Memorial Day: An Interview with George Woodcock May 18th, 1987
In 1987 I had an assignment to interview my grandfather about his time in World War II, prior to this moment he had never spoken about the war to me or most of the family. To this day I am not sure why he wanted to on that sunny afternoon but I look back fondly on this piece and while I have not edited it since I wrote it...the context is all there. It is with great pleasure on this Memorial Day I share the words of my Grandfather.
E: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
E: Did you enlist in the Army or the Air Force?
G: The Air Force
E: I have heard that you were rejected the first time you tried to enlist. Is that true?
G: Yes. I was too light weight. They (Air Force) had weight and height limitations.
E: What did you eat to get weight on?
G: Eggnog, malts, shakes and bananas.
E: Where were you in boot camp?
G: I was in Cadet Camp. They did not call it Boot Camp then. I was in Santa
E: How long was Cadet Camp?
G: I was there for three or four weeks then I was transferred out to Mechanics
E: When did you officially enter war?
G: I enlisted three days after Pearl Harbor, December 10, 1941 . I went in to service on May 10, 1942.
E: You said something about Pearl Harbor. What were your feelings about Pearl
G: That's why I enlisted. I thought we would save the world from the Japanese.
E: Where were you stationed?
G: In Europe I was stationed in a little town fifty miles north east of London.
E: When were you shot down the first time?
G: I was shot down and bailed out over the Cliffs of Dover when the engine was on fire.
E: And the second time?
G: The second time was in the Black Forest of Germany. When we were shot down we were within sight of Switzerland, you could see it, right on the edge of a little town called Aalan, Germany, just north of Stutgard. We were joking about if we got shot down we could run to Switzerland.
The ship was hit pretty bad, it blew up. The ground was all covered with snow so when I landed I tried to make my way up the mountain where there
was no snow so they (Germans) couldn't track me, but they found my tracks when I crossed the road. I was by myself at that point. I had
held my shot, the other guys opened theirs right away. I did not open mine until I was in a cloud cover so they couldn't track me. Because of that, I fell away from the group (nine out of ten guys got out). When they did capture me the captain that was in charge of the group stuck his gun in my back and made me walk in the woods. I thought he was going to put a hole in my back. All he wanted to do was to find out where I was from and if I was married so he could go back to his friends and brag of all the English e knew.
E: Did the other eight guys get captured before you?
G: Yes, I was the last one captured. What would happen was that when you bailed out of the airplane
the German pilots would circle and everyone would assume they were shooting at the guys with the parachutes but actually all they were doing is radioing how many were coming down and whether they were falling.
E: How did the Germans know what direction you were heading?
G: They knew the general area to find the airplane and I landed real close to my plane, in fact I almost fell into it.
E: Could you have avoided it?
G: Had I not been captured I would have gotten to Switzerland and then I would have been interned by the Swiss for the rest of the war.
E: Was that worse?
G: No, you stay in a hotel. We had some guys in POW camp who got out of Switzerland because they were so bored from doing nothing. We thought they were crazy.
E: How were the camps set up in Germany?
G: There were no camps in Germany. They were in access countries-Austria, Lithuania and Latvia.
E: Why weren't they in Germany?
G: The Geneva Agreement protected the prisoner from injury . They had three types of prison camps. One for officers, one for non-commissioned officers and one for privates. Privates had to work, non commissioned did not have to work and officers could not work, instead people worked for them.
E: Why did the privates have to work?
G: That's the way it was. It was almost like slave labor. They worked in mines and on farms. They has a pretty rough time. Us non-commissioned officers would just do nothing. We had to take care of our own bunks and take care of our own housekeeping, but officers could do nothing.
E: How big were the camps?
G: Each camp would hold 10,000- 15,000 people. They were not small.
E: Did you have any contact with the Jewish concentration camps?
G: No. We heard about them, we knew of their existence.
E: Where were you imprisoned?
G: Interrogation was at Frankfurt, Germany and from there we went to a camp in Latvia and finally shipped to a camp in Lithuania.
E: How long were you a POW?
G: About 410 days.
E: How were you treated?
G: We weren't treated, for the most part ignored. Most of it was boredom but occasionally we would run across an officer whose people were hurt as a result of bombings and took it out on the prisoners. Case in point, we were being transferred from a prison ship to a camp and there were about 2,000 of us. They handcuffed us in pairs and made us run down the road and whenever you fell the German Marines would bayonet you and sick their dogs on you. Then they would pick you up in an ambulance and take you to camp. The run was about 8-10 miles long and a lot of guys got pretty beat up at that point. Another time there was a German electrician fixing some wires on a pole and he got electrocuted. The prisoners were cheering. All the guards turned the machine guns on the camp and fired at the prisoners. Everybody was ducking and hiding for cover. These were all isolated incidents. Most of the time it was just waiting and waiting and waiting. To help the boredom, we would take our sweaters apart and crochet them back together. I also carved a chess set out of the slats from the bed using a dinner knife sharpened on the door frame.
E: What were you questioned about?
G: Not too much because they knew more about us then we did. When we were interrogated after being shot down and put in solitary confinement , a doctor tried to get information from me. He offered me a bottle of wine which I turned down because we had been briefed about these things. The next day another doctor (really an interrogator dressed as a doctor) came in to fix my wounds. When I refused to give him more information other than my name, he left. This happened several days in a row until a German came in with all the information they had requested.
E: Where did he get the information?
G: They would get it from the newspapers from the states. They even knew my mother's maiden name, my unit and the names of the men I was shot down with.
E: What did you eat as a POW?
G: Mainly vegetables that were in season. If it was carrots, then carrot soup, kohlrabi, then kohlrabi soup.
E: Did you make any friends with any of the POWs?
G: Just the guys you were in real close contact with.
E: When were you released?
G: March, 1945 .
E: What were the conditions of your release?
G: The American Army had gone up the Elbe River and the Russian Army was headed toward the Elbe River and we were caught in between. We had to walk across the Elbe River to the American sector because if the Russians caught you, it was worse than the Germans.
E: When did you go home?
G: I got back to the States in June, 1945 .
E: How was the homecoming?
G: Your grandmother and great-grandmother met me in the street. I took the bus home.
E: Compared to Vietnam homecoming, was your better?
G: Sure, the whole atmosphere was different.
E: After the war, were you hospitalized?
G: We were checked out through the hospital.
E: Do you have any contact now with your war buddies?
G: Very little.
E: Do you have any regrets?
G: Enlisting. That's a joke, but I haven't joined anything since!
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