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Robert D. Peterson: SN 0 680 289 – DOB 1 Oct 1920 – Service Dates: 8 Dec 1941 – 14 Jan 1946 Overseas service: 2 years 13 days – Shot down 19 Dec 1943 – POW # 2210 – POW until 10 Jul 1945 B-17 “Lydia Pinkham” Serial Number: 42-5409 Wounds received in action: Head injuries while bailing out of plane and fighting with Italian Fascists on ground – Dec 19, 1943
Editors Note: Robert D. "Pete" Peterson
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During captivity Allied prisoners of war developed a unique "Kriegie Slang".
The following account was written by my father at the request of Keith M. Bullock. Keith was a Royal Air Force fighter pilot during WWII and now resides in Tirol, Austria.
CAPTURED: On the morning of Sunday, December 19, 1943 (on my 19th mission,) forty of our planes left our base at Foggia, Italy to bomb Innsbruck, Germany. We had completed our attack on Innsbruck and were flying back over the Austrian Alps. A German Focke-Wulf fighter hit us. Our entire tent base in North Africa had been removed to Italy when the Allies captured that area. There we were close enough to the front to hear the shelling. We had been there almost three weeks.
About 11:15 AM on the way back from our bombing run we were attacked by the fighters. They hit us on the left side and inflicted some kind of damage that caused the level of the plane to start tilting to the left -- so much so that the controls to level out the wings weren't strong enough to maintain level flight. Since manual control wouldn't keep the plane level, as pilot I turned on the automatic pilot and used it to maintain level flight but had to keep adding control until it finally reached a place where that was all the control we could achieve.
Using the electronic signal I ordered the crew to bail out. None of us had ever used a parachute before because there were too many injuries during practice jumps and the military couldn't afford to have a single airman laid up. All the rest of the crew landed safely and survived except the radio-man [SSG Allan T. Bennett] who was shot, after landing, by an angry German whose family had been killed during a bombing raid on his city. By the time I saw the last man leave the plane, it was in a tight spiral.
reported by Professor Giorgio Pietrobon
- I have located two cousins
who were both witnesses to the scattered landing of the Lydia Pinkham Crew. Zeno
Cettolo and Ermenegildo D'
Osvaldo were both 18 in 1943.
Zeno was hunting pheasants and hares with a group of local well-to-do men, in a wooded area (dry bed of the Torre River), near the village of Viscone. The hunting group observed 3 airmen floating to earth below a cloud filled sky. Some of the men in the hunting group pointed their weapons up toward the airmen. The hunt leader, the Austrian Count Hermann Hausbrandt, who was the owner of a large number of farms, immediately shouted, "NO, don't shoot those men". Shortly thereafter all three airmen were captured by German soldiers.
Ermenegildo, at war time and still now a resident of Nogaredo (the other side of the Torre River), explained that he contacted SSG Allan Bennett just as he landed. His parachute was hung up on a mulberry. Ermenegildo said that found Bennett standing and with the hands raised. He offered him his "lamb wool" flight jacket, boots and a gold fountain pen. Ermenegildo declined the gifts because he feared the approaching German soldiers. Ermenegildo recalled that the Airman appeared terrified and he noticed Bennett as wounded and in detail he saw a strange throb of blood under the battle dress, near the heart. In fact the beginning of a hemorrhage.
The soldier was then transported into the home of a local fascist. But Ermenegildo in the short time of meet didn't realize the gravity of the situation, the drama which was occurring. Ermenegildo ended his memory on 9 February 2007 so telling, "I hope the American after was alive..." The fate instead was tragic, SSG Allan Bennett died that evening in Udine Hospital.]
As I attempted to get out of the plane, I was injured with a head injury and superficial cuts and bruises. Much of the memory of clearing the plane is hazy as I lost consciousness. I did look down at some point and saw I was landing in a field next to a little village church [Sevegliano Church - picture left] just as the people were coming out. [Professor Giorgio Pietrobon (Italian Historian) has for many years investigated and documented Allied aircraft crash sites. Pietrobon diligently searched for witnesses who had first hand knowledge of the Lydia Pinkham crash site. Pietrobon located Ezio Sclausero of Sevegliano. Ezio related the following facts to Pietrobon. "I was 15 years old that Sunday. I was eating at home with my family when I heard a plane that sounded like it was in trouble. I ran outside and saw an enormous explosion in the sky.
Large burning parts of the aircraft were falling from the sky and landing in our family field. I immediately saw Lt. Peterson landing by parachute between two burning engines. I saw one other airman land about 50 meters away near the river. He ran off and I did not see him again. As I approached Lt. Peterson he signaled me to come closer and then handed me his parachute saying, 'take it'. He then asked me if this place was Yugoslavia? I told him, 'No, Italia'. Lt. Peterson's face showed discomfort and he said, 'Oh, Nooo'. Ezio explained to Pietrobon that he took the parachute home with him and presented it to his four older sisters (picture left). His sisters were locally famous for their fashion sense and seamstress skills. They were called "The Parisian's" by the community. Ezio explained that his sisters converted the parachute into many garments including the shirt he is proudly wearing in the photo above (age 17).
There was no chance to escape at that point because in the church group were uniformed and armed Italian military men. The armed soldiers put me in the front seat of a car with an armed guard beside me and two others in the back seat and we headed to some city near Venice. I figured once they had me in jail I'd have less of a chance to get away so I decided to draw my 45 caliber automatic (which they hadn't searched for) but I was stopped by the guard.
My hazy condition clouded my judgment, but I felt they would surely strip me at the hospital and take my gun. The rest of my crew were scattered miles apart but by night we were all rounded up, except for the radio-man, and held for interrogation. From there I then was sent to the hospital where I was diagnosed as having a concussion. The rest of the crew was sent to Frankfurt. My hospital stay in Udine, [Udine, Italy, north of Venice] Italy area lasted until after New Years.
I was treated adequately while under observation and recovering. At one point I saw a pile of "passes" which I pocketed. I had no idea what they said but thought they might be useful some time. Although there were other prisoners there, we were not allowed to leave the room except to go to the bathroom or for treatment and it was always under escort. Once one English infantryman came and gave me a couple of books and a razor.
From the hospital I was moved to Frankfurt, escorted by a young German soldier going home on leave, At Frankfurt, fifty or sixty other Air Force personnel were taken to a holding area but for some reason I was sent to a different interrogation center. We were held overnight and then sent to an isolation-interrogation center. [At Dulag Luft] We were placed in separate cells without any way to communicate with each other.
[Ed. - On 21 June 2005, Kitty Peterson contributed the following memories of verbal comments made to her by her husband regarding these events. "He managed to get the parachute to open but passed out. By the time he landed, he was very groggy and he landed as an Italian church was just letting the congregation out. He remembers hearing the three policemen yell, "We've captured an American." They took him to the hospital and they treated his head wound and a concussion. One day later a man entered his room and said, "I'm from the Red Cross and I need your info to send a message to your folks. They were not allowed to give the info asked for and Rob pretended to be confused. After the fellow left Rob lifted the mattress and wrote on the bottom, "Don't give any information to Red Cross, he is a Hun." Some day's later they took Rob to be sent to prison camp but at the railroad station they grabbed him. Someone found what he had written and he was in put him in Solitary Confinement but I forget how long. Weeks later he was again taken to the railroad station. As he waited for the train a lone suitcase was standing to the side. Civilians got on the train, but none picked up the suitcase, so Rob did. When he arrived at Stalag Luft One in Barth, Germany, as he approached the barracks, his crew were at the window yelling at him. One said, "Look at Peterson, HE'S GOT A SUITCASE !" After telling them how he acquired the case he assured them, they would all share in the contents. It contained nothing but ragged clothing which no one wanted."]
Eventually I was taken by train to STALAG LUFT 1 in Barth, Germany where I was reunited with my crew. We were assigned to various barracks and I was assigned to the last one [South Compound - Block 7 - Room 8]. That meant there were about six hundred men in camp, about eighty per barrack. Daily routine began with the guards coming around at 7:00 AM to open the wood shutters outside the windows. We usually had a cup of hot water and bread toasted the old fashioned way, laying flat on the top surface of the stove.
Each barrack had a wash room which wasn't very large and could not accommodate many at one time. We took turns cleaning up all day long, I had a beard during my hospital stay and until I got to the camp. Since the beard was itchy and the hospital oatmeal kept getting caught in it, it was a relief to shave again.
Parade was held at 8:00 AM which usually only lasted about thirty minutes. The Germans took the count at this time. If the Germans wanted to, they could call an inspection on any barrack at any time if they had a suspicion of a tunnel or contraband. They would enter and command “ALL OUT” and we might be out all morning, My task at this point was to settle in to the daily procedures and adjust to the new surroundings and enjoy having the freedom to hear and speak English again. We did have a couple of fellows who dug a tunnel and attempted escape but the tunnel came up outside the fence but too close to some Germans. They were shot and killed.
From Wife, Kitty Peterson
His written account ends here and for some reason my husband did not continue. I can see that he was intending to send this to Keith M. Bullock in Tirol, Austria, who had requested letters from the crew of the B-17.
I remember my husband saying the most painful experience of his POW days was an infected tooth. When the Germans had been convinced to flee as the Russians were approaching, Robert was in the guard tower with a dentist. He explained about his painful tooth. All the dentist had was a pliers and no medication but he said he was willing to try to get the tooth out. My husband said, “The pain of that was better than the pain of the infected tooth.”
When the Russians reached
the camp they went through everything and took anything of value, even from the
prisoners. In the coming days, planes came from England to fly out the prisoners.
Robert said, “We were hungry but so were the Germans. Food was not plentiful for
any of us. We never were mistreated like the prisoners in the Japanese camps.”
Eventually he was flown back to the United States, where he completed his education. He earned a Doctorate of Education and had a fifty year career in education, including elementary school teacher, elementary school principal, College Professor and Superintendent of the Orange County Schools, Costa Mesa, California.
He remained in the Air Force reserve and was called back during the Korean War to teach Cadets at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. Robert retired as a Lt. Colonel in 1986.
2nd Lt. R.D. Peterson A.S.N.: 0-680289 (POW #2210)
Gillan [Lester R.] [Shot down -November 2, 1943 Mission #92 to the Weiner Neustadt, Austria Aircraft Factories. The 15th Air Force sent 131 B-17's and 38 B-24's on this mission. The 2nd Bomb Group crews estimated their attackers between 60 and 80 fighters. Five B-17's and Five B-24's destroyed. Two crews from the 429th Squadron of the 2nd Bomb Group were lost, "Lady Be Good" and "Raggety Ann". "Lady Be Good" pilot, 2nd Lt. Lester R. Gillan had four survivors-2nd Lt. Meredith D. Fink, B; 2nd Lt. Peter H. Diglio, N; S/Sgt Anthony J. Delatte, LWG and S/Sgt. Howard L. Reese, TG] Second Bombardment Association [Gillan Crew List]
Haggermon (Radio) Killed
DeLatte - 35A Killed
Churchyard in Feldbach - Lat N 46-56 Long E 15 degrees 55" - 25 kilometers East South East of Graz on Raab river. [It is believed that the members of Gillan's flight crew killed on 02 Nov 1943 were buried at the church yard mentioned above]
Louis Waddall - Ardmore Guthrie, Oklahoma [Waddell, Louis E. – 429th Bomb Squadron]
Louis Hazay - Fairfield, Connecticut [Hazay, Louis C. – 429th Bomb Squadron]
Eich 24-B - Tent 5
Schumacher - Alerted [Schumacher, Lee R. S/Sgt – Left Waist]
Smith, Colin Tent 36 [Smith, Colin M. S/Sgt – Ball Turret]
Smith 34 [Smith, George T, Jr. S/Sgt – Right Waist]
Snyder - 35A [Snyder, Roy K. S/Sgt – Tail Gunner]
Weimer, George - 40 [Weimer, George J T/Sgt – Top Turret]
25409 - Lydia Pinkham
Allan Bennett [Bennett, Allan T. S/Sgt – Radio Operator]
Bellingham - 78-C [Bellingham, James H. 1lt - Copilot]
Jim Bellingham 78, Briggs 87 Block C, Jack Hardin O-674761 75-B
Frank Coynilan - De Soto Ave., Detroit, Mich
Henry Reedy - Ind.
Claude Denton - Clairborne City?, Miss.
Anthony De Latte, New Orleans, La.
Harold Cox, Trenton Heights, N.J.
[It is believed that the numbers following the names above refer to Block and Tent locations in Foggia, Italy]
1921 Hammond - Marion
1924 Kindergarten Memphis
1925 Marion Hotel, Rigby, Palm Terrace
1929 Palm Terrace
1931 Baton Rouge - Park Blvd
1938 Dalzell X
Henry F. Reedy - Indiana, Terre Haute - Frank Counihan - Detroit - Gillan - Anthony J. DeLatte, 3122 Annunciation St., New Orleans, LA.
Find Kay’s address. ["Kay" was, Catherine Reeves, who later became the Editors Mother, Kitty Peterson]
French - Laffont Georges, H Boulevard de
La Seine (Suburb) Nanterre (Department) Seine, 4 Blvd.
VOL. 2 Index (page 1)
[Page] 9 and 22 South Seas
[Page] 8 Why
[Page] 9 To Read
[Page] 15 and 30 Sayings
[Page] 16 Church
[Page] 16 Roofing
[Page] 17 Arguments
[Page] 17 Children
[Page] 18 and 32 Food
[Page] 20 Boarding House
[Page] 21 Narrow Escape
[Page] 23 School
[Page] 62 Tricks
[Page] 24 Jokes
[Page] 22 Government
[Page] 25 Songs
[Page] 26 To Do
[Page] 28 Did You Know
(Dec 1943) That's a crock, Ever since St. Louis, chicken has tasted like cigars.
Dec. 18  worked on our tent [tent 5] home. 100 octane gas stove working to all our delight. Skylight in door and engine cover cellophane at side. Bud Briggs, N Jack Hardin B, Jim Bellingham op. LIFE, Yank, Sat. Eve. Post arrive. Toaster to Rex Pemberton.
Dec. 19  Walk to briefing in Italian Count's Villa. Mess in open, standing up. Augsburg [bombing target] -- almost carry pocketbooks*, pitch it to crew chief Zamboni. [*crewmembers were prohibited from carrying personal items for security reasons. This was 2Lt. Peterson’s - 19th mission, Lt. Bellingham’s - 9th , Lt Briggs –11th, Lt. Hardin, -14th mission.]
Little drops of water Little drops of milk maketh milkman's daughter dress herself in silk. Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale? Shakespeare (12th night). High School Hot Splits
19 [Dec 1943] Udine [Italy] civilian hosp. part set aside for military.
20 [Dec 1943] Jack still little under morphine and I'm sleepy.
21 [Dec 1943] Fried pears, zwiebela [onion], marmalade, sleepy, Jack feeling better.
22 [Dec 1943] Hospital train. "Sonny" wants to skip out washroom, Too sleepy.
23 [Dec 1943] Plenty square wheels on this Italian train. 3rd tier plenty warm.
24 [Dec 1943] Change to narrow gauge observation car and 15 kilometers to Cortina. clean soft bed. Apples, raisin bread, deep sleep.
25 [Dec 1943] Christmas gift. Tobacco, cakes, candy writing paper, cognac, carols in hall.
|Letter written while in Italian POW Hospital [Udine, Italy, north of Venice]|
|26 December 1943
If only this letter can reach you before the war department notifies you I am listed as missing. Nothing would make me happier than to know you have been spared at least some of the worries that many families have. Very little can I tell you concerning where I am or how I came here.
Inasmuch as I am well and in good spirits, the details are unimportant. Surprisingly, the treatment I have received has been most kind. In fact it has amazed me. Believe it or not; but I was even given Christmas presents yesterday. Like the biggest majority of average people, there are just as many kindhearted individuals here as in the U.S.A. Everyone has tried to show me that underneath there isn't any hate held against us by the Germans. It maybe has been just my luck to encounter the right ones at the right time. Nevertheless my expectations were quite different. Kill with kindness; if that is their policy I'm agreeable and quite willing.
Mother darling, it appears that your package sending days have just begun. Only make sure these are in strong cardboard or light wood boxes. You might use wood from an orange crate or a cheese box.
The important things to send are: Soap - bathing and shaving, strait razor, strop and stone, German - English dictionary, fountain pen & indelible pencil, writing paper & post cards, A couple of packages of Heat tabs, Lipton's noodle soup mix, a small sewing kit, tooth brush and tooth powder, small glass pocket mirror. Had just the clothes on my back when captured so you can tell from the list about what I need.
Will you address the first few packages as follows, as I am now in a transit camp. As soon as I'm permanently settled, will send you the address. Send a duplicate package every once and a while as many of them will be lost. Have the address as follows: OBLT. R.D. PETERSON A.S.N.0-680289 care of SWEDISH LEGATION, BERLIN, GERMANY.
Then when I'm located I can have Hans forward them to me from the embassy. In this way I won't have packages following me from place to place.
All my love,
1943] British Sgt, visited, Greece. 3
escapes, Razor, Books, several maps
Mon 27 [Dec 1943] Italian nurse, Coffee & brote. Apples
|Letter written while in Italian POW Hospital [Udine, Italy, north of Venice]|
|27 December 1943
You must excuse my not writing more often; but be sure I will do you a letter whenever the regulations allow. As some of them are bound to be lost enroute. I plan to repeat my requests several times so you may be certain to learn my desires, even should several letters be lost.
For the past two days I have been served a slice of cheese with the evening meal. Excellent taste it had, especially in combination with their dark bread. Truthfully, this German bread is superior to that made by the French in N. Africa.
As for scenic beauty this location is unexcelled. So you can see I could be much worse off. Everything considered I have been exceptionally lucky.
Would you write Kay Reeves and Leo Goodman, telling them I am safe. Leo, I believe is a First Lt now. His address is the same as my former one. Same Army Postal number and same unit. Ask him to send you all the papers in my personal effects envelope. Request him to forward to you any non-edibles which might be sent to me at the old address.
In one of your packages to me that you will send when you get my permanent address include and inexpensive radium dial wrist watch. Mine was lost when I bailed out, not the Hamilton (you should receive it from Leo) but one I purchased later on after my birthday just for flying and working with electrical equipment.
In sending food it is best to select concentrated items such as Lipton's Noodle soup mix, tabloid tea and such things which take up little room and yet last some while. Other things which I can use are vitamin tablets and some more of those calcium capsules. Milk is unobtainable, so they would keep me in better condition.
Heat tabs, shaving brush, candles, soap, wash rag, a pair of dark colored wool socks, an undershirt, a pair of shorts (size 34), a bottle of Larkspur lotion, comb, mirror, a German grammar and pronouncer. While I'm here I might as well learn a little of the language.
Remember the cigarette roller Dad bought during the depression? Please send me one and several packs of paper & tobacco. I still don't smoke; but cigarettes serve as money. Rolling them myself I can make more than by you sending ready made ones.
For the present address the packages: OBLT. R.D. Peterson, 0-68289, C/O SWEDISH EMBASSY, BERLIN, GERMANY. So that Hans will not be embarrassed you might send him five or ten dollars to cover the cost of forwarding the packages to me when I am settled.
Will you also send a tooth brush & tooth powder and a couple of packages of pepper. I will be happy when the day arrives and I want something the phone or car will be handy to get it. Happy Day! Maybe not too far off.
All my love, Rob
Tue 28 [Dec 1943] Overhead cars. Skiora on Hill
Wed 29 [Dec 1943] Nix toothbrush, potatoes, hot wine
Thu 30 [Dec 1943] "Burning Daylight" hand on sleep and eat.
Fri 31 [Dec 1943] Cognac, Potato Salad, Diet 1, lingers
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