For many, the July Fourth holiday is more about hot dogs, picnics and fireworks displays than it is about independence. However, the true meaning of the day is not lost on the men and women who have served this country in times of peace, as well as times of war.
The United States will celebrate the 234th anniversary of the nation’s declaration of independence from England Sunday.
For many, the holiday is more about hot dogs, picnics and fireworks displays than it is about independence.
However, the true meaning of the day is not lost on the men and women who have served this country in times of peace, as well as times of war. Many soldiers fought and died for America. Many more returned home. Some were captured and became prisoners of war.
Dover resident Roy Baker was one of those prisoners of war during World War II. At age 84, his memories of the six months he was held captive in a prisoner of war camp in Germany are still vivid.
Baker was drafted into the Army in 1944.
“I was in high school at New Philadelphia but still had to go into the service,” he said.
Baker underwent basic training at Tyler, Texas, and then was sent to Camp Gruber, Okla.
“From there I was sent to New Jersey to board a ship for Europe,” he said. “We docked in Marseilles, France.”
Baker was under the command of Gen. George Patton, and served in the 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division. He was captured during the Battle of the Bulge.
Baker’s unit was hunkered down in a cement bunker called a pillbox when the Germans blew a hole in the door. There were about 50 soldiers in his unit, and Baker said some of his fellow soldiers were injured and others were killed.
“The Germans started yelling for us to come out,” Baker said. “They took our weapons and any jewelry we had. We were only allowed to supply our name, rank and serial number. They allowed us to keep our dog tags.”
Baker recalled that the German officers “told us more about our outfit than we knew ourselves.”
The soldiers were taken to an old evacuated school where they slept on the floor. The only heat came from two smudge pots, and they covered themselves with their field jackets. Early in the morning they were marched seven miles to a prisoner of war camp. Once there, the soldiers were interrogated all day and then put in huts with four men to each hut. The mattresses were made of burlap stuffed with wood shavings.
“We had no idea what they were going to do with us,” said Baker. “For breakfast we had a cup of coffee and black bread. The Germans took us out to dig ditches for a pipeline and at noon we ate a bowl of grass soup. Then it was more ditch digging until evening when we received a cup of coffee and black bread with marmalade.
“If we didn’t work we were not fed,” he said, adding that one Sunday a month the prisoners were given soup made from soybeans.
“The young guards were very mean,” Baker said. “They would tell us to work faster and would punch you with the butt of their guns to make you work faster. “
Baker said periodically the prisoners were moved to a different camp.
It was on one of these moves that Baker and his fellow prisoners were rescued by the Americans.
“As we marched, we were only permitted to look straight ahead,” Baker said. “But as we came up over a knoll there was the 69th Army division waiting on us under the command of General Rinehart.
The soldiers were taken to a barracks and given a mess kit. They were sent home for 45 days of recuperation. Baker was discharged from the Army in December 1946 and returned home to Ohio.
While he was held prisoner, Baker said he lost 45 pounds from his original weight of 170.
He is a member of the Strasburg American Legion and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at New Philadelphia, the Disabled American Veterans and Ohio Buckeye Barbwire POWs.
Although it took 20 years, he is the recipient of a Prisoner of War medal.
The Times-Reporter (New Philadelphia, Ohio)