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Ossian Arthur Seipel's Memoirs


Chapter 3


It was a short ride into the quaint little village.  We passed an older Frenchman walking along the road, and he gave me the “V” sign with his right hand.*  I waved back to him just to let him know that it wouldn’t be too much longer till it was over.  The major had the vehicle stop.  The soldiers picked up the old man and took him with them in the truck.  The dirt road turned into a cobblestone road in the village and the tires made a rougher sound.  We stopped in front of a single story house set back about fifty feet off the road.  I was led into the house and it was quite dark.  The only light came from the two small windows.  The walls seemed to be about a foot thick and made out of dried mud.  The roof was made out of straw.  There was a table in the main room where I was told to sit. 


Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel's dog tag
2nd Lt Ossian Arthur Seipel's dog tag -  Photo Lynn Dobyanski


Pretty soon a German corporal came in and started to ask me a lot of questions.   I gave him only my name, rank and serial number.  He typed that information on a sheet of paper and took off to the back room.  I was then led through a small door to another dark room with only one window and three chairs.  Knox was sitting on one of them, but we didn’t show any signs of recognition that might some how link the two of us together.  We didn’t speak, just sat there.

Pretty soon they brought in our camera man who immediately greeted us both.  We tried to ignore him thinking he’d get the hint, but he kept talking. His name was Orenstein, and he was the first one of us called in for interrogation.  The corporal shoved him through the door and prodded him with an automatic pistol. 

    After about five minutes they came for me, and when the corporal gave me a shove the major stopped him and chewed him out pretty good.  It was all in German, but you could tell the major was upset.  In the German army, a corporal couldn’t touch an officer like that and the major let him know it meant any officer.  The major asked me a lot of questions about the group and what was our target and stuff like that, but I told him that all I could give him was my name, rank and serial number.  He said he knew that but sometimes people talk without thinking.  He was concerned that someone named Seipel would be fighting against the fatherland.

    I was taken back to the other room while he had a go at Knox, and then they brought Knox back to the room too.  We never did see the cameraman again.

    They gave us each a slice of pumpernickel bread and a slab of bloodwurst for supper and we sat around some more.

    Later that night they put Knox and me in the back of a truck that had a bench like seat on each side, and four Germans got in with us.  They sat, one at each end of the bench, with us in the middle sitting across from each other.  They each had automatic pistols aimed at us the whole time.  A German captain rode in the front with the driver.  After a couple of hours we stopped at an intersection and turned down a one lane road which turned out to be nothing more than a set of tire tracks.  They made us get out and go to the side of the road, against a stone fence, while two of the guys argued with the other two.  I think it was about what to do with us, and it didn’t sound too good.  Finally the captain came from somewhere out of the dark and said something to them and we were again put in the truck to continue the trip to, who knows what.  I had fleeting thoughts about being a hero like in the movies, but with the guns aimed at us it was out of the question.  After a while we arrived at a big iron gate.  The captain shouted something to the guards and they opened the gate.  We drove in to a poorly lit cobblestoned area with high brick walls all around.

    This may have been the Bastille.  It was big and old enough.  It was right in town, not out in the country like prisons in the States.  The walls seemed to be about six feet thick, and at least twenty feet high.

    We were taken inside, stripped and searched and they took everything.  Four guys went over our clothes searching for anything that we may try to get past them.  I had a small bar compass hidden in the hem of my handkerchief, which they missed ‘cause the handkerchief was one I had been using for a couple of weeks.  They did find a silk map of central France that I had hidden in my package of cigarettes, and some French francs in my back pocket.  Two other guys searched our mouths and other body cavities wearing rubber gloves.  My class ring and wedding ring along with my watch were put into a paper envelope and stuck into one of my socks with my belt and other sock.  I was allowed to keep my underwear, shirt and pants.  We were then put into cells with an iron cot and one small barred window about six feet off the floor.  The cell was locked with a bang and I was left to myself.  I wished they had let me keep my A2 jacket ‘cause it was cold.

    After a cold, fretful night I was awakened at daylight by a guard banging on the iron door and shouting “rouse, rouse”, a little Frenchman followed him with a bucket of liquid that they passed off as coffee.  There was a metal bucket in the corner of the cell which was the only waste depository.  Nothing happened until about mid morning when the air raid warning was sounded and we had the opportunity to watch an allied air raid from the receiving end.

    B-24s were hitting a target somewhere in town and I could hear other prisoners cheering as we watched the bombs dropping.  The cheering stopped when two of the 24s were shot down.  We watched as the parachutes opened, and felt for the poor guy who’s chute opened, but burned away over him, and he dropped.  I had dreams about that happening, even years later and I always woke in a cold sweat.  The spent flak made a lot of noise as it hit the roof tops of the nearby buildings, but it stopped after a couple of minutes.

    Sometime later, maybe around noon, they brought a slice of brown bread, a chunk of cheese about one by two inches square and some more of the ersatz coffee.  It took the edge off.

    I still couldn’t realize what had happened.  It seemed like some weird dream.  I could almost imagine a guillotine in the courtyard like in “A Tale of Two Cities”.  There was no sound except the occasional footsteps of the guards outside the cell, and the muffled shouts of somebody calling for the guard.

    Two nights in this place and twelve of us were let out of our respective cells and marched to a waiting truck.  We were given our personal items, rings, belts and anything else that was not government issue.  They kept the watches.  I guess they figured time wasn’t important to us anymore.  All twelve of us were put in the truck and the guards got in the accompanying trucks, six in the front one and six in the back one.  That’s right, one guard for each prisoner.  After a short ride we arrived at a railroad yard and were put aboard a passenger car, six of us to two compartments.  Soon the rest of the car filled up with wounded German troops going home on leave.  The rest of the  train was made up of flat cars with tanks, trucks, artillery pieces and box cars loaded with ammunition and other military material.  This was a prime target for Allied air craft, and we all knew it.

    We pulled out of Paris and headed east.  We all knew that we were heading for Germany.  One of the prisoners had severe burns on his face and it was blistered so that he couldn’t open his eyes.  A German officer walked by the compartment noticed him and came in.  He spoke a little English and let us know that he was a medical doctor from a U boat, and would give the guy with the burned face  first aid.  He had a guard bring his bag and he proceeded to drain the blisters on the guys face so that he could see.  He also gave him some kind of medicated salve to put on the raw places.  That surprised all of us and we thought that maybe there would be better treatment ahead.  No such luck.

    The trip was not the usual Paris to Frankfurt pleasure trip.  The train was made up mostly of freight cars that were shuttled from track to track as they dropped off cars here and picked up others from there.  We were subjected to an air raid while in one of the marshaling yards.  The guards and all Germans got off and went to shelters but left us locked on the train.  We yelled and carried on a lot but they just watched from the shelter.  A car on the track next to us was set on fire and as soon as the ‘all clear’ was sounded the guards came back and moved the train away from the fire.  We never stopped in another marshaling yard, but stopped on the out skirts of town to protect the town from the possible explosion of our ammunition train.

    All of us were air force officers, pilots, bombardiers and navigators.  We could really appreciate the damage that our efforts had done to the German railroads.  There was damage to most of the bridges, and the repair work was going on constantly.  Most of the work was done by French and Polish slave labor, under German supervision.

    We arrived at Frankfurt and were marched through the station to the jeers and shouts of the German civilians.  They waved sticks and umbrellas at us and threw anything they could get their hands on.  I think we were glad we had the twelve guards ‘cause they kept the civilians from getting too close to us, although they didn’t try to limit the stone throwing.

    They marched us to a good sized compound made up of a number of military buildings with a huge wire fence around it.  We found out later that this was the Dulag Luft, the interrogation center for all captured allied airmen.  We were separated and put away in solitary confinement.  The room was about eight feet by five feet in size and had one window that was boarded up and painted over so that you couldn’t see out.  There was a cot with a bag of excelsior for a mattress.  It was almost flat from the constant use.  The usual bucket for toilet purposes sat in a corner.  There was no light except what came through the painted window.  The guard explained in pretty good English that we would be fed and when we were finished we should put our utensils on the shelf on the inside of the door.  He also said there was a rope to pull if we need anything.  Yeah right!!!

    I could hear movement outside my door like they were passing out food, but they didn’t stop at my door.  I pulled the rope a number of times but nothing happened.  I slept a little and when I awoke it was pitch black.  I guess I slept some more and finally the window seemed a little lighter, so it must be morning.  There was more movement outside my door.  The shelf on the door moved around and there was a cup of the fine ersatz coffee and a thin slice of, what tasted like sour sawdust.  I finished that off and left the cup on the shelf.  Sometime later I was lying there thinking about what else could happen when the shelf on the door swung to the outside of the door and the outside shelf came in with nothing on it.  One mystery was solved.

    There was always some kind of activity going on outside my door but no one ever said anything.  As it was getting darker outside a cup of watery soup and another slice of the sawdust bread appeared on the shelf and I had my supper.  I stood on my cot one day and tried to scratch some paint off the window so I could at least see something.  The door opened and the guard dashed in grabbed my belt from behind and pulled me down to the floor and left me sitting on the floor.  All he said was “Das ist verboten” and without another word, he left.  I pulled the rope on several occasions, but no one ever came to investigate.

    I think it was the third day the guard came and opened the door and motioned for me to come out.  There was a German officer waiting for me.  He was what I had imagined a real Prussian officer would be like.  He was a little shorter than me, but looked fit.  He was completely bald and the only thing he lacked was a monocle.  He greeted me in perfect English and led me to his office.  He pointed out the beautiful scenery and told me about his hunting lodge in the forest back home.  When we got to his office he sat at his desk and I sat across from him.  He gave me a choice of American, French or British cigarettes.  I took a Camel and it sure tasted good.  Then he started his interrogation.

    How many planes did we have on my last mission, what was the target and what was the feeling of the men in my squadron about the war.  I recited my name, rank and serial number and he laughed.  He went to a book case on one wall and brought a thick loose leaf binder with “397th Bomb Group” printed on the cover.  He proceeded to tell me more about the Group than I knew.  He read off the chain of command and even mentioned that Captain Berger was now a Major.  He asked about my bride in Iowa and would I like to write to her.  I said yes and he assured me that it would be taken care of later.  He told me when and where I got my wings and when I got married.  Than he threw in a question like, what is the service ceiling of the B-26 and the maximum bomb load.  My name, rank and serial number didn’t surprise him, so he gave me another cigarette and had a guard take me back to my cell.

    A few minutes later the guard took me out and let me shower and shave before taking me back to the cell.  I felt better, but not much.  Supper was the same as before, and that wasn’t much.  Next morning I was awakened before daylight and assembled in the hall with a couple dozen other guys.  We were marched to a rail yard and put in a box car and given a chunk of that sawdust bread and a chunk of cheese.  Two days in the box car and we reached Wetzler, Germany.  It was a small compound enclosed by barbed wire and guard towers.  We were each issued a box containing personal items like a razor, comb, socks, a sewing kit, toothbrush and a small towel all furnished by the American Red Cross.  We spent two days here and then got back in the box car for the final leg of our trip.

    I found out much later just how the Germans had so much information on the airmen who were captured.  It seems that the German sympathizers in the US read all that was printed in the papers about the guys going through training.  The Army personal people were eager to supply the folks at home with all the news they could of the hometown boys in the service.  It was suppose to keep morale up, but it also fed the Germans with a wealth of information about these boys.  Once read, this information was sent by way of a neutral country to the German interrogation unit.  When a plane was shot down and the prisoners locked up in solitary for a few days it served two purposes.  To let the guy think about his predicament and the bleak future ahead for him, and to allow the Germans to gather all the accumulated information and be able to further demoralize the captive with all the dope they had on him.  Their hope was that the prisoner would think it was of no use to try to conceal anything."




Chapter 1: Barksdale Field

Chapter 2: England

Chapter 3: Captivity

Chapter 4: Sagan

Chapter 5: The March

Chapter 6: Moosburg

Chapter 7: Liberation




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