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POW Camp Black Market

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David A. Dennis was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1919. He was living on a farm when the crash came. His father was a railroader and moved the family back to Terre Haute after the crash. Dennis has a brother who served in the navy. Dennis went to a one room school. His brother taught him. When Dennis was a kid they could play on the street. They did not have playgrounds. As a teenager Dennis lived about four blocks from a park. They played sports in the park and boxed as well. The former mayor of the town ran the drug store by the park and he looked out for the kids. When some of them got in trouble they would go to him and he would help them out. Roosevelt started the CCC [Annotators Note: Civilian Conservation Corps] to get young guys off the streets. Dennis volunteered for the camp along with a number of the other guys who hung around the park. When they went to join the CCC they were all interviewed. They made Dennis bring his father up there with his birth certificate to prove his age. Dennis wanted to get as far away from Terre Haute as he could but was assigned to a CCC camp in Martinsville, Indiana, right outside of Indianapolis. Dennis loved the CCC. He played basketball and baseball. He hung around with a friend from back home who got him to go to baseball practice with him. At baseball practice the coach asked him to join the team. When basketball season came up he played basketball. Dennis eventually got the job that everyone wanted. He was assigned to take care of the canteen. He did that for the last six months he was in the CCC. He was in the CCC camp for a year and a half. Dennis made a lot of friends. He worked on a forestry crew in Martinsville. In December 1938 they moved the camp to Medaryville, Indiana which was a game reserve. Dennis' job was to go to the park and trim trees. He met a lot of girls doing that. In 1939 Dennis quit the CCC and went home. He was only home for three days when he got a job at a gas station. He met a lot of people at the station.

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David Dennis does not recall when or how he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor but does recall hearing that the president was shot [Annotators Note: Dennis is referring to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963]. On 8 December he and his brother were being inducted into the military at Fort Harrison [Annotators Note: Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana]. Camp Atterbury had not been built yet. A couple weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor Dennis' brother enlisted in the navy. Dennis waited and ended up being drafted into the army. He and his brother were both discharged on the same day, 25 October 1945, but 30 days later his brother went back into the navy. When the kids who hung around the drug store and were now in the service wrote letters to him, the man who ran the drug store would put those post cards and letters up on his bulletin board. That way everyone back home could keep up with them. Once Dennis went home the man at the store never let him pay for a drink. Dennis does not feel that the CCC camp helped him with his life in the army at all. That is why the CCCs quit. He believes that if the CCC instituted any type of military training the mothers of the boys who went into the CCC would not have let them go. There were a half a dozen guys who went into the army right from the CCC camp. Dennis went into the army through the selective service [Annotators Note: the draft] on 31 January 1942. There were 25 or 30 of them who left and went to Indianapolis. If Dennis had taken typing in high school he would have stayed at Atterbury. Dennis later insisted that his son take typing. That benefited him later when he went into the Air Force. Dennis was sent to Fort Harrison where he was interviewed to see what he was good at. When he told the interviewer that he had worked for Western Union before the war the man assigned him to a message center school. Dennis took nine weeks of basic training. After that he became the captain’s dog robber [Annotators Note: army slang for an officer’s personal orderly]. Where the captain was, Dennis was right beside him with his radio. One time they were pinned down behind a little knoll. He heard someone giving orders to go over the top. It was Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. who was the commander of the 26th Regiment. A call for help went back via runner. When the general asked the runner what he would send up the runner replied that he would send 81 millimeter mortars. The general took the radio handset from Dennis' radio and called back for the mortars himself. There was a corporal in charge of a squad who fired on a pill box that was holding them up. He hit it on the first shot and opened the way.

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In basic training David Dennis went to school first. His basic training was the normal marching and learning their gun. That took time. They were also taught to carry messages in their left pocket over their heart. That way if they were killed or wounded whoever found it would continue on with the message. If it was in the right pocket it meant that it was a dead message. That never did happen. Dennis went to Camp Blanding, Florida. The captain there had never met him. The First Sergeant put a message on the bulletin board stating that if a person’s name was not on the list they were to see him. Dennis did not see his name on the list so he went in. The sergeant assigned him as the company commander’s dog robber [Annotators Note: World War 2 era army slang for an officer’s personal orderly]. The first day Dennis met the captain he was called out. The captain had one of the lieutenants give Dennis a message and Dennis delivered it word for word. They met four or five other times as a company and Dennis was never called. The captain called the other runners to make sure they could replace Dennis if he was ever killed, captured or wounded. The captain’s name was Captain Capello [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. Dennis was on KP [Annotators Note: kitchen police] a lot because his sense of humor got him in trouble. When they were preparing to go overseas the guys who were from New York were able to go home but Dennis could not since he lived in Indiana. One Sunday afternoon the sergeant told Dennis and the other guys on KP that if the motor pool sergeant showed up looking for drivers they were to tell him that they did not have to do it. Sure enough as they were finishing getting cleaned up the motor pool sergeant walked in and announced that he needed five drivers and pointed out the men he wanted. Dennis was one of them and told the sergeant that he did not have to drive the truck. The captain called Dennis into his office but dismissed him when his sergeant told the captain that he had told Dennis that he did not have to drive. They went on a 20 mile hike. They marched ten miles then a truck showed up with their chow then they would march back. When the chow truck showed up the driver stated that he was to bring one soldier from each company back to regiment. Dennis was sent from his company. He was sent to radio operator school. When the sergeant heard about that he got mad.

Annotation

David Dennis went with his unit to New York where they got on the Queen Mary. Teddy Roosevelt was the commander of the 26th [Annotators Note: 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division]. On the way overseas the commanders of the 26th, 16th, and 18th [Annotators Note: 26th, 16th, and 18th Infantry Regiments] drew straws and the person with the short straw did not have to work going over. Roosevelt got the short straw so the men in his regiment went over as passengers. Dennis slept up on deck because there were not enough places to sleep. Some of the guys put hammocks up in the kitchen and fell out of them. They were the first troops in England, the 1st Infantry Division. They took basic training in Scotland. There was a little knoll where they practiced going over the side of a ship into a landing craft. They did this for five days. When they landed in North Africa they went right out the front of the ship. They landed 12 or 14 feet from the shore and stepped out into very deep water. The only thing dry on Dennis was his radio and rifle. They did not encounter any resistance when they went into Oran. There had been resistance but Dennis did not see it. He landed six hours after the initial landings because they were a heavy weapons unit. They moved inland and bivouacked. One man from every company had to go identify the dead. Dennis was sorry he did that. In Africa the Arabs would strip the bodies of the dead and leave them naked. Dennis' unit did not lose anybody during the invasion. Their first casualty was a jeep driver named Bishop who drove for the captain. They were going on a mission and Bishop was following another jeep driven by Sergeant Yahtzee [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. The sergeant ran over a mine. After that Bishop refused to drive a vehicle even after he was threatened with court marshal. That was the first casualty they suffered. Dennis was in Company D, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. They were back up [Annotators Note: in reserve] and watching a group go up through a valley. It was a tank company with 17 tanks. When the last tank got to a certain point the Germans opened up and knocked out all 17 tanks. Ten minutes later friendly planes showed up and leveled the whole valley. This was at El Guettar, before Fiad Pass. They went through three or four little skirmishes like that. Finally they stopped and waited for the British. A recon group went out and Dennis volunteered to go with them. That night they sent a crew up on the mountain for lookout. There were six of them. They went up on a hill to wait for daylight. When the sun came up they saw troops marching around. They took them to be British troops so the lieutenant led them down the hill. He figured that if the troops on the ground saw them they would level the hill. They marched down the hill single file and were almost to the bottom when a soldier yelled out for them to halt. When the lieutenant asked if the troops were English the same soldier told them that they were German. He told them to leave their weapons shouldered and to march right in. They had their weapons taken away and broken and were placed in a ravine. The lieutenant had a pearl handled side arm which was taken. Then they were questioned. They stayed there all afternoon until some trucks arrived to pick them up. They were put on the trucks and taken to Tunis.

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[Annotators Note: David Dennis served as a radio operator in Company D, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.] They [Annotators Note: the Germans] were bringing Italians in and dropping them off then picked up the American prisoners and took them back to Italy. They had trouble getting Dennis and the other prisoners out because of the damage to the runways. There were about 120 prisoners. They were taken to the back of Vatican City where they were given macaroni to eat. Men studying to become priests would come from Vatican City to interview them then they took the messages back and forwarded them to the closest Catholic church [Annotators Note: the Catholic church closest to where each of the prisoners lived in the United States]. Dennis was not Catholic but he lived close to Saint Ann’s. That was the first news his parents got that he had not been killed. The prisoners were then put on boxcars and sent through the Brenner Pass to Moosburg. There, Dennis was registered as a POW then he was sent to Stalag III-B [Annotators Note: in Luckenwalde, Brandenburg, Germany]. There were already about 1,000 prisoners in the camp. Within the first two weeks Dennis was at Stalag III-B he was interviewed. Since he was a Private First Class he was put on a work detail. There were 150 of them that were sent to build a power plant. The plant was only about a mile and a half from the camp so they were marched there. While marching out one day Dennis saw a group of Jews being marched out. There were only a few of them and they were all that remained of 300 that had been sent in there to work. Dennis and his group were put in the same barracks they [Annotators Note: the Jewish prisoners] had been in. It was ten men to a room with double bunks. The shutters were closed at night and there was just a small hole in them for air. They had voted a soldier to be the head of them [Annotators Note: their spokesman.] He went to the Germans and asked that they leave the shutters open at night for the health of the men. Once they were on a certain party that is where they stayed. Dennis was put on a party shoveling sand. Some of the prisoners dumped a wheelbarrow into some concrete. When the concrete cured the wheelbarrow was found sticking up out of it. Dennis was one of eight prisoners transferred to Stalag II-B [Annotators Note: in Hammerstein, Pomerania]. While he was in III-B a truck convoy came in. The convoy was carrying Italian troops. The Italians stacked their rifles and went into the camp. The Germans collected the Italians' weapons and locked them in the camp. The Italians were kept separate from the Americans. The Germans did not put different nationalities together. Dennis was at III-B for about three months. The POWs would take the raisins out of their food parcels and would ferment them and make alcohol. Dennis' friend Mickey from West Virginia, who had been with him back at II-B, got drunk one night and the other prisoners got Dennis to go make him stop. Mickey had been at II-B and gave Dennis a job there. Dennis was at II-B when two guys escaped. A truck came in bringing supplies and they slipped into it. They were caught three days later. When they were brought back in the Germans brought everyone out to count them. It was snowing and cold. Ten guys came in. They were young and healthy. They were brought in to entice the men to go out on work details.

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David Dennis was not there [Annotators Note: on a work detail from Stalag II-B] too long. He had a run in with one of the guards there. The guard made Dennis do extra work to show him who was the boss. They were just doing farm work. They were on one farm for one day. There were ten of them and one guard. If there had been 11 of them there would have been two guards. The ten of them went to the farm. There were already people there working. They were each given a hoe and sent across the field to go hoe weeds out. The Germans tried to make the men work faster but they did not. Dennis lasted one day. The next day the man who had the farm said he did not want Dennis there. [Annotators Note: the interviewer changed tapes. When the video begins again Dennis is talking about two guys fighting.] In the camp they each got a parcel containing coffee and cigarettes and such. They would trade with the guards. It got so bad they had to create a sheet listing what would be paid for what. It got so bad that the POW camp black market had a black market. The prisoners had pet names for all of the guards but Dennis cannot remember many. He only remembers a guard they called squeaky because of his voice. Five or six guys would form a group. Each guy would be from a different branch. They got maps by trading with the guards. They could also get out of the camp for a pack of cigarettes. Two guys from work party USA1 got out and were gone for three or four days before being caught and brought back to the camp. When they came back the colonel in charge of the camp read the guards the riot act. The colonel then shook the hand of each man and told them that they were good soldiers. When the war was over the Germans had planned to send English speaking officers to the United States. The colonel commanding the POW camp Dennis was in was to take over Saint Louis. One day a German private came around the corner. The guard snapped to attention. The private then came in and talked to the prisoners. They figured out he was an officer. The German officer was to take over some town in New Jersey. He knew everything about it. Before Dennis was captured they captured a few German soldiers. When the Germans were marched past the Americans to go to the rear they would laugh at the GIs and tell them that they were on their way to New York.

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To David Dennis Oran, North Africa looked just like any other town but the French people there were happy to see them. As they marched to their bivouac area the locals would give them bottles of wine. Some of the guys got very drunk. Two guys who were messing with Arab women were castrated and put on horses and knocked off into an area. Dennis does not know if they lived. Even after that guys would still do it. Brothels were set up in some towns where they could pay for it. Dennis was heavy weapons. They fired support for the line companies. Their company was set up with water cooled .30 caliber machineguns and his company commander had tears in his eyes when he learned that those guns were obsolete. Their water cooled .30 caliber machineguns were picked up and they were issued air cooled .50 caliber machineguns. The only thing they used the water cooled for was after a ravine was captured they would set them up to keep anyone from coming back through. Dennis does not recall if they had armor piercing rounds in their guns but they did have tracers. Dennis carried a walkie talkie on the patrol. The patrol was led by a lieutenant named Creech [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. That is the officer Dennis was captured with. When guys get hungry all they talk about is food. A colonel in their camp had to order the men to talk about anything other than food. One guy got a letter from his girlfriend. In the letter she told him that she had not heard from him in so long and did not know if he was alive or not so she married his dad. She signed the letter with the word mother. Dennis got a dear john letter from a girl he was dating who wanted to get married. He told her that they would talk when he got back. He was not gone for 30 days before she started messing around. He had been sending her money too. Dennis knew a guy who was in the army and gone for three years. When the man got home he had a two year old son. The child was his brothers. He was so good about it that he raised the child as his own.

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David Dennis took basic training with an 03 rifle [Annotators Note: Springfield Model 1903 .30 caliber rifle]. They had to keep their rifles clean and had to know how to take them apart. They took those rifles overseas with them. When they got overseas they were issued M1 rifles. Dennis carried a radio and a carbine. He felt bad for the guys who carried the base part and the tubes [Annotators Note: he is talking about the base and tube of his company's 81 millimeter mortars] they fired out of. At Fiad Pass Dennis got separated from his outfit. It took him two days to get back. The Germans dug tunnels in the hills and when the Allied troops moved through the Germans would run their 88s [Annotators Note: 88 millimeter gun] out on a flat car and fired on them. They killed a lot of guys. The mess sergeant in Dennis' unit was the best cook. The captain told him to feed any stragglers. The captain found him feeding three guys who were not in his company. The company commander busted the cook down in rank and made an ammunition carrier out of him. When they had the water cooled [Annotators Note: the .30 caliber M1917 water cooled machineguns] they had extra guys to carry the cans of water for the guns. They were no longer needed after they got the air cooled guns. Dennis had a sergeant who hit one of his men who was drunk and shooting his rifle in the same area where troops were. Dennis got separated from his unit when the Germans ran their 88s out and were shooting down into the equipment. Everybody took off on their own. When Dennis took off he was with nine other guys and they were all from different companies.

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David Dennis feels that he and his unit were well prepared for the fighting in North Africa. He believes that the only thing that hurt them was when their water cooled .30 caliber machineguns were taken away from them because it took a long time for them to get the air cooled .50 caliber guns. When Dennis left the United States he did not know where he was going but ended up in England. A battalion from the 16th Infantry Regiment had gone in first to prepare a barracks for them, then Dennis' unit arrived. They were the first to go in. After two weeks there they got on a boat and went to Dukes Castle in Scotland. When Dennis went ashore he saw a tank turned upside in the water. He does not know if the crew got out or not. Before the war Dennis worked at a gas station with a guy who went in the service. The man came back to visit them three or four months later and told them he was in the submarine service and loved it. Dennis does not understand how someone could love being on a submarine. Dennis does not know if he survived the war or not. On 19 October [Annotators Note: 19 October 1942] they boarded a ship and left Scotland. They just steamed around and around until 2 November when they arrived in North Africa. The night before they landed in North Africa they did not need to be told where they were. They had seen the Rock of Gibraltar when they passed it. The landings were going to take place in five areas. Dennis' unit landed at Oran. When they landed they were welcomed by the Free French. For Christmas the people took the soldiers into their homes and took care of them. Dennis was one of four who were taken in by a lady. The lady had two girls who were under ten years old. They all ate dinner together. The lady could speak a little English. In the prison camp they had a guy with them who was originally from Germany. The prison camp was not far from where the man had been born and he talked the big wig at the camp to let him return to his home town with the soldiers. The Germans opened the doors to the camp for them. Ten men with two guards could go out and stroll around the town. They had to promise not to try to escape. They were told that the Germans guards could not speak English but they could. Prisoners had been getting letters with a lot of slang in them and the Germans could not understand it so in order to try to find out what the Americans were talking about they let them go into town but told them that they had to speak good English only with no slang. After three days the Germans called it off. Dennis did not go on any of those walks.

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They [Annotators Note: David Dennis and his fellow POWs] had been given their parcels [Annotators Note: Red Cross parcels] but the Germans had put holes in them so the food would not stay good for more than a day. They did this to keep the prisoners from trying to escape and having extra food to do so. When they left the prison camp they were allowed to carry anything they wanted. Some of the guys made sleds. The snow was a foot deep. Some of the guys had not walked much except for around the barracks and many of them fell out. They were stretched out over miles. It was snowing and the guys in the lead had to walk through it. Dennis was about a half a mile back so the snow he walked on was packed down. The first night they were out they were at a farm where a lady had been told to clear out her barn. The potatoes that she had boiled for her animals were taken and given to the men. After the war Dennis was asked if he had frozen feet. He did not have frozen feet but a lot of guys he was with did. Those guys had taken their boots off and warmed their feet by a fire then slept with their boots off. After Dennis warmed his feet he put his boots back on. The Germans did not shoot the guys who fell out of line. The guards just continued on with their group. When several guys fell out they were put into a group and one guard was left with them. The guards were in just as bad a shape as the prisoners. Dennis remembers the day they heard about President Roosevelt dying. The local ladies would give the prisoners coffee and when they heard about it they cried because they felt that the world had lost a good man. Dennis does not remember the name of the town where he ended his march. He was at a farm. There were 160 of them. The sergeants and corporals who were with them would not take charge. Everyone remembered that Dennis had given out food and they all went to him with their questions. Some of the guys who did not like Germans got an axe and went into a local house and destroyed it. They got into the chicken coop too. Dennis got a chicken out of the deal and they had fried chicken that night. On 1 May [Annotators Note: 1 May 1945] some guys got a pig. They killed it and ate the meat that night even though they were told that they would get diarrhea which they did. Since Dennis was taking care of the food in the camp he was told to take an interpreter and a guard and go by horse and buggy into the nearest town. They were to go to the bakery there and get bread for the men. They were about half way to the town when there was a huge explosion out in front of them. They continued on. When they got almost to the road an American tank went by with rations on it. When they got up to the road they let the horse go. The tanks were firing. Dennis and his group timed the shots so they could run back to their barracks. When they took off they were shot at by another tank but managed to get back anyway. When they got back to the barn the rations were there. They took the guys who were guarding them. There were two of them. The rest had run off. They took them by the side of a hill and shot them. A lieutenant came up and told them that if they bothered them they would end up with them. They were Russians. They caught a civilian who was the work master for the farm. There were two women there who worked for him. Dennis was told by an interpreter that they asked the girls if they had been treated alright. If they had been mistreated they would have killed him on the spot. They stayed on the farm for about seven days.

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Finally a jeep showed up with a lieutenant in it who told them [Annotators Note: David Dennis and his fellow POWs] when they would be picked up. Halftracks showed up on 7 May and picked them up. The next day they slept out in the open then got on a plane the day the war was over, 8 May. They would put 15 men on a plane. There were 14 men on a plane and Dennis was put on it. All of the men were air force. Dennis was the only army guy on the plane. Dennis was flown to Stone, England where he spent two weeks in a hospital being examined and having blood tests run. He was fed and fattened up. An air force captain put Dennis and several other infantrymen in a room and told them that someone would come get them to feed them. He also said that they were guests and did not have to do any work. After they ate another air force guy came and got them and fed them then told five of them to clean up. Dennis told him that he did not have to. The man cried when he found out that they did not have to work because they were ex POWs. Dennis ran into other instances where he was told to do something but did not and was later apologized to because he was an ex POW. Those guys were prisoners for six months to a year. Dennis shared his parcel with a guy who was in the parachutists [Annotators Note: a paratrooper from an airborne unit]. The man told Dennis that some of the guys were shot on the way down and killed. He also said that when he hit the ground the only thing he got was a chewing out by a Luftwaffe officer because he was supposed to land somewhere else. The kid was an 18 year old from Minnesota and Dennis took him under his wing. After the war Dennis and his wife met up with him for dinner. The man did not let Dennis pay for dinner because Dennis had fed him so many times. Dennis does not think that it is important studying World War 2. He thinks it would not do any good. Things are different now. The way they fought in World War 2 is completely different than the way we fight now. Dennis also does not think it is important to teach World War 2 in schools. He does not believe that what they learned there would help in the future. Dennis does feel that it is important for there to be museums dedicated to World War 2. It educates the kids.
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