POW Bernard Miller
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Bernard Miller's days as a World War II POW are ever-present for him. He shares his collection of WW II memorabilia with all those who visit him. He is holding a plaque he made with a German matchbox in the far left hand corner. On the matchbox is the word, HAUSHALTSWARE, and as a prisoner of war, he scratched off the letters to read USHALTSWAR. For that action, he was put in a holding tank for two weeks for spreading propaganda.
(Editor's note: Bernard Miller is the second veteran to share his story about being a POW in Germany during World War II.)
By LINDA KOEHLER
The United States Army required the services of Bernard Miller. And so he went on a whirlwind cruise to the other side of the world back in 1943.
First he found himself at Camp Shelby, Mississippi for boot camp and from there, he received further training at Fort Mead, Maryland.
In October of 1943, he was on board a ship that took him to Casablanca in northern Africa, on to Algeria, then disembarking on the Italian island of Sicily.
He was sent to the Italian front and saw action in battles at San Pietro and San Vittore.
His regiment tried to cross the Rapido River at the base of Monte Cassino, but all the bridges had been blown up.
General Mark Clark issued the order for the crossing. Out of 3,000 troops, 800 men listed as MIA, 200 were taken prisoner, and the rest were killed.
He'll always remember Jan. 22, 1944, the date when he was captured.
"What a fiasco," says Miller of the crossing. He was one of the 200 taken as POWs.
"We stayed in a monastery a couple of days and then we were put on a boxcar headed to Germany. It took us about three weeks. It was so cold and there was nothing to eat. They made us take off our shoes so we wouldn't try to escape. When we had to get out, they'd throw the shoes out and we had to try to find a pair that would fit," recalls Miller.
When they arrived in Furstenberg, Germany, they were interrogated.
Admitting he was always somewhat of a scrapper, he says, "I got in trouble there. You were supposed to salute the officer. I didn't. I got knocked down and then they took me to a holding place and took my picture."
He says he use to do everything he could to harass the Germans. He got his hands on a match box that had on it HAUSHALTSWARE (home appliance.) Miller removed the HA of the beginning and the E on the end. It then read USHALTSWAR.
"I got two weeks in the holding tank for spreading propaganda," he laughs.
From there, he was taken to a farm. He got stuck by a pitchfork in his left ankle and it became infected. But he still had to go to work. Finally, his ankle was so bad they sent him to a hospital filled with wounded German soldiers.
"But they took care of me," he says.
He was sent to Neuenstein, a make shift camp. There he worked at a steam power plant in the cooling tower.
"The Russians were about 40-50 miles away and the Germans were building a concrete bridge using prisoner labor. We worked at night. I pushed a wheelbarrow of concrete to the forms. My leg was still bad. I had been sent Fels Nappa soap from home. I used it on my ankle. It would get so red they'd give me a day or two off. I'd also rubbed it under my arm so it would get hot and when they took my temperature they thought I had a fever and it would get me out of work so I could rest my ankle," he says.
Then the Russians started moving in.
"We went on forced marches. We'd do 50-60 miles to one place. In all, we probably did 150 miles. They put us in box cars. There was bombing all the time. You wondered if you were going to make it. One box car of prisoners burned up from an incendiary bomb."
Guards tried to get him and others out.
"I ran and laid in a ditch. A guard ran also and landed on top of me. I was glad for the protection," he recalls.
A guard had set his rifle up against a tree to help others. A prisoner handed it back to him and the guard profusely thanked him with "Danke, Danke."
If he had been seen without his weapon, he would have been shot.
On the forced marches, they were housed in barns at night. All the farms had stone walls around them. They came upon one with a bake oven.
"I just couldn't walk any more," he says. "But if you fell out of line, you were shot. At the bake oven there was a feed trough. I turned the trough over and a buddy and I hid under it. There were potatoes stored in the ground nearby and we crawled in with them that night. Guards looked for us but left the next morning. We stayed there. The following morning we left and took as many potatoes as we could carry."
For three days they roamed around the countryside trying to find a way out of Germany. Unfortunately, they came upon a German tank and soldiers instead. They were captured again.
"They put me and my buddy in the county jail which was filled with manure. They didn't feed us but we still had some potatoes left to eat," he says.
They were returned to the same prison camp.
The Russians arrived at Luckenwald Stalag 3 A where there were about 100,000 prisoners held, 7,000-8,000 of them Americans. Miller was one of them.
"They put us in trucks and said they were going to take us to American lines. But it wasn't true. It was the beginning of the Cold War and the Russians wouldn't let us go," he remembers.
Now Miller and the others were hostages of the Russians.
The next part of his story is almost comical.
"Twelve of us escaped. We traveled by night. We hadn't seen the sun for two weeks. We came upon a Russian soldier drinking vodka and asked him where the American front was. He pointed out the direction and we headed that way," he says.
They met up with about 12 German soldiers who said Miller and the Americans were headed for the Russian line. The Germans gave the Americans their guns to make it look like they had been captured by the Americans and they all marched back past the Russians who had given them the wrong directions. The Germans then helped Miller and the others find the American lines. When an American army truck came by, they were picked up and the Germans surrendered to the Americans because they didn't want to be Russian prisoners of war.
May 6, 1945 found Miller in France and he was shipped home. He was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and went out on war bond tours, raising money for the Army.
"I really enjoyed them," he says of the war bond tours experience.
Miller was honorably discharged on Dec. 19, 1945. He returned to the railroad job he had before he was drafted.
"I couldn't stand it though. It reminded me too much of the trains I was on in Germany," he recalls.
He has suffered with post traumatic stress all his life since he returned home.
"It was hard to readjust here to people, especially people in uniform, like the state police who wore uniforms the same color as the Germans. I use to have horrible nightmares," he says. After a few moments he adds, "Not so many anymore."
He became an apprentice at the Mack Printing in Easton, working for Sony and later Anheuser Busch, from which he retired.
When he had returned home, he married Dorothy, a high school history teacher and a member of his church. After 63 years of marriage, they have five children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
He became active in the American Ex-Prisioners of War of the Greater Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania Chapter, and is a past commander. He has collected a wide assortment of WW II memorabilia from Kriegsgefangenen geld (POW money,) a HAUSHALTSWARE matchbox with his USHALTSWAR "propaganda," a map of POW camps, a German bayonet and German officer badges.
Recently Miller and his wife moved from Effort to an assisted living facility in Wind Gap. They have shared a good life together and hold many wonderful memories. But his World War II past haunts him still.
Miller has only ever written one poem in his life and that was the one he wrote as a young frightened lad in a country far away from home about his capture.
"From night of horror comes dawn at last
Upon our dead its shadow's cast,
Shrieking shells that seek to kill
Making men silent still.
And all this I've seen with my own eyes,
And heard my comrades' painful cries,
From the pain-filled hearts
And the shame that I bore,
On January 22, 1944."
The most painful unseen scars of being a wartime POW are the emotional ones, even 66 years later.