WWII Prisoner of War Survivor: Roy McGinnis
December 1, 2018 | View PDF
Roy McGinnis, was held as a Prisoner of War (POW) in Stalag 17 for 19 months during World War II. On his fourth combat flight as a gunner, Roy's B-17 bomber was shot down over Schweinfurt, an industrial city on the Main River in the German State of Bavaria. Roy survived the crash along with his 10 member crew of airmen, and they were taken to Stalag 17 for imprisonment until Allies liberated Austria and Germany.
In 1943, as American air attacks against Germany increased, the Nazis moved the growing number of captured American airmen into prisoner of war camps, called Stalags. Over 4,000 airmen ended up in Stalag 17-B, just outside of Krems, Austria. On October 13,1943, 1350 non-commissioned officers of the Air Force were transferred from Stalag 7A to Stalag 17B, which already contained POWs from France, Italy, Russia, Yugoslavia and various smaller nations. From then until the last days of the war, a constant stream of NCOs arrived, and strength reached 4237 in spite of protestations concerning the over crowded conditions. The entire camp contained 29,794 prisoners of war of various nations.
The Americans occupied five compounds, each of which measured 175 yards by 75 yards and contained four double barracks 100 by 240 feet. The barracks were built to accommodate 2000 men, but at least 4000 men were crowded into them after the first three months of occupancy. Each double barrack contained a washroom of six basins in the center of the building. The beds in the barracks were triple decked, and each tier had four compartments with one man to a compartment, making a total of 12 men in each group. Each single barrack had a stove to supply heat and cooking facilities for approximately 200 men. The fuel ration for the week was 54 pounds of coal. Because of the lack of heating and an insufficient number of blankets, the men slept two to a bunk for added warmth. Lighting facilities were very poor, and many light bulbs were missing at all times.
The five compounds occupied by the American Pow's had been previously occupied by Russian POW's. The barracks were filthy. The thin straw mattresses in the bunks were full of bed bugs and lice. It was only in the summer time that POW's were able to their mattresses out in the sun to get rid of as many bugs as possible. The Russian POW's were the most harshly treated of all Allied prisoners. Four additional barracks were added in early 1944, but two other barracks were torn down because they were considered by the Germans to be too close to the fence, thus making it possible for POWs to build tunnels for escape purposes. Latrines were open pit type and were situated away from the barracks. The latrine pits were emptied every two or three weeks. There was a very bad smell partly due to the fact that the men burned the lids as fuel. The outside latrines were not used at night because guards with dogs roamed around the areas.
Two separate wire fences charged with electricity surrounded the area, and four watchtowers equipped with machine guns were placed at strategic points in addition to the searchlights from the guard towers to illuminate the area. There were24 cold water taps per wash room. Insufficient water was available from 6:30 to 8:00 AM and 10:30 to 12:00 and 4:00 to 6:00 PM. No hot water was available. Only one hot shower was available during the last two months.
The treatment at Stalag 17B was never considered good, and was at times even brutal. An example of extreme brutality occurred in early 1944. Two men attempting to escape were discovered in an out-of-bounds area adjoining the compound. As soon as they were discovered, they threw up their to surrender but were shot. One of the men died instantly, but the other was only injured in the leg. After he fell, a guard ran to within 20 feet of him and fired again. The guards then turned toward the barracks and fired wild shots int that direction. One shot entered a barrack and seriously wounded an American who was lying in his bunk. Permission was denied the Americans by the Germans to bring the body of the dead man into the compound for burial, and medical treatment for the injured man in the outer zone was delayed several hours.
One POW was mentally sick when he was taken to the hospital where no provisions were made to handle cases of this type. In a moment of insanity, the POW jumped from a window and ran to the fence, followed by a French doctor and orderlies who shouted to the guard not to shoot him. He was dressed in hospital pajamas which should have indicated to the guard that he was mentally unbalanced even if the doctor had not called the warning. As the patient climbed over the fence, the guard shot him in the heart.
Roy said, "We were forced to stand outside in extremely cold weather for long periods of time while German agents searched prisoners and their barracks and confiscated any food, tobacco or personnel belongings which prisoners may have possessed in excess of limits allowed. Red Cross parcels were issued to prisoners sporadically, but a large percentage of the parcel contents was confiscated by the Germans. The Red Cross parcels contained five packages of American cigarettes, powdered milk, a bar of cheese and a can of coffee. Prisoners bartered cigarettes for other desired merchandise and luxeries such as eggs or blankets with the Germans. The delay in receiving mail was considerable with incoming mail sometimes taking five months for delivery."
On April 8, 1945, Roy was among 4000 of the PWs at Stalag 17B who began an 18-day march of 281 miles to Braunau, Austria. The remaining 900 men were too ill to make the march and were left behind in the hospitals. These men were liberated on May 9, 1945, by the Russians. The marching column was divided into eight groups of 500 with an American leader in charge of each group, guarded by about 20 German Volkssturm guards and two dogs. Red Gross parcels were issued to each man in sufficient amounts to last about seven days. During the 18-day march, the column averaged 20 kilometers each day. At the end of the day, they were forced to bivouac in open fields, regardless of the weather. On three occasions, the men were quartered in cow barns. The only food furnished to POWs by the German authorities was barley soup and bread. The baked black bread was made from a mixture of rye, sugar beets, sawdust, leaves and straw. Trading with the German and Austrian civilians became the main source of sustenance after the Red Cross parcel supplies were exhausted. The destination of the column was a Russian prison camp four kilometers north of Braunau. Upon arrival, the POWs cut down pine trees and made small huts since there was no housing available. Roaming guards patrolled the area and the woods surrounding the area, but no escape attempts were made because it was apparent that the liberation forces were in the immediate vicinity. The day after their arrival at the new site, Red Cross parcels were issued to every POW. A second issue of one parcel for every fifth man was made a few days later.
All POW's were technically liberated on May 2, 1945, by a tank unit from General Patton's Army; however, the POW's had to wait several days for the infantry to arrive and to physically take the German guards into custody. A few days later, the POW's were all deloused and flown to U.S. camps in France that had been especially prepared for released American POW's.
Roy said, "I never did pray much before I arrived at Stalag 17, but I started to pray a lot while I was a prisoner there. I have been blessed with Christian wives. My first wife passed away from cancer, my second wife suffered fatal injuries in an automobile wreck, and I met my third wife, Hilde, at a grief counseling class at Frazer in June, 1993." Roy and his wife have been members at Frazer for 19 years.
Roy will celebrate his 96th birthday in January, 18, 2019. He was born at Sylacauga, Alabama, where he lived until he was fourteen. His family moved to Mississippi for a few years returning to Alabama to settle at Prattville where he attended high school. He joined the AL National Guard in 1940, and his unit was called to active duty where he served in the infantry. He switched branches of the US Armed Forces by serving in the Air Corps and attended the Aircrafts Mechanics School learning the skills as a gunner. After WWII was over and he was discharged, he married and had one child. In 1947, Roy reenlisted in the US Air Force and served a total of 27 years before retirement in 1968. After retirement from military service, he worked with the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and became its Director retiring in 1983. This remarkable American military hero is to be saluted for his military service and especially for his bravery during long, difficult months at Stalag 17.