Book: Beyond The Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot's Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on theEastern Front

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11.

SUFFER THE LOST PRISONERS

The pace of the war had changed. To the people in the town of Czarnków, it seemed that the distant thunder of the guns had paused for a while, then resumed—farther away and firing in a different tempo. The news eventually came through: at long last, the city of Poznan had fallen to the Red Army. It had been a stubborn point of resistance at the heart of the Soviet advance, which had been surging forward north and south of it, punching a corridor toward Berlin. Now the city was freed.

To one American, the news was particularly welcome. Sergeant Richard J. Beadle from Louisiana, formerly of the 45th Infantry Division, ex-inmate of Stalag III-C, could continue his journey to freedom. Along with thousands of displaced persons, military and civilian, he had been living in the refugee camp at Czarnków, waiting for the route southeast to clear.

Sergeant Beadle’s odyssey had begun just over three weeks ago, when he and his fellow POWs were liberated. Stalag III-C was a camp for enlisted men located near Küstrin, about fifty miles from Berlin. At the end of January, with the spearhead units of the Soviet divisions closing in, the Germans decided to evacuate the camp. The prisoners would be marched to a new location fifty miles to the west.

The fifteen hundred prisoners were roused from their huts and herded at bayonet point into a long column. Many of them were malnourished, some were sick, and all were reluctant to be force-marched. It was hours before the column was ready to set out. The evacuation had barely begun when the leading battalions of the Red Army arrived. The Soviet troops, fighting as they came, were entirely unaware that there was a POW camp in their path. Thinking the stalag was a barracks, and that the prisoners were Hungarian troops (or so they later claimed), they poured mortar fire onto it. As the column of POWs marched from the camp, they were hit with shells and machine-gun fire by Russian tanks. Men rushed for cover, many seizing the opportunity to escape from the column. By the time the Russians realized their error and ceased firing, fifteen prisoners lay dead in the snow, and another twenty-five were wounded.

Of those who survived, some scattered into the countryside, while others took refuge in the camp buildings. Most were rounded up by the Soviets and marched to the rear, away from the combat zone. Some were taken the twenty or so miles to Landsberg. The group into which Sergeant Beadle had been herded was marched just a short distance from the camp, to the tiny village of Quartschen. They were given no food and nothing to protect them from the freezing weather; their liberators simply turned them loose and told them to head for Warsaw.

Sergeant Beadle was in better condition than most. As a medic he knew how to take care of himself, and as a combat veteran who had served at Anzio he was used to harsh conditions. He also had the advantage of having been a prisoner for a relatively short time; captured the previous September, he had suffered the privations of the camp for just a few months, and his health was good. He set out, making his way toward Warsaw as best he could.

Warsaw was more than two hundred miles away, and the route was a fraught and dangerous one. The Red Army’s northern divisions, forcing the Germans back into their fatherland, had pushed the line of the Eastern Front hard, swinging it like a vast double door, opening up a broad corridor from east to west. The hinges on which the doors had swung were two of the fortress cities designated by Hitler as Festungen: strongpoints which were not to be surrendered, where the soldiers of the Reich were ordered to fight to the last man.

In the middle of the open doorway, isolated as the Soviets advanced around it, stood the Festung city of Poznan. Known to the Germans as Posen, it was an ideal place for a siege. An earlier generation of German occupiers in the nineteenth century had built a vast, impregnable network of fortifications—the Festung Posen, and it was in these redoubts, forts, and tunnels that the Nazi forces held out for week after week against the Red Army, which pounded the city with massed artillery and sent Guards regiments to infiltrate the defenses.

To Sergeant Richard Beadle, the siege of Poznan was an impassable obstruction on the route to Warsaw. Keeping a safe distance from the front line—the walls of the corridor—he found his way to the town of Czarnków, where there was a refugee camp. There he settled down to wait for the siege to break.

It happened on February 22, when the fanatical Nazi commander at Poznan committed suicide and his surviving men surrendered. The Russians flooded through, and the road to Warsaw was clear. Sergeant Beadle left the refugee camp and headed south.

It was a doubly significant date for him. Exactly one year ago he had been in Italy with his unit, I Company, 180th Infantry Regiment, at the Anzio beachhead. On February 22, 1944, I Company and its neighboring units were the focus of savage German assaults. One of the men who were instrumental in fighting off the attacks that day was Beadle’s platoon commander, Second Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery. With his platoon reduced to half its strength, Montgomery, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, launched a series of single-handed assaults which killed eleven Germans, captured more than thirty more, and knocked out two machine guns. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor. Later that night, Lieutenant Montgomery was caught in a mortar barrage and severely wounded. As he lay alone in the dark, he had faith that help would come. “It wasn’t very long before my medic found me,” he recalled. “Your medic was one person that you had to have confidence in. I knew Beadle would find me.”

Now, exactly a year on, Beadle needed to have that same kind of faith in himself, and in his ability to find his way to friendly forces. And if he was lucky, onward to his home in Louisiana—a little place called Reserve, on the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Home seemed more like a different world than merely a different country.

When Beadle passed through Poznan, it was a living nightmare, a city of death. Almost the whole of the city center was in ruins, and much of the outlying districts too, pounded to rubble by Soviet and German artillery. Despite the devastation, the Soviets had quickly got the railroad working again (the Poznan route was a vital artery connecting the front line to the supply system), and Sergeant Beadle managed to get aboard a train to Warsaw. He rode the whole way in a boxcar with no source of heat, and again the Russians refused to give him any food.

If Poznan had been a sad place, Warsaw was worse. The scene of uprisings by the ghetto Jews and by the Polish Home Army, it had been attacked ferociously by German forces and the Red Army. Despite having been instructed to come here, Sergeant Beadle found no assistance, and quickly moved on. There were no trains available, so he set off walking toward Lublin, where he had been told there was a reception center for liberated POWs. It was more than a hundred miles from Warsaw to Lublin, and Sergeant Beadle covered about half of it on foot, managing to catch a ride on a truck the rest of the way. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he was fit and healthy to begin with, and received help and food from Polish people he met on the way, he might never have made it.

In Lublin he found the promised reception center—or what passed for one. Dozens of his fellow American and British ex-POWs had gathered. Some of them were survivors of the Russian assault on Stalag III-C. There was a small contact team of American officers in the town, led by a Colonel Wilmeth, recently arrived from the Military Mission in Moscow. They were doing what they could to organize the men’s relief and evacuation. For a brief time, it seemed like Lublin might be the end of Sergeant Beadle’s odyssey. In fact, it would turn out to be just a way station on a journey that was far from over. Things were not going well for the Americans in Lublin.

Lieutenant Colonel James D. Wilmeth stared out of his hotel window across the snow-covered rooftops and the open spaces beyond. How many men were still out there, he wondered; how many still lost or hiding in the vast reaches of Poland’s countryside? Intelligence he had heard from the tiny handful who had made it to Poltava and Moscow indicated that there were thousands. There was nothing he could do for them unless they came to him, here in Lublin. He was trapped here. And even if they came to him, what he could do was limited.

He had been in the town just over a week and was already bowing under the weight of the task he’d undertaken. The work itself was far beyond the capacity of one small group of men, but it carried a moral imperative that drove Wilmeth and his two companions onward. But the constant, bullheaded resistance from the Soviets at every level was utterly demoralizing.

After the way he’d been repeatedly stymied before even leaving Poltava, it was pretty much what he ought to have expected. For two weeks he’d been stuck at the air base while the Soviets responded with refusals and excuses to his requests to be allowed to fly to Poland. He and Colonel Hampton even discussed the possibility of loading up an American plane and flying Wilmeth to Lublin without Soviet permission. It would undoubtedly result in Soviet rage and some kind of punishment against Eastern Command, but Colonel Hampton was willing to risk it. He started readying a plane. Wilmeth persuaded him to abandon the idea. Instead, he advised that Eastern Command start preparing facilities and air transport for the large numbers of POWs who would undoubtedly be coming to Poltava soon, once he got into Poland and started liaising with the Soviet repatriation authorities on the ground. It was sure to happen; they just had to be patient.

On February 27, Captain Robert Trimble set off with his salvage team to Staszów. On that same day, almost two weeks after coming from Moscow to Poltava, Colonel Wilmeth was finally allowed to fly to Lublin.

Wilmeth and his two companions—Lieutenant Colonel Curtis Kingsbury, who was a surgeon, and interpreter Corporal Paul Kisil—boarded a Russian-crewed C-47. The plane was loaded with supplies, plus a jeep that Wilmeth intended to use to travel around seeking out and contacting stray POWs. The little team was accompanied by three Russians: a “chauffeur” for the jeep, an interpreter (unnecessary, since Kisil spoke excellent Polish and Russian), and an officer as their “escort.” All three were known at Poltava to be NKVD bird dogs. This wasn’t a good sign. And for all the use it would be, they might as well have left the jeep at Poltava, and saved themselves the trouble of maneuvering it in and out of the C-47’s cargo doors.

The obstructions, restrictions, and inconveniences started almost the moment the plane touched down at Lublin.

On that first day Colonel Wilmeth met with the town commandant and the Soviet officers in charge of evacuating Allied prisoners of war. All five men regarded him with cold hostility. When he announced that he had come to help with the task of locating ex-prisoners, caring for them, and evacuating them, they told him that they needed no help. The process was in hand. His presence was unnecessary and—they implied—deeply unwelcome. Besides, they said, the Soviet officer in charge of the ex-POW repatriation group, Colonel Vlasov, had moved his headquarters to Praga the previous day. Praga was a district of Warsaw, about a hundred miles away.

In that case, Wilmeth said, his patience still in abundant supply, he too would move to Praga, if that was acceptable? No, it was not. Permission would have to be sought from Moscow.

Very well, Wilmeth said; could they seek permission for him? They told him grudgingly that they could. In the meantime, Wilmeth was eager to visit the liberated prisoners of war who were currently in Lublin. If somebody would be so good as to take him to the camp . . .

That would not be possible, he was told. Taken aback, Wilmeth asked why not. The Russians pondered a moment, and declared that it was because he didn’t have a permit to show that he had a right to be in Lublin.

Colonel Wilmeth was puzzled. He had arrived on a Soviet-approved plane, accompanied by Soviet officers. Wasn’t that sufficient evidence that he had permission to be here?

No, it was not. He should have a written permit from the ex-prisoner repatriation headquarters. Which, they reminded him, had just moved to Praga, a hundred miles away. Without it, he would not be allowed to visit the ex-prisoners.

Colonel Wilmeth’s stock of patience remained considerable, although depleted somewhat. Very well, he said; perhaps they could obtain a permit for him? Along with the permit to go to Praga? And could he send a telegram to General Deane in Moscow?

He was told to bring his message to the town commandant, who would send it on. With that curt instruction, the meeting ended.

An hour later, Colonel Wilmeth returned to the office with his message for General Deane, summarizing the meeting. The commandant told him the message could not be sent until all the people who had been at the meeting had gathered again; they would have to read it and clear it for sending.

A less placid man might have started tearing his hair at this point. James Dudley Wilmeth was, as far as any man alive could be, a placid man. At West Point he had been known as “Uncle Dud” and regarded as a rather dull, plodding, banal young man. That temperament now stood him in good stead.

Later that evening, he was suddenly summoned back to the commandant’s office and told that permission had been granted for him to visit the ex-prisoners. It was 10:30 P.M. All the Soviet officers from the earlier meeting had to be present for the visit. It took three trips by jeep to get everybody—Russians and Americans—to the building near the university where the ex-prisoners were housed.

Until a few days ago, the Russians had been accommodating the ex-POWs at Majdanek, the former Nazi death camp on the outskirts of Lublin, but now they had been moved into the town. Whatever Majdanek had been like, the new quarters didn’t look like an improvement. The building was in an appalling state. It had walls and a roof, but that was about all that could be said in its favor. The windows were broken, and there were no doors. All the toilets were blocked up and overflowing; there was no hot water, and no bathing facilities or medicines. Into this squalor were crowded more than 200 men: 91 Americans and 129 British. Nearly half were infested with lice. They slept on straw-covered wooden pallets. Each man had one blanket. The only source of heat was a single coal-burning stove.

Colonel Wilmeth and his companions had previously heard firsthand accounts of how Allied POWs were being treated by their Soviet liberators, and they heard more now as they moved among the men, taking their names, listening to their stories; but seeing it in the flesh was something else again. The stories were sickening and heartbreaking. The worst treatment began once they were passed back from the front line to troops in the rear areas. They had been starved, robbed, herded with captured Germans; many of their comrades had gone into hiding in Polish homes to escape this treatment. It was as if the liberated POWs were regarded as spoils of war, to be plundered or discarded at will.

An American lieutenant told Wilmeth that if there was no transportation out of there soon, many of the men who were fit enough were thinking of slipping away and making their way south or east on their own. They had been on the verge of giving up hope, but seeing Colonel Wilmeth had revived them. At last, they believed, they would get some real help.

Wilmeth went back to his hotel and prepared a cable for General Deane in Moscow, asking him to send supplies for two thousand men, plus $10,000 to supplement the $4,000 the colonel had brought with him, so that urgent supplies could be purchased in the town. It was absolutely obvious that the Russians were not going to provide anything. All supplies would have to be bought on the black market. The message to General Deane did not get through.

That first day at Lublin proved to be a foretaste of Colonel Wilmeth’s entire stay in the town. His messages to Moscow were garbled or blocked. He and his companions were banned from leaving their hotel without a Soviet escort (he drew the line at having a Russian sleep in the room with him). The Americans could not use their own jeep, because they were not allowed any gasoline for it. They bought gas on the black market, but still couldn’t use the jeep without their Russian chauffeur. A couple of Russian officers commandeered it and used it to drive around town picking up girls.

Wilmeth challenged the Russians about the way they were housing the ex-prisoners in prison-like conditions rather than just sending them on their way to freedom. They needn’t even go to Odessa, he argued; Eastern Command had plenty of planes and could fly the POWs out to Poltava twenty at a time, making several flights a day. The Soviets told him that would not be possible. There were no airfields at Lublin, or at any of the other POW concentration points. Wilmeth knew from speaking to American pilots at Poltava, as well as from the evidence of his own eyes, that all the towns had airstrips. Anyway, American pilots could land and take off from a field if it was large enough. The Russians flatly denied this: there were no proper airfields and it was not possible to take off from an ordinary field.

In that case, Wilmeth asked, why could the ex-prisoners not be put on trains to Odessa or Poltava as soon as they came into Lublin? Why keep them confined for days and weeks? Because, came the Soviet response, the trains to Odessa were intermittent, and there was no rail connection to Poltava. Colonel Wilmeth visited the Lublin rail station and spoke to the Polish stationmaster. Why yes, there was a train to Odessa every day, the stationmaster said, and there were regular trains to Poltava as well. But the Russians continued to insist that there were not. And anyway, no travel could take place without proper permits, and these could not be obtained instantly.

On February 28, his second day in Lublin, Colonel Wilmeth met Colonel Vlasov, the Soviet head of POW repatriation in Poland, who came all the way from his new headquarters at Praga (by plane, from one nonexistent airfield to another) to take a look at the American interloper.

The meeting took place in the office of the town commandant. It was rather crowded, with all the Soviet officers who had been at the previous meeting attending this one also. Wilmeth quizzed Colonel Vlasov on how many ex-prisoners had so far been evacuated to Odessa. More than three thousand Americans, Vlasov claimed, eight hundred of them having been sent by rail just in the past week. (He was lying; three thousand was more than the entire number of American POWs received at Odessa throughout the whole period; but Wilmeth didn’t know that then.) And how many were still unaccounted for in Poland? How many altogether had been liberated from POW camps by the Red Army? Vlasov did not know.

Colonel Wilmeth felt that this was not good enough. It was time to stop pandering to these Soviets, he decided.

“Colonel Vlasov,” he said, “I would like you to obtain permission for me to”—he counted off on his fingers—“one, move to Praga to cooperate with your department there; two, have direct communication with the Military Mission in Moscow; three, visit all the POW collecting points at Praga, Kraków, Łódz, and the two yet to be established, wherever they may be; and four, to visit Odessa.”

Vlasov’s face darkened as Wilmeth’s requests were communicated to him by his interpreter. “Colonel Wilmeth,” he replied, “I believe it has already been suggested to you by Captain Purtautov”—this was the bird dog who accompanied the American party everywhere—“that you and your comrades go back to Poltava soon. I endorse that suggestion. You should return there tomorrow, and await the answer to your requests.”

“I’m not returning to Poltava,” Wilmeth said. “On the contrary, more Americans are coming here. Ten contact teams are currently en route from Great Britain via Tehran. The teams, each with an airplane and a jeep, will go to each of the POW collection points in Poland. The Soviet government will provide billets and food, and the United States government will provide everything else.”

As an attempt to bulldoze the Soviets, it was imaginative and bold, but completely ineffectual. It was true that ten small POW contact teams were coming from London, but so far they had yet to be granted entry to the USSR.

Colonel Vlasov was unfazed; he suggested blandly that Colonel Wilmeth might like to go to Moscow to discuss the plan with General Golubev, the Soviet officer in charge of POW affairs. Colonel Wilmeth declined. His patience was almost worn away now.

“Just this month,” he said angrily, “the President of the United States and Marshal Stalin both signed an agreement at the Yalta Conference. It contained provisions for the handling of liberated prisoners of war. That agreement, signed by Marshal Stalin himself, gives me the right to receive immediate information about released Americans and to have immediate access to the camps where they are being held.” He stared at Vlasov. “I have a copy of the agreement with me. Would you like me to loan it to you? You could read it tonight.”

Colonel Vlasov declined the offer. The meeting came to a frigid end.

That had been a week ago now, Wilmeth reflected as he gazed across the rooftops of Lublin, and he had made barely any progress since.

The day after the meeting with Vlasov, 267 American and British POWs were loaded aboard a train and dispatched to Odessa. More continued to drift into town. They were put in the same stinking, ramshackle building. Over the ensuing days, using what limited money he had, Wilmeth purchased soap and toothbrushes for the POWs, as well as lightbulbs, brushes and brooms, and other requisites to make the building more habitable. He also bought picks and shovels so the men could dig latrines.

He tried repeatedly to make contact with the Military Mission in Moscow, requesting more money and reporting the situation, but his messages didn’t seem to get through the Soviet system. He asked if he could contact Moscow or Poltava by radio, but the Russians told him there was no radio available. What about the one in the plane he had come in? he asked. It was broken, they told him. The barefacedness of the Soviets’ lies was breathtaking.

If it hadn’t been for the Polish people, Colonel Wilmeth’s mission might have been utterly futile. With each batch of prisoners that came into town, he heard stories of the help that ordinary Poles had given. They had taken the wandering foreigners into their homes, in spite of the risk of trouble from the Russians, and fed them despite the fact that they had so little themselves. In Lublin, the Polish Red Cross provided meals for newly arrived POWs, arranged billets with local families to ease congestion in the official camp block, provided medical facilities and paid hospital bills for the sick, and even helped buy gasoline for Colonel Wilmeth’s jeep. To avoid the ruinous official rates for exchanging dollars for rubles and zlotys, and barred by regulations from using the more profitable black market exchange, Wilmeth came to an agreement whereby the US Embassy would reimburse the American Red Cross in Moscow.

By prior agreement with his British counterpart in Moscow, Wilmeth shouldered responsibility for caring for British POWs to the same degree as Americans. He visited French POWs, who were kept in a separate camp, in conditions even more squalid. The burden of responsibility was almost too much to bear. As the days went by, no messages reached Wilmeth from General Deane.

Convinced that the Soviets were blocking communications both ways, Wilmeth decided to get a message to Deane directly. On March 5 he made four copies of a report containing a true account of his experiences in Lublin thus far, put the papers in sealed packets, and gave them to four trusted POWs—two Americans and two British. He put the four men aboard a train to Moscow, with instructions to deliver the packets into the hands of General Deane. Of the four, surely at least one would get through.

On March 7, another batch of POWs was prepared for departure. Fifty-four American and British prisoners were given a rudimentary wash, had their clothes disinfected, and were loaded into a boxcar destined for Odessa.

Among them was Sergeant Richard J. Beadle, who had arrived from Warsaw three days earlier, after his arduous monthlong journey from Stalag III-C.

The boxcar stood in the Lublin marshaling yard all that night and most of the next day before finally being hitched to a train and departing. The Russian commander of the holding camp said that the delay was a punishment for the men’s poor discipline during bathing earlier.

A couple of days later, Colonel Wilmeth was informed by Colonel Vlasov that two of his secret Moscow-bound couriers—the American officers—had been caught and detained at Warsaw, where they had been trying to board a plane. Red Air Force guards had also arrested an American ex-POW doctor Wilmeth had sent to a camp near Warsaw to investigate a report that there were hundreds of sick Americans there. Vlasov was furious; Wilmeth had no right to send unauthorized messengers through Soviet territory. Wilmeth insisted that he had every right. Again he offered to let Vlasov read his copy of the Yalta agreement.

Colonel Wilmeth went on with his tasks with a heavy heart, but also with iron in his soul. From this moment on, he would have to fight every step of the way just to be allowed to stay in Lublin, let alone do any good. Meanwhile, two of his secret messengers were still at liberty and might still get the truth to General Deane.

Sergeant Beadle was woken from a fitful doze by the jolting of the boxcar as it came to a halt. Looking out through a gap in the boards, he saw buildings: a rail station and a town beyond. Where they were he had no idea: just another stop on the tortuously slow journey. In the two days since it had been loaded up in Lublin, Beadle reckoned, the train couldn’t have covered more than forty or fifty miles.

Near him other men were waking up and looking around, in that slow, painful way of men who are cold to the bone. Some went on sleeping. Others just stared, hollow-eyed, at nothing. A few were cheerful; just the belief that they were heading for home was enough for them. There were more than fifty men in the car; it was so crowded they could only lie down to sleep in shifts. The Russians had given them some food—black bread, a little luncheon meat, and some sugar and oatmeal—but it had run out some time ago. The boxcar had no source of heat, and it was bitterly cold.

With an effort, Beadle slid back the door and dropped onto the snow beside the track, stamping his feet to try and bring them to life; along the train, made up of a mixture of boxcars, other people were doing the same. Private Ronald Gould followed Beadle out of the car. Gould was English, an infantryman from the Royal East Kent Regiment—traditionally called “The Buffs”—who had also served in the Italian campaign. The Buffs had been fighting at Monte Cassino while the 45th was at Anzio. The two men had met in Lublin and formed one of those instantaneous bonds that spring up among fugitives and refugees; the temporary friendship of lost souls.

They looked up and down the tracks and across at the town beyond the station. Would it be safe to venture out? They had a little cash between them; they could try to buy some food. They knew by now that once this train stopped, it would probably be hours before it got going again. But maybe they shouldn’t risk it. If the train did go without them, they’d be screwed.

Growing more and more hungry, Beadle and Gould waited in the boxcar as the hours dragged by. There was no sign of the train going any farther today. Eventually they couldn’t stand it any longer. They jumped out, hurried across the tracks, and plunged into the streets around the station, searching for somewhere they might be able to eat. It took a while, but they eventually found a place to buy some food, and then began hurrying back toward the station. Dreadful as it was, the boxcar had become their haven: the only route to home and freedom.

It had gone. The section of track where the train had stood for hour upon endless hour was empty.

Their bad luck was almost beyond belief. If they’d gone into town when they first thought of it, rather than being cautious, they would now be rolling on toward Odessa with their bellies filled.

All was not lost. They had identification papers and a little money. There were other trains they could board, even if they had to wait. Eventually they managed to get aboard a train traveling east. At the Ukrainian border, they were forced to disembark by Russian soldiers. They stepped off the train and into a maze of Soviet bureaucracy. Their identification papers were not adequate; they would need new ones. Given into the care of two Russian official “guides” (armed guards), Beadle and Gould were taken to a town some twenty miles farther east, where the Communist commandant would issue them with the appropriate papers.

At this next town, they acquired three new traveling companions who were in the same situation. Two were British ex–prisoners of war from Lublin who were trying to get to Moscow: a Scottish sergeant called Montgomery and Flying Officer Panniers of the Royal Air Force. The third man was a Canadian civilian. The town commandant gave all five men the papers they required. Then he informed them that they should proceed to Lwów. That meant heading back into Poland—back the way they had come. To compound their confusion and dismay, there was a mix-up, and the five men were taken into the custody of two new guards for the journey to Lwów. Aboard the train it was discovered that their newly issued papers, which had been in the possession of the previous guards, were now lost.

At least it wasn’t far to Lwów, and they had a little food: a loaf-and-a-half of black bread and ten grams of sugar (about two teaspoons) between the five of them. The ramshackle little party disembarked at Lwów Station. Their guards told them that they would escort them to the Lwów commandant, who would give them another new set of papers. Beadle and his friends pleaded for food. The guards refused: no food until they had seen the commandant.

As they shambled out under the grand arched entrance of the railroad station and set off down the broad, tree-lined avenue that led to the city center, it seemed to Sergeant Beadle that he would never find his way out of this cursed country. He was doomed to shuttle slowly from one commandant to another, back and forth, collecting more and more useless sets of papers, getting colder and hungrier until he finally died of despair.

Lost in thought and faint with hunger and fatigue, he hardly noticed at first the two men walking toward the little group, apparently on their way to the station. When he realized that they were looking curiously at the prisoners, he studied them closely. They were wrapped up against the cold, but they were dressed unmistakably in American uniform. Proper uniform, not the ragged remnants worn by POWs. One was an Army Air Force officer, a young fellow with an open, friendly face; the other was a sergeant, stocky, dark, and serious-looking.

Beadle halted; so did the two Americans.

“Help,” Beadle said, and took a step toward them. “Help us, please.”

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