There was a march of some 30 miles in the German winter, enduring bombing by other Allied forces -- and the conversation of one German officer "who wanted to shoot us."
And so was part of the World War II prisoner of war experience for Hank Freedman, now 91 and a Suwanee resident.
Freedman was born in Boston in 1921 and was drafted into the Army in 1942. His company was shipped to Europe in 1944 when German forces started new movements.
His unit was transported to Europe via a British cruise ship, and once in England, he purchased a diary -- which he still has.
During the famed Battle of the Bulge, the company was shipped into Germany's Ardennes Forest in November, and Freedman and his fellow soldiers were concerned with intelligence and reconnaissance. "It was prior to the start of an offensive -- we had a job to do," he explained recently at his Suwanee residence.
"We could hear the Germans (vehicles) moving. You learn to tell what vehicle you listen to."
But on December 19, in the town of Bliealf, fate took a grim turn for Freedman's company.
The town was captured by German forces. "We were surrounded by tanks," Freedman remembered. "We had nothing but rifles and grenades. We had no air support because of the weather."
He remembered the German soldiers who captured his unit as "very arrogant, in a way."
The U.S. soldiers spent the first night sleeping in a church courtyard "stacked like cordwood." The next two days, Freedman's company was forced to march 30 miles, then they were confined to railroad boxcars.
Those German boxcars then came in for bombing by British forces who were allies of Freedman and the other U.S. forces. "They had no idea we were down there," Freedman said.
On Christmas Day, 1944, Freedman's company arrived at Stalag 9B in Bad Orb, Germany.
Meals consisted of soup and bread. Occasional Red Cross packages were split among the U.S. captives.
"It was a starvation diet," Freedman said. He lost 55 pounds, and was so emaciated by the captivity that he required hospitalization in France after his liberation.
Freedom came on March 30, 1945, when the 6th Armored Division roared into Bad Orb.
His diary carried an entry from that date, noting that he and others "broke bread for (Passover). Our feelings can't be described."
After being hospitalized for several weeks in France, Freedman returned to the U.S. Allied victory in Europe came in May 1945, and Freedman was discharged from the Army in November 1945.
Back in Boston, he told his grandmother, who raised him from age 8, that he was going back to Atlanta "to create a future for myself. She was not happy about it." (Freedman had spent some military time in the Southeast before being shipped to Europe.)
That future would bring more overseas trips, and involvement in a fledgling technology.
COMING SOON: Freedman talks of test patterns and department stores.
You might also enjoy reading:
- World War II POW Finds Peace in Suwanee