The following is reprinted from "The Lyon Tale" published in 2003, author Ellayne Conyers.
Robert wrote "It was a cold and bleak day in this small village of Birgel, Germany." Machine guns were actively unloading their bullets and artillery shells were exploding all around, bombs were being dropped from overhead. It was a scary situation, to say the least, for a young soldier from a small town in southwestern Minnesota. But on this date of Dec. 14, 1944, 11 days before Christmas, he and a small group of men advanced too far and were cut off by enemy tanks supported by Infantry, and he and three others were forced to surrender to the Germans and become prisoners of war.
Just a few minutes before he was captured, Robert had received a faint call from a buddy, who lay wounded in the street of Birgel. His name was Ralph. Robert had started to perform first aid on Ralph when he looked up and saw a tank and Infantry coming around the corner not more than 100 yards away. As they opened fire on Robert, he took refuge in the basement, along with the other three soldiers. As the tank rolled up to the front of the building he knew it would only be a matter of minutes before the tank would blow the building to pieces and them along with it; since there was no other way out, he had to surrender. When he and the other soldiers came out waving a white flag, the tank had already had its cannon turned on the building and they were looking directly down the six-inch barrel.
Ralph was badly wounded in both legs, and Robert thought sure his buddy had died and he would never see him again. But upon Robert's release from prison camp in May of 1945, he was sent back to the United States. He happened to pick up a Life magazine from the newsstand and found a full-page picture of Ralph and his wife-to-be. Ralph had been fitted with artificial limbs. He had received the Congressional Medal of Honor and he was planning a wedding with the girl he left behind. He had knocked out a German tank after his injury and played dead soldier.
After Robert was captured he and another soldier pushed two of their wounded buddies in a wheelbarrow for three days behind enemy lines before the wounded got medical attention. Robert and other POWs were later put into a boxcar for five or six days. Licking the frost on the inside of the boxcar kept them from dehydrating, since this was the only water they had. They were sent from Stalag to Stalag.
Robert shared the following experience: "My first but not last boxcar ride as a prisoner of war. Being locked in a boxcar is a terrifying experience. Fifty or 60 men were forced into an empty boxcar. The door was slammed shut and locked from the outside by German guards. We were in that boxcar for eight days and nights with only 1/8th of a loaf of hard bread per day and I can't remember getting any water. We licked the frost inside of the boxcar for water. We were so crowded we could not lie down and mot of us had diarrhea. They only thing we had for a pot was a steel helmet, which didn't take long to fill. I really don't know where it came from since the intake was so light. We were stopped on a sidetrack waiting for our planes to fly over when the steel helmet filled up. Now what do we do? Well, there was only one very small window about six feet up on the right side and that is where it was dumped. No one knew there was a German guard standing underneath the window who received a direct hit. He screamed and hollered and cursed in German and fired three rounds through our boxcar. The old man was looking after us that day because no one was hit. I will tell you it is a very helpless feeling when you are locked in a dark cold boxcar and your own planes are strafing the hell out of it."
Robert suffered from malnutrition while he was imprisoned; he had diphtheria, dysentery, TB and lice. The beds were boards. He knew what it is like to be cold and hungry. Each day seemed longer than the one before. Supposedly, he was to receive one Red Cross parcel per month, but he only received two in a six-month period, and most of the time he would trade most of the cigarettes for a piece of bread or whatever was available to eat. Robert stated that he was allowed to write a card once a month, but his cards never reached the U.S. until the war was over. Mrs. George Bouressa, his mother, received messages through the ham radio operators during the months he was held captive. That was the only way she knew he was alive.
(Continued next week)