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World War II Veteran: Merton L. Jessen “Stub”
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Went to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin for more training; went to Camp Miles Standish,
Massachusetts: point of embarkation overseas. That was in February of '44.
Went to England - a little more training there. They sent us to France and
combat. Up in Herken Forest and Battle of the Bulge. I got captured in the
Battle of the Bulge.
Tell me about that. What was the day like? How did it start?
Well, we were supposed to be on rest period. We had our tanks torn apart and
guns torn apart and cleaned them up. Parts out of the molder of the tank. And
then they broke through - the Germans broke though. So we took off. A bunch
of us took off and started walking at night We'd sleep during the day, and
then try to find our lines. We didn't have very much success finding our lines.
So after 3 days, we thought we were hungry, so we gave up. The Germans captured
us, of course. They put us in an airplane hangar the first night. And gave
us a good meal. There were about 2,000 of us in that airplane hangar. Americans.
Then they put us out on a march. They started marching us. I marched for 128
days before I got liberated. I ended up in Brunswick, Germany. I got captured
in Luxembourg. And I ended up in Brunswick, Germany.
Well all together - we marched around in circles a lot of places - we figured
about 950 miles. I weighed 160 pounds when I got captured and I weighed 95
pounds when I got liberated. I got liberated by our troops. They flew me to
Paris for one night. They decided I was in too bad of shape. So they took me
to England and I was in a hospital there for a number of months until I got
better; strong enough. And they put me on a ship and sent me back to the United
States. And I was at Schick General Hospital in Clinton for about a month.
And they sent me to Hot Springs, Arkansas for recuperation. That's the short
way of it.
How long were you in the camp, Stub?
I wasn't in a camp, I was on the march all the time. We started out 2,000.
About 900 of us survived. About 1100 died or got shot by the guards. The regular
guards were pretty good guys, but the SS troopers that murdered us were awful
mean. They shot a lot of our men because they didn't do, or couldn't do what
they wanted them to do.
Do you think that they shot some of the men as an example?
No, I think the SS troopers did that because they were so mean. I think they
were just mean people. We weren't obedient to them or whatever. This is hard
for me to talk about sometimes. But I manage.
How long, again ..
128 days. The reason I can remember that, is that they gave us a mustering out pay. A dollar a day. $128 dollars. That wasn't much.
Were you able to talk to the other prisoners?
On the march you could talk, but no. And you had to be careful what you said because they could understand English, some of them, you know. If you said something that didn't suit them, they might take the butt of their gun and knock you down. Or maybe like the SS troopers, they'd probably even shoot you. The worst part of being a prisoner was the hunger part. I had a slice of bread probably twice the thickness of our slices of bread every three days. That's all we'd get to eat. Once in a great while we'd get boiled potatoes with the jackets on. Not very often.
What about something to drink?
We could drink out of streams. We got water to drink. That's what kept us alive.
When you were so tired, and hungry, and had to march, what kept you going?
What kept you putting one foot in front of the other?
My faith, I think. I always had hope. A lot of them didn't. They gave up.
So even in those circumstances, with those mean SS people, you were able to
lean on your faith.
Absolutely. The Good Lord was looking after me.
Now after all these years, Stubs, when you think about the German people, and
some of those things, what do you think now?
I have no bitterness against the German people at all, except those SS troopers. They were mean, I can't believe anybody would be that mean. Otherwise no, I have no bitterness against the German people. In fact, I've got good friends in Germany. My daughter studied over there, and she likes Germany. She'd like to live there.
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