Roy ?Gene? Obee of Burns knew he had two choices: sign up for the Army or wait to be drafted. Just 19 years old, he shipped out to England in October 1944 and was soon placed in France?s Ardennes Forest.
?We went up there for a month just sitting there,? Obee said, ?supposedly waiting to go into Germany in the spring.?
Instead, the Germans took advantage of a foggy December morning for a major offensive: the Battle of the Bulge.
?I?guess our generals?probably Eisenhower included, I love the guy?but they got out-figured,? Obee said. ?Because the Germans threw a terrific counterattack. The last word we got was our position was hopeless but we were to hold as long as possible.?
The Germans captured five Americans one night, Obee remembers, with a gun in the back of each. Either they would surrender or would watch five of their comrades be executed.
The captured troops began a long march east in the bitter cold. They were humiliated, threatened and robbed.
?By the end of the day, you didn?t have an overcoat anymore, didn?t have any overshoes,? Obee said. ?They took our helmets. I had a light field jacket and a uniform, and that?s what I?went through the winter with.?
Obee said they were used as propaganda, marching through towns with hands above their heads to convince the locals the war was going their way.
?It was kind of easy for us to believe that there for a while,? Obee said.
Unfed for days, men were getting sick. Even with shoes, Obee?s foot was frozen.
The prisoners were put on a passenger train to cross the Rhine River. From there they either marched during the day?locking them up in barns at night?or were crammed into small boxcars for days on end.
?I don?t know to this day whether those cars were marked?you know?crosses or anything,? Obee said. ?They were actually hoping that we?d get blown away by our own Air Force. I tell you, that?s quite a feeling when you hear those guys going over when you?re locked up in a boxcar.?
Obee said they finally arrived at a camp and were fed.
?Our ration was a bowl of turnip soup and about 235 grams of bread,? he said. ?That was our daily food. Sometimes nothing.?
But that was because things weren?t going well for the Germans either. ?They were fighting for their lives then,? Obee said.
The prisoners were herded on to a work camp to repair railroads by night, and then to Stalag IV-B.
?I was so hungry I?thought I could eat anything,? he said. ?There was a garbage can with a piece of turnip skin…that looked like it had some chewing left in it. I hate to think of it now, but I?actually picked it up and ate it.?
Obee contracted dysentery and was put into a hospital run by captured allied doctors and medics.
?My next memory was riding in a passenger car,? he said.
Because of his illness, Obee was put into a small work camp with better living conditions and food.
The camp?s guard was an older German gentleman in his 60s who wanted the war to end as much as the POWs did. The weather was starting to warm up and American vehicles could be heard passing on the autobahn near the camp. The guard assured Obee and his comrades they would be rescued soon.
?This old guard, he was a nice old fellow, told us he had treated us as good as he could and he was going to get rid of his uniform,? Obee said. ?He said he was too old to be a prisoner of war. He said he hoped none of us would turn him in…. He just disappeared into the civilian population.?
Even though they had no idea where they were, Obee said they left the camp.
?By then we were wearing old scrounged-up (clothes)?I remember I had some old French berret?and dirty, stinky, old, thin overcoats,? he said. ?Nobody had shaved, and we?d only had one shower in four months.?
They didn?t know where to find the Americans, so they wandered around town.
?All of a sudden we heard them hollering ?halt,?? Obee said. ?(Those soldiers) had never liberated any prisoners, and they didn?t know what we were. Our own Americans.?
Obee was put on an ambulance to treat his foot, which was only days away from having ?a full-blown case of gangrene.?
?Eating that stinking old turnip peel saved my life,? he said. ?It all worked out for me. I was one of the lucky ones.?
Obee remembers how the young, cocky SS?troops thought they could win the war. ?The told us that when the war was over we?d be sent to Russia as slave labor; that we?d never go home. But you know, I never really believed that. I had enough faith.
?I somehow knew our ol? Army would get us out of there somehow if we could just stay alive long enough to get there.?