CHARLES J. SELASKY|
World War II
Evasion and POW Story
1 October 1943
Charles Selasky was Colonel Johnson's navigator on Ploesti. He normally was Reg Carpenter's navigator as he was on 1 October 1943 when he was shot down.
This is the itinerary as a POW and release.
When I bailed out of our plane, I counted to 15 and then pulled the ripcord to my chest chute. We wore two chutes. One seat pack and one chest chute. My chute opened with no trouble. I saw quite a few other chutes in the area. I saw two men go down with their chutes trailing, but never opening. Apparently these men had only one chute. I also saw one man whose chute was on fire. It had opened, but it kept burning and he kept falling faster and faster. A fighter ME-109 came at me and I though I had it, but his wings never lit up as they did when their guns were firing. He flew by and wiggled his wings, a form of greeting used by pilots.
As I approached ground, I could see I was going to land in a clump of trees so I doubled up and put my arms in front of my face. I didn't hit a thing. I ended up swinging under a huge oak tree suspended about 30 feet from the ground. I could see soldiers in the distance.
I got out of my harness, hung from it, and dropped to he ground. I landed on a steep slope and rolled down the hill. At the bottom of the slope was a footpath and about ten yards further was a creek about 30 feet wide. Why, I don't know, but I went into the water and waded upstream. How far I waded, I don't know, but I came to a very small heavily brushed island. I crawled in the brush and hid. I then took stock of what I had. I had a hunting knife, about four extra clips for my 45, two candy bars, and an escape kit. My holster was empty, apparently my 45 fell out when I bailed out. I buried the holster and extra clips then opened the escape kit. This kit was supposed to have a map, dictionaries for the area, pills to keep you awake, and other stuff I don't remember. The map was of France, Holland and Belgium, and the only dictionary was French. Like everything else, intelligence told us in those days that this was totally useless.
All that day I watched German soldiers walk up and down either side of the creek. In he late afternoon, the Germans came with dogs and went straight past the island and on downstream. I heard a commotion downstream, so I figured they had gone into the creek, but they didn't know where I went from there.
All night I stayed on that island and nearly froze. I was wet up to my waist and had on khakis, which didn't keep me very warm. I did have on my flight jacket, which helped some. All night the Germans, with dogs and flashlights, went up and down either shore. Needless to say, I didn't sleep. The next day the patrols slacked off about noon and I decided to try and make it to a train track downstream. All night and the previous day I had heard train whistles. I walked mostly in the stream, but I came to a bridge where they had narrowed the stream and the water was deep. I decided to go around the bridge instead of swimming.
I stayed in the woods and brush as best I could, but I finally came to an open field. In the middle of the field were three soldiers, a dog, and a farmer. The wind was blowing toward me away from the dog so I felt safe, but that dog put his nose up and came straight at me. End of my escape!! I ended up in a village jail with one cell. Sgt. Booker, our right waist gunner, was already there. All day long the villagers came and gawked at us. Late that night we were loaded on a truck with other prisoners and taken to Vienna. In Vienna, the officers were separated from enlisted personnel and I never saw Booker again.
In Vienna, I joined Carpenter, Carol Pratt, and others from our group and other groups. A few days later they put us on trains and took us to Frankfurt to the Interrogation Center.
At Dulag Luft, the Interrogation Center, we were put in completely dark, soundproof cells. I soon learned that in a completely dark cell you couldn't stand up unless you were touching a wall. If you stood up in the middle of the floor you would eventually fall to the floor. They would slide food in a small door on a tray with a pitcher of water. We got two meals a day. In the morning, a bowl of oatmeal, husks included, and a piece of black bread. Later in the day, we would get a bowl of broth, potatoes or rutabaga's and another piece of bread. Every night the British bombers would bomb Frankfort, which was only a few miles from where we were.
The second day I was there I found a wide, partially loose board in the floor in he middle of the room. I worked it loose and removed the nails so I could put the board back in the floor. Under the building was about two feet of crawl space. The exterior . . . rock, but had narrow ventilation slits in it about four inches wide and about a foot high. At least I could see outside and tell whether it was night or day. They had taken all of our possessions including our belts.
Through the vent slip I Could see we were on a high hill overlooking Frankfort. At night I would watch the British bomb and felt sorry for the crews. They would bomb from 12,000 feet, which made them sitting ducks for every flak gun the Germans had. They would come in one at a time, about every 15 minutes, and the searchlights would pick them up. How any of them got through was amazing, but it seemed like only about one in ten would go down which really wasn't as bad as we had suffered up until that time. They would keep coming until about two hours before dawn. When they left, it seemed like the whole town was on fire, but later in the day you could see much of the town still standing. That night the British would be back!!
I didn't mention before that in one corner of the cell there was a hole, which was used for defecation and urination. The hole was baffled so you could not see anything under the building. You had to be careful crawling under the building. After four days, they gave us a shower, our belts, and interrogated us. They took us on trucks to as near as they could in the bombed-out town and then marched us the rest of the way to the railroad. I had some apprehension about walking through this town that had been bombed so much, but the people looked at us with dazed stares as if we weren't even there. We were put on trains and sent to Sagan about 90 miles southeast of Berlin.
When we got off the train, it was snowing. A bunch of S.S. troops were loading on another train bound for the Russian Front. They were a fine looking group of soldiers.
Our bombardier, Bill Swenson, never did show up. The last sight of him I had was when I handed him his chest chute. He was sitting on his machine guns. Reg. Carpenter said that after he was captured, they took him to see a body whose chute did not open in the middle of a field. He couldn't identify the man because of the condition of the body. He couldn't even tell if the man had on two chutes or not. All the men in our group wore two chutes.
When we got to Stalag Luft III, the British were still in he process of moving out. They had just evacuated the building that we moved into. The building was filthy. We had noticed in England that the ordinary Englishman wasn't the cleanest person in the world, but this building we moved into was downright filthy. We scrubbed everything and the Germans were cooperative with us. They gave us all the soap and scrub brushes we needed, new straw for what we used as mattresses and even fumigated the building. We finally got set up and in our little group, called combines, there were the following originally: Carpenter, Carol Pratt, myself, Tom Hyde, Tom Hobson, and Arthur Callahan. Each combine was arranged around a table (see page 5) and things were arranged this way because that is how the Germans wanted it.
The first month or six weeks, I spent making pots and pans. We copied these from British and Americans who had arrived before us. All pots and pans had to be made a certain size so maximum number could be put on the stove and in the oven. Pots and pans were made form tin cans we received in Red Cross parcels. The only tool we had for this was a kitchen knife. Each combine also had a large butcher knife and paring knife, but these could not be used as tools.
We cut the cans by splitting them down the side, removing the bottom, and flattening them out. Then cut them as needed by putting on the table over the crack on the table. Then inserting a knife in the crack we'd cut tin where we wanted. Seams were made as sheet metal men make duct seams. Callahan and myself made all the pots and pans for the combine. The rest of the men were useless when it came to working with their hands. We got pretty good at this and could make most anything we wanted if we had enough tin. These pots and pans leaked when they were first made, but boiling oatmeal, hulls and all, soon clogged all the leaks.
After getting organized, I started attending classes. We got up at 6 for roll call (Apfel, in German). After that the day was ours to do as we pleased. Two men were on cooking duty and washing dishes, table, etc. For a week, then we would switch off. Breakfast was oatmeal and a slice of bread. Bread was 1/8" thick. It was always German black bread. Very thin coffee if we had it. Lunch was broth by Germans and a slice of bread for dinner was our big meal and was anything [but good].
We could make from what we got in Red Cross parcels plus what the Germans gave us. Sometimes they gave us potatoes or rutabagas or cabbage. The broth they gave us for lunch was apparently made from horses and cow's heads. Every once in a while you would find an eye in the broth so we called it "seeing eye soup." We didn't starve, but we were always very hungry.
We had all kinds of activities to engage in. We had baseball equipment, volley balls and nets, footballs, ice skates, instruments (music), and, of course, books that had a pretty good supply of books. We also had courses we could take in just about anything we wanted. I concentrated on math, science, and reading history as well as softball and football. I exercised every day to keep in condition. Some men did nothing except lay in bed and feel sorry for themselves. We had a few of those in our combine. Others dug tunnels (none successful) from our compound, while others tried other schemes to escape. One man we had escaped 13 times, but was either caught or came back on his own.
William P. Newbold was my best friend in prison camp. Bill broke his leg when landing in his parachute. He arrived in Stalag Luft III about a month after the rest of the survivors from 44th. He had been in a clinic or hospital getting his leg attended to. I didn't know Bill before the POW camp. He was in the same group, but different squadrons (506). My first contact with Bill was, one night I had spent making navigation maps for a mission with other staff officers and the next morning I was advised that Bill Newbold would lead the mission. I briefed Bill and then went to bed. The mission was a freight yard somewhere in Italy (don't remember where). I got up at noon and went to the flight line. They (the group) were supposed to be back at about 5 in the afternoon, but they were about an hour late. In that hour, I rechecked all my calculations and it all seemed okay. Later on, I found out they had a terrific wind shift, plus engine trouble. Anyway, one day I came back to combine and the Germans had put another bunk above my bunk. . . . We became good friends.
Everyone settled into their own routine and things stayed status quo through the winter and summer of 1944. The buildings were not heated, but we got used to cold and there wasn't too much complaining. In the fall, more and more POW's came in and by November, all bunks were stacked three high. In the middle of November, Col. Spivey told us there was a possibility we would be marched out of camp and advised everyone to exercise and get their legs in shape. I built a knapsack carrier with shoulder straps and headband and was ready.
Sometime after Christmas of 1944, we got orders by Germans to move out. The Russians were approaching from the east. It was dark, cold and snowing when we left Stalag Luft III. We walked continuously that night and the next day. That night we stopped at a farm and slept outside. The next day we walked again. Two of the men from our combine got sick and Bill and I pulled them on makeshift sleds.
We slept outside again that night. Next day we walked again, but we only had to pull one man on a sled that day. We walked four or five days sleeping outside or in bombed-out buildings. We ended up in a burned out old factory building where we stayed a couple of days and then were crowded on boxcars. We were so crowded in the boxcar that only so many men could sit at one time. The rest had to stand. When we left Stalag Luft III, they had given us all the Red Cross parcels we thought we could carry. This is what we ate during this trip.
When we got to Nuremberg, they let us out of the boxcar for the first time. It was a large railroad station. It made no difference to us. We took down our pants and defecated. We were put back on the boxcar and went to Mooseburg. Mooseburg was the most dismal place I have ever seen. It was some kind of old manufacturing plant. The bunks were stacked three high and crowded in as close as they could be. It was cold, filthy, full of bugs and rats, and the toilet facilities were about a block away and completely inadequate. All we got to eat at Mooseburg was what the Germans gave us which were starvation rations. We were liberated by General Patton's army about April 26, 1945. We were told we would be flown out but not when. After we were "liberated," we got no food at all except what we could beg, steal, or take from the Germans in the area.
After three or four days I got tired of this nonsense and decided to start out on my own. We had been advised to stay in the camp. Bill Newbold wouldn't go with me, so I teamed up with a guy by the name of Bill Huebner and we started walking. We came to a busy highway and got a ride on a truck to Nuremberg. At Nuremberg the M.P.'s directed us to an old German airfield. We went out there but it was a waste of time. The field was a complete wreck and some other POW's had been there for as long s a week. We didn't even stay the night and started walking again.
About midnight, we ended up at a desolate small intersection guarded by a G.I. He had a fire going and had plenty of "K" rations, which he shared with us. A car came along driven by a German. He stopped the car and took the German off into the woods. He motioned us to take the car. The car was fueled by small wooden blocks, soaked in methane, which was burned in a burner in the trunk. We had to stop about every ten miles or so and put more wood in the burner. We got on the autobahn and drove to Frankfort. There, we went to an old German airbase, which was occupied by Americans. There, we got some decent food, new clothes, and $1,000.00 each in cash. The finance officer there told us we could get $1,000.00 from any finance officer just by presenting our POW I.D. (see page 21). We were feeling 100% better then and some mechanics converted the car we had back to gasoline.
Huebner and I decided to see some of Europe. We traveled south through Germany and France to Marseilles and Monte Carlo. We were going to go to Italy, but were getting the urge to go home. We drove back to Paris and got a flight on a transport to LeHavre, France, which was a main point of debarkation to the U.S. We were there a few days and then got on a ship for the USA. See "Itinerary after Arriving Home," Item 32.