I am Joe Kunze, a native of Columbus, Georgia. I was navigator on a B-17 Bomber in World War II. I am here to represent the Valley Chapter of Ex-POW's. The prisoner of war experience is one few men & women are able to share. It is neither dishonorable nor heroic to be taken prisoner. Capture is usually an accident, part of what has come to be called the "fortunes of war". They have been victims of such war crimes as torture & mutilation, beatings, & forced labor under inhumane conditions. POWs have been targets of intense interrogation & political indoctrination. They have often faced the most severe privations because their captors had not been prepared or had but the barest rations for their own men. Prisoners of war have always had a miserable time.
In World War II, in the European Theater, there were 95.532 POW's. This seems like a large number but in the Civil War, there were 346.950 and my grandfather, Patrick Deignan, was one of them. He was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga and he served the balance of the duration of the Civil War in northern prison camps. My mother used to say that since she had a father as a POW and a son as a POW, that it ran in the family. "I served in World War II with the 8th Air Force and was shot down over Cologne, Germany.
We were out of control and on fire when the pilot said: "BAIL OUT MEN, BAIL OUT." This was my 28th mission & I had always dreaded hearing those words but I responded immediately. On the way down, I began to think "DID he really say to jump? Was I just imagining that he said it? Was I the only one who jumped?" I thought, I'm going down behind enemy lines and the rest of the crew will probably sleep in warm beds in England tonight. I didn't really know until I met the engineer in prison. After wandering around for a couple of days in an effort to get around lines, I approached what appeared to be a barn where I could spend the night.
When I got close I spotted an armed guard and realized it was a blacked out guard station on the Rhine. After spending the night there, a soldier marched me to jail. From there, I was taken to Frankfurt for interrogations and was assigned to Stalag Luft 111. There were 10.000 of us POWs at this camp. We lived there until January 28, 1945 when the Historic Russian Push into eastern Germany caused an evacuation by foot at midnight. There can be no doubt that 10,000 or more despairing men of Luft 111 who "hit the road" that momentous night as hope sounded from the east will forever remember the tortuous trek that followed in the ever increasing fury of a blizzard.
After walking through this sub-zero blizzard weather for a night, a day, and a night, we found ourselves headed for Muskau, Germany. I sat down for a rest period-every bone & muscle in my body ached. After about 10 minutes, I began to feel real good because my aches and pains were leaving me. I was beginning to freeze and it felt so good. The pilot of our plane walked over to me and said "Joe, are you going to make it?" I said "I don't know, Mac." He said "I have one D-bar left. I will share it with you." (A D-bar is a concentrated chocolate candy bar) The energy in this half a candy bar could be the difference between life and death. I said-"Its too much to ask. I can't accept it but I will make it." I got up and continued to walk. We ended up in southern Germany at Mouseburg, Stalag 7A in the Munich area.
I spent the rest of my imprisonment in this camp. April 29, 1945, General Patten came into camp leading the long awaited liberation. I shall never forget the most beautiful sight I have ever seen-the Swastika coming down and the Stars & Stripes rising gloriously in Mousburg not far from camp. I went through the regular routine of being returned to the states and now, on behalf of the Valley Chapter of the Ex-Prisoners of War, I would like to state that we would love to have more members but not if they have to go through what many of us had to go through.