World War II
Memories and Biography
"A POW LOOKS BACK"
Written by Louis Trouve
Introductory note: This article is submitted by Marianne Trouve, the daughter of Louis Trouve. He was a first lieutenant navigator on a B-24 bomber during World War II. He was forced to bail out under attack over Emden, Germany, on December 11, 1943, while on his 20th mission. He was awarded the Air Medal, the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross, the latter for participation in the low-level bombing of the oil fields in Ploesti, Romania. The article was written in 1953. If anyone remembers my father, please e-mail me at email@example.com. The article follows:
I was a prisoner of war for 17 months. "How did they treat you?" "What was it like?" These are two questions most frequently asked a freed prisoner. They are being asked in Korea now, and answered by a pitifully few of our soldiers. I can answer as regards one camp in Germany in World War II that I will never forget.
It has been almost a decade since I became a "Kriegsgefangen," but still strong in memory is that first view of the camp. We detrained at Barth, a small town on the Baltic, and set out on foot for Stalag Luft I.
In Frankfurt, though prisoners, we had marched as soldiers, standing tall, our pride edged by the close scrutiny of German nationals. But there, in bleak and windswept northern Pomerania there was no one but the German guards who escorted us.
Guards and Their Dogs
These men were not of the Prussian militarist mold; they were old campaigners apparently found unfit for hazardous duty. The watchdogs at their sides were German shepherds of frightening mien, but fine specimens nevertheless who obeyed with amazing alacrity the slightest whim of their masters. We were soon to learn that a guard and his dog were inseparable. The guards addressed the dogs by name, and the inflection in their voices betrayed the closeness of relationship. One guard might lend another his gun, but never his dog.
We fell silent and struck a slow cadence, each man engrossed in his own thoughts as he marched toward captivity. Presently, there appeared in the flat distance an enclosure ringed by two concentric barbed wire fences, with rolls of barbed wire in between. Even a sure-footed squirrel would have his work cut out for him to get across that barrier. Every few hundred feet a watchtower of "posten" box rose to dominate the wire, with searchlights and machine guns clearly in evidence as grim warnings that escape was something more than a matter of mere preferment.
Some things are common to all prisoners. You live constantly with the yearning for freedom. Somewhere in your subconscious there is always the awareness of the deep concern you know your kin must feel for you. Your future is uncertain at best, and you are solicitous for your own safety. You may, from time to time, have to cope with dark thoughts that challenge your faith - your faith in your own military, your faith that some day you will return to your homeland, your faith in mankind.
The area within our enclosure, which measured about a quarter mile square, was pockmarked with barracks, thin tinderbox affairs which afforded reasonable protection from wind and weather. They were partitioned off into rooms about the size of an average living room. At this stage of the war, 12 men occupied each room. As the war progressed, conditions became more cramped, and at war's end, it was not uncommon to find 30 men living in these rooms.
Twelve Men to a Room
We slept on double decker bunks on excelsior mattresses. Each man had a mattress cover, which was changed every few months, and a sheet, which was changed about once a month. In exchanging the sheets the old ones were laid flat on the floor and rolled into a column. One time a man was rolled up inside, and in Trojan Horse fashion he got outside the confines of the camp, but was recaptured and kept without water until he "talked."
Each room contained a coal stove and weekly the Germans doled out a coal ration. This was used for warmth and cooking, which we did ourselves. The food ration was meager, consisting of bread which resembled rough-hewn wood cut with a ripsaw, potatoes, soup, jelly, butter, occasional meat. Our doctors estimated the caloric content at 600 daily.
The bright spot on the food horizon was the Red Cross packages. Under "normalcy" each man received one a week. When these were received we knew no hunger pains. But as the ability of the Germans to wage war was neutralized, as their communications were more and more disrupted, these shipments ceased. Then we tightened our belts another notch each week. But our discomfort was counterbalanced by the realization that the war's end was approaching.
Two Doctors on Hand
Some strange things happened during this "belting period." Squeamishness or sentiment deterred many from indulging, but all the cats in the camp that were kept for pets went on the butcher's block save one, and it survived only because its owner never relaxed his vigilance. Bird traps came into being and were set up near the rubbish heap. More than one prisoner could say he ate crow and mean it literally.
We had a community washroom. An impoverished shower was in daily use during the warm weather. In the winter months we were taken in groups once a week to the German compound for a shower.
Two prisoner MDs, one English, one South African, cared for our sick. Their medical supplies were adequate until they were taxed by an influx of evacuees from German camps farther east that were abandoned in front of the Russian advance. A special pool of Red Cross parcels was built up to furnish an abundant ration for the sick.
One case of spinal meningitis broke out. Fearing that the contagion of this dread disease might cause the entire camp to become infected, the doctors appealed to the Germans, and we were permitted to remain quarantined for several days.
Repatriation was routine and took place every several months under the aegis of the "protecting power," which in our case was a Swedish national. Loss of limb, tuberculosis, severe burns and other maladies in these categories would qualify a prisoner for repatriation. One, an Englishman, was repatriated for longevity. He had been taken prisoner before Dunkirk and was imprisoned for over five years.
We received mail and packages from home sporadically, and were allowed to write three letters and four postcards a month. Captive chaplains conducted religious services regularly.
There was no attempt at indoctrination by the Nazis. A public address system, controlledfromGerman headquarters, was set up with a speaker in each compound, but there was no coercion to force us to listen. Lord Haw Haw broadcast regularly, but performed for a small and scoffing audience. There was a greater interest in the German communiqués.
Thanks to the inventiveness of Roy Kilminister and Leslie Hurrell, two Limies, the BBC news broadcast was received daily in the camp. The clandestine radio that they constructed was a Rube Goldberg contraption. It contained among other things, pencil lead, shaving soap containers, toothpaste tubes, silver paper, greaseproof paper.
I took down the BBC newscast in the dead of each night in shorthand. Copyists made additional copies the following day and the report was read in every barracks in the camp.
In order to carry out this morale-boosting activity, for which I was later commended by the War Department, it was necessary to thwart the closest surveillance by the German "Abler" department, the trouble-shooting contingent in the camp. Somehow we survived their blitz raids and their fine comb searches, and the activity went on.
Sports in the Camp
The sports equipment in the camp was made available by the WMCA. We had a softball league, a hardball league, boxing. Other things were improvised, like weight lifts.
Performers banded together, signers, mimics, comedians, and visited each barracks in turn to put on their acts. The most popular entertainer was a little Italian who had a seemingly exhaustless repertoire of many funny songs, and who accompanied himself with castanets.
Day of Liberation
Musical instruments were eventually procured and a band was formed. More than one full-length play was produced from an original manuscript and original music.
We had a library and a room was set aside for classes. A prisoner who was proficient in a language or mathematics would teach others interested in learning. I taught shorthand.
The only out-and-out instance of calculated brutality that I remembered occurred near the war's end when all Jewish prisoners were segregated. This move, the affected prisoners regarded, as a step in preparation for more drastic measure, and their concern showed strongly. But the fears never materialized. They were segregated, but otherwise unmolested.
One night, the searchlights stopped sweeping over the camp and we could see the exodus of German personnel silhouetted against the moonlight of May 1, 1945. The gates were thrown over. We had been liberated by the enemy we now face on Korea's scarred terrain.
LOUIS VINCENT TROUVE
World War II
Memories and Biography
(Taken from a letter to Will Lundy from Paul A. Trouve, a son of Louis Trouve)
My father, Louis Vincent Trouve, was born to Louis and Elizabeth Trouve of New York City on January 19, 1921. He as one of six children born to them. Sometime after my father's birth, my grandparents left he city to move to the country and live in a house, which my grandfather had built himself in Hempstead, New York. My Irish Catholic grandmother was an indomitable matriarch who ruled the roost and made an indelible mark on all of her children. My grandfather was a boot-strapper who started working for the New York Telephone Company at the age of 14 as an errand boy and worked himself up the ladder to an executive position, 50 years later.
Particulars of my father's early life were recorded on his birth certificate by my grandfather, which is enclosed with this narrative.
It should be noted that my father was good in school and a track star while attending Hempstead High School. He was awarded a scholarship to Hofstra College (now a university) in Hempstead, New York. Prior to entering the service, my father was attending Hofstra College but did not complete his degree.
After his discharge from the Army, my father used the skills he acquired in the POW camp as a stenographer to become a court reporter in NYC. He married my mother, Lorraine Catherine Budris, his only true love, in 1947. They lived in an apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, NY and had their first child, Paul, on the first day of summer, June 21st in 1949. In 1951, they moved to a tract house in Elmont, New York and settled into the suburban life. They had three daughters while living in Elmont, Colette, my father's favorite daughter, Michele, the middle child who ended up marrying and having six children of her own and Marianne, who entered the religious life. They also had one additional son, Louis, who was born when I was 13 and became my little buddy. Tragically, Louis died a few years ago at the age of 33 from a failed bone marrow transplant. All of his siblings are still alive.
Before moving to Elmont, my father made a career change and became a journalist with the Scripps-Howard chain of newspapers, which has since gone out of business. After working there for about ten years, he returned to court reporting, but this time in Nassau County. He kept his hand in journalism though, through working for the Long Island Press, no longer in operation, as a sports writer, part time.
My father's life always revolved around his family. Faith, family, home and work and knowledge were his essential values. His vacations involved simple things with the family, like trips to the beach and the amusement park. He sent all of his children to Catholic schools, which involved some expense at the high school level, at least. He was witty and intelligent but he was also somewhat morose. His brain was quite well balanced because he was equally adept at verbal and math skills.
He had a perforated peptic ulcer, which nearly killed him and in a way, set the stage for his end in life. The peptic ulcer was completely cured and for the first time in his life he could enjoy alcohol. An occasional drink became a daily drink and he slowly, but surely descended into alcoholism. His condition was the cause of my parent's divorce after nearly 25 years of marriage, but neither remarried.
My father died at the age of 56 from cirrhosis of the liver, while living at his parent's house in Uniondale, New York; a tragic end to a good man's life.
By: Paul A. Trouve, only surviving son of Louis Vincent Trouve.