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Stalag 4-B reunion: Ex-GIs recall time as WWII prisoners

By
WALLY MARTIN

ARDMORE, Pa. -- It started with a telephone call on a Friday afternoon at the UPI office in Chicago.

The caller asked to speak to Broadcast Sports Editor Wally Martin. 'This is Jim Bard. Remember me?' Of course I do. Hi, Jim.

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It was the first time in 36 years that we had talked.

On a cold December day in 1944, we had been captured along with other members of the 106th Infantry Division in the Ardennes Forest. It wasn't until later that we discovered we had been in the 'Battle of the Bulge.'

Two years ago, Bard decided to organize a reunion of those survivors of Stalag 4-B at Muhlberg and the wood mill work camp at Brand Erbisdorf, about 20 miles from Dresden. Originally, there were 30 of us. But only a dozen answered the correspondence.

Bill Peters of Watertown, Mass., provided a list of addresses. So, Bard went about contacting the old group. Peters was eager for a reunion. So was Nick Bosco of Middlesex, N.J. I was one who contacted Jim.

When I was assigned to cover the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion, Pa., this June, it was a natural. Bard lived at Wayne, Pa., just a long iron shot from the golf course. So we planned a get-together.

Before Bard arrived at the Holiday Motel in King of Prussia, a fellow sports writer asked me if I would recognize him.

Thirty-six years is a long time. No crew cuts now, maybe a beard. Both of us are wearing glasses... Both of us had put on weight.

No problem, we recognized each other right away.

For almost three hours we reminisced about the capture in the Ardennes and our days later at the wood mill. We both had frost-bitten feet. Most of all, we remembered being hungry all the time.

We talked about the forced march after the capture and the nine-day boxcar journey to Stalag 4-B in Muhlberg. We arrived at the camp on New Year's Eve after spending Christmas in the box car. On New Year's Eve we sang Auld Lang Syne with other POWs.

Jim asked if I remembered the trips into Brand-Erbisdorf to pick up beer and soda once a week. I told him I still had some German marks paid to us for work at the wood mill. We used the money to purchase the beer and soda.

Jim asked if I remembered Paul? Paul was not one to forget. He was the foreman at the wood mill, and a hard-nosed boss.

The night Dresden was bombed, although the city was some 20 miles away, the bombing lit up the sky at the wood mill. We scampered to our air raid shelter and could hear the bombers and bombing.

As the Eastern front moved closer, POWs at various work camps in the area were moved by open box car to keep out of the war zone. The rail trip took us through Dresden, already leveled by the bombing.

We remembered the days on the crowded roads in Czechoslovakia. Along with the PWs, there were German troops and refugees. Overhead, Russian planes strafed anything that moved. Two members of our work party were killed.

The Russians moved in and liberated us. A few weeks later, we were at Camp Lucky Strike in France and on the way home.

Thirty-six years is a long time... but those memories are still vivid for both of us.

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