This story in my weekly series of excerpted stories from my books is about Richard Beach who became a prisoner of war (POW) with the Germans.
The POWs were a special group of veterans for what they endured. I was always excited to find and write about each one.
Approximately 94,000 U.S. military personnel were captured and interned by Germany during the war.
Keep in mind Richard Beach’s blog excerpt is half as long as his story in my book Captured! Stories of American WWII Prisoners of War. Seven other men’s stories are in the book; six like Beach tell about surviving in German camps, while the other two faced harrowing odds as slaves of the Japanese.
Be sure to get a copy and read about what these patriots experienced. I’d wager you will look at life differently and not think about complaining as much.
What are your thoughts about these men who served our country as prisoners?
Can you put yourself into their shoes (if they had them) and imagine their difficulties?
Has someone from your family served in the military? If so, share information as you know it.
Be sure to read the dozens of other World War II stories here and my blog.
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Check out my Youtube Channel (Kayleen Reusser World War II Veterans) for short videos of various veterans describing their military service. Here is Bob ‘Chase’ Wallenstein who tells about serving in the Navy.
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Thanks to all veterans reading this for your service. And thanks to your families as well!
In fall 1944, Richard Beach of Ohio City, Ohio, and a dozen other American soldiers were doing reconnaissance in the Hurtgen Forest on the border of Germany and Belgium. Upon leaving their foxholes to advance, they were surrounded by German soldiers carrying machine guns. The Germans ordered them to toss down their rifles. Beach and the other Americans were now prisoners of war.
Beach and the others underwent interrogations. Beach recalled his Army training of what to do if captured, reciting only name, rank, and serial number. He was shocked when his interrogators spoke in English, providing personal information about him, including the date of his induction into the Army!
Beach and dozens of others rode a train for days without food or much water or good sanitary conditions to a prison camp near Pilsen in western Czechoslovakia. Each prisoner was given a work assignment. Beach and dozens of others dug a tunnel through a mountain where the Germans planned to lay a train track.
Prisoners were given soup made from boiled rutabagas with an occasional slice of sausage thrown in. The diet was supplemented by black bread made mostly with straw. Beach ate it all in desperation to appease his extreme hunger. Only prisoners who worked received food.
The POWs slept without blankets on thin mattresses filled with lice. The prisoners spent much time picking insects from their bodies and hair. Their only heat came from the stove in the kitchen on the floor below.
When one soldier in Beach’s area contracted diphtheria, the group was quarantined. Beach was thankful to never contract that, nor any disease or illness.
The Germans had confiscated Beach’s New Testament issued when he was inducted into the Army. They returned it to Beach who read the small volume often.
On rare occasions POWs received packages from the Red Cross. Beach wrote letters to his loved ones and was thrilled to receive two letters from his mother. “I always believed I would get home,” he said.
In spring 1945 many German guards, suspecting the enemy was near, deserted their posts. Beach and others trekked 50 miles to Prague where Russian soldiers transported the ex-POWs to Allied lines.
Beach was treated at an Allied field hospital where he was sprayed with a delousing agent. He was thrilled to be fed pancakes for his first meal. During his six months as a prisoner, his weight had fallen from 140 to 105 pounds.
Beach returned home with the New Testament, which he kept for the rest of his life. He worked in his family’s business and later at a factory in Van Wert, Ohio. He married and became a father to three children. His father and brother also served in the military during WWII.
“Before becoming a soldier, I thought war was nice,” said Richard Beach. “There was nothing nice about it.”