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John as a POW John Reagan, 1999

Last Name: `
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Street:  142 ST JOHNS CT City & State: WINSTON-SALEM, NC E-Mail:  expow@bellsouth.net
Zip: 27106 - 3832 Phone:  [336] 748 1165 Spouse: PEGGY
Conflict: WW11 Service Branch: Army Air Corp Unit: 8AF 447BG 711BS
Theater: Where Captured: COGNAC, FRANCE RANCE Date Captured: 12/31/43
liberated / repatriated: liberated Date Liberated: 05/06/45 Age at Capture: 18

Military Bio:

J.R. “Bob” Reagan was shot down on his first mission over occupied France on Dec. 31, 1943. After his B-17 Bomber dropped its load, German anti-aircraft fire blasted the cockpit killing the co-pilot / Engineer & Ball turret Gunner. Reagan was not wearing his parachute. “I grabbed a spare suit and bailed out upside down,” he said, “I just wanted to get out of the damn fire.” Reagan, a radio operator landed within 100 yards of a German sentry outpost in Cognac, France and was captured seconds ended. “I was in captivity for 17 months, six days, three hours, and 22 minutes.” Reagan said. Four days before the later. He was held in the infamous Stalag 17 until the war war was over Gen. George St. Patton liberated his Austrian prisoner-of-war camp.

Stalag 17B was situated 100 meters northwest of Gneixendorf, a village that is six kilometers northwest of Krems, Austria. The surrounding area was populated by peasants who raised cattle and did truck farming. The camp itself was in use as a concentration camp from 1938 until 1940 when it began receiving French and Poles as the first POWs. On Oct. 13, 1943, 1350 non-commissioned officers of the air forces were transferred from Stalag 7A to Stalag 7B which already contained POWs from France, Italy, Russia, Yugoslavia and various smaller nations. At the time of the first Protecting Power visit on 12 January, 1944, the strength had increased to 2667. From then until the last days of the war a constant stream of non-commissioned officers arrived from Dulag Luft and strength reached 4237 in spite of protestations to the Detaining Power about the over-crowed conditions. The entire camp contained 29,794 prisoners of war of various nationalities.

The Americans occupied five compounds, each of which measured 175 yards by 75 yards and contained four double barracks 100 by 240 feet. The barracks were built to accommodate approximately 240 men but at least 400 men were crowded into them after the first three months of occupancy. Each double barrack contained a washroom of six basins in the center of the building. The beds in the barracks were triple-decked and each tier had four compartments with one man to a compartment making a total of 12 men in each group. Each single barrack had a stove to supply heat and cooking facilities for approximately 200 men. The fuel ration for a week was 54 pounds of coal. Because of the lack of heating and an insufficient number of blankets, the men slept two to a bunk for added warmth. Lighting facilities were very poor and many light bulbs were missing at all times. Aside from the nine double barracks used for housing purposes, one barrack was reserved for the infirmary and the medical personnel’s quarters. Half of a barrack was the library, another half for the MOC and his staff, a half for the theater, a half for Red Cross food distribution and a half for the meeting room. In addition, one barrack was used as a repair shop for shoes and clothing. Four additional barracks were added in early 1944, but two others were torn down because they were considered by the Germans to be to close to the fence, thus making it possible for POWs to build tunnels for escape purposes. One of these buildings had been used as a gymnasium and the other as a chapel. Latrines were open pit-type and were situated away from the barracks. Two separate wire fences charged with electricity surrounded the area and four watchtowers equipped with machine guns were placed at strategic points. At night streetlights were used in addition to the searchlights from the guard towers to illuminate the area.

The treatment at Stalag 17B was never considered good and was at times even brutal. An example of extreme brutality occurred in early 1944. Two men attempting to escape were discovered in an out-of-bounds area adjoining the compound. As soon as they were discovered they threw up their hands indicating their surrender. They were shot while their hands were thus upraised. One of the men died immediately but the other was only injured in the leg. After he fell a guard ran to within 20 feet of him and fired again.

On April 8, 1945, 4000 of the POWs at Stalag 17B began an 18-day march of 281 miles to Braunau, Austria. The remaining 200 men were too ill to make the march and were left behind in the hospital. The Russians liberated these men on 9 May, 1945. The marching column was divided into eight groups of 500 with an American leader in charge of each group guarded by about 20 German Volkssrurm guards and two dogs. Red Cross parcels were issued to each man in sufficient amounts to last about seven days. During the 18-day march, the column averaged 20 kilometers each day. At the end of the day, they were forced to bivouac in open fields regardless of the weather. On three occasions the men were quartered in cow barns. The only food furnished to POWs by the German authorities was barley soup and bread. Trading with the German and Austrian civilians became the main source of sustenance after the Red Cross parcel supplies were exhausted. The destination of the column was a Russian prison camp 4 kilometers north of Braunau. Upon arrival the POW cut down pine trees and made small huts since there was no housing available. Roaming guards patrolled the area and the woods surrounding the area but no escape attempts were made because it was apparent that the liberation forces were in the immediate vicinity. The day after their arrival at the new site, Red Cross parcels were issued to every POW. A second issue was made a few days later of one parcel for every fifth man.

On 3 May, 1945 the camp was liberated when six men of the 13th Armored Division arrived in three jeeps and easily captured the remaining guards who numbered 205. Other units of the 13th Armored followed shortly and organized the evacuation of the POW by C-47 to France on 9 May, 1945.

My Message to Future Generations:

Message to come..

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