Former POWs Speak - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

03/24/03

Former POWs Speak

Following the news that American soldiers have been taken prisoner in Iraq, WTOC spoke to some World War II veterans, both former prisoners of war. They say from what they've seen, it's been a completely different experience than what they went through in Germany. They say the Germans were very humane in how they treated them.

"Everything was going fine, but we got hit by antiaircraft fire over the target, and we knew we couldn't get the plane back to England," recalled veteran William Hearn.

"We were shot down by a Folk Wolf 190," said George Bartell. "As soon as we got hit, the right wing was burning and we had to get out."

Tech Sergeant Radio Gunner Bartell and Second Lieutenant Hearn both had similar missions over Germany in the B-17 bombers they flew in during WWII. And both got captured when they hit ground.

"They were waiting on me as I got down in the parachute," said Bartell. 

"They sort of surrounded me, told me come out, and I said okay," said Hearn.

Both were asked questions, but were only required to give name, rank, and serial number.

"The Germans never tried to intimidate me," said Hearn. "They never tried to threaten to shoot me. They just didn't care much if I got enough to eat."

Official photos were taken of Hearn as he was processed into his POW camp. The American forces were notified when he was taken, and so was his family. Hearn never feared for his safety.

"As long as you obeyed the rules, they never bothered you," he said.

He followed every rule, except one. He and a few other officers secretly made a radio out of crystals.

"We would listen to the BBC, and somebody would write it out in longhand and distribute it to the different barracks and at night, when the barracks were locked up, we'd pass it around," he said.

That's how he and his fellow POWs knew when the Allied invasion had come. hey knew they'd soon be free.

"Fifteen months...if you say it real quick it doesn't sound like much, but it felt like ten years," Hearn told us.

Both men had been in German POW camps for more than a year. The Germans holding them were accepting packages of food and clothes sent by the American Red Cross.

Reported by: Holly Bristow, hbristow@wtoc.com

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