WALTER MEHLHAFF (ARMY)

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Walter Mehlhaff was born on May 18, 1921, in Sharon Township, Hutchinson County, South Dakota. Raised in the Methodist faith, Walter was a hardware store clerk before entering the service on August 27, 1942, because “it was the honorable and right thing to do.” He was captured 19 September 1944.
I served as a rifleman on the front line in an infantry rifle company, Co. A, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, during WW II, in six major campaigns through Tunisia, Sicily, Normandy, Northern France, Central Europe and Rhineland, two amphibious landings on D-Day, H Hour, at Gela, Sicily, 10 July 1943, and Omaha Beach, Normandy, 6 June 1944.
I was not in any liberation forces to liberate any American Prisoner of War camps, but I was a prisoner of war, [held] by the Nazis. I was captured on 19 September 1944 at Stolburg, Germany, and interned at Stalag XII A by Limberg, Germany. Later I was transferred to Stalag III C Altdrewitz near Kustrin, Germany, in a locked up railroad box car for ten days, with no food or water. Our toilet facilities consisted of a five-gallon bucket that stayed inside, unemptied in our box car the whole trip. The only prisoners who were allowed to sit or lay down on the floor where those who were sick. The rest of us had to stand up. We experienced the full miserable inhumane prisoner of war treatment while incarcerated by the Nazis. In the stalags very little nourishment was given the prisoners. What there was, was not fit for human consumption. The prisoners were severely malnourished.
In January of 1945 an opportunity prevailed, thus an escape was made. In extreme cold for the next two months, life was miserable. Getting to Allied territory to avoid being recaptured, moving in and out of the fighting areas, without food, with worn out clothes, worn out shoes and very little sleep, the will of wanting to live gave me the strength to seek my freedom.
Near Lodz, Poland I arrived at a prison compound that was still smoldering, the after effects of the Nazi dirty work of a couple days before. There were guard towers around this compound, a fairly large building in the center that appeared to have had a double high door on the front side. I observed that the building had been set on fire and the prisoners in the inside tried to get out through this door. The machine guns from the towers and elsewhere shot those prisoners as they came out the double doors. Bodies were stacked ten to twelve feet high in the doorway. The ones who could not get to the door perished inside the building. None of those poor souls had a chance to survive. I spent some time walking among bodies, trying to understand why those poor people were incarcerated, tortured,  starved, then murdered in such a brutal way. The smell of death was very strong; my eyes could not believe what they saw.
In the middle of March I arrived at Odessa, Russia and boarded a British ship, went to Naples, Italy; there I boarded an American ship and later landed at Boston, Massachusetts.

Walter Mehlhaff, Hot Springs, South Dakota