Donald S. Frederick: "Happy day!"
Donald S. Frederick, a member of the Fourth Ranger Battalion, was captured by the Germans near Venafro in south central Italy following the allied invasion of that country in November 1943. He was sent to Lukenwalde, a POW camp thirty miles south of Berlin. About a month later, he was transferred by train to Oflag 64, near Szubin, Poland. In late January 1945, the POWs were moved again, this time on foot, to Hammelburg POW camp. Donald Frederick remembered his last days as a prisoner of war in Germany in a 2005 oral history with Douglas Bekke.
DB: Now how long were you on this forced march then before you got to Hammelburg?
DF: It was five hundred and some miles.
DB: What did you find when you got there?
DF: Well, we didn't find too much right away. The barracks were fairly clean. There was a few American officers there. Discipline was lacking. Very poor morale.
DB: So this is February now?
DB: And when you got into Hammelburg was the food situation any better?
DF: No. If it hadn't been for Red Cross parcels that we received once in a while I don't think any of those guys would have made it. We'd still get the same old bread ration. A little piece of bread. That's about all they had to offer you. You didn't get any fresh meat or eggs or milk.
DB: Now it's March and all of a sudden something exciting happens.
DF: Yes. Here comes Captain Baum. I later found out he was going to raid Hammelburg and get American POWs out of there.
DB: A rescue mission.
DF: Well, I understand they had one armored infantry company and one armored tank company. That's about it.
DB: And how far behind the lines were you?
DF: Oh, forty, fifty miles at least.
DB: So they'd fought their way all the way through to you guys?
DF: They fought all the way through to us and they did a good job. They destroyed a lot of stuff between their lines and our lines. I understand they intercepted a German troop train and destroyed it.
DB: So now it's Sunday afternoon and what was the first thing you heard? What was the first inkling that something was going on?
DF: Well, the first thing I heard, I wasn't too far from the front gate. That front gate kind of faced toward Hammelburg. North-Northwest, I think. I heard this firing and everybody thought it was American tanks and sure enough, it was. And a couple of those tanks, they came through and broke through the front gate. Came in. We knew what was happening. We thought we were liberated.
DB: Was there much firing going on around the camp?
DF: Yes. There was. There was quite a bit. I think they pretty well took most of the camp guards out, from what I could see. I got on the second tank going out at probably eleven o'clock at night. It took a long time to get going. When we got to this little town there called . . . oh, what was that first town we came to? We got hit. I can't think of that town. [The town was Höllrich.]
But anyway, it's the first town we got down there. And it was kind of a bright night. The lead tank come up to this roadblock in this little town. There was a roadblock there made out of telephone poles. The streets in this little town were narrow. So my tank, the second tank, came right up behind and stopped. And we hadn't been there, I bet you, less than a minute and I saw this flash from one of the buildings to the left. Hit my tank. That bazooka hit between my friend Jack and Lieutenant Christianson. Killed him, and blew Jack, my friend, and I off the tank into the ditch back of the tank. Then the machine guns opened up.
So I . . . Jack, I found him. He had—we finally found he had about twenty-eight pieces of shrapnel in him from that bazooka. I said, "Well Jack, I'll try and get you on one of these half-tracks." And I did. I got him on a half-track. But anyway, the column reversed itself and they got back to the—I don't even know the hill we were on again where we got ambushed again. But anyway, it was Reussenberg.
DB: So you got recaptured there?
DF: Yes. We all got captured.
DB: Did they march you back to Hammelburg then?
DF: Yes. Yes. We got back to Hammelburg. They said, "You're going to be moved out of here by three o'clock this afternoon." We got moved out of there by train. They took us down to Moosburg. We didn't know where we were going but that's where we ended up.
DB: How long were you in Moosburg?
DF: Oh, trying to figure out when the war ended.
DB: You were slightly wounded at this time?
DF: Yes, but not very bad. My friend Jack had quite a few holes in him. He survived. We weren't there very long and we got relieved there. Of course, was it the 14th Armored that came through there? I think it was the 14th Armored Division. I thought. But anyway, the morning - I think that was on a Sunday morning, too. I heard some firing outside of the camp on the perimeter. Lots of firing. I went down by the main gate and by God, here comes some of our tanks through the gate. Behind these tanks there was General Patton standing up in his Jeep. From me to you he was standing up there and looking around. "By God, I'll have you guys out of here in forty-eight hours." Well, happy day. That he did. He must have had a little power.
DB: They brought in aircraft, right?
DF: Aircraft. We were trucked up to Landschutt airport, I believe, right north of Camp Moosburg. The C-47s came in there a dime a dozen. They took us out of there and flew us to Reims, France. I don't think we were too far from Camp Lucky Strike. I don't know how far it was. That's where I ended up in the next day or two, from Reims. At Camp Lucky Strike. And that's where all the POWs were processed before they were sent home.
DB: And this was in probably late April or early May?
DF: Something like that. Yes. May or April. So anyway, we got back to the States. It took us a couple weeks to get there. Landed at Boston.
DB: Now your parents had been notified that you were a prisoner?
DF: Oh, yes. DF: They knew. I called them as soon as I got off and said I'd be home in a couple days and I was.
DB: And so no brass bands. Nothing. Just a quiet arrival back home.
Frederick, Donald S.; Douglas Bekke, Interviewer, Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2005.