This is a place to reflect on history's greatest conflict. You'll see stories about soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and civilians, people I've been privileged to meet as a reporter for Louisiana's largest daily newspaper, The Advocate. You're welcome to share stories of your own by posting a comment or emailing the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But for a miscommunication, Nolan “Country” Ruiz, of Plaquemine, Louisiana, might have been among the World War II B-17 crews who completed 25 bombing missions and earned a ticket home. That happened so rarely that those who accomplished it were declared members of the “Lucky Bastards Club.”
No one could call Ruiz’s last mission lucky — nor what happened after that.
Ruiz was shot down on March 4, 1944, in the war’s first daylight bombing attack on Germany’s capital, Berlin, and spent the next 14 months as a prisoner of war. Only 11 of those months, however, were in a prison camp.
Instead, he was among several thousand POWs who were marched for 86 consecutive days during a brutal winter before finally being liberated on April 26, 1945. That forced march is not well known except by those forced to endure it.
POWs being evacuated from Stalag Luft IV, early 1945 (Source: http://www.dvrbs.com/camden-heroes/CamdenHeroes-FrankGramenzi.htm)
By George Morris
The sound of an approaching army — especially a mechanized one — is impossible to miss, particularly when it is engaged with its enemy. In January 1945, Allied prisoners of Stalag Luft IV heard the Soviet army driving westward through Poland.
“We could hear the gunfire, the cannons,” said Russell McRae, a Baton Rouge resident. “We could see the flashes at night. We knew we were going to get overrun, and we thought we’d be liberated.”
They would — some of them, anyway. But not for a long time, and not by the Soviets.