Hawley a true survivor

March 14, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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Jack HawleyHawley a true survivor

LITTLE COVE, Pa. - Jack Hawley remembers well the 11 months in 1944 and 1945 he spent first as a German prisoner of war and then as a prisonor of Russian soldiers who liberated his POW camp near Berlin.

Hawley and his GI buddies thought they would be freed when the Russians came, only to learn that their liberators soon became their captors.

"The U.S. Army was offering a bounty for every American POW liberated," Hawley said. "There were about 400 of us in that German camp and the Russians were going to take us to Odessa. I escaped with four other men. I never learned what happened to those who stayed." Hawley was born in Chambersburg, Pa., married Myra Rhodes before the war and was drafted in 1943. He lives in Little Cove. His wife died two years ago.


His saga began when he was sent to Italy as a Fifth Army replacement. He arrived at Anzio and spent the next five months fighting Germans in Italy.

In July 1944, his platoon was ordered into small village near Florence to check for German snipers. The Italians told his officers that the Germans had cleared out.

Hawley and a buddy were walking down the village's main street when a German machine gun opened up on them. They ran to a nearby house.

"We went to the second floor and spotted the machine gun nest and wiped it out," he said.

Fighting in the village continued for three more days before the platoon of about 50 men learned they were surrounded.

"We were told to surrender or die," he said.

"We were all spread out. I don't know what happened to the rest of the platoon, but we suffered many casualties. I was captured with five or six other guys. The Germans took us to their lines. I was a sergeant so they questioned me. They slapped me around, but I didn't tell them anything," he said.

"We were moved farther back from the lines and were attacked a lot by Allied planes," Hawley said.

On Aug. 1 Hawley, his buddies and some other Americans were put in a boxcar filled with Indian Army POWs, he said.

"We were all jammed in. It was hot and there was no water," he said.

The train went through the Alps.

"We could see Brenner Pass," he said.

There was a temporary stop at another camp before they were taken to one in Furstenberg, Germany, near the Polish border. They stayed there until mid-January 1945. The Russians were close so the Germans took the prisoners on a forced march about 75 miles west to a camp in Luckenwalde, about eight miles from Berlin, Hawley said.

He remembers the bitter cold, only a half cup of watery soup to eat a day and the shooting of prisoners who couldn't keep up.

"One guy had appendicitis, and they just shot him," Hawley said.

The Germans took the Americans into a concentration camp on the way.

"They told us to take off our clothes, that we were getting showers. They put a couple of hundred of us in this room with a big cast iron head on the ceiling. We had learned about the death camps on radios we made in the last camp and we all thought we were going to be gassed, but only water came out," he said.

Hawley said the Germans kept the POWs separated from the regular camp inmates.

"We could see them lined up. They looked very thin and desolate," he said.

The Luckenwalde camp was big. Hawley shared a tent with 100 other prisoners and slept on straw from mid-January to May when the Russians liberated the camp.

"They surrounded the camp and wouldn't let us leave. They shot men who tried to get out.

"One night, five of us found a hole in the fence and escaped. We headed for the Elbe River because we knew we'd find Americans there. We lived off potatoes that we dug up," he said.

About a week and a half later, Hawley and his buddies were sitting on a wall in a small deserted town when they heard vehicles.

It was GIs in a jeep and two trucks. He said he still can't describe his feelings at seeing Americans again.

"They gave us food and cigarettes and asked us if we wanted a ride."

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