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I became a guest of the Third Reich

German Propaganda/Dear John


Corbin discusses the Battle of the Bulge, the Hammelburg Raid, and the book The Longest Winter [Annotator's Note: The Longest Winter by Alex Kershaw].The interviewer has also interviewed the survivors profiled in the book.Corbin was at Hammelburg and is one of only 25 who escaped. He was a forward observer for Battery ‘A’, 909th Field Artillery Battalion, 84th Infantry Division. They had just been inserted into the line east of Aachen, Germany. On the day after Thanksgiving 1944, Corbin went to the line to relieve his counterpart there. He had been asked to pick up the padre [Annotator's Note: padre is military slang for chaplain] and bring him out with him.They drove to the edge of town then realized that they had gone too far and missed their turn. As Corbin was backing up a mortar round landed right next to the vehicle, but it was a dud. They ducked under some buildings until the mortar barrage ended; then they got back in the jeep and drove to their headquarters.Corbin went into headquarters to talk to Lt. Hendrickson [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. Hendrickson was nicknamed the "Judge" because he been a lawyer back in Texas. Hendrickson was a very calm and cool fellow. He took Corbin up to the third floor to show him where the base registration points were that needed direct fire. Corbin noticed that Hendrickson was very nervous. Hendrickson pointed out to him that the Germans had a hull down [Annotator's Note: a tank that is in a pit or revetment with only its turret exposed above the ground level] Tiger tank [Annotator's Note: German Mark VI "Tiger" heavy tank] about 3 quarters of a mile away and told him to watch out for it.Corbin could see German soldiers walking on the top of the hill from his position.The German Tiger tank let go with an 88 [Annotator’s Note: 88mm shell] at Corbin's position. The 88 sounds different than other artillery shells. The 88 round struck the second floor of the building. Corbin was on the third floor. Corbin wasn't concerned with shells passing over his head but was disconcerted about them going under his feet. About 30 minutes later another mortar barrage hit Corbin's position and took the roof off of his building.There had been a tank outside of Corbin's building that got knocked out by the 88. That night, he was informed that a pill box had been captured 50 yards ahead of the forward elements. His position was right on the edge of the Siegfried Line.Corbin wanted to get inside the pill box. That way he could call fire in right on top of himself and would be protected by the walls of the pill box. Captain Walsh, Corbin's liaison officer said no, but Corbin talked him into it.Corbin had a fellow with him who had been kicked out of another battery, and who was training to be a forward observer. The men were picked up by a runner who was to guide them to the captured pill box. When the runner got there he asked Corbin if it was alright if they took a short cut to avoid a German sniper; he agreed.Corbin learned that there was a 400 yard gap in the lines between the 104th Infantry Division and the 84th Infantry Division. To patrol the gap, the 104th division would send patrols on even hours and on odd hours the 84th division would send out a patrol. This gap is where the runner was leading Corbin. The runner went ahead to check out the route. Suddenly, a firefight broke out. He thought he was dead but moments later the runner returned. When he reached the top of the hill he saw a foxhole with a machine gun position and two riflemen in it. He said good morning to them as he passed.They could see the pillbox 50 to 60 yards to their right. As they started walking toward it the heard a guttural voice yell out "hands up... come out." Corbin had recently read in the Stars and Stripes that when German soldiers wanted to surrender they would yell out the only English words they knew. Thinking that the German wanted to surrender, Corbin drew his 45 [Annotator's Note: .45 caliber pistol]. When he pulled out his pistol the German shot him. The shot didn't actually hit him, it hit his field jacket. They had walked into the German lines and had gone to the wrong pill box. He then became a guest of the Third Reich. 


They were taken into the pillbox and searched [Annotator’s Note: after being captured by Germans near Aachen in November 1944]. Corbin had been carrying maps and overlays for directing fire and had three K rations. The Germans took everything and then took them to the company CP [Annotator's Note: command post] where the German captain stole Corbin's watch. They were then walked to the battalion CP.At the battalion CP the Germans got excited. They showed Corbin a propaganda leaflet insinuating that the females back in America were all cheating on their husbands who were overseas fighting. Corbin started laughing because he had gotten a "Dear John" letter [Annotator's Note: letters from the spouses and girlfriends of servicemen serving overseas informing them that they were leaving, divorcing, or breaking up with them] ten days before. Corbin thought it was a joke.The men were then put in a jeep-like vehicle and taken to the regimental CP. Seconds after he crossed the road to the CP an artillery shell detonated at the crossroads. Corbin knew that the shell was the result of the battery's spotter pilot registering in the battery.Corbin was asked his rank. When he replied that he was a lieutenant the German officer asked him where his bars were. Corbin told him that they were in his pocket and that they didn't wear them in the field because of German snipers.Corbin was taken back to the division CP where he was kept for about four days and interrogated twice. The German who interrogated him was the former purser on a British ship that flew from Liverpool to South Africa and who spoke perfect English. He and his interrogator spoke about non-military subjects. The man got angry at Corbin and threatened to send him to a prisoner of war camp in western Germany where he could sweat out the air raids every night.A GI was brought in who had been captured when he and two others tried to take out a machine gun nest. Two of the GIs were killed and the third man was brought in. The man had been lying out in front of the enemy position and had frost bite. When he thawed he was in terrible pain and screamed through the night. Nobody got any sleep in that room that night.By happenstance, six months later, Corbin was back in the United States and was sent to Miami Beach for rest and rehabilitation. In the railroad waiting room stood the same GI who had been frost bitten and screamed through the night. He was fine now.After the fourth day the Germans took them to Krefeld to the headquarters for the artillery for the German Army on the Western Front. There a Colonel-General, the second highest ranking general in the German Army, came in. In the room with Corbin were two German lieutenants, one who had lived in Brooklyn and returned to Germany in 1939 and whom the Germans wouldn't let return to the US, and the other was a Messerschmitt pilot who had broken his leg and could no longer fly. The pilot had graduated from Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia. The two German lieutenants spoke to Corbin in English.They spent the night in Krefeld and were joined by two sergeants from the 8th Air Force who had been shot down during a bombing raid. They were taken to Düsseldorf. When they got to Düsseldorf it was a mess because it had just been bombed. When the civilians saw them they threw rocks at them and screamed. Corbin noticed that one of the sergeants was wearing a bomber jacket with a swastika going up in flames and 14 bombs underneath it. Corbin suggested that he turn the jacket inside out. 


They were taken across the Rhine River on a streetcar then put into an underground dungeon [Annotator’s Note: American prisoners of war in Germany]. On the second night in the dungeon additional prisoners were brought in. Corbin heard the familiar voice of "Judge" Hendrickson. The Germans had ambushed Hendrickson's outfit. As soon as they stopped firing the Germans called for the men to stand up and they did. About 180 of them were captured.They were told that they were being taken to a prisoner of war camp that was a two day train trip away. The men were given two days worth of food consisting of some bread and a can of horse meat. They found out that when the Germans say two days it means four days. Corbin and the other POWs ate well the first two days then starved the last two.The POWs were in box cars, fifty men in a box car. They rode with two rows of people with their backs to the outside of the car and two rows of people with their backs to each other in the middle of the car. They couldn't sleep that way so at night 25 guys would stand at one end of the car and the other 25 would lie down and sleep for two hours then they would swap. The men had a hole in the corner of the car to use and were let off of the train to relieve themselves periodically.The POWs were taken to Fallingbostel to Stalag 11-B which also held 5,000 French POWs.They were there until 20 December [Annotator's Note: 20 December 1944]. The Battle of the Bulge had started on 16 December and the Germans had to make room for all of the prisoners they were going to catch. The Germans told them that they would be in Paris by Christmas.Corbin was put on a train and taken across Germany to Poland. For the last part of the trip the entire train consisted of their car with thirteen American officers and five German soldiers guarding them and an engine.On 24 December, just before they got to Oflag 64, they were passing through the snow covered fields of Poland and the spirit of Christmas took over the train. The American and German soldiers sang Christmas carols. It was the most memorable night of Corbin's life.Oflag 64 was a big difference from what Corbin had experienced at Stalag 11-B. Inside the barbed wire at Oflag 64 everything was run by Americans. The Germans controlled the fences and guard towers and the Americans controlled the inside. There was a senior American officer who had a staff who was in command.The Germans would post the names, outfits, and hometown of each of the POWs when they arrived at the camp. A fellow Corbin went to high school with named Herb Hayes [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] saw his name on the board. For security purposes the men had to be identified to keep the Germans from being able to insert spies. Herb identified Corbin.Corbin arrived on 24 December and had not been registered with the Red Cross yet when the POWs were allowed to send home Christmas cards. Herb wrote on the bottom of his card stating that Bob Corbin had walked into his camp.Hayes' wife got his card on 12 February [Annotator’s Note: 1945]; she realized that he was sending a message. She looked in the phonebook and called every Corbin until she reached his mother. It was their first word that he was alive.Corbin's father had been in World War I and did not hold out any hope that his son was still alive.About the middle of January they were ordered to be prepared to march out the next day. The Russians were coming.Before they could leave, the Germans searched the camp for 25 or 30 prisoners who had built a tunnel and were hiding in it. They were not found. Around noon they started walking. It was about six degrees and there was six inches of snow on the ground. They walked about ten kilometers that day and arrived at a big communal farm. The prisoners were told to find a place to sleep in the barn. Corbin slept with the sheep where it was warm instead of in the hay mound with the other guys. It turned out to be a bad idea. The sheep didn't sleep they just made noise all night.The next day they walked 15 or 20 kilometers to another barn. Corbin slept in the hay mound this time. When they got up the next morning the discovered that their 150 German guards had been sent back to ambush the Russians and that there was only one German officer for the whole day. Five hundred prisoners went over the hill [Annotator’s Note: slang phrase meaning escaped from prison] that day.They could hear the Russians. Corbin asked the colonel wha they should do, go over the hill or stay together. The colonel suggested that they stay together. 


They were told that they had to march about 60 miles [Annotator’s Note: as American prisoners of war in Poland]. Corbin couldn't imagine marching 60 miles through six inches of snow and in zero degree weather.The Russians were heading west toward them so they were marched through Poland then back into Germany. Once back in Germany, Corbin drank some water out of a pump and contracted amoebic dysentery. In two weeks Corbin lost 25 pounds.Before reaching Germany, the Germans sent out a train wit 250 sick prisoners aboard. Now back in Germany they wanted Corbin to board a train. He talked his way out of it.They did not have much to eat. They had a cup of ersatz coffee for breakfast, a cup of ersatz soup for lunch, and an inch of black bread and a dozen boiled potatoes in the evening. The food truck would leap frog the walkers and would prepare the potatoes. While walking through a little town Corbin saw a sleigh with Red Cross parcels on it. The prisoners demanded that the Germans give them Red Cross parcels. The Germans agreed to give one package per two kriegies [Annotator's Note: American slang for prisoners of war based on the German word for it]. Corbin told his buddy Smitty that he could have anything he wanted, but Corbin wanted the Kraft cheese. Corbin ate the cheese and it stopped his dysentery. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s when Corbin was in the restaurant business he always had Kraft cheese in his kitchen.The prisoners were walked for another couple of days and were then put on a train and taken all the way across Germany eventually arriving at Hammelburg on 7 March [Annotator's Note: 7 March 1945]. They had walked for 42 days and had covered about 500 kilometers. There were about 485 or so prisoners of war left of the 1500 that started from Oflag 64.At Hammelburg they were introduced to prisoners from the 28th and 106th infantry divisions who had been captured during the Battle of the Bulge along with about 3500 Serbian soldiers who had been captured in Czechoslovakia.At Hammelburg the food and conditions were terrible. They also experienced lice for the first time.On the 27 March Abe Baum [Annotator's Note: US Army Major Abraham Baum, DSC] came into their camp. Corbin could hear the firefight going on outside. It was their [Annotator's Note: the American] 4th Armored men doing the shooting.Colonel Waters [Annotator's Note: US Army General John Knight Waters, DSC], the son in law of General Patton [Annotator's Note: US Army General George Smith Patton, DSC] walked out to Abe's area under a flag of truce with a German officer. A German soldier saw him and shot him in the base of his spine in the anus area.The tanks came in and knocked down the barbed wire and the prisoners got on the tanks and half tracks. The half track Corbin was on conked out about a half mile down the road. A big eight and a half ton wrecker pulled up, hooked up to them, and took them off down the road.Corbin didn't hear anything or know about the raid until the shooting started.A lot of guys took off over the hill [Annotator’s Note: slang phrase meaning escaped from prison]. Baum’s task force could only take about 300 POWs. Some men were afraid and stayed in the camp. Corbin estimates that a total of about 500 guys got out of the camp.The task force ran into a road block and lost three tanks and twenty men. They backed up and radioed the 4th Armored Division for help but 4th Armored told them that they were on their own.Colonel Goode [Annotator's Note: US Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul R. Goode], the senior American officer present, held a council of war and told the men that they were only about ten miles from the camp and unless they had a gun and wanted to stay and fight with the tankers they should all return to the camp. There was going to be a hell of a fight in about an hour. 


The Germans had diverted two divisions to deal with this salient in their rear echelon. They did not know what these people were doing fifty miles behind the forward elements.They started walking back toward the camp. Corbin thought that if he got outside the barbed wire he had a 50/50 chance of getting back. Corbin grabbed two friends, Jay and Dallas, and they started walking. They could hear the Germans moving in on Abe Baum's [Annotator's Note: Annotator's Note: US Army Major Abraham Baum, DSC] outfit going on behind them. Then they noticed a machine gun position in front of them. They decided to wait until dark.Around 8:00 that night they took off. They could see the German soldiers down the hill. Around midnight a fog set in so they took off.When approaching a road Corbin stopped the group just as a regiment of German soldiers marched past. After the Germans passed them they crossed the road and made their way to the river and looked for a boat.They couldn't find a boat so they made a little raft out of logs and the Polish overcoats they had been given [Annotator's Note: when prisoners of war by the Germans]. Corbin's friends got wet but he took his clothes off and had dry clothes to put back on when he got across the river. Corbin ended up with Jay's boots which were all wet. He was alright with that. He shared his dry clothes with his friends.They came across an abandoned house with a little shack behind it. They had to climb a ladder to get into the shack.They got into the shack and went to sleep around 5:30 in the morning and around 9:30 or 10:00 they woke up.Baum's people had overrun a Russian prisoner of war camp and released about 1000 Russian prisoners or war. The Russians got into a German PX [Annotator's Note: PX is the acronym for Post Exchange which is a store located on a military facility that caters strictly to members of the military] and looted much of the candy.Corbin saw a squad of German soldiers led by a non com [Annotator's Note: non commissioned officer] that proceeded to mine the bridge.While the German soldiers were mining the bridge the non com walked over to the house then to the shack Corbin and friends were hiding in. Corbin was armed with a pen knife and prepared to attack the German if he entered the shack.The non com was distracted by another German soldier. When he turned away Corbin and the others took off into the woods. When Corbin got out of the shack he saw his GI [Annotator's Note: GI is the acronym for Government Issue] gloves which he had dropped when he went into the shack. That was the closest they came to getting recaptured.For the next few days they walked through virgin forest without seeing anyone. On the seventh day they heard a tank. Usually they would steer clear of people but Corbin wanted to see if it was an American tank.Corbin thought it was an American tank because of the way it sounded. He argued with Jay for about five minutes. When he was about to go out to look he saw German motorcycles troops which stopped at the spot he was trying to get to. If he hadn't argued with Jay he would have been recaptured.


That night they ran out of trees [Annotator’s Note: after escaping a German prisoner of war camp and looking for Americans]. They had stayed in the forest because they thought they would be safer. The night was very dark and they couldn't see anything but they could hear German soldiers talking. They knew the Germans were there and Corbin is sure that the Germans knew that they were there. They got up and walked away. That was the second closest they came to getting recaptured.The next morning they noticed that they had stopped in a spot next to a trail that the workers would use to get to the fields. Corbin knew that if you didn’t move people won't see you.That night they walked about a mile and came across a farm which they knew was close to the front lines. They went into the barn and hid up in the hay loft to sleep. They were awoken the next morning by the farmer and his son who can in with pitch forks to get hay. They were not noticed and the next night they took off. They were in such bad shape that it took about twenty minutes to walk 250 yards.They were in the Main River valley south of Frankfurt-am-Main. They located an abandoned German position from where they could see a road with American vehicles driving up and down. Corbin said that they had made it but Smitty said no, that the Germans had captured the vehicles during the Battle of the Bulge. They walked to the road and came across a big two and a half ton truck with a big white star on it. They realized that they had made it.A jeep from the 1st Cavalry Division [Annotator's Note: Corbin must mean a cavalry reconnaissance squadron from an armored division because the 1st Cavalry Division was never in the European Theater] drove up and the officers in the vehicle asked who they were. They replied that they were escaped POWs and were pointed to an engineering outfit where they got cleaned up. When they came out of the woods they were inside the American lines, 35 miles behind the forward elements. They had been inside the American lines for two and a half days.The reason they made it was they were careful and only walked at night. Corbin also thinks that there was also some divine help. During the entire time he was a prisoner of war he never had any trouble sleeping. The first night he spent back behind American lines he couldn't sleep. His nerves were jangled. That was the only time. He never experienced that again.Corbin feels that he was pretty damned lucky because 98 percent of all forward observers got killed [Annotator's Note: the claim that 98 percent of all artillery forward observers were killed was not verified by the Annotator]. All of Corbin's friends who were forward observers in his outfit were killed or wounded. Corbin will never forget Abe Baum [Annotator's Note: US Army Major Abraham Baum, DSC] and praises god every day for Baum.When the tanks first busted through the gates [Annotator's Note: at the POW camp in Hammelburg, Germany] they [Annotator's Note: the POWs] were excited that someone had come to rescue them. They were kissing the guys and hugging them. Corbin didn't know how tough a time Baum's task force had getting to the camp until he read about it [Annotator's Note: after the war].When Baum announced that he couldn't take everyone the prisoners were disappointed but not upset. Some guys were afraid to leave and stayed behind and others took off by themselves. The Germans [Annotator's Note: the German guards] had taken off. Not many, if any, were killed.Corbin doesn't know where he was in the column when it left the camp.


After they got away Corbin was told by his adjutant about Colonel Waters [Annotator's Note: US Army General John K. Waters, DSC. Stepson in law of US Army General George S. Patton, DSC] and about Abe [Annotator's Note: US Army Major Abraham Baum, DSC]. He was told that the men were taken by train from Stalag 13-B to Nuremberg and when they got to Nuremberg they were bombed by the 8th Air Force.The men who were picked up around Lanzerath [Annotator's Note: Lanzerath, Belgium] went through hell compared to what Corbin went through. There was a difference between the way that they [Annotator's Note: the Germans] treated officers and the way they treated enlisted men. Corbin didn't realize what Bouck [Annotator's Note: US Army 1st Lieutenant Lyle Bouck, DSC] had gone through until he read the book.Corbin was doing well until he got the dysentery.Corbin doesn't know what happened to his friend Hendrickson.In 1998, he and the other two men he escaped with had a reunion at his home. One of the men has written his story about the escape. He states that he had a compass that he used to help them find their way but Corbin remembers just walking toward the sound of the artillery.Corbin's memory is a little cloudy about what took place immediately after getting back to American lines.Corbin and his friends made their way from repple depple [Annotator's Note: US Army slang for replacement depot] to repple depple. At each stop, when the men at the depot learned that Corbin and friends were escaped prisoners of war they couldn't do enough for them. When Corbin escaped he weighed 130 pounds and by the time he got home he weighed 183. He ate his way home.When the trucks arrived to drop replacements off at the front Corbin and friends would ride the truck back.At each stop they were given a weekly allotment of tooth paste, cigarettes, toilet paper, and whatever else they gave out. By the time they got to Paris they had a bag full of stuff.In Paris they were billeted in a hotel. After going to the BOQ [Annotator's Note: US military acronym for Bachelor Officer's Quarters] mess they were still hungry so they went to the Red Cross. After stating how important the Red Cross parcels were to them, they were approached by an entourage of representatives from the Red Cross.They gave the hotel maid all of the stuff they had that they didn't want anymore. When they gave it to her she sat on the bed and waited for what was next. Corbin was in no condition to do anything with her. During his time as a POW sex was never discussed. The conversations were always about food. They were always hungry, even with the Red Cross parcels.Corbin has enjoyed going through the third floor [Annotator's Note: at The National World War II Museum].

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