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Orville  E.  Flora

 

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ORVILLE FLORA
World War II
Memories and Biography

Newspaper article from a newspaper in
New Castle, PA
By W. Robert Jackson
(Vindicator New Castle Bureau)

New Castle, PA - Orville Flora trudged down the dusty road in bastard military garb. His boots were German, his shirt British and his trousers French.

He and three others had walked out of Stalag I, a prison compound in northern Germany when their guards had fled before advancing Russian soldiers.

It was early May, 1945. It was Victory Day in Europe.

"We had heard the Russian guns for about two weeks and could pretty well keep track of their troop movements," said Flora, an Army Air Corps bombardier who had bailed out of a burning B24 bomber over Austria, July 21, 1944.

Stalag I was located on a peninsula jutting into the Baltic Sea, 90 miles north of Berlin and just 60 miles from Sweden. Some 10,000 officers, including 8,000 Americans were confined in barracks there, behind barbed wire.

"Towards the end, the guards were jittery and we kept them stirred up by changing "C," mon Uncle Joe' (Stalin)," said Flora, then a young second lieutenant of 21. At that point in the war, the Luftwaffe officers who had been in charge of the camp had been dispatched to the Russian front and were replaced by the "Landwatch," a homeguard organization which we might identify with the local constabulary.

"It was April 25 when I looked out of the barracks and noticed there were no guards in the tower. The same day the Russians moved in and told us to stay put until negotiations were held to get us out," remembers the New Castle native.

It was several days later that the comically clad officer and three companions decided that liberation meant more than freedom to move about in the compound. "We just walked out and headed for the beach," says Flora.

Two Russian soldiers, both under the influence of Vodka and in possession of a rowboat, were persuaded to take the Americans to the mainland. For the four flyers, it was the start of a long walk, along dusty, rural roads - 90 miles in four days - which ended when contact was made with a Canadian paratroop encampment at Wismar near Hamburg.

Chaos and desolation had marked the journey, a hike through a sort of no-man's land claimed by the Russians. Sniper fire which punctuated the stillness and homes which were laid in smoking ruin, suggested the war was not quite over.

A premature VE Day celebration was held in a field, May 4 when the Canadians broke out some saved-up refreshments for the wandering Americans.

The unconditional surrender was signed on May 7 at Rheims.

For Flora, the war was a short one. He had entered the service from the campus of Pennsylvania State College, now Pennsylvania State University, as an aviation cadet in April 1943.

A little over a year later, with gunnery school and bombardier's training behind him, he and a crew of nine were sent to a remote spot on the east coast of England for duty with the 44th Heavy Bombardment Group.

Their assignment was to provide air cover for the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion of France.

From D-Day on the 44th rained bombs almost daily on Munich, a munitions center in southern Germany.

Lt. Flora was on his fourth bombing mission when enemy flak struck a wing and touched off an oil-fed fire.

Because our heavy concentration of 110 octane gasoline (in the wing tanks) had the explosive potential of TNT, we were under orders to jump anytime we had a fire, he recalls.

An open field near a small Austrian village just across the border from Munich provided a convenient landing place. He landed ... nearby 70 peasants with about as many different weapons quickly surrounded the young officer and marched him through the village. "Apparently I was the biggest thing that ever came to town," said the flyer who stands about 5 ft. 4 inches tall.

Flora said he feigned ignorance when a young girl, speaking perfect English, tagged along to ask him questions.

He considers himself fortunate that he was not shot down over Frankfurt, a target for round-the-clock bombing. "They hanged captured flyers there," he had learned.

Flora had taken the precaution to remove his bombardier's insignia from his flying suit "because of the reaction against the guy who does the bombing."

He was soon moved to a Luftwaffe interrogation center in southern Germany where he was questioned intermittently for three weeks.

A middle-aged officer who claimed he had lived in San Francisco was the most frequent interrogator. Background music, floral decorations, and the offer of cigarettes were the disarming features attending the sessions.

"They seemed to know all about us. Surprisingly though, they never did learn whether we were based in Italy or England. Nor were they sure how many were in our crew. Some of the bombers at that time had been carrying ten men," said Flora.

Remembering only that he had lost all track of time, the lieutenant and other Americans of rank were entrained in barred cars for the Baltic prison. The journey was interrupted briefly in a Berlin rail yard while British bombers unloaded. There was no damage to the train.

The young airman sat out the rest of the war in Stalag I. Although he claims the potato and red cabbage diet in the prison compound was substantial, his weight dropped from 130 to 100 pounds.

One of the diversions offered the prisoners was the appearance of Max Schmeling, former world heavyweight boxing champion, whose name was familiar to most Americans. Flora ... members that the Nazi passed out literature proclaiming the virtues of the Third Reich.

Elaborate precautions were taken to prevent escape. Flora noted that the barracks were supported by stilts to prevent the digging of escape tunnels and police dogs were let loose in the compound at night to keep adventuresome prisoners at home.

Still, ingenuity would occasionally prevail. One German-speaking ally, wearing a homemade German uniform and carrying forged German papers, made his way past two guard stations before his identity was learned. Solitary confinement was his punishment.

The progress of the war was charted through clandestinely held radio receiving sets which were tuned to the BBC. Czech prisoners had put together the sets by cannibalizing stolen phonograph parts.

Flora now wonders about his fate had a plot to assassinate Hitler succeeded. The unsuccessful attempt on the German leader's life was made the day before Flora and his crew were knocked out of the sky.

Flora talks with amusement about being ushered aboard a British Lancaster bomber after the chance meeting with the Canadian paratroopers. He and this three companions evidently had been ticketed for Paris and snafu developed which sent some RAF officers to France and the Americans to England.

"They were playing God Save the King when we got off the plant and all at once they stopped when someone shouted, "Look, they're Yanks," said Flora, now a first lieutenant.

After a spree in London with part of a year's back pay, Flora boarded a troop ship for Newport News, VA. He was separated from the service in August of 1945 after spending 180 days on leave.

A division supervisor for Strouss Hirshberg Co., he is a 1949 graduate of Westminster College. He was married in 1947 to the former Betty Milliken and is the father of two sons, Matthew, 14 and Timothy, 17, and two daughters, Pamela, 15, and Lisa, 10. They reside at 114 Decker Drive in Neshannock Township.

He's a member and trustee of the Clen-Moore UP Church and a member of the Coachman's Club and the Pennsylvania Club, one of the oldest fishing groups in North America.

His father, Orville, Sr., is a retired Pennsylvania Power Company executive.



DEPUTY JUDGE ADVOCATE'S OFFICE
7708 War Crimes Group
European Command

5 June 1947

U N I T E D S T A T E S Vs. Case No. 12-25 - - Karl BAUMGAERTNER, a German National

REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATIONS

1. TRIAL DATA ACCUSED

Tried at Dachau, Germany Date 11 and 14 April 1947 Married Age 47
Intermediate Military Chief of Police, Regional Police
Government Court Commissariat, SINSHEIM, Post-
Sentence: Not Guilty of Charge and NECKARBISCHOFSHEIM since
Particulars 1 January 1941.
Rank, Master of the Gendarmarie (T/Sgt.)
Plea Findings
CHARGE: Violation of the Laws NG NG
And Usages of War

PARTICULARS: 1: In the Karl Baumgaertner NG NG
a German national, did, at or near Bauerbach, Germany, on or about 21 July 1944, deliberately
and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in committing assaults upon a member of the United
States Army, 2nd Lt. Orville E. Flora, Jr., ASN ____,
who was then and there an unarmed and surrendered
prisoner of war in the custody of the then German Reich.

PARTICULARS: 2: In that Karl Baumgaertner NG NG
a German national, did, at or near Bauerbach, Germany,
on or about 21 July 1944, deliberately and wrongfully
encourage, aid, abet and participate in committing assaults
upon a member of the United States Army, S/Sgt. Frank
Phillip Pacylowsky, ASN 12157034, who was then
And there an unarmed and surrendered prisoner of war
In he custody of the then German Reich.

2. EVIDENCE:

For the Prosecution: On about 21 July 1944, from a group of American planes an undetermined number of planes were shot down in the vicinity of Bretton, Germany, and the crews landed by parachute (P-EX 4). Three flyers, one a lieutenant, landing near the village of Bauerbach (R 18). Accused, in his statement, admits that he struck one flyer on the shoulder as the flyer stood in front of the City Hall (P-EX 4). This corroborated (P-Ex 7). However, the flyer was not knocked down nor injured (P-Ex 7). Two flyers were taken into the mayor's office and questioned by accused (P-Ex 4,7). Two witnesses in the room at the time heard what sounded like a blow and turned and saw accused standing in front of flyer and saw a red spot on flyer's cheek (P-Ex 10, R20). The victim and in Particulars 1, by statement says that he was severely beaten by a German Army Sergeant at the City Hall in Baurbach (phonetic spelling) who had been called by telephone and came about two hours after victim had reached the City Hall (P-Ex 2). This victim gives a lengthy description of his assailant, some of the points conforming to the physical appearance of accused, and some material dissimilar (P-Ex 2). The victim mentioned in Particulars 2 entered the room before Lt. Flora (victim in Particulars 1) was removed and saw him lying on the floor and that he had been severely beaten (P-Ex 3). The second victim was beaten when he refused to answer questions; he says by three or four German civilians in the room (P-Ex 3). The body of an American flyer, believed to be St. John J. Kempowich, Jr. of the same crew as the two victims mentioned in Particulars, was later found near and buried at Bauerbach. Post-mortem examination tends to establish that death was caused by fall (P-Ex 11, 12).

For the Defense: The accused admits he struck a flyer, whose identity is unknown, as the flyer stood outside the City Hall at Bauerbach. He denies that he struck any flyer inside the City Hall and that any flyer was beaten in the City Hall (P-Ex 4, R43). Accused says he struck the one flyer out of excitement, aroused because his (accused's) home had that morning been bombed (P-Ex 4). The Defense showed that eight towns, in addition to Bauerbach in Western Germany, have similar names and could have been phonetically spelled "Boorbach" (R 55); accused at time of incident wore a police uniform which in color and style is dissimilar to that of a 1st Sergeant of the German Army (R 38); there were no telephones in operation (R-51); there were never four German civilians present and participating in the interrogation of the flyers at the City Hall in Bauerbach; that the physical appearance of accused is materially dissimilar in Bauerbach; that the physical appearance of accused is materially dissimilar in several particulars to the description given by the victim, Lt. Flora (R 29-31); accused was never in civilian clothes on the alleged date of the assault (R 29).

3. CONCLUSION: No formal approval is required. The Court was correct in finding the evidence insufficient to sustain a conviction under the specific allegations in each of the Particulars. It is recommended that the record of trial and this Review and Recommendations be filed without further action and that a copy hereof to forwarded to the Judge Advocate for his information.
/a/V. H. McClintock
V. H. McClintock
U.S. Civilian Attorney
Post Trial Branch

Having examined the record of trial, I concur,

/s/ C. E. Straight
C. E. Straight (15 September 1947)
Colonel, JAGD
Deputy Judge Advocate
For War Crimes
 
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