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?

G:      Enlisted


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

Anna, California.

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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Eric HultgrenComment