OF A FORMER POW OF THE 12TH ARMORED DIVISION
Fred M. (Mike) Gorman
cross section of the men in the 12th Armored Division, officers and
enlisted men, draftee and volunteers, civilians and career soldiers,
regular army and Enlisted Reserve Corps, the well trained and the recent
arrivals, they all had one thing in common. They put everything they
had on the line to preserve the freedom of the people of the United
States of America and its allies.
This was true also of the Prisoner of War, except in his case, the enemy
took it all,-but his life—and his Spirit. He lived in fear that
his life would yet be taken, with no way to fight back. In some cases
it was. He lost his status as a human being and was reduced to that
of an animal with an unkind master.
He not only existed without food or with very little food, but was very
deprived of other very basic needs of life. He lived under very primitive
conditions, going without a bath for weeks, sometimes months and had
to tolerate lice and other vermin sharing his uniform which he wore
24 hours a day. This was aggravated at times with diarrhea and other
sickness that remained untreated.
His wounds cried for attention.
He was moved from place to place, either by force march or in boxcars.
The luxury of the boxcar was having a spot farthest away from the area
used as a latrine. The comfort was having a buddy rub your feet while
you rubbed his to ward off frostbite and trench foot. It didn’t
always work because it was COLD.
He shared what little he had. He supported his fellow prisoners when
their spirits or bodies sagged. He “volunteered when their spirits
or bodies sagged. He “volunteered” to work, to escape confinement,
but his productivity was very low. He escaped to rejoin his outfit.
Many suffered trauma of recapture. Some made it out. His thoughts and
conversations were about food, mostly. His faith was heightened, and
his thoughts of home sustained him. He gave only his name, rank and
serial number to the enemy. He was still fighting the enemy the only
way he could. The motto of the American Ex-Prisoners of War is Non Solum
Armis (not by arms alone) and we know why!
It has been mentioned that there may remain some lingering stigma or
shame connected to a POW. Just as many others who have shared a profound
and unique experience, many of us refuse to talk about it except to
another Ex-POW. THERE SHOULD BE NO GENERAL STIGMA OR SHAME.
A tank took direct hit. Three survivors piled out of the smoke filled
tank. One of them was hit in the leg, shattering his thighbone. He covered
with his sub-machine gun so the others could escape. He fired until
his weapon was empty. He could not walk and was taken prisoner. WHERE
IS THE STIGMA?
A company of infantry was ambushed by well-placed burp guns at 6:00
a.m. It was January 16, 1945 and very cold, around 10 degrees and there
was about 15” of snow. More than half were killed in the first
five minutes. The rest were pinned down. Some resistance was made but
by 6:30 a.m. it was light and to move was to be killed. Still some moved.
About 2 p.m. the Krauts, thinking all were dead came out and started
looting the bodies. One German was very startled to find an American
alive and almost shot him. Instead he told him to “Rouse!”
The man could not move, he was so stiff from the cold and his uniform
There were about 35 survivors in the company including the wounded.
The Germans were amazed that there were any. WHERE IS THE SHAME?
What is this former POW like today? The creed of the American Ex-POW
organization with more than 22,000 members is We exist to help those
who cannot help themselves.
Charles M. Fitts Jr. C/66 probably put it best. “I guess my greatest
satisfaction comes when my eyes still water when I sing the National
Anthem and I can look any man in the eye and know within myself that
in a small way, I gave a great deal for my country, what it stands for
and the rights of my children, theirs and others follow. I do not tolerate
draft dodgers or any others who made a mockery of our way of life. This
is a priceless possession and one I am proud to carry.” Amen.
A tribute must be made to our families. Sometimes as you all know, the
unknown fear cause great suffering at home. One family was made of the
12th AD soldier’s wife and son living with his father and mother.
On Mother’s Day, 1945 the wife and mother received bouquets of
flowers and cards from the soldier, arranged for months before. THAT
SAME DAY, THEY RECEIVED THE “MISSING IN ACTION” TELEGRAM.
We all know the wives of the Hellcats are the GREATEST!! God bless those
Finally, let us pay tribute to all of you who were not KIA, WIA, or
MIA, but carried the war to its successful conclusion. You are our liberators.
STORY OF THE PRISONERS OF WAR OF THE 12TH ARMORED DIVISION
the surprise of our initial attack the German forces, an infantry regiment,
reinforced with tanks, rallied and 17th AIB was unable to advance further
as the Germans began counter-attacks from the north and also three different
positions east of Herrlisheim.
Repeated requests were made to Combat Command for reinforcements, as
the 17th AIB suffered very heavy casualties. During the forenoon the
BN. S-3 went back to Combat Command to explain our position and ask
for help. During the afternoon the S-2 went back for the same purpose
but no help was forthcoming and permission to withdraw was denied.
At dark on 17 January 17th AIB organized series of platoon strong points
in an attempt to hold the ground taken earlier. The platoons averaged
a strength of about twenty (20) men at this time.
The battle continued through the night in hand to hand fighting. The
Germans outnumbered us and managed to infiltrate between our platoon
positions and the Battalion C.O. and those in the CP surrendered at
about 0445 as the building we were using for a CP was on fire. The Germans
had a tank in position and had fired through our CP twice. Our platoon
positions had all been overrun and there was nothing left to fight with.
The German unit at Herrlisheim was the 11th Mountain Inf. Regt. Reinforced
with 6 Mark V tanks. They were all regular army troops, just brought
back from Norway-not the odds and ends troops our G-2 thought was there.”
Major James Logan
C.O. 17th AIB
several unsuccessful attempts to advance against a significantly larger
enemy force, we were ordered to make an assault on the village of Herrlisheim
on the morning of 17 January, 1945.
Pfc. William Butler and I were the scouts who led the attack for a company
of the 17th AIB. The attack was made with fixed bayonets.
Pfc. Butler and I were captured the next morning with many other members
of our battalion after a day and a night of fighting. We were simply
overrun by the Germans who so heavily outnumbered us.
In early February 1945 we were part of a “transport”, a
railroad shipment of prisoners from Stalag 5A at Ludwigsberg to Stalag
11B at Fallingsbostel, Germany. Approximately 60 or more of us were
locked into small boxcars for four days within minimal food and water.
The outside temperatures were extremely cold probably between 0 and
15 degrees every night. Everyone suffered badly from frostbite or freezing
because of the extremely crowded conditions and our lack of adequate
clothing. We were all hurting during the entire trip.
Frozen feet were a problem for many of us. I distinctly remember Pfc.
Butler and myself taking off our boots and socks in the boxcar to rub
each other’s feet, which we continued to do for weeks later. Many
others did the same thing. I personally stuck pins into my toes at this
general time and for months later without feeling them. I am absolutely
sure that I froze my feet during this four-day transport.
Cpl. Charles J. Wallman
A Co. 17th AIB
night of 16 January, the armored infantry platoons of C Company of the
66th AIB, along with other elements of the battalions moved up on foot
to Herrlisheim in a dawn attack. I was in a rifle squad of the 3rd platoon,
one of the leading elements. About 0600 we moved on to a very flat field
and immediately came under very heavy machine gun fire from emplaced
guns directly in front of us. I would guess that over half of the company
was killed in the first five minutes. My squad was pinned to the ground
by the very intense fire, unable to move. I remember rolling over on
my back and tracers were going by just over me like strings of angry
It was still dark but against the snowy background I could see figures
move along the enemy line evidently taking ammunition to the guns. I
fired about two clips at these figures with my M-1. I quit firing at
them when it started to become light about 0630. I could see that I
was one of the few left alive among all of the bodies around me and
decided that my best bet was to lay still and not attract attention.
The enemy machine gun fire had stopped and would only be heard when
someone would lose their nerve and get up and try to run to the rear.
This happened 4 or 5 times during the next two hours. About 0930 artillery
fire and smoke shells stared to come in on the German positions, and
unfortunately, also on our position. We were only 75 yards away. White
phosphorous sprayed our position and it was heartrending to hear the
screams of those hit with it.
There was too much wind for the smoke to lay and let us withdraw so
the shelling was discontinued after five minutes. Those of us still
alive continued to lay in the 15 inches of snow getting colder and colder
by the minute. The temperature was around 10 degrees. Finally about
1400 the Germans came out of their positions and started taking waches
and cigarettes from the dead. The first I knew they were there was when
someone started pulling on my wristwatch. When he discovered I was alive
he prodded me with his rifle and motioned for me to get up. I tried
but was so numb with cold that I fell to my knees again. Two of them
grabbed me, held me up and walked me around for a few minutes until
I could move under my own power. By this time they had collected 5 or
6 of us that were not wounded and they motioned for us to check our
men for wounded.
Our wounded were taken about 300 concrete pillbox where a German doctor
did the best he could for them. There were about 35 of us including
the wounded and one of the guys who could understand a little German
told me later the Germans were amazed that there were that many of us
In the Stalag 13-C we were issued a mattress cover that we filled with
hay from the old haymows overhead. This and one blanket served as mattress
and cover. There were wood stoves in the various sections but usually
no wood, so the sleeping was on the cold side. We always kept our clothes
on. Food consisted of 10 men to a loaf of black bread plus a small bowl
of soup that tasted like it was made of potato skins. We received this
food ration morning and evening.
When I was liberated after 81 days I weighed 140 pounds. When I went
into the camp I weighed 180 pounds. I still have a piece of German black
bread we were issued sealed up in a jar.
CCO. 66th AIB
16 January the 43rd Tank Bn. And the 17th AIB attacked toward Herrlisheim.
Between German AT guns and tanks in the Stainwald Woods we took quite
a shellacking. Finally at dusk we pulled back we pulled back behind
the 17th AIB. At about midnight we received orders to hit Herrlisheim
Early on the 17th of January the remainder (23 tanks or less) of the
43rd Tank Bn. took off for Herrlisheim. Our support was one platoon
of engineers and the artillery forward observers. We made it without
incident into what appeared to be an orchard type area. This was soon
after daybreak. All of a sudden all hell broke loose. There was a low
haze-low enough to obscure visibility for our gunners – but high
enough for enemy gunners to see us. It was like shooting fish in a rain
barrel for the enemy. I had two tanks shot out from under me before
we made it into the town itself. We set up in a house across from the
cemetery. A few other men and I went to the railroad crossing and helped
some of our men across with smoke grenades. The Germans were shooting
at anything that crossed the tracks.
was hit I ran into the building and was taken care of by my people.
I did not recall much until I woke up in a German aid station. The Germans
took some fragments out of me. The next time I came to I was in what
appeared to be a schoolhouse. It appeared to be set up as a hospital
C.O. 43rd Tank Bn.
don’t know the dates we began walking from morning until dark
– sleeping in barns, etc. Finally one day I saw the nearest guard
was busy and so I jumped down from the autobahn into the drainage ditch.
one guy had to stop as he had dysentary. A guard came over to hurry
him along and he saw me hiding in the ditch. He “roused over and
passed the word along to me . I worked my way to the head column and
took off into some wood guard chased me for a while but he had to get
back to the column. I wandered for 3 or 4 days – hiding in barns
during the day and walking at night. I ate what there was to be found.
One night I crossed an intersection and walked into a group German soldiers
who were resting. They looked at me no one said anything so I kept on
walking. Finally, early one morning while approaching a village with
my eyes looking at a barn to hide in, a voice said something and I raised
my hands as a soldier waves me forward. I could not understand him so
figured that I was captured again. I saw a Scotch soldier with a thick
brogue and sounded like a German. Safe again. I walked into the British
119th Arm’d Eng. Bn.
job as a Liaison NCO was to travel with forward units and report to
the supporting units. Many times there was as much as 50 miles between
the forward elements and the supporting troops. Previous to this rush
across Germany, I had been able to contact the combat units by coming
up behind one but in this swift race across Germany I could not get
my job done if I went and came up behind each fighting force. I had
been cutting across at the point to be able to make contact to gather
information before reporting back to my company. It was while cutting
across from one point to another that I found myself 5 kilometers ahead
of the 23rd Tank Bn. Who had held up in a town just ahead of that.
My driver and I left this little town about 30 kilometers southwest
of Weisenburg, Germany. We headed cross-country on a country road to
this little town the 23rd Tank Bn. was supposed to be there. Our experience
so far enabled us to already know the small town that had been taken
and also approached this little town, it seemed there was nothing warn
us of what was ahead. We were still in open country when we popped over
a little rise in the grove and found ourselves right in the center of
the whole company of German infantry that were dug in – in their
foxholes. I think we surprised them just as much as they surprised us.
With this surprise I told the driver who had stopped the jeep, to get
around and get the hell out of here! He then backed around and started
to pull out when a German officer gave the word to fire and that is
the same sound in German as it is in English.
We stopped and threw off our helmets - the universal signal for surrender.