: After I leave, shades of hell
Harry, thanks so very much for giving us all this stuff. Posterity is gonna really appreciate it
Mrs. M.: I noticed you said that Colonel Patten
D: Oh, I see.
M: Just recently, he was a two-star general, and he recently passed away.
D: His name was Waters.
M: Colonel Waters.
M: I said,
No it was [ ].
ex-prisoner of war?
D: Well, as I say I appreciate it, and I'll say this, that everything that you've said will be respected. There will be no corruption or anything, not as long as I'm alive, at any rate.
M: Well, I'm just happy
I'm very proud to say that
to the best of my ability
D: Well, you certainly did that. And this correspondance was spoken on this record as on the 16th of December of 1993. And this will conclude this interview. Thanks again.
M: Thanks very much.
D: Thank you.
|Oral History Interview with Harry Meeleus
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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