Marc layered the dirty clothes over his malnourished body. He took his stashed food and loaded the improvised packsack with as many essentials that would fit. The guards had announced they were being moved and had thirty minutes to meet at the front gate. Marc grabbed his tattered blanket off the cot, made one of the holes bigger, and slipped it over his head. The last thing he grabbed was his journal. He had kept daily documentation of the torment he had endured.
It was January 27, 1945, in Germany. Marc had been a POW in Stalag III for nineteen months. They were again being forced to go into the unknown. The rumors were flying that the Russian armies were close to rescuing them. If that was true, surely the soldiers were being taken out to be killed. Hilter would never allow them to be released.
Marc was unsure of the destination as they began marching into the blackness of night. It was extremely cold with six inches of snow on the ground and bitter winds blowing in more. Marc trekked along the grueling path with his fellow POWs. To keep his mind off the frigid temperatures penetrating his body, He started humming, “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus.” His thought were of seeing his family again, but was resigned with the fact that he may never.
After three perilous days, they had reached the end of their physical endurance, as they arrived in Spremberg. The men were jammed into boxcars that recently hauled livestock. They were packed in so tight they had to stand. Marc thought he would be relieved to escape the cold but the stench was horrible. The train rumbled down the tracks to Moosburg, as Marc looked at the defeated faces of the men beside him. There were many that didn’t make it through the march. Many more would probably not make it off the train.
They arrived at Stalag 7A with countless lost souls left behind. The German guards mocked them as they were being processed. “You should feel fortunate. You’re lucky that you are not in the boxcars that your planes are bombing, yeah?” This sparked Marc’s anger, but he kept moving.
The conditions were much worse at this compound that was designed to hold 14,000. With now close to 130,000 POWs the camp was a disaster. The 200 men barracks, that were now housing 500, were infested with lice, fleas and filth. When spring came, some of the men moved into tents and others slept on the ground in the air raid trenches.
Marc’s faith was fleeting. He had survived the unimaginable and it still wasn’t over. He felt like praying for death to come quickly but the desire to get home to his family was stronger. The site of American fighter planes flying over the camp increased his hope.
On the morning of April 29, 1945, Marc awoke to the gunfire. He flattened himself to the ground with his arms over his head. In between the barrage of bullets he thought he heard the slight rumbling of tanks. Marc held his breath as he felt vibrations under his body. The excitement in the camp exploded when the Sherman tanks came into view. The army vehicles plowed through the barbed wire fences while Marc shouted in great relief, “Men, We’re Free!”
The tanks came to a halt as the German flag came down. The liberation was a very emotional one. It was almost unreal, the POWs had wished for this day for a very long time. The taste of freedom was overwhelming to some. Amazingly, through the chaos of the next few weeks, all ex-POWs left the camp.
Marc and his fellow Americans were transported to a large field filled with C-47 cargo planes. Marc slapped a fellow soldier on the back, “We’re going home!”
“I wasn’t sure this day would ever come.” The soldier looked over his shoulder to Marc.
“I knew I would go home, just wasn’t sure which home.” Marc said.
A month after being delivered from the evil hands of the Germans, they stood on the deck of an ocean liner headed into the harbor of America. The tears streamed down their faces as “The Statue of Liberty” came into sight. Even though the last 22 months of Marc’s life had been incredibly bitter, this homecoming was enormously sweet. He lifted his arms toward heaven and simply said, “Thank you, Lord.”
This story is dedicated to my grandfather, Col. Marcell Emery Fountain, US Air Force. He was the pilot that was shot down. He was a POW at Stalag Luft 3 from June 22, 1943 until forced to march to Mooseburg, Germany on January 27, 1945. He was at Stalag 7A, in Mooseburg, until freed by the Americans, April 29, 1945.
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